How Vlex-ible will your Organisation be in a post-COVID world?

It is extraordinary how the pandemic has challenged long held views.   I remember some years ago trying to persuade a chief executive that flexible working would improve the organisation’s capacity and motivate staff to be more productive.  He was ‘old school’ in that if he couldn’t see staff in the office then he didn’t think they would be working effectively.

Varying reports based on research during the pandemic show that around 70% of people would be happy to continue working from home once the pandemic is over.

While a number of people felt the new way of working was foisted on them, a number quickly realised that the end of the long commute was a good thing, that report they have on the whole been more productive.   However, each individual is different and the challenge, from a people management perspective, is to ensure there is a way of balancing individuals’ desire for flexible and virtual working as well as keeping the organisation profitable and on target

Hafton has supported a number of its clients with on-line questionnaires to gauge the ‘mood music’ of the return to the office and what arrangement they believe will work in the future.  Most of them have opted for a blended approach, allowing staff to work partly from home and partly in the office, hence heralding a new vlex-ible (virtual and flexible) work environment.

So how can you make your organisation more vlex-ible?  Firstly, you need to have a culture of managing performance by output and not the number of hours someone works; secondly you need to have a clear plan to manage the flexible working arrangements in the business so that the work is covered.


Allergies at work – are you in the clear?

Rates of allergies have risen sharply in the last 20 years. According to Allergy UK, apparently 44 per cent of adults in the UK suffer from one or more types of allergy. As a result, it is now increasingly likely that employers will need to support staff within the workplace who suffer from allergies. For those at greatest risk, the tiniest trace of an allergen can trigger severe symptoms and, in some cases, cause a fatal or near-fatal reaction.

Pret a Manger had two cases; one in 2016 and another in 2017. In one case, Pret blamed, its supplier Co Yo, who has denied responsibility. While Pret has apologised for the deaths, it still begs a question about who is responsible. Pret has agreed to better labelling of its products in the future.

So, what are the areas of concern for employers?

Firstly, if an allergy amounts to a disability under the Equality Act 2010, the employer will have a duty to make reasonable adjustments, and the employee will be protected against less favourable treatment. For allergies which are serious, it is highly likely that the definition of disability will be met.

Employers have legal obligations under health and safety legislation, so far as is reasonably practicable, to protect employees by removing or reducing workplace risks. Some allergy-related incidents will need to be reported under Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations 2003 (RIDDOR).

You might also think about seeking advice from your employers’ liability insurer, who may recommend steps to take, including potentially a disclaimer.

Care should be taken when trying to ascertain information regarding prospective employees’ medical conditions, especially prior to offering a role, to avoid potential discrimination. However, you may need to make some enquiries to deal with the issue of reasonable adjustments.

Maintaining confidentiality about employees’ medical conditions ought to be considered, for example, when seeking to ensure colleagues are adequately trained to deal with the needs of specific allergy sufferers. It is a good idea to speak to the employee who suffers from the allergy to get their guidance on the support they may need, alongside taking medical advice.

If other employees breach express instructions related to protecting colleagues with allergies (e.g. no consumption of nuts in the office), you may need to consider taking disciplinary action.

So, what steps can you take, as the employer?

  • Make sure you communicate effectively with employees with allergies to ascertain the severity of their allergies and what the potential known triggers are. This will also apply if someone develops an allergy during their employment.
  • Encourage employees to formally declare their allergies so that adjustments can be made if required.   Asking health questions pre-employment can sometimes be unlawful, but there are exceptions, such as if they are necessary for the purposes of establishing whether the applicant will be able to carry out a function that is intrinsic to the work concerned.
  • Seek to identify reasonable adjustments where the allergy could be a disability, for example: relocating an employee’s workstation; looking for an alternative role; providing specific equipment or materials for an allergy sufferer to use; and a policy to help prevent contamination or triggers.
  • First-aid training may be important in ensuring legal obligations are met, such as supporting first aiders in the use of life-saving equipment.
  • It may be worth considering a general policy relating to allergens and/or clauses in the allergy sufferer’s contract, to outline the obligations on the employee to look after their health and safety too.

If you believe your organisation would find some guidance about allergies useful please get in touch with Hafton by giving us a call or email us at info@haftonconsultancy.com.


What are the lessons for employers from the pandemic?

The CIPD has published a guide based on an employers’ survey that asked about all types of flexible working as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly drawing the distinction between ‘flexibility of location’ (tasks that can be done anywhere and those that need to be done a specific location) and ‘flexibility of hours’, ie tasks that can be done anytime and those that are required to be done at a specific time).

Managers play a vital role in determining the health, well-being and engagement of their teams.   The old adage that ‘you join an organisation, but leave a manager’ could never be more true.  This is especially the case where line managers or indeed HR professionals do not pay attention to mental health.  The report emphasises that a line manager’s behaviour and the culture they create in their team is the biggest influence on an employee’s work experience.

The report suggests seven strategies for hybrid working where the work location can be flexible:

  1. Develop the skills and culture need for open conversations about well-being
  2. Encourage boundary-setting and routines to improve well-being and prevent overwork
  3. Ensure effective co-ordination of tasks and task-related communication
  4. Pay special attention to creativity, brainstorming and problem-solving tasks
  5. Build in time, including face-to-face time, for team cohesion and organisational belonging:
  6. Facilitate networking and inter-team relationships
  7. Organise a wider support network to compensate for the loss of informal learning

When it comes to ‘flexibility of hours’, employers who have some staff able to work flexibility and those who have fixed times and location must consider fairness across the teams to avoid risk of resentment or conflict.   It is also worth embracing a team-based approach to designing work, co-ordinating patterns of availability between team members to cover the required time slots.

In summary line managers would benefit from analysing work tasks in terms of ‘flexibility of location’ and ‘flexibility of hours’ and review the seven strategies outlined above.

If you would like to know more about creating excellent line management practice and culture, please get in touch with Hafton by emailing us at info@haftonconsultancy.com.


Digital Transformation? It’s people that make it happen!

As digital initiatives increase, it is a good time to think about who in your business or charity is leading these efforts, and who gets a voice in those plans.

A recent report in the manufacturing sector, said that of the 86% of manufacturers that have appointed digital transformation leaders – 37% are from operations, and 30% from IT and the remaining span across engineering, finance and dedicated digital transformation teams.  However, an important team that must be considered in relation to digital transformation efforts though, is HR and people operations.  Without these varying and diverse perspectives, you risk mismanaging the implementation stage as because little consideration has been given to the competencies and training needed for these new processes, behaviour, and, sometimes, roles won’t be adequate.

Most digital initiatives are about helping people make better decisions and to act more quickly.  That’s why multiple voices and stakeholders from different parts of the organisation need to be heard, and although digital initiatives are heavily technology-centered, it’s a mistake to only focus on roles and teams that are tech-intensive.

When thinking about your digital initiatives and who to have on the project leadership team the HR and people operations perspective will be crucial.  They will ensure your teams are receiving the right training, and their professional development is aligned with the changes that are occurring throughout your organization.

Human resources (HR) has traditionally been seen as a supporting department, and heavy on the administration side. Modern HR teams are now more involved with workforce transformation, helping create the right talent mix and because HR now has a bigger role and view, it can guide the cultural shift organisations need for successful digital transformation.

Digital transformations are just as much a cultural shift as technological, which means you need to prepare your workforce. You need leaders who understand culture and will help pave the way for new ideas and ways of doing things, as well as set expectations for how workers’ lives and jobs will change.  Ultimately, value isn’t created unless your teams are taking a different and better action than before.

Please contact Hafton for a free consultation about digital transformation and how to align your people, work practices and culture at info@haftonconsultancy.com  giving your name, business and contact number.