Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

How businesses can adapt HR to the second lockdown

The first lockdown undoubtedly had a huge impact on the UK economy and workforce.

Danni Rush, Chief Customer Officer at Virgin Incentives and Virgin Experience Days

The first lockdown undoubtedly had a huge impact on the UK economy and workforce. We officially fell into our first recession since 2008 in Q2 and almost a fifth of the population in England was predicted to need mental health support.

While it’s true that we’re much better prepared for the effects of a national lockdown the second time round, the effects are still devastating. After 15.5% growth in UK GDP in Q3, the Bank of England is expecting a “double dip recession” in Q4, and there are concerns mental health issues may be exacerbated beyond the first lockdown by the Winter weather and rising unemployment rates.

With England resigned to a new lockdown until at least 2nd December, businesses will be closing their offices and stores and their employees may once again experience feelings of isolation. So now, more than ever, businesses must pick up weary workers not just to motivate them but also to attract and retain top talent. But what exactly can they do and how is the approach different?

Transparency and communication are key

In times of such uncertainty, transparency and communication is key. Confidence is low among workers who are in desperate need of some reassurance and a sense of normality. In the week after the Prime Minister announced the second lockdown, anxiety, isolation, and fatigue were reportedly at their highest since the start of the pandemic.

HR professionals and business leaders therefore need to be as transparent as possible to quell these tensions. Creating an open and honest culture is crucial to this, which means constant lines of communication and accessibility to support and senior figures within the business. Sharing business performance as well as future plans, will help employees feel more involved and informed.

Businesses are advised to stay in regular contact with their employees and to engage them more frequently – especially if they are working remotely. It might be as simple as a friendly catch up over a coffee or a scheduled team meeting to chat informally. Or businesses can get more inventive with a fun virtual experience such as an escape room for people to create memories together and connect in new and different ways.

Using employee engagement initiatives to attract and retain talent

Initiatives such as this have always played an important role in keeping staff engaged and motivated; and this can be crucial for both attracting and retaining the very best talent.

Being able to keep staff engaged and happy with morale-boosting team events such as a virtual cocktail making class or individual rewards such as a gift voucher can help to ensure valued team members feel rewarded. Meanwhile, being able to advertise such positive and enticing benefits in job descriptions can help to make your business stand out amongst other employers, ensuring you can take the pick of the bunch from a highly talented pool of jobseekers.

Financial vs non-financial rewards and incentives

These types of engagement initiatives can be effective ways to motivate employees, but it will take careful planning to make sure you get it right. Applying a one-size-fits-all-approach might not be the best way forward and instead asking for their feedback on engagement initiatives and using it to offer bespoke individual rewards, might be a better way of showing a deeper level of understanding and care for employees. For example, someone who enjoys cooking might appreciate an online cookery class more than yet another team quiz on Zoom.

The same logic applies to financial rewards which often end up being spent on banal purchases like groceries instead of something which creates great memories and positive sentiment towards an employer.

Although we might not have expected we would be doing an online cookery course at this time of year, the reality is that the traditional work Christmas party isn’t going to happen and businesses need to get imaginative to keep their team engaged and motivated. Failing that, giving employees something to look forward to in the Summer can provide a useful alternative to the usual seasonal festivities. Planning experiences and events ahead for when restrictions lift, and with a vaccination being rolled out will be a key way for businesses to adapt to the second lockdown and to attract and retain top talent.