HEALTHY WORKPLACES Brave new world of work

Businesses have had to be agile over the past year, adapting their management policies and work practices to respond to unprecedented market conditions. In such a dynamic environment, how have they kept their employees safe, healthy and engaged? Nick Warburton reports

Employers have both a legal requirement and a moral responsibility to safeguard employee health and safety, but taking a preventative approach to occupational injury and illness also makes sound business sense.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that around 38.8 million working days were lost due to work-related ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries in Great Britain in 2019/2020, with stress, depression or anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders accounting for most.

The cost of this ill-health burden on the UK economy was more than £16 billion over this same period.

The past year in particular has been one of unprecedented change. The pandemic has caused significant disruption to traditional work practices and for most businesses engineered a seismic and sudden shift to remote working.

Although many had operated flexible work practices pre-pandemic, the spike in home-based telework has presented a challenge for some employees whose homes are ill-equipped to serve as office spaces.

Many have also found themselves putting in more hours as the lines have blurred between the home and work environment.

The pandemic has also created new psychosocial risks. Many workers have lost that physical, social interaction they had with colleagues and may be struggling to remain connected with their organisation and colleagues as they juggle care responsibilities with competing deadlines.

To their credit, some businesses have moved at speed to establish Covid-secure workspaces, enabling business- critical staff and others to return to the office while also able to work at home several days a week.

Business continuity: adaptability counts

Companies like PwC and KPMG had invested heavily in technology pre-pandemic, so the move to remote working was seamless and has operated well.

Julian Gray, market senior partner for PwC, said that when the first lockdown was announced it switched all 22,000 of its UK employees to home working overnight, with no impact on business operations.

“The only question hanging over us was ‘would everything stand up with 22,000 staff doing it all at the same time?’. The simple answer was yes, we were able to do that without a detriment to the level of service and support to our clients.”

Will Smith, senior partner for KPMG in the South East, reports a similar experience and adds that the flexibility of being able to work remotely has been positively received.

“Our latest insights revealed that the vast majority of our people are comfortable with home working, citing reduced commutes, greater flexibility of working hours and a better work-life balance as being among the positives,” he said. MAY/JUNE 2021 31

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