Business beyond COVID: Planning for HR success

Moira Grassick - Chief Operating Officer

February 08 2022

First published: February 8th, 2022

There’s no denying it: the last two years have brought countless challenges for employers.

From fluctuating COVID-19 restrictions to absenteeism in the workplace and increasing resignations, the challenges have been endless. And many of these issues look set to continue into 2022 – but planning and ensuring you have robust policies in place to respond to these challenges you can keep your staff happy and healthy.

Most of the COVID-19 restrictions have now been lifted in Ireland. The phased return to work has also begun. Here, we look at how you can plan for business success beyond COVID-19.

1.   Returning to the workplace

In early February, the Transitional Protocol replaced the Work Safely Protocol. This new guidance provided employers with information on how best to bring employees back to the workplace and keep the workplace safe.

This information recommended the ongoing appointment of a Lead Worker Representative and underlined the importance of a COVID-19 Response Plan. It also encouraged employers to review and update Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) risk assessments and safety statements as employees return to the workplace.

The use of face masks remains good practice, even though it’s only legally required in certain sectors and businesses, including healthcare, transport, retail, and public offices and those serving food and drink. However, the rules around maintaining two metres social distance, operating in pods of six, and the collection contact details of people on-site has been removed.

Remote working, where appropriate, is strongly promoted in the new guidance. You should begin to look ahead and develop plans and, when incorporating blended and remote working within your business, do so in consultation with your employees.

2.   Remote Working Policy

After being forced to adopt remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s now become a common arrangement for many businesses and employees. Recent research indicates that nearly half of all employees now want to be able to work from home in their job – and would consider leaving their current job if this wasn’t possible. With employees set to gain a legal right to request remote working later this year, now is a good time to start thinking about implementing or reviewing your current Remote Working Policy.

A blanket ‘no’ to requests for remote working could see many staff leave and create recruitment issues, making hiring talent even more difficult. While remote work isn’t practical for every business, it may instead be worth considering what flexible working options you could offer employees in lieu of remote working. After all, it’s essential to create and implement a policy that works for both you and your staff.

Consider which flexible working options could work for your business:

  • Remote work: Where employees permanently work from home.
  • Hybrid work: Where staff split their time between the workplace and home.
  • Flexi-time: Where staff have a flexible start and finish time.

In your Remote Working Policy, clearly outline any applicable constraints and expectations. For example, if you offer flexi-time, how many days per can staff avail of this? And between what hours do you expect employees to start and finish?

3.   Mental health and wellness

Mental health in the workplace is becoming more and more of a hot topic in Irish HR and employment law discussion. Whether it’s Blue Monday, seasonal depression, or COVID-19 restrictions, the last two years have been tough for many employees. And with the ongoing uncertainty over COVID-19, there’s no guarantee that this year will be any different.

That’s why now is a great time to consider reviewing and strengthening your Mental Health Policy.

Mental health is an important issue, and a general wellbeing policy might lead employees to think that you treat mental health like a ‘box ticking’ exercise. Any Mental Health Policy needs to be clear and engaging, letting employees know that mental health is a priority of yours. Failing to have any policy in place means that staff won’t know how to access help when they need it. It could also mean that they’re more likely to be frequently absent from work ─ or even quit.

Clearly outline how you will support your staff’s mental health in your policy and communicate it with your team. Key aspects your policy should include are:

  • Procedures through which staff can discuss mental health concerns. This may include one-to-one meetings with their line manager or HR. An ‘open-door’ policy can also be put in place.
  • Training available to managers to support mental health, e.g., a mental health first aid course.
  • A designated person or service that an employee who’s struggling can reach out to. This could be a qualified staff member or a dedicated Employee Assistance Programme.

4.   Attracting and retaining talent

The ‘great resignation’ might have you concerned about difficulties in hiring and retaining talent. If so, it’s time to introduce ‘stay’ interviews.

You might already conduct exit interviews. This means you speak to your employee after they’ve handed in their notice to learn why they’ve quit. But by that time, it’s usually too late to convince them to change their mind. So, speak to your staff sooner rather than later and see if they have any concerns about their role.

To further boost retention, act on the feedback you receive from staff. For example, if an employee is bored with their role, see if you can put training in place to help them learn new skills.

Then, introduce a retention scheme to reward staff loyalty. This could include offering an extra day of annual leave or a financial bonus for each year of service. You could also make a commitment to promoting staff from within your business.

Add this to your retention policy and share it with staff to remind them about the perks of staying.

5.   Diversity, equity, and inclusion

In recent years, there’s been an increasing spotlight placed on injustices related to equality and inclusion. Even in today’s society, workplace discrimination and equality pay gaps still remain a cause for growing concern. Employers have a legal obligation to protect employees from discrimination. Yet, the lack of diversity in leadership representation and management, and even at junior levels, remains a problem.

Guide: Discrimination

While diversity had been on the minds of employers for some time, diversity, equity, and inclusion policies have risen in terms of priority, particularly in relation to recruitment and retention strategies. The Gender Pay Information Act 2021 was published last year and will introduce gender pay gap reporting to Ireland. And so, now is a good time to begin to review your relevant policies and procedures to ensure they’re fair and inclusive.

A good place to start is by looking at your hiring policy and ensuring it’s fair and inclusive enough. If it’s not, it could be causing you to miss out on potential talent and applicants ─ without even realising. If your recruitment policies and procedures are not fair and inclusive, then you could be at risk of a discrimination claim.

Here’s how to create an inclusive recruitment policy:

  • Encourage applications from underrepresented groups in your job advert. This could mean adding an equal employment opportunity (EEO) statement or a sentence like ‘we welcome female applicants’.
  • Offering on-the-job training to help under-represented groups progress at work.
  • Offering mentoring to under-represented groups with particular needs.
  • Hosting open days for under-represented groups to encourage them to get into your field.

Need help with your HR planning and forecasting?

If you have questions about any HR issue, be it updating remote working policies or how to deter resignations, we can help.

Speak with one of our HR consultants today on 0818 923 923.

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