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Missed our virtual Mingle at Milton Park? Watch the recording for top tips about returning to the workplace

Published on: 05/08/2020

How do you ensure a safe and smooth return to office working and what are your legal obligations and rights? This was the topic for the first virtual Mingle at Milton yesterday where Milton Park’s estate team were joined by legal and health experts to offer advice and tips.

Milton Park’s estate manager Peter King from CBRE kicked off with a talk on building practicalities, Beverley Sunderland from Crossland Employment Solicitors covered legal protections and Gary Hibbins, Park Counselling and Wellbeing gave guidance on mental health awareness. 

Peter said Government guidance was changing regularly which makes it more challenging: “It’s extremely complex and people are having to evolve and alter their plans.” 

However, there is plenty of guidance and help available including Milton Park’s return to work pack which is available online as well as the estate team who are on hand to answer questions.

Some of the practical issues are obvious but not all will be, he warned. For example, water hygiene may become an issue during low occupancy as it can increase the risk of Legionella so water outlets may need to be monitored, flushed and checked.

It is also important not to overlook normal health and safety issues such as fire safety. “Think about your teams and the number of fire marshals that will be in, taking into account your new working patterns,” he said. 

General advice included opening windows when possible and making the most of Milton’s outdoor space with outdoor meetings. 

Among the questions from the audience were the provision of more outdoor seating and the availability of Wi-Fi hot spots to work outdoors. Peter said a new order of outdoor seats had recently arrived and said that Wi-Fi is something that could be looked into.  

From a legal perspective Beverley said while the Government guidance had changed to encourage people to return to work, employers still have a legal requirement to provide a safe environment and conduct a risk assessment. 

She recommends engaging with employees on the risk assessment, perhaps creating a first draft to review: “Employees might have thought of things that would not be on your radar.”

As well as being a legal requirement – you can’t dismiss staff for refusing to return to work if the workspace isn’t safe – demonstrating what safety measures have been put in can help build confidence in returning. 

Beverley suggests trying to deal with individual concerns: “Ultimately if someone decides that they are not going to come in and they genuinely can't work from home and there's nothing else that you can give them, then actually you're not obliged to pay them.”

However, extra consideration needs to be given to those members of staff who have been shielding and are particularly vulnerable who may have extra concerns. 

In some instances, employers may have to be tough. An audience member asked about lack of childcare as a reason not to return and Sunderland said that while allowances should be made for emergencies, employers can choose to give unpaid leave. An alternative is to use flexible furlough so that parents can share caring responsibilities. 

Building confidence in returning to work is not only important for employer/employee relations, but it is also important for mental health.

Some 48% of employees have experienced poor mental health at work and only half speak to their employers. It affects businesses just as much as physical health said Gary and the pandemic has added to the pressures and concerns.  

“Adapting to change is extremely tough, we are all living in uncertain times and we know uncertainty is a huge trigger for anxiety and stress,” he said. 

The starting point should be with your own mental wellbeing, how you are feeling will affect your behaviour and your impact on others. It is also important to recognise different anxieties and concerns and that people cope in different ways.

The return to work will be a particularly anxious time as people have had a long time cocooned in the safety of their home. Gary explained: “It's almost like having a car crash and then all of a sudden you get told you have got to go back into that car.” 

However, he says there's a lot that businesses can do, starting with letting people know that you recognise how tough it is, discussing concerns and offering a safe space for talking about health and well-being. 

You can watch/listen to the full Mingle at Milton session which is packed with more tips and guidance here:

 

The polls are in...

During the event, we ran a series of poll questions and are pleased to share the results.

2020-08-04 Mingle Rturn to Work poll results

Other useful links

Milton Park's returning to work information -https://www.miltonpark.co.uk/news/returning-to-work-guidance-at-milton-park

Crossland Employment Solicitors' website for articles on Covid-19 related employment articles - https://www.crosslandsolicitors.com/

Park Counselling and Wellbeing - http://www.didcotcounselling.com/

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