Post Covid-19: How HR managers can support colleagues’ return to work

Lizzie Buxton

Written By Pat Ashworth, Director of Learning Solutions, AdviserPlus

23rd July 2020

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The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have caused a seismic change in our day to day lives and once returns to work start happening, managers need to think about how they support staff in a way that minimises disruption and swiftly establishes a new normal, whatever that might look like.

If you have staff who are returning from a period of being furloughed on 80% of normal pay, it’s worth recognising that this might have affected their level of engagement with the business. Even short periods away from work can change our feelings about our jobs and in this situation, it may well have come with financial stresses or picking up alternative employment during furlough to maintain financial stability. This can give people a different perspective on their employer and their colleagues. That means that the psychological contract has changed and could mean a higher number of leavers from the business.

For line managers, it is vital that you support people in getting through this change. That means extra communication about expectations, regular check-ins and the use of all of your listening skills. Be aware that people may remain scared about their own safety and the safety of their loved ones even as the country starts to operate normally again.

Of course, this pandemic hasn’t just been about changes in the workplace and some of your staff may well have lost loved ones to the Coronavirus. Added to the grief they feel will be the pain of being unable to be with loved ones at the end, or perhaps even comfort others due to social distancing. We need to be conscious of how profoundly this has affected people. Even for those who were unwell but got better, the knowledge of what may have happened is potentially life changing.

Additional support

While you are not expected to be a certified counsellor as a line manager, it will be useful for you to know where people can access help – your Occupational Health providers or Employee Assistance programme if you have one are good places to start. You can also encourage people to speak to their GPs or go online to look for local counselling options.

At AdviserPlus, we make sure that people are aware of our cohort of Mental Health First Aiders, so if you have those, think about doing the same.

With all of that said, the main support we can give colleagues and team members during the transition back to normal working will be great listening skills. As we have said on so many of our webinars in the ‘Managing Through Uncertainty’ series, good line managers make the time and space to really listen and empathise with staff and create an atmosphere where people look out for each other. Schedule time for regular catch ups, let people know you are there to support them and check in with people early if you notice a dip in mood or a change in behaviour.

In our Managing Redundancy, Lay-Offs and Furlough webinar we talked about the importance of good conversations with employees if you needed to make changes to the workforce due to the pandemic. If these were the decisions you had to take, they will have been difficult for everyone involved and it is worth recognising this when you ask people to return to work.

If your business has had to reduce headcount with a redundancy programme there may be resentment amongst remaining staff. Similarly, if people have had their income reduced because of fewer hours or furlough pay, this is potentially going to change the way they feel about their employer – that could translate into lower motivation, morale and engagement – or people deciding to leave the business. We have certainly been aware of some of our clients losing staff to other employers during this episode – perhaps because they secured additional employment during furlough and decided to stay or because they felt their skills were better placed elsewhere.

All of this leads to a potential outcome of increasing your staff turnover rates. Before we get to the end of full lockdown, now is a good time to start planning how you will tackle those issues ahead of time.

So what can you do?

Here are some practical suggestions;

If there are people in your team who haven’t yet returned to work, you can ease their transition back into the workplace simply by keeping communication open beforehand. This doesn’t have to be formal, just asking how they are doing regularly will help. Why? Being away from the workplace can affect our engagement with it – you will no doubt know how difficult it can feel to return after a couple of weeks holiday!

Once you know when the return to work is likely, take the time to contact your returners before they come back. Let them know key details about when and where and give them as much detail as you can about what you will be expecting of them task wise. It’s probably going to feel very different at first as we all adjust to a new way of working, so the more detail you can give them, the easier it will be for you to help them to manage this change.

It may sound obvious, and if you are a line manager this will probably be second nature to you, but it’s important that you plan ahead about what needs to happen and what is a ‘nice to have’. If your resources are limited, go back to basics. What are the essentials for your business to run and how can you resource them? If you have clients, what will they need from you first?

This might mean giving people slightly different tasks to before the lockdown, perhaps with less intricacy, so make sure you help people understand why that is – this isn’t about demotion, it is about pulling together for a common goal – you need to concentrate on the main thing – keeping customers happy and allowing the business to keep going. Be prepared to roll your sleeves up where you can too, it builds trust and cohesion in the team. And don’t forget to thank people for the effort they put in during these unusual circumstances.

Great line managers know the strengths and development areas of their team members. Use this knowledge to approach the tasks in hand. Some of your team will be great planners, some will be great decision makers and others will be best at thinking on their feet. They can all help you in finding solutions to challenges, so show some flexibility of approach – allowing people to play to their strengths is one of the characteristics of a successful team and will also boost their motivation – make them part of the solution finding process.

Our  expert-led training and coaching services equip line managers with the skills and confidence they need to handle people issues more effectively. Take a look.

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