Pingdemic: How can HR adapt to staff shortages caused by self-isolation?

According to the CIPD, almost six in ten (57%) HR professionals have said they have suffered staff shortages in the last month due to employees being told to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace app.

Dubbed the “pingdemic,” campaigners including the CIPD are now lobbying government to review isolation procedure to prevent operational difficulties in organisations as each nation gradually lifts lockdown restrictions.

While ministers decide on what, if any, changes they will make to self-isolation, what can HR do to limit the damage staff shortages can have on their businesses?


Technology will keep things running smoothly

Marcus Beaver, UKI country leader at process outsourcing company Alight Solutions, told HR magazine he is concerned the pingdemic will give retail and hospitality sectors little chance of bouncing back from the financial challenges of the past 18 months.

Having effective, and potentially automated, tech in place to monitor staff availability and attendance will be critical to keeping businesses moving forward he said.

"Employers need overviews of shift patterns, with accurate information about who worked when or who wasn’t able to make it to their shift," he said.

“Businesses across the country have longed for Freedom Day, but unfortunately this is the next stage in the ongoing impacts faced by the pandemic. Employers who implement processes that aid efficiency, while reassuring staff about the changeable situation we are all in, will set themselves up for survival.”


Redeploy and mind mental health

In addition to flexible work arrangements, CIPD head of public policy Ben Willmott suggested employers redeploy existing staff to the most critical areas of business or hire temps, to cope with any shortages.

“Inevitably, businesses may have to compromise service at times to ensure guidance is followed,” he added.

Where people can’t work from home, Wilmott said employers should consider staggered start and finish times, as well as a review of workplace layouts to limit points of potential contact between employees.

He also urged HR to be mindful of the mental toll on staff as well as physical health risks as many employees will be anxious about rising infection levels.

“This problem is only going to grow as the economy continues to open up after restrictions end, with the risk that disruption to organisations’ services and operations starts to have severe consequences for the public and business,” he added.


The government's options

The Confederation of British Industry has asked for those who have had two doses of a COVID vaccine to be exempt from self-isolation ahead of the current deadline of 16 August when this restriction is lifted.

As part of a review of isolation rules, the CIPD has recommended government consider the merits of the ‘test and release’ scheme, in which workers could be allowed to return to work following a series of negative PCR tests.

A scheme where people are asked to take daily coronavirus tests instead of self-isolating may also be part of the solution. Downing Street confirmed that this method was being piloted as the prime minister and chancellor were purportedly to take part in it following contact with health secretary Sajid Javid, who has tested positive for the virus.

On review, and following public backlash, the pair are now self-isolating instead.