The year 2020 will always be a stand-out year in our personal and professional lives. COVID-19 brought so much suffering to so many across the globe and created a level of uncertainty that we had never experienced before. Businesses were forced to adapt at breakneck speed.
Public Health suddenly became the major economic issue, overshadowing even Brexit in terms of its impact on macro- economics, the public finances and the sustainability of every company in the UK.
Individual employee health became not just a matter for that employee and the Human Resources professional, but potentially a matter for the whole enterprise. What employees were doing in their lives outside of work, how stringently they were following the public health procedures, how they got to work, were all matters of concern.
Equally for employees, how seriously their employers took COVID-19 and the levels of trust they had in their employers became defining features of the employment relationship.
There were also concerns about mental health and general well-being and many employers had to consider how to support employees who were locked down and isolated from social contact.
Another key feature of this environment was how to manage the diversity of employee attitudes to risk. Many employees were, rightfully, very anxious about COVID-19 and were risk adverse, whereas others were arguably far too relaxed about it, potentially to the point of ignoring government guidelines and placing colleagues at risk of exposure.
Employers needed to find their way through this complicated maze. As always, some managed it very well and some were oblivious to it even existing, taking a one-size-fits-all approach, which may well have stored up employee engagement issues for the future.
Will this link between health and employment dissipate as we move beyond the pandemic? Well-being, health and particularly mental health was already an emerging trend prior to 2020 and COVID-19 has just acted as a jet booster on this trend.
There will continue to be short to medium term issues around managing ‘long Covid’, employees suffering bereavement, or post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues as a result of the pandemic.
There will be questions around whether to employ individuals who refuse to be vaccinated, how to manage employees who refuse to be vaccinated, the risks posed to other staff and what to do about employees who have to travel overseas in an environment where COVID-19 and new strains of it will be prevalent.
There will be the inevitable Employment Tribunal cases, where judgements will be made on how employers treated employees during the pandemic and these could contain some unpleasant or unexpected surprises for employers.
Psychological contract issues will also exist, where employees lost confidence in their employer due to the way they feel were treated during the pandemic, and this could well feed into an employee engagement challenge for some employers.
Longer-term, it is highly likely there will have to be some government reappraisal of the link between public health and economic success and this could result in legal changes which will flow down into the employment arena.
Additionally, with the rapid development of bio-sciences, it is very likely that health passports will become as important as normal passports and the health passport is likely to become important in the employment sphere.
There will continue to be this fusion of employers wanting to support their employees to live healthy lives, whilst at the same time encroaching more and more on individual employees’ private lives as they seek to minimise their exposure to individual and collective health issues.
What does this all mean for employers going forward? Businesses need to develop a Health and Well-being strategy, which looks at all aspects of individual and collective employee health. Purpose, parameters, priorities, plans, processes, policies and procedures all need to be considered, reviewed and amended, where appropriate.
Listen to our Podcast miniseries on Employment HR in 2020. This week looks at Priorities, Policies and Processes.