With employers now transitioning their workforces to new work arrangements post-lockdown, recent reports have painted a vivid picture of the scale and complexity of their challenge.
The destination for many of us is hybrid working, these reports say. Among the recurring themes has been the central role one particular category of worker will play in ensuring the journey is navigated safely and healthily: the line manager.
If you manage people, you have always been vital in creating a safe, healthy work culture. Your words and actions, or lack of, can have a direct impact, positive or negative, on the wellbeing of your co-workers. It’s quite a responsibility.
If these reports are anything to go by, you now have to step up to that plate like never before. With professional safety and health advice, you’re needing to review your health and wellbeing policies in line with a ‘healthy hybrid’ model that combines home working with work at your COVID-secure premises.
So, what does this look like?
“A hybrid working policy should contain guidelines for managers and employees, outlining goals and expectations for hybrid working as well as the type of tasks that should be done in the office and those that may be done at home,” advises Kate Gardner, Health and Safety Consultant with International Workplace.
“It should also outline any limitations to remote working, such as working outside of the UK, and circumstances where you may require team members to come into the workplace, such as for training or to attend meetings.”
Employers and managers are now facing ‘a demand for different’, according to one recent report by the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and Vitality UK. More than eight in ten would prefer to work at home for either part of the week or in full (48% hybrid; 36% at home permanently), the report says.
But safety and health practitioners know all too well the additional health repercussions of the pandemic aside from the impact of the virus itself. This demand for different is not without risk. Says the RSA report:
- Homeworking has reinforced sedentary lifestyles, risking increased back and shoulder injuries and pain. This has been coupled with a reduction in physical activity of 28%.
- 44% of remote workers have found it “much” or “somewhat” easier to manage their mental health and wellbeing while working remotely.
- 50% of all homeworkers and 58% of female homeworkers feel anxious about returning to the physical workplace.
In mitigating the risk of transmission of the virus, employers have increased health and wellbeing risks elsewhere, such as mental illness and musculoskeletal disorders. And if work practices of the last 18 months are to become more permanent, this means line managers must assess the risks to their teams afresh.
“From a health and safety perspective you need to review what, if any, equipment will be provided to enable employees to work from home safely, and all associated risk assessments should be updated to include working from home arrangements,” says Kate, who now delivers International Workplace’s new, virtual IOSH Managing Occupational Health and Wellbeing training.
Managers are advised to draw up robust new preventative strategies that promote good posture, healthy working practices, and safe working procedures when working at home.
Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessments should also be carried out for employees working both at home and in the office. Adds Kate: “Ensure all staff receive clear guidance about taking time to set up their workstations before they use them, whether at home or in the office. We should all be thinking long-term now, rather than knee jerk reactions, and there is opportunity here for a healthy and productive working environment for all.”
On mental wellbeing, Kate says, “Loneliness and isolation can have a significant impact on people’s ability to manage stress so it’s going to be important to ensure that time is built into the working day for social interaction.”
A ‘healthy hybrid’ model can deliver inclusive productivity gains for your business, alongside a healthier, happier workforce, says the RSA-Vitality report. But to do this successfully, prominent bodies such as the RSA and the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) advise the up-skilling of line managers.
“Key steps towards introducing hybrid working should include engaging people managers throughout the organisation, providing an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns, as well as the provision of training and development to support successful hybrid working,” says the CIPD.
The RSA says, “Clarify who is accountable for new health and wellbeing mandates, and reflect this in management training.”
There are various important steps we need to take on the path to a COVID-secure, post-lockdown and this includes equipping our people managers with the skills and knowledge to lead the way.
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