Preparing for a return to the workplace is the biggest drain on HR resources, according to almost two-thirds of Oxfordshire-based HR decision-makers who responded to a recent survey by independent recruitment consultancy, Allen Associates.
This was followed by furloughing staff, reacting to government guidelines and dealing with homeworking issues.
Close to 200 HR decision-makers in Oxfordshire-based businesses took part in the survey which was conducted by Allen Associates in June, just as lockdown restrictions were beginning to ease.
The survey findings are set out in Allen Associates’ report entitled ‘Understanding the HR impact of Covid-19 on Oxfordshire businesses.
Kate Allen, Managing Director of Allen Associates in Oxford, said: “This is clearly a stressful time for HR teams and preparing for a return to the workplace is just one of the major issues they are having to deal with. They have their work cut out trying to ensure that they can welcome staff back to their premises in a way that is safe and compliant while meeting the needs of the business.”
Some survey respondents commented that it would be impossible to introduce appropriate spacing between desks while others said that dealing effectively with staff health and wellbeing was a major concern. In particular, they were considering how best to deal with anxiety and requests for PPE, protective screens and specific cleaning regimes which they may not be able to meet.
Others were busy ‘helping people to make sense of the Government’s mixed messages’ which one respondent described as ‘continually changing and erratic.’
It’s evident that many HRs believe that employees with caring responsibilities will not be able to return to the workplace as quickly as businesses may like. As a result, they are having to review working practices in the best interests of the business while being fair and flexible to all staff.
Kate Allen added: “As ever, the devil is in the detail and with so much still under review, it is unsurprising that many employers said they thought a return to the workplace was unlikely for many employees until after the schools go back in September. Whatever the future holds, most respondents believe more people will work flexibly, adopting different working hours and shift patterns which incorporate a mix of home and office working.”
Although more than half of the HRs surveyed thought that working from home would become the ‘new normal’ and a further 27 per cent weren’t sure yet, there are still significant challenges to be addressed. For a third, dealing with home working issues is their major focus.
Allen Associates’ survey revealed that wellbeing and mental health issues are taking up significantly more HR time than before, with most workers experiencing anxiety which in turn gives rise to many of the other issues they are grappling with. These include putting new flexible working practices in place to accommodate childcare challenges; keeping staff motivated and productive despite decreasing workloads, depleted teams and absent colleagues; and helping people adapt to new technology and different ways of working.
Kate Allen said: “Maintaining effective internal communications was cited as an ongoing challenge. For those managing a remote workforce, upholding values and culture will become increasingly challenging and businesses are likely to need more guidance in this area. This is particularly true for those businesses that are currently having to make tough decisions about remuneration and redundancy.
“Reassuringly, many of the businesses we surveyed seem to recognise the importance of strong leadership underpinned by clear communications at all levels. We are expecting to see more demand for PR and communications’ specialists within our Marketing recruitment division over the coming months. There may well be increased demand for HR practitioners too as people issues move higher up the boardroom agenda in the months ahead.”
A separate, candidate-focussed survey conducted by Allen Associates in May, attracted 380 responses from employees, furloughed staff and unemployed people. They identified isolation as their biggest challenge, closely followed by a decreasing workload. Almost half said they were concerned about their current and future employers’ financial performance; anxiety arising from job insecurity is a major issue.
Both sets of survey results have been compiled in the report to better understand the HR impact of Covid-19 on Oxfordshire businesses.
Explaining the rationale for the surveys, Kate Allen said: “We know from our conversations with HR teams and job-seekers that what they value most is market intelligence. We have invested in this research to help them to put their own experiences into context and enable us to better support each other during these testing times.
“Our research shows that HRs are doing the best they can to plan for the second half of the year and beyond, but with so much still up in the air and the true, long-term effects of Covid-19 still to play out, the future is far from certain.
“However, having steered Allen Associates through two recessions, I know that having a positive attitude, continually striving to add value to those you do business with, and always trying to do the best for your people, will stand you in good stead.”