the ‘new normal’
Horizon scanning: Questions about the ‘new normal’
At present, there are still more questions than answers regarding coronavirus. It is unclear when or how the UK ‘lockdown’ will end (which the Tony Blair Foundation for Global Change recently sought to address with its report focussing on a sustainable exit strategy). Regardless of the UK’s approach for lifting lockdown, we will be living in what is euphemistically called a ‘new normal’. This creates new challenges and opportunities for the health and safety and allied professions.
Do organisations need restart strategies?
A day after lockdown, people will not skip back to work as if nothing happened. While the UK is deciding on it’s exit strategy, organisations need to consider their own restart strategies. This could include some practical measures, such as refresher training for more complex tasks or explaining new workplace procedures. However, it could be helpful to hold group and one-to-one sessions to help staff rebond and offload by sharing experiences (and possibly grievances – not everyone will feel that their organisation coped well). These discussions could also highlight what additional support workers might need.
Will we face a labour surplus/less stable employment?
Despite the government’s support packages, some organisations are taking drastic steps to stay afloat and some have collapsed altogether. For example, Higher Education organisations are making hundreds of staff on fixed term/insecure contracts redundant. In the short term, there will be a huge pool of jobseekers. Organisations are also likely to be nervous about a second wave of coronavirus or another lockdown. This could prompt greater use of fixed term, insecure or zero-hour contracts. This introduces a range of potential challenges, such as workers feeling little ‘identification’ with their manager, team or organisation (possibly leading to higher turnover etc.). They may have less appreciation of tried and tested ways of working (which may not be written down) or the resources available to help them deal with the realities of work.
Are Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) fit for purpose?
Many people have suffered loss or hardship during this crisis. Employees are unlikely to work productively if they are not effectively managing problems or anxieties. Organisations may need to invest more heavily in promoting EAP and checking that the provider is effectively helping workers cope with difficulties.
Will presenteeism become a new workplace stigma?
For many years, occupational health professionals and psychologists, such as Dr Roxanne Gervais, have raised concerns about presenteeism. This is when an ill person attends works, for a variety of reasons, when they should be recuperating at home. The person is unlikely to work effectively and could be more prone to making harmful mistakes. Their recovery time may be extended and they could cause others to become ill. Coronavirus illustrated that just issuing guidance on self-isolation was largely ineffective. It is foreseeable that organisations will need robust and fair systems for discouraging presenteeism. It is also likely that co-workers will take a dim view of colleagues who attend work coughing and spluttering (and could lead to grievances).
How do we cope with the impact of extended shielding of older people (and other vulnerable groups)?
If older people need ongoing isolation, older workers may be unable to return to work for an extended period (possibly fuelling the need for home working). Younger workers might have also relied on older family members for childcare support. This may no longer be an option and these workers may also need to shop for family members who remain in isolation. Organisations ought to consider how to provide greater flexibility for workers, and more flexible working hours or home working could be options.
Will home working become the new normal?
Home working is not practical for everyone. Where home working has been feasible, individuals and organisations may have experienced a range of benefits (such as less time and money ‘wasted’ in daily commutes). There is an ever-expanding range of articles on how to overcome the challenges of home working. Organisations could draw on this and the lessons learned during lockdown to create an effective home working policy.
Will there be new opportunities for disabled staff?
Disabled workers might struggle to overcome barriers associated with traditional models of work, such as commuting to work. More homeworking and less travel will remove many of these barriers. This could give organisations access to a much wider and diverse pool of talent.
There could undoubtedly be an array of other impacts such as;
- Physical reorganisation of workplaces to support social distancing/limit transmission of coronavirus;
- A deeper appreciation of respiratory and ‘invisible’ risks;
- More attention to emergency preparedness;
- Organisations resuming operations with less or less experienced staff (if they had to ‘downsize’) or different suppliers (if previous suppliers are no longer trading);
- A new wave of interest in the use of robots/artificial intelligence.
Business continuity is considered to be an holistic management process that identifies potential impacts on a business and builds a framework for resilience into processes and procedures. The aim is to have effective safeguards and responses to protect the business in the short, medium and long term.
Understanding the issues that might affect the ability to deliver goods and services to customers and clients on an ongoing basis is vital to effectively plan for and mitigate against potential interruption or worse.
Download the Business Continuity guide here.