A third of employers reopening workplaces after lockdown, but challenges ahead


Mark Crail, Content Director – XpertHR

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Three out of ten employers are now actively reopening their workplaces for employees who cannot work remotely, according to a survey today from employment specialists XpertHR.

The survey of 275 HR professionals conducted over a period of 24 hours to the end of Wednesday 20 May found that while four out ten (38.9%) said nothing had changed following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s call for a return to work, nearly one third (30.2%) were reopening for some or all staff.

The survey found that many employers were moving cautiously, indicating that they would try to get employees back in to work team-by-team to keep people safe or would allow employees to continue to work from home where they wanted to do so.

However, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland employers are holding back and waiting to reopen only once the devolved governments change their advice.

Among those organisations currently using the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, more than four out of ten (42.9%) hope to reduce the proportion of their workforce on furlough by bringing them back into the workplace over the next two months.

Among the measures being taken to protect employees as workplaces reopen:

  • 81.1% are adopting COVID Secure measures including enhanced hygiene procedures and social distancing
  • 70.2% are limiting numbers of workplace visitors
  • 64% are staggering start and finish times and breaks
  • 56.4% are ending hotdesking or equipment sharing.

Despite these precautions, HR professionals anticipate a range of problems as they ask people to return from home-working or furlough arrangements after two months in lockdown. Among the issues raised:

  • 72.4% expect employees to be unable to return due to child/family care responsibilities
  • 66.5% think employees will be reluctant to return to the workplace
  • 46.9% say there will be problems balancing annual leave requests with business needs, as many employees have built up a substantial backlog of holiday entitlement that would normally have been taken over Easter and the May bank holiday weekends.

The survey is the fourth in a series. Previous surveys have found HR professionals moving from crisis management to managing a “new normal” and now to a new phase.

Looking back, one senior HR professional taking part in the survey said: “I think HR are smashing it – none of us could have prepared for this and ultimately we are suddenly at the centre of this – it’s very much learning in action.”

And an HR Director paid tribute to their team, saying: “I am very proud of my team and how they have coped, I believe we have shone, remained calm and made decisions that have ensured success during this time. The crisis has really focussed HR to do what it does best – be the people champion!”

Commenting on the findings, XpertHR Content Director Mark Crail said: “While nothing has changed in law, the UK government is now encouraging employers in England to get employees back into the workplace where they cannot reasonably work from home. Many organisations have now actively started to do this and are putting in place all the measures they can to keep people safe – from socially distanced offices to staggered shift times.

“HR has shone throughout this crisis and continues to do so. But even as workplaces tentatively reopen, their expertise will be crucial in reassuring workers that it is safe to come to work, and helping them to deal with other problems that arise – from a shortage of childcare to a possible slump in morale as redundancies inevitably take effect..”



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