More consultation needed for safe return post-Covid, warns CIPD

Liverpool St
A near-deserted Liverpool Street Station, City of London, during the coronavirus crisis.

More consultation by employers is needed ensure workers feel safe and confident to return to the workplace, and to reduce anxiety, the HR body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has warned.

Prime minister Boris Johnson urged employers in July to encourage workers back to workplaces if it was safe to do so, with the government’s guidance changing from the beginning of August.

A CIPD survey of more than 1,000 working adults in the UK has suggested some employers are failing to meet three important criteria before asking people to return to their normal workplace following periods of closure or homeworking because of the coronavirus: is it essential, is it safe, and is it mutually agreed?

It found a “worrying” lack of consultation with workers, meaning many returns to work had not been mutually agreed and workers’ concerns about health and safety have not been addressed. The CIPD is therefore urging employers to consult with employees and make the return to work gradual.

Less than half of workers (44%) felt they had been adequately consulted about a potential return to the workplace. This drops to 28% of people with a disability, suggesting that employers may be taking a one-size-fits-all approach without allowing for individual concerns. Of those who are already going to their normal place of work, one in four (26%) say their employer is putting pressure on them to do so.

People are more likely to say they’ve received adequate information about the return to work than they are to say they’ve been adequately consulted (55% compared with 44%), suggesting that some employers are relying too much on one-way communication methods. A significant minority of employers had not adequately addressed health and safety concerns, the CIPD added.

One in five of those already attending their normal workplaces were not satisfied with the health and safety measures their employer had put in place during the pandemic.

A further three in ten said they felt anxious about catching or spreading Covid-19 at their workplace. Of those who had not yet returned to work, one in ten (12%) did trust their employer to provide a safe environment when they return to the workplace. More than half (52%) of workers were looking forward to returning to their normal workplace, but nearly a quarter (24%) disagreed.

Nearly half (45%) of workers also said they felt anxious about returning to the workplace, rising to 57% of those with a mental health condition and 48% of people with a physical health condition. More than a third of workers (35%) felt anxious about commuting to work and 60% of people working in London are anxious about commuting.

Melanie Green, CIPD research advisor, said: “Employers must ensure they’ve taken all necessary steps to protect their staff against the virus and must not get complacent here. The rise in workplace transmissions over the last few weeks shows how vigilant employers need to be and the level of responsibility on their shoulders.

“Greater consultation with staff will help employers to understand people’s concerns, what they can do to put them at greater ease and how they can make the return to work safer and less stressful. People are much more likely to agree to a return to work if they’ve had the opportunity to voice their concerns and work through solutions with their employer,” she added.

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