q Same Storm, Different Boat – Employer’s Approach to Employees On Return - Thrive Law

Same Storm, Different Boat – Employer’s Approach to Employees On Return


When the UK went into lockdown in March 2020 in relation to the Coronavirus pandemic, it seemed as though everyone had adopted the same mentality, namely that we “were all in the same boat” as employees were either deemed as key workers, subject to furlough or had to work from home. However, despite an individual fitting into the same or a similar category as their co-worker, an employer should not take the approach that all employees are feeling the same way as their experiences during lockdown will be individual to each person and will be dependent on a whole range of factors.

What’re the key areas employers must consider regarding employees?

If an employer fails to recognise each individual’s situation it could potentially build resentment between co-workers within the workplace as employees may feel that they are being treated in a way which is unfair with more preference being given to one employee (for example, a furloughed employee) whilst another may be overloaded with work, which may further impact their mental health, especially if this is not taken into consideration by their respective employer.

Employers should especially consider their employee’s experiences during lockdown from their own perspective, rather than collectively assuming all employees are in “the same boat”. A good way to approach it is to understand that we’re all in this storm together but we believe we’re all in separate boats. Everyone has faced their own personal experiences during the lockdown, including individuals being subject to financial difficulty, being isolated from their loved ones and family etc. and so they cannot be grouped together as each person has undoubtedly been affected differently.

Other factors to consider that employees could have been dealing with include:

Equally, a workplace may have had to furlough some employees and keep others working throughout the lockdown which could increase tension as some unfurloughed employees may feel that those who were furloughed have had an extended break, whilst they have had to continue working and in some cases may form the view that they have had to risk coming into the workplace whilst others have remained safely at home. Meanwhile, the furloughed may feel left out or excluded from the workplace.

As most businesses have now reopened and returned to trading, some businesses may choose to allow some employees to work from home whilst some return to the office. As a result, some employees may feel the business has only returned the ‘important’ employees and may feel left out. This could further impact employees as their circumstances at home may not be the same as the other employees who would be willing to work from home and so this is something employers must put careful thought and consideration to whilst ensuring that employees are fairly considered when returning to the office or being subject to furlough.

Is the fear resulting from the pandemic? 

As businesses are reopening and employees are returning back to work, employees could start to express their apprehension towards returning. It is important that employers listen to these concerns and try to help employees return to the workplace in a way they feel comfortable to do so, implementing reasonable adjustments where possible.

If concerns expressed from employees relate to the pandemic itself, it may be a matter of waiting until things return to normal (subject to government-issued guidance) rather than assuming an employer holds complete and total authority in this respect. For example, an employee may be more inclined to return to work a couple of weeks after bars and restaurants have been open as if they feel comfortable to explore public places or utilise public transport, they may feel less apprehensive about being around others or in confined spaces.

Employers must provide support and work with their employees who have concerns about returning to the workplace rather than giving them little to no alternative in returning to the workplace. Whilst an employer can put physical solutions in place to help employees feel safe upon their return to work, such as with face coverings and hand sanitation stations, an employer must also consider the mental impact which this could have on their employees. This is because the worry about returning to work whilst the UK is not fully back to normal could cause increased anxiety amongst employees during this uncertain time.

Suggestions on how employers can help the mental health of employees who have worries about the pandemic when returning to work include:

  • Making employees aware of any Mental Health First Aiders (MHFA), ensuring they have their contact details and know to contact them when needed or implementing MHFA into the workplace if not already present.
  • Businesses could also give extra training to managers on how to spot any increased stress or worry within employees.

We have written a blog on employees returning to work safely and employers obligations in this respect, to read more follow this link here. If you would like to speak to a member of our team about any of our services or if you have any concerns about returning to work, please do not hesitate to contact us at coronavirus@thrivelaw.co.uk, where we can provide you with further advice.

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