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Staff consultation needed to ensure safe and confident return to work

A CIPD survey of more than 1,000 working adults in the UK has suggested that a number of employers are “failing” to meet three “important criteria” before asking people to return to their normal workplace.

From 1 August, the government has suggested that the “onus” will be on employers to decide if it’s appropriate for people who’ve been working from home during the pandemic to return to their normal place of work.

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But the survey found a “worrying lack of consultation” with workers to date, meaning that many returns to work have not been mutually agreed and workers’ concerns about health and safety have not been addressed.

The CIPD is therefore urging employers to consult with employees and make the return to work gradual.

Less than half (44%) of workers feel they’ve been adequately consulted about a potential return to the workplace. This drops to 28% of people with a disability, suggesting that employers may be taking a “one-size-fits-all approach” without allowing for individual concerns.

Of those who are already going to their normal place of work, one in four (26%) say their employer is “putting pressure on them to do so”.

Melanie Green, research advisor at the CIPD, said: “Workplaces should only be opening up if it’s essential to the business model, it’s mutually agreed with staff and it’s safe to do so. But our research suggests many employers are failing to meet these three tests.

“Employers must ensure they’ve taken all necessary steps to protect their staff against the virus and must not get complacent here. The rise in workplace transmissions over the last few weeks shows how vigilant employers need to be and the level of responsibility on their shoulders.”

She added: “Our research also raises serious concerns about the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental wellbeing. While some employees may be looking forward to returning to their normal place of work, perhaps because isolation and lack of social connections are taking a toll on their mental health, others are anxious about how safe it is to do so.

“Some employees’ personal circumstances – whether that’s an existing health condition or juggling childcare and work – may also create extra anxiety about returning to work. Employers shouldn’t make assumptions about what’s right for their people.”

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