As Australia continues to control the spread of COVID-19, measures to kickstart the economy have become a parallel point in focus. While ‘easing out of #iso’ requirements and timelines differ by State and Territory, many workplaces have commenced their Covid comeback. Amid ever-changing environments, managing a safe return of the workforce presents a set of new challenges for employers. To support businesses in navigating this critical transition, we’ve assembled 5 ways to mitigate workplace risk:
1. Always start with safety
While Government restrictions are slowly being lifted, this does not change an employer’s obligations to provide a safe working environment for their employee (nor the obligations of the individual). Employers and individuals must maintain strict hygiene practices (including the provision/use of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment) and follow Government directions. The employer’s duty to provide a safe working environment also extends to employees’ travel to and from work.
Demonstrate how you’re providing a safe working environment:
- clearly communicate any changes to existing safety management systems to staff
- explain how you’re implementing Government requirements to address minimum standards of cleanliness, together with any additional measures being taken to ensure safety within the workplace
- physically display any relevant guidelines somewhere easily visible in the workplace.
2. Clear & timely communication
As restrictions gradually ease, employers must keep their employees updated with clear and regular updates on the business’s planned transition back to the workplace. Purposeful communications will always cover; latest changes, what they mean for employees, and how such changes align with Government guidelines.
In communicating with your team:
- outline your proposed transition plan
- share any barriers to achieving the plan, and how the business is seeking to overcome them
- provide clear timeframes, with specific attributions to which group/s of people will be impacted (if applicable)
- clearly outline what practices, behaviours or policies are mandatory vs optional for your people
- share to-the-moment updates as things change.
3. Manage your people risks: physical & psychological
Similar to our recommendation around the use of ‘working from home checklists’ at the start of the pandemic, employers must consider all practical risks associated with returning their workforce to the office. By this stage, most employees will have adjusted to a comfortable working from home routine and found a rhythm that works for them. Therefore, employers must tread carefully with their people’s capacity to process more change and stand ready to mitigate their potential anxieties and fears about returning to the office.
To identify and reduce people risks:
- consider a return to work checklist – preparing this will enable you to better understand the needs of your people, and ultimately support them with the right advice, tools and resources required for a smooth transition
- communicate the benefits of re-establishing normal routines as soon as possible, and invite feedback / Q&A
- provide ongoing occasions for Q&A and encourage open dialogue between your people. It’s crucial that staff feel supported to approach the business with their concerns
- offer assistance with mental health challenges – check your EAP provider (such as Access EAP) is equipped to provide appropriate support. Continue to promote and encourage the use of EAP and consider in-house counselling sessions with EAP providers. If you don’t have an EAP, feel free to get in touch and we can help you find the right provider
- continue to communicate with employees who are yet to transition back to work
- ensure return to work plans are in place for any employees with psychological and /or pre-existing physical injuries
- conduct a Workplace Health and Safety risk assessment of your new workplace set up to identify potential people safety risks and develop contingency plans to support these
- update your insurance broker if there have been clear changes to your workplace operations. To learn more, check out our 30-minute webinar Insurance Implications for Altered Operating Models and the accompanying 3 Key Actions for Business summary.
4. Manage expectations
As staff begin to return to workplaces, it’s a good opportunity to remind employees of their roles, responsibilities and obligations. While some leniency may have been offered during COVID-19, and potentially changes to salaries too, this may not necessarily change the individual’s contractual arrangements. By providing appropriate forums for clear communication around this, employers can support individual transition plans, particularly if working from home is not continued in the long-term. As always, open, transparent, regular two-way communication between employer and employee is key. Not everyone will be in the same position and some employees may have the right to apply for flexible working arrangements in the long term through the National Employment Standards. You can find out more information though Fair Work.
5. Lessons learned from lockdown
A business’ ability to evolve during challenging times can be an unexpected silver lining. When you feel your people are settled into the ‘next norm’ and well placed to share feedback, be sure to seek their feedback on their experience in recent months, and your business’ actions through COVID-19. Asking what worked, and what could be improved, will offer valuable insights for any business looking to enhance their resilience, business operations, and people experience at large.
We’re with you all the way
We recommend all businesses familiarise themselves with the Safe Work Australia site as they plan their COVID-19 comeback. The following Reopening Safely Sample Practices report from McKinsey is also highly informative. For more on Workplace Risk, our team is only a call or email away. Please contact us to learn more about how we can help.
Sharon Rutherford – Head of Workplace Risk
m– 0499 799 558