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Coronavirus – our fourth employer survey

05 June 2020

Our fourth employer benchmarking survey looks at how employers are approaching the potential reopening of their offices as they begin to assess some of the longer-term implications of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is the fourth in our series of employer benchmarking surveys looking at how employers are responding to the Coronavirus pandemic. It was carried out between 27 May to 2 June and involved 70 HR leaders and in-house counsel in a cross-section of businesses collectively employing over 200,000 employees.

What did we learn overall?

It seems that employers are generally taking their time to assess the risks and consult with their employees before reopening offices. Two thirds of our survey respondents had not yet completed their Covid-19 risk assessments when the survey closed on 2 June, and only 16% said they predicted reopening offices by the end of June.

Despite mixed views about how employee productivity has been affected by the pandemic, more than half of our survey respondents say this has either remained the same or improved for employees who are now working from home. This is particularly interesting considering how many employees have been trying to juggle caring responsibilities or cope with an unsuitable homeworking set-up. It tends to confirm that employees have flexed in various ways to adapt.

Unsurprisingly, increased working-from-home arrangements and more flexibility come out top of the list of Covid-19 adaptations that employers might want to keep in the longer term. However, those employers that have already surveyed their staff to ask for their views about returning to work have not necessarily received similar responses. In some organisations, most employees want to continue working from home, but in others the majority are keen to get back to the office.

Potentially related to this, around a quarter (27%) of employers said they had seen a significant increase in mental health problems for employees working from home (more than double the percentage who reported a significant increase in physical health problems). This may indicate that mental health issues manifest themselves more quickly than physical problems, but it begs the question of whether the effort to maintain productivity may be coming at a cost to employee wellbeing.

Use of public transport is clearly a major concern for employees, with our survey respondents planning an impressive range of measures to support those who would ordinarily travel to work in this way. Alongside adjusting working hours, over one in four of survey respondents (27%) are providing or funding bicycles for employees (although only 3% are increasing showering facilities, suggesting that the new normal could be sweatier than the past). For the time being almost as many employers are banning the use of public transport to work out of health concerns (8%) as are mandating it (9%).

Looking ahead, more than a third of our survey respondents expected there to be a gap between the end of the furlough scheme in October and their ability to return to normal. Half of them predicted redundancies as one of the measures they expect to be needed to deal with this gap, which suggests that the government might be ending the furlough scheme too early. That said, many of our survey respondents have not used the furlough scheme and the majority reported no expected gap.

Some of the key results in more detail

  • 32% of our survey respondents had already completed their Covid-19 risk assessments, while 64% were actively working on them. Only one employer had published the results on its external website by the time they answered our survey.
  • 17% of employers who responded to our question about Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in office environments will be asking employees to use face coverings while 17% are supplying additional PPE, for example where social distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Two thirds (66%) of our survey participants are consulting employees directly over their plans to control workplace risks. Only 11% are consulting existing employee or union representatives, with the same number (11%) consulting health and safety representatives elected especially for this purpose.
  • Opinion is divided about temperature checks on staff. 28% are planning to carry them out or are already doing so (for example, using non-touch thermometers). 34% are not doing or planning to do this, while the largest proportion of survey participants (38%) were undecided.
  • 40% of those responding predicted reopening their office(s) in July or August. One in five (20%) do not predict reopening until September or later, with a couple of employers commenting that they did not plan to reopen until January 2021.
  • Most employers (52%) have carried out surveys of employee views on returning to work, which have revealed stark differences in employee sentiment between different workforces. Some employers have a majority of staff eager to come back, whereas others have a majority wanting to carry on working from home.
  • On the difficult issue of data suggesting that BAME people are at greater risk, most employers (69%) were unsure or undecided about whether to make any extra adjustments for BAME employees. Just 3% said they were proactively planning to make extra allowances for this group (an approach with significant legal minefields). 26% said they were not planning on doing so, but with many commenting that attending the office would be voluntary in any case.
  • 61% are not planning to require employees who use public transport to return to work or are prohibiting them from doing so, for example because of the risks to other employees.
  • Employers are taking various measures to support public-transport users, the most popular being adjusting start and finish times (81%) and changing/reducing hours of work (58%). Supporting cycling seems more popular than supporting driving, with 29% of employers increasing bike storage and 27% providing or funding bikes, but only 15% providing or funding additional car parking. Only 3% are increasing showering facilities, however.
  • Over a quarter (27%) of employers said that they had seen a significant increase in mental health problems for employees who have been able to work from home. In contrast, 11% said they had seen a significant increase in physical health problems for this group.
  • There were mixed views about the effect of homeworking on employee productivity, with more than half of respondents (53%) saying it had either remained the same or improved following the shift to remote working. However, 24% said productivity was a little down or significantly down.
  • More than a third (36%) of those responding to our survey expected there to be a gap between the end of the furlough scheme in October and their ability to return to normal, with half predicting redundancies as one of the measures they expect to be needed to deal with this gap.
  • Covid-19 has impacted the immigration landscape, with more than 60% of respondents having to implement remote right to work checks and 40% cancelling or deferring international assignments. Interestingly, only 10% of survey respondents had made reports for sponsored workers about salary or hours changes. This could indicate that sponsored workers have been largely unaffected, or that employers may not yet have got to grips with the issues that should be reported for sponsor licence compliance purposes.

The full results of the survey, including answers to some additional questions, are shared only with those who participated.

For an infographic summarising the key conclusions, click on the image below.

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