An antidote to ‘the saddest day of the year’

Do the things that make you feel better.

This may be the trickiest post-Christmas period for many years. Usually, we talk about how difficult it can be to get back into the swing of things after the Christmas break, but there are always ways to overcome that initial slump. Some companies save their ‘Christmas’ parties until the New Year, and others use this time to re-evaluate goals and targets and to inject some positivity and action into their teams.

This year is different. This year, we’re recovering from the hammering that most businesses took in 2020. This year, we have gone pretty much straight from Christmas into a lockdown. The fact that many people predicted this would happen doesn’t make it any easier when it does. This year, the lockdown is accompanied by a scarier strain of the virus, bad weather and a fair amount of cynicism.

The importance of being optimistic

There’s a lot to be optimistic about, however. The roll out of vaccines means that we can start to look for the light at the end of the tunnel. We are seeing lots of posts from friends about how relieved they are that elderly parents and relatives are starting to be vaccinated. Even though it may take a while to roll out completely, it’s a huge scientific success story, and a real symbol of what can be done when countries collaborate and finance is made immediately available.

We know that, if you’re sitting at home, on your own or juggling home schooling or caring for a vulnerable person, you might not feel very optimistic. You’re likely to feel physically and emotionally tired. That means you’ll find it hard to concentrate; your sleep might be suffering; you might have mood swings and you might find it difficult to motivate yourself. And then you switch on the news or your social media and you see that you’re about to hit ‘the saddest day of the year’ – Blue Monday.

What is Blue Monday?

Blue Monday falls on the third Monday of January. It was conceived by Dr Cliff Arnall in 2005, after he created a formula that looked at criteria including bad weather, dark nights, lack of money or post-Christmas debt and the falling away of initial enthusiasm about new year resolutions.

But this is just a formula – it’s not an instruction. We encourage everyone to stay as mentally optimistic as they can, even in really tough times. If you’re an employer, perhaps Blue Monday is a good day to check in on all your teams, giving some details of your plans, asking how they are doing and helping to keep morale high.

If you’re working from home, or are a key worker and finding it hard to keep going, here are some simple techniques that might help:

  • Get some exercise – you can exercise locally under lockdown. Take a new route, take pictures of the nature around you – you can do this even in the heart of the city – and look around you rather than down at your feet. If you can’t do this, just 10 minutes dancing in the kitchen or doing some stretches will help to take you out of the room for a while and focus on something else.
  • Have a non-work conversation – this might seem tricky when we’re all locked down, but perhaps all you need to do is give someone a call. Someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while. Or someone that you promised to call and haven’t. Or just someone you speak to regularly who you know can give you a bit of a boost.
  • Give back – again, difficult if money is tight, but perhaps this can be the day that you donate to the food bank, give some money to a homeless charity or decide to support something that’s close to your heart. Perhaps sign up for a virtual charity challenge to help focus your mind?
  • Be kind to yourself – we’re conditioned to feel that we’re not doing enough. That we should always be working and if we’re not working, we should be cleaning or organising or planning. In fact, what you need is some time for yourself. Do whatever makes you happy: watch TV; read a book; have a bath; play with the kids; do some gaming. Just take a bit of time out.
  • Think ahead – this will end. It’s pretty miserable now for many of us, but it will end. So why not make a list of the things you’d love to do when you’re able? It might be a hug with your parents; it might be a day at the beach; it might be a night out with your friends, or a long-awaited holiday. Making your list will make you feel much better and it gives you a sense of purpose.

Blue Monday is just a day. It comes and goes like any other day. This year, we have additional troubles to bear, but by looking out for each other, taking some time out, getting some fresh air and not piling pressure on ourselves, we can ensure that we can build our resilience and come out the other side with a better understanding of what’s really important to us.


Motivating your staff for 2021

Photo by Lindsay Lenard on Unsplash

There’s not an HR manager in the country – possibly in the world – who hasn’t been extremely challenged by the events of this year.

Often responsible for managing the transition to working from home, ensuring ongoing health and wellbeing, organising changes to holidays and benefits, thinking about safe office spaces and considering how best to return to the office, HR professionals are now turning towards the coming year and planning how to maintain motivation during a further period of change.

What might 2021 look like?

With the positive news that a vaccine is now rolling out across the UK, employers and HR professionals may be starting to think about how things might start to return to ‘normal’. This is a great goal – we have been back in our offices since June and it has made a huge difference to our business to be able to work together – and it needs to be carefully planned.

  • Getting the vaccine – there’s a priority list for people to receive the vaccine. Healthy people under 50, many of which might make up your workforce, are a long way down that priority list, so the first thing to consider is how safe it might be to return to work. Employers shouldn’t mandate that their staff have the vaccine, and so should still be thinking about providing a Covid-safe workspace for any employees who want to return to the office.
  • Supporting choice – it’s important to listen to your employees and how they feel. Although 2021 might see an improvement in the way we can interact together, not every employee will want to return to the office. Many might have benefitted from the change in work-life balance offered by home working and will want to retain that flexibility. As you move into 2021, think about how you can support the choices of all your employees.
  • Reward and recognition – a recent survey by Willis Towers Watson showed that more than 50% of respondents agreed that their pay, reward and recognition strategies are still assuming an office-based or geographical location employee group. This means that schemes are unlikely to be as relevant or as motivational as they may have been when you conceived them. So now’s the time to think about how you motivate, reward and recognised people who are working in different circumstances.
  • Maintaining connections – one of the most important roles for HR and internal communications professionals this year has been keeping people connected when they are working remotely. Maintaining team spirit, managing wellbeing and keeping a sense of purpose have all been critical to keeping people productive and your business on track. As we head into 2021, this should remain at the top of your list – it’s likely that at least a proportion of your staff will remain remote for many months, and so need certainty in the processes and policies that support and protect them.

2021 may still be a year of uncertainty but, unlike 2020, it is uncertainty that we can plan for to a certain extent. If you need any support or advice to help you manage pay, rewards or productivity during 2021, contact us for an initial chat today.


Are your children returning to school next week?

Children in England are heading back to school.

It’s been a strange – and challenging – few months for parents. You’ve not just had to manage home-schooling alongside working your everyday job at home; you’ve also had to deal with the ups and downs of children not being able to see their friends, not being able to go to their regular clubs and struggling with exam changes and the well-documented issues with results.

It’s also been a challenge for your children, who may have missed the structure and routine of school and may feel that they are going back in September disadvantaged by so much time off. And when they do go back, the school routine and layout will be different, so there’s lots to get used to.

Is this the new normal?

The state of things as we knew them at the start of the year is clearly not going to return for some time. You may still be furloughed, or you may be working at home. Redundancy and job insecurity are widespread and reports suggest that many people in the UK feel less well-off financially than they did in January.

School closures have meant that is has been difficult for parents to juggle work and child-care, especially where one or both parents – whether living together or not – are still working full-time away from the home as key workers, or as businesses start to return to the office.

So, getting the children back to school might be a relief all round, but you will need to have some contingency plans in place, in case of local lockdowns and school re-closures, in case your own business changes the way it works, or in case someone in your household tests positive for the virus and you have to isolate for a period of time. Things you might want to think about include:

  • Dedicated space to work at home: can you provide a dedicated space for your children to work if they need to stay at home? Even if it has to be shared, this will help them to have some space to do any work set for them.
  • Childcare options: if schools close as part of a local lockdown, what are your childcare options? Can you speak to your employer about flexible working or going back to work from home if you need to? Can your children’s other parent do the same?
  • Playing by the rules: lockdown easing means that we are coming into contact with many more people. So it’s important to observe rules for wearing face masks, hand sanitising, social distancing and gatherings to help reduce the risk of infection. You should also make sure that you know what rules the schools are implementing so that you can keep you and your family as safe as possible.

Now is a great time to speak to your employer about how you might manage a range of potential circumstances as we go into autumn and winter. And if you’re an employer, make sure you have spoken individually to all of your employees, and have a risk assessment and clear plan in place to help keep your business running whilst also taking your employees’ caring responsibilities into account.

For help and advice with returning to work, managing changes to employee contracts or drawing up new policies to deal with the current situation, contact us today.


A guide to making your business Covid secure

There’s been a lot of talk recently about returning to office-based workplaces – the government has advised that employees can still work from home if they are able, but can return as long as workplaces are Covid-safe.

But what does ‘Covid-safe’ mean to your business? It’s about more than ensuring safe distancing and clean environments. Employers will need to make sure that their admin and HR policies are up-to-date and reflect the new working conditions we find ourselves in.

The government has produced a range of guidance for employers, and this guidance is frequently updated, so we are recommending that our clients check the government website regularly to ensure they are taking the latest advice. You can find the current guidance here:  https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19

We’ve highlighted the guidance that we think is most valuable for employers at the moment:

A risk assessment – employers should conduct a full risk assessment of the workplace. This includes office spaces and call centres, and if your business also operates a production area, delivery vehicles or retail premises, a separate risk assessment should be conducted for each area. Self-employed people and businesses with fewer than five employees don’t need a written risk assessment, but businesses larger than that will need to have a written assessment available.

HR records – make sure that your records are completely up-to-date. This will be essential if you need to manage a track-and-trace operation. You should also be having conversations with each employee about how they feel about returning to work, and what particular circumstances they are dealing with, including childcare and vulnerable care responsibilities. This should be noted on each file so that there is a formal record of the conversations you have had.

Draft a Covid response plan – earlier in the year, businesses had to plan on the go, but now that we are much more aware of what may happen, it’s worth having a plan that sets out how you might deal with a future wave of the virus. This might reflect some of the decisions you took during the first wave, and it should be communicated with and available to your employees. You may also find that job applicants now ask to see a copy of your Covid plan.

Communication – good, clear and transparent communication with your employees is a key part of getting back to work and managing any future issues. Keeping communication lines open, and updating your employees as things change will help them to feel consulted and connected, and therefore more supportive to your plans as people start to return to the office over the next few months.


Will you be claiming the job retention bonus?

At the beginning of July, the Chancellor announced a scheme known as the Job Retention Bonus, to help employers across the country save jobs wherever possible.

The bonus relates to employees who have been furloughed, and who might otherwise be made redundant rather than being brought back into the business. If the employer brings those people back and employs them between November and January – November being the month after the furlough scheme ends – the government will pay the business a bonus of £1,000 for each worker.

In order to qualify for this bonus, the employee must earn at least the lower earnings limit for national insurance – currently £520 per month – during the entire period. The scheme is designed to help employers retain staff who would otherwise be at risk of redundancy.

Worries about bonus abuse

The announcement, which the Chancellor said could amount to a £9bn support package if the bonus was claimed for all furloughed workers, has led to some concern that employers may claim the bonus even for staff whose jobs are not at all at risk.

In fact, a range of national brands have already said that they wouldn’t be claiming the bonus, and developer Barrett Homes said that not only would they not claim the bonus, they would also pay back the furlough money claimed from the during lockdown.

Will you claim?

If your business has been considering redundancies because of the financial impact of lockdown – or because you have discovered that you may be able to run your business more efficiently with fewer people – this might help you to keep those jobs secure for a little longer. This gives you the chance to get back to business, improve your cash flow and perhaps keep some of those jobs in the long term.

Conditions for the scheme

  • Your employee must have been furloughed on the existing Job Retention Scheme and HMRC must have made a payment to you in respect of that employee.
  • The employee must return to work from furlough in November and be continuously employed until January 31st 2021 at the earliest. Those workers who have already returned from furlough may also qualify the employer to claim on the bonus scheme.
  • The employee must earn an average of more than £520 per month before tax during this period.

Advisers and business experts have expressed hope that the process of applying and receiving the claims is not too bureaucratic, so that businesses who have taken employees back can be sure of getting the bonus promptly in February 2021, when it is due to be paid.

 

Have you been considering redundancy for some of your employers? Has this news changed your plans? If you are still contemplating redundancies, you'll need to make sure you follow the correct processes, including fair selection - for help and support, contact us today.

 


Does home-working affect teamwork and socialisation?

We’ve been thrust into a situation where homeworking has become the norm for many. But is it the best option for everyone? Not necessarily. There are lots of reasons why homeworking is good; studies show that some people are more productive when working from home, for example. But equally, not everyone has enough space to work well from home; not everyone has a good-enough broadband connection; not everyone wants to stay at home all the time.

So how are businesses going to approach the issue of homeworking now? Here are some of the pros and cons that we’ve discovered through working with our clients during this period:

• Productivity – for many, homeworking has resulted in greater productivity. The lack of a morning and evening commute means that people can get straight to their desks, and often take less time for lunch and are less distracted during the day.

• Caring responsibilities – homeworking can be useful for those with caring responsibilities – either for children, parents or other relatives. Being in the home means they can manage any visits or appointments needed and can adjust their working hours if possible, to accommodate school runs. Studies have shown that people who work at home for this reason are often very productive because they are aware of the flexibility they enjoy from their employer. However, this is a balance: managers and business owners will want to make sure that the employer is able to perform all their tasks from home and won’t be disturbed or distracted by their other responsibilities.

• Teamwork – teams often work best when they are in the same place, so homeworking could have a negative effect on the way that teams work together. Keeping a remote team working closely together requires more planning, more effort and more measurement, so businesses offering this opportunity will need to make sure they are providing the support needed to keep teams together.

• New hires – working in the office is a positive part of the induction process for new hires. It gives them a chance to integrate into the business, to get to know the people they are working with and to have a sense of purpose from day one. Starting a new job remotely – as many people have discovered during the pandemic – is a strange and difficult way to begin a new job and, like managing teams, requires more effort from line managers to ensure that new hires are able to work well.

• Managing absence – it’s easier for work to be picked up by others when everyone is in the office. Handing over tasks or projects ahead of holidays, during a period of long-term absence or even just for a week’s sickness is much easier when everyone is in the same place. Managing work handovers remotely is more time-consuming and requires advance organisation.

In the end, of course, this is going to be a choice for each business, based on the type of business and the job role. But it’s more than likely that many employees will be asking either for full-time homeworking or a split between office and home and businesses need to have a plan in place to deal with this new way of doing things.


5 ways to manage returning employees

As lockdown eases and businesses of all types can return to work, employees need to be treated fairly and with respect.

Some employees may be anxious about returning to work at all; others may want to renegotiate working conditions so that they can work more often from home. Employees who have been shielding since March will be able to go back to work from August, and will need significant support in order to do so.

So, what must you do to manage these issues to make sure that your employees are taken care of and their concerns heard, whilst also making sure that your business can continue to run smoothly?

1. Understand individual positions

It’s important that employers listen to the individual concerns of employees. In smaller businesses, line managers, HR managers and even Managing Directors can have individual conversations with employees to find out how they feel about returning. In larger businesses, every employee should have the opportunity to express any concerns they have about returning to work.

2. Vary work patterns for furloughed workers

The changes in the government’s furlough scheme come into force in July. From then, employers can bring furloughed workers back into the business for any amount of time, whilst still claiming furlough payments for time not worked. Just as employees needed to agree to be put on furlough in the first place, they will need to agree the way in which they come back, particularly if they have anxieties as carers for vulnerable people.

3. Consider parental and carer responsibilities

With schools unlikely to return to full opening until September, those caring for children may need to be more flexible in their working patterns. Employers need to think about the circumstances of these employees and be as flexible as possible with encouraging return to work, varying contracts if necessary to protect the jobs of employees who need to continue flexible or home working in order to manage childcare.

4. Communicate clearly and often

One of the most common complaints from employees at times of change is the lack of communication. It’s extremely important to keep employees in the loop about your progress both in terms of returning to work and in terms of risk assessments and health and safety. Encouraging employees to ask questions and make suggestions about how they can work safely and productively will engage them in the process of returning to work and give them the information they need to make the right decisions about their own return.

5. Embrace new ways of working

Many employers have discovered that businesses can operate even when the office is shut. You may have discovered ways to streamline your processes or to save money on your office rental. The fact that everyone is now used to holding virtual meetings means that daily face-to-face working may not be as vital as before, and you now have the opportunity to improve productivity. Whilst for some businesses this may mean an eventual reduction in the workforce, for many employers, this presents an opportunity to save money, do things better and offer more flexibility to employees.

Finally, remember that the negotiations and contract variations you make may only be temporary, so you’ll need to set review dates with each individual and keep track of how the new arrangements are working.

For help and advice with helping your employees return to work, just contact us today.


How are you managing employee holidays?

It might seem like a ridiculous question, given that we can’t travel or stay in other houses, but a holiday’s about more than ‘getting away’, and you should be aware of how you might manage employee holiday requests now and in the future.

This period has been hard work for everyone. Whatever you’ve been doing: on furlough, working normally, working longer hours, shielding, caring for a vulnerable family member or facing the possibility of making staff redundant – it’s been a trying and worrying few months.

And, although things are slowly starting to return to business, you and your employees will still need a break. Whilst there’s a limit to where you can travel, you can get to see friends and family, you can celebrate special events and you can take some time to relax and switch off.

Managing excess holiday

Employees can now carry leave over for the next two leave years, to take into account the fact that businesses are having to work differently to manage the impact of COVID-19.

Guidance on the government’s website states:
“Currently, almost all workers are entitled to 28 days’ holiday including bank holidays each year. However, most of this entitlement cannot be carried between leave years, meaning workers lose their holiday if they do not take it.

There is also an obligation on employers to ensure their workers take their statutory entitlement in any one year – failure to do so could result in a financial penalty.
The regulations will allow up to 4 weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next 2 leave years, easing the requirements on business to ensure that workers take statutory amount of annual leave in any one year.”

So employers will need to manage the carrying-over of leave whilst also making sure that employees take leave in a way that is sustainable for the business, and promotes their wellbeing.

How to talk to your people about holiday

Holiday is one of the most precious benefits that a company offers. Many companies offer more than the standard holiday entitlement, including things like a holiday on an employee’s birthday and holiday rewards as part of recognition schemes. There are also holiday buy-back schemes and all these variations will need to be taken into account.
If you have employees that want to take holiday at this point, accommodate them if you possibly can. It could be that they have had a stressful time and need to recuperate – or that they have had COVID-19 and want to make the most of recovery. Or it could be that the holiday time was booked in advance and they still want to take it, even if holiday plans have been cancelled.

Whilst you need to make sure that you have the staff and skills to help your business return to work or meet new demand, you have to balance this with the impact on your employees’ wellbeing from not taking a holiday until much later in the year.


What to think about if you’re an employee returning to work

Now that more businesses are planning to re-open, employees are starting to think about heading back to work.

For some, it’s an easy decision – as long as the workplace is safe and well-managed, it might be a relief to get out of the house and back into a routine.

For others, however, this is a stressful time, and it’s important that as well as looking after your finances and organising your household around a return to work, you also look after your own wellbeing. So ask yourself these simple questions:

How will I get to work?

If you normally travel to work by public transport, are you currently happy to travel that way? Have you checked that the routes you use are running as usual? Might you have to leave home earlier or later than usual in order to get to work safely? Are there any alternatives available to you, such as walking part or all of the way, cycling, or driving? If you can’t get to work any other way and you’re worried about using public transport, can you talk to your employer?

Can I still work from home?

At the moment, the Government’s advice is to work from home if you can. So if your job function can be carried out fully at home, you should remain working from home unless your employer specifically asks you to return. In that circumstance, you are entitled to ask to remain working from home, particularly if you are concerned about the health implications of going back.

How will I manage caring responsibilities?

Lots of employees are also caring for children or vulnerable people during this period. At the moment, only a select number of children have returned to school, and vulnerable people are still being asked to be cautious about going out. So you may be worried about a conflict between what your employer expects you to do and what you are able or comfortable to do. If this is the case, speak to your employer as soon as possible. Explain your situation and see if you can work together to come to a solution that works for everyone.

What if I’m just scared about returning to work?

This period of virus crisis and lockdown has had a significant effect on the way people view their personal safety. Some are not yet ready to spend lots of time with other people, or venture too far away from home. Again, if you are worried about getting back to work and the effect it might have on you and your family, talk to your employer to see if anything can be arranged to help.

Employers are required to help you return to work confidently and safely, and most are making incredible efforts to change working environments and processes so that everyone feels safe as and when they return to work. It’s always best to talk to your employer in advance so that they are aware of any potential issues, and to keep a note of when you spoke and what was said so that you have clear information to refer to should you need to.

Why not consider a phased return to work? This will help you to make the transition from being at home – whether furloughed or working remotely – back into your usual environment. We are working with a number of clients now who are introducing phased returns to support their employees and this is a great way to manage a safe return to work.

 


CEOs and MDs need to be kinder to themselves

There’s been no shortage of articles online and in the press about ‘how to be a better leader’ during the COVID-19 crisis. Of course, leaders are having to do things differently and think about their business and their employees in a different way, but being inundated with articles and thought pieces telling you just how badly you could be doing doesn’t help.

In fact, our experience is that leaders are working harder than ever, whilst also making sure that their employees are taking time out, flexing work around caring responsibilities and looking after their mental and physical wellbeing.

Anecdotally, we’re hearing that bosses are working longer hours from home and keeping devices on so that they can respond to business and employee concerns at any time. They’re trying to keep track of the support on offer and preparing for a return to work, all whilst keeping the business operational in difficult times.

If you’re a leader whose business is still operating during this period, you’re likely to be busier than ever. You may have to re-structure your business completely – something that you usually have the luxury of doing over a significant period of time. Or you may have to change your operations to account for the restrictions in opening or social distancing. You may have re-focused your business into designing, developing or producing equipment and supplies to help support the health service, or you might have re-directed your drivers to help charities with food deliveries.

You may just be one of the fortunate businesses who have seen demand for certain products rise and are trying to meet that demand safely and with a sympathetic customer service experience.

Whatever the circumstances, it seems that leaders aren’t practicing what they preach to their staff. This means that when you do return to work you could be tired, mentally low and not really able to motivate and support your staff in what will be a tricky transition.

So, if you’ve been working 12-14 hour days for the past three months, from an office that you’ve put together at home, being in contact 24/7 and not taking any extra time off, perhaps now is the time to re-assess the way you work.

Take some days off. Put some boundaries around your working hours. Shut your office down in the evening and either put your laptop away or shut the door to the room it’s in so that you’re not tempted to check emails. Set specific times when you’ll be available for calls and stick to them.

Your people will respect that you’re taking some time for yourself – and taking the advice that you’re giving to them. And you’ll be in a better physical and mental place to take on the next challenge.