Experts reveal HR's role for 'Lockdown 2.0'
Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement of a ‘lockdown 2.0’ over the weekend, experts are saying that HR practitioners will be quickly forced into managing ‘mood, morale and motivation’.
In fact, the function will be at the centre of the newest changes with HR insiders telling HRGrapevine that it is wellbeing, engagement, working structures and job support schemes that will top the business agenda.
What are the new lockdown changes?
Though the majority of employees will be calling new restrictions ‘Lockdown 2.0’ the Government sees these steps, reported by ITV’s Robert Peston, as “tough new national measures”.
They include an incitement to not leave home unless for specific reasons – such as medical needs, for exercise, to get supplies, or to see a support bubble.
Many businesses are closing, such as non-essential retail, leisure facilities, entertainment venues and personal care facilities. HR will have its work cut out in these sectors.
There is also a renewed call to work from home where possible and to avoid travelling out of the local area. In addition, there is increased financial support – in play from November 1, 2020 – which allows workers to retain their job if their employer cannot afford to pay them.
Much like the original furlough scheme, workers will be paid at least 80% of their salary up to £2,500 a month.
These restrictions come in from November, 5, 2020, and are slated to last until December, 2, 2020.
Changes to furlough
With the Prime Minister announcing new England-wide coronavirus restrictions, which come into effect from November 5, 2020, he also explained that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) – which was set to close at the end of October – would be extended until December.
Under this extended scheme, the Government site explained that the financial cost for organisations retaining workers will be reduced in comparison to the original scheme – which ended on October 31, 2020.
In addition to this, the Jobs Support Scheme, which was scheduled to come into effect on November 1, 2020, has been postponed until the furlough scheme ends.
At the time of the Prime Minister’s announcement, Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said: “The extension of the furlough scheme is welcome. All sectors and the self-employed need extra support quickly.”
However, changes are slated to increase the workload for HR. Simon Parson, Director of Compliance Strategies at SD Worx, stated that HR must keep its ‘eye on the ball’ as changes come at ‘break-neck speed’.
He told HR Grapevine: “Just as payroll and HR teams had got to grips with the new Job Support Scheme, the Government announces that they are going to be extending the furlough scheme until December.
“It’s continuing to be an interesting time, and there is much work to do to keep Britain paid. My advice to payroll and HR professionals is to keep your eye out for updated information, as changes are occurring at break-neck speed.
“It’s important to keep detailed records of the changes you are implementing, one thing the Government have been very clear about is to keep a visible audit trail.”
A new Changing Trends of Financial Wellbeing report from Close Brothers found that two in five UK workers (40%) have felt their anxiety regards finances increase since the pandemic started.
In addition to this, the study unearthed that 41% worry more about their mental health while 45% are concerned about their physical health.
With new national COVID-19 restrictions coming into play, it is possible that anxieties could be heightened for many workers.
Vicki Field, an Independent HR Practitioner told HR Grapevine, that with a second lockdown on the way, HR teams will have to focus on several things including employee health and wellbeing.
This, according to Field, is because “there will be people consequences as a result of another lockdown”.
She explained: “Mental health is likely to suffer as people once again experience isolation and loneliness, or the pressures of working from home without ‘normal’ human interactions.”
Natalie McClean, HR Director, Partners&, added that things like holiday management, digital GP services, digital fitness services and virtual wellbeing offerings will also come to the forefront.
Within this, communicating to staff that it’s okay to be worried is also key. “Creating an ‘it’s okay’ mentality is good,” she said. “It’s also a positive to be mindful of health and wellbeing aspects throughout the day, working with respect, kindness and empathy during this challenging time.”
In addition to staff wellbeing, Kevin Green, bestselling author and ex-HRD, told HR Grapevine that many HR functions will be considering how to keep high levels of engagement and turning to line managers to manage this.
“I think that’s one part of this, another part is wellbeing. [It has] probably become more evident now that productivity has dropped off, novelty has gone, it is the new normal.
“The days are shorter, the nights are drawing in, so I think what you’ll find is people’s mood, morale and motivation are going to drop.
“Recognising lots of things [such as] not being part of community and not engaging in with colleagues on a regular basis, so a lot of things revisited that many firms did at the beginning,” Green added.
Productivity & HR workload
With these restrictions coming into play, it is likely that many – line managers, execs and employees – will turn to the HR function to understand this new guidance.
As Harriet Shurville, Chief People Officer at Iris, told HR Grapevine during the first lockdown: “Everything became about HR.”
As such, workloads for the function will likely increase as HR is tasked with keeping high levels of engagement and productivity, whilst ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of staff.
While the people function will be looking after others in the business, it is possible that HR will be struggling with certain things themselves.
McClean said that staff morale in a second lockdown and keeping people engaged will likely be a challenge for people teams, as well as supporting line managers on how to appropriately manage remote teams.
In addition to this, McClean said that clarity regarding working structures – who can work from home and who has to be present – is key. “HR can work with management to be sure the organisational message is clear for people,” she added.
Ben Willmott, Head of public policy at CIPD added: "The extension of the furlough scheme, while welcome, will create significant challenges for HR given that most employers will have already made redundancy decisions and have been workforce planning on the assumption that it was to finish at the end of October.
“Employers in sectors most affected by the new lockdown restrictions such as hospitality, leisure and non-essential retail will have to look again at the best ways of reducing workforce costs as the new restrictions come into force, including putting people back on furlough where necessary."
However, it is not just the short term that HR has to think about. Field stated that wellbeing will start to become a central strategic issue that HR must have sight of.
She said: “Most companies are now used to home working and COVID-19 H&S measures, but as we approach darker days (literally and figuratively) let’s think about the small things we can do to bring some cheer to our employees.”
In addition, Green added that, once again, HR needs to understand that this is here for the medium term and HR must start thinking with that mindset.
He added: “I think there will be a lot of workforce planning issues, a lot of what do we need to do [for the] workforce over next two to three months as I don’t think this will go away.
“We’re likely to have something like more regional fourth tiers afterwards. This is here for the medium term.”
This, he added, doesn’t mean that HR should take its eye off the ball regards what comes after this lockdown period.
He told HR Grapevine: “HR must ask: What does our people strategy look like long term? Is it hybrid working? Clearly a lot of that needs to be thought through – such as how do we organise business and structure it. This will create organisational design work, a look at reward patterns and incentive patterns, too.”
Obviously, this will change dependent on business. To see the full list of sectors advised to close for this ‘second lockdown', visit the Government website.
As Green added, many HR functions will be looking at what they did during the first lockdown to guide them through this period.