Our popular blogger Steve Herbert considers COVID rule compliance and the future of HR
Four long months ago – just after the first coronavirus lockdown finished and before the current ones began – I asked a large audience of senior HR and Finance professionals to respond to the below question:
Did you personally adhere to all the lockdown rules?
At the time this query was intended as more of a gentle opener to our webinar than a particularly searching interrogation, particularly as the UK economy had largely reopened and the virus was felt to be under control.
Yet at the start of 2021 – and with the virus arguably more dangerous than at any time in the last 10 months – the responses to the above question assume a new importance.
How did HR Comply?
So how did our audience respond?
Importantly almost everyone (99%) in the (completely anonymous) poll signalled that they had tried to comply at least with the spirit of the lockdown rules. Indeed almost half (49%) didn’t knowingly break the rules at any time, and most of the other responses suggested that some rules might have been inadvertently broken, misunderstood, or just loosely interpreted on occasion.
So on an individual level Human Resources experts certainly did their bit to further the objectives of restrictions and lockdowns in supressing the first wave of the virus.
But what about other workers?
Which is great, but perhaps it is now time for HR professionals to go a step further?
Because whilst the compliance level of individual HR professionals with COVID-19 safe workplaces and edicts seems clear, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a similar acceptance of the rules is always going to be the case within their employer’s wider workforce.
For we live in a world where misunderstandings and misinformation can and do dominate the social media that so many people now rely on as their primary source of information. And it would be foolish for any us to believe that all of our co-workers are completely immune to such influences.
Indeed research from YouGov consistently suggests that many people (possibly as many as 1 in 6 of the national population) are unlikely to take a COVID-19 vaccination when they become eligible to receive it. Many in this grouping may have entirely valid reasons for such a course of action (for instance existing medical conditions or treatments), yet there will undoubtedly be more than a few that have been influenced by social media, and are now part of that small – but still significant – group challenging the existence of COVID-19.
Now I’m not going to use this article to try to disprove those that refuse to accept the realities of this pandemic. Suffice to say that a UK death toll of more than 80,000 – and a worldwide death toll of 1.9 million – should be evidence enough to change the mind of all but the most zealous sceptic.
Compliance will be key
Yet I am going to take the opportunity to point out to the HR experts reading this article that the need for as many people as possible to comply with national and corporate edicts regarding COVID-19 is likely to become a big issue for employers in the months and possibly years ahead.
For COVID-19 (and its various mutations) is not about to just go away. It will doubtless take many months for the vaccination programme to reach large swathes of the UK working age population, and notwithstanding that milestone it now seems increasingly likely that at least some restrictions will continue until 2022 or beyond. So offering a Covid-safe environment is possibly going to become a hygiene factor for everyday business, and it’s entirely likely that clients and suppliers will routinely want to see evidence of the policies in place to enforce such measures.
As time passes such measures may move beyond simple hand sanitiser, the wearing of masks, and social distancing. Indeed if concerns over COVID-19 (and its successors) persist, it’s likely that corporate vaccination programmes (similar to that offered for the flu vaccine), financial support for workers to allow for periods of self-isolation and recovery, and tools to receive diagnosis and treatment quickly may all come to the fore. All of which point towards the future development and deployment of interventions in the Employee Benefits space (and I will be sure to comment on these as they arise in the months ahead).
Yet the success of any Covid-safe policy will always remain heavily dependent on the compliance of individual workers with both legislation and their own employer’s rules. So it follows that this may also become a HR policy issue in the months and years ahead.
Social and/or legal pressures
Of course any legislation in this area will probably take some time to crystallise and appear, yet that shouldn’t prevent employers taking action in the meantime.
It’s also worth remembering that legislation generally follows – rather than leads – the social pressures of the nation. Examples here include smoking in the workplace and driving without a seatbelt, both of which become socially unacceptable long before the law makers finally got involved. And the same is likely to be true of the Covid-secure workplace of the future too.
So now might well be the time for HR professionals to more actively take the lead by not just following the existing Covid-safe guidelines, but in actually setting parameters suitable for your employer’s workplace, industry, and employee population. Or to put it another way, it’s an opportunity for Human Resources experts to move seamlessly from the role of rule-takers to rule-makers in the battle against COVID-19.
Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing