Currently, to attract and retain employees, salaries are increasing. In hard-pressed sectors like logistics and care, there are not enough employees.
Many employees are in favor of maintaining flexibility and may be interested in employers maintaining the hybrid office-home work model. They will note that the official guidance from the Scottish Government is only for employers to ‘consider’ hybrid work.
In contrast, there are some employers, especially in financial services, who want employees to return to the office at least three days a week. All employers are interested in stability and in establishing policies that reflect the “new normal.” This goal remains a challenge as covid infections only slowly recede and the pandemic persists.
Companies are well aware of the impact of the pandemic on employees and work practices. Some may point to a loss of “office” camaraderie or collaboration, while junior employees have potentially enjoyed less training and development.
From my perspective, 2022 will be a year of transition. While challenging for some industries, companies should try to maintain flexibility in work practices and ensure that employees feel committed to the way they are expected to operate.
Significantly, the UK government launched a consultation (which closed on 1st December 2021) to review the current legal right of employees to request flexible working. Off the table is an automatic right to work flexibility. Instead, the government favors employee/employer dialogue on how flexible working could work for everyone.
The government has also sought opinions on whether the right to request flexible work should be an employee’s right from day one. Currently, it is only considered after accumulating 26 weeks of service.
The consultation has also asked whether employers should have a responsibility to suggest alternative arrangements if requests for flexible work are rejected.
The consultation process may be overtaken by innovative employers who are already adopting flexible working policies. A new initiative, the 4 Day Week Campaign, has been announced, with some employers testing an arrangement whereby employees retain 100 percent of their salary and work four days a week, not five.
Unfortunately, I believe that many sectors of the industry will see a significant increase in employee mental health problems once the crisis period dissipates. Consequently, it is imperative that all employers consider how such employees can be supported in practice. Our post-Covid world of work will increasingly need to prioritize and offer a wide range of positive mental health and wellness practices.
This may include the implementation of effective sick leave measures and (if resources allow) employee advisory services. The costs of introducing such measures can be staggering. However, if such steps are not effectively considered, high levels of sickness absence could materialize for many months and be just as challenging for the business.
The pandemic has arguably redefined our future world of work and in my opinion the key for companies will be to identify and harness positive methods of how to work differently and effectively than the pre-Covid “norm”. Certainly, companies that incorporate positive mental health practices are likely to retain talented employees. In turn, these people will be motivated to serve their employers and clients and help ensure the continued success of the business.
Kim Pattullo is a partner and joint head of employment law at Shoosmiths in Scotland.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.