Tiered UK lockdowns - what HR needs to know

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As the UK adjusts to varied COVID-19 restrictions being put in place, what issues does HR face?

Since the beginning of October, the UK government has recommended regions adhere to the new three-tier coronavirus restriction system, which has led many to believe a second lockdown could inevitably be on the cards.

Although some of the practicality will have been dealt with previously from restrictions put in place earlier this year, a second lockdown could be very different for HR to manage than the first.

Nearly eight months have passed, and workers have already faced vast changes to their workspaces and lives.

Jon Ingham, HR consultant and author, told HR magazine that though the industry had a successful reactive response to the first lockdown in March, HR must now have a more proactive and strategic response to the second.

“HR professionals responded extremely quickly to the first lockdown because they had no choice and the results were very positive. However, if a second lockdown is announced HR needs to be ready beforehand,” said Ingham.

While employee wellbeing has become a top priority, Ingham said he believes employees are now facing the prospect of ‘lockdown burnout’ if they are not properly advised on how to continue working in these new conditions.

“There is now little-to-no end in sight to when working from home will end, and HR must advise employees to not replicate their old office working days, but to work in a way that will allow them to make the most of their work hours,” he said.

By offering employees flexible working hours and giving them more control of when online team meetings can take place, Ingham said he thinks employees will, “get to grips with how they can make home working the best possible fit for themselves”.

He added: “I think allowing employees more control of their day-to-day schedules will lead to a positive future-working environment during a second lockdown.”

A second lockdown could also look very different to the first as COVID restrictions currently differ around the UK. This may mean that HR teams will be tackling different problems from region to region.

Emma Gross, employment law specialist at Spencer West, thinks that this could make HR’s role even more pivotal.

Speaking to HR magazine, Gross said: “Employers should be mindful of where each employee lives, as we are seeing that restrictions can vary by geographical location, and businesses will need to be able to adapt quickly to accommodate their staff.

“It is important that they keep the lines of communication open and regularly consult with their workforce.”

Gross also advised businesses to introduce a formal working from home policy, or to review any existing policies that are in place.

“It would also be sensible with a new policy to consider the impact of those employees who are unable to secure childcare in the event of a lockdown, and have a plan in place to help them to remain active members of the team, whilst being available for their family commitments,” she said.

Accessing childcare during a second lockdown may also impact unprepared employees.

According to a study by accountancy consultancy Theta Global Advisors, more than one in four (27%) parents in Britain fear their child not returning to school this month will put their job in jeopardy as they will have to continue to care for them while working from home.

In order to address the challenges of employees with children Katherine Easter, chief people officer at the Pension Protection Fund advised HR leaders to continue listening to their needs and avoid a 'one size fits all' policy.

She told HR magazine: "With working parents in particular we have needed to listen to what parents need and flex our expectations. Something that worked well for us was allowing people to work non-standard hours, as much as we could, to enable them to complete their work but also have time totally focused on childcare.

"We have a Working Families group at the PPF where parents meet informally to share concerns, frustrations and ideas and they have also been instrumental in helping guide what support is most valuable.”

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