8 Jun 2020

Returning to the “new normal”: Staffing

MHA Monahans New Normal

Many businesses have placed a number of staff on furlough under the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

This Scheme is due start being phased out from 1 July 2020, further details of the plan announced by Rishi Sunak can be found here. This poses a number of questions and potential issues for businesses to resolve.

The first and most pressing is probably how to make an objective assessment of whether there is sufficient work in your business in the short term for the returning staff to undertake – we have very little visibility of how quickly economic activity will pick up as restrictions are lifted, and this makes planning for returning staff very difficult indeed.

It is likely most businesses will not have sufficient work for all the returning staff, and there may be more difficult choices ahead. It might be possible to agree to short hours for all staff, perhaps four day weeks, or shorter working days to preserve jobs as far as possible. Potentially, businesses may be forced eventually to consider redundancies if economic activity remains well below pre-crisis levels for any significant period.

For those staff returning to work from furlough and those who have remained in work for the duration, it will be important to be aware that it may take some time to “re-integrate” what was one workforce and may now, due to the different work experiences during lockdown, effectively be two workforces. Staff attitude will be key here, and it is vital managers keep their focus on staff morale and interactions to ensure re-integration runs as smoothly as possible.

One further issue to consider, which we will also discuss in relation to your business’ commercial property requirements, is whether despite more working from home and at first glance a reduction in the requirement for commercial space, with businesses implementing social distancing possibly the same if not more space may be required. Alternatively, strict shift working amongst employees with a proportion working at home and a proportion at the commercial premises to comply with the requirements is probably more likely, which in practice may involve taking into account child care requirements, partners and spouses working patterns and other outside responsibilities that staff may have, possibly making this an administratively complex exercise.

With staff costs usually one of, if not the largest single expense for businesses, focus must be on how businesses will cope with the phasing out of Government support, with some decisions over staffing levels and informal working arrangements such as shorter hours or four days weeks being considered and planned for now.

To discuss this further, please contact your usual MHA Monahans representative or contact your local office.