Freedom Day has come and gone this week in a subdued haze of continued mask wearing, minimal extra numbers on office commutes, and a ‘pingdemic’ meaning hundreds of thousands having been sent into isolation, rather than released to freedom. It’s certainly not been the relaxed celebration that we originally envisaged (for June), back in the spring.
The rhetoric from the Government changed too. As The Guardian succinctly puts: “Downing Street’s message has changed from go out and celebrate to be cautious, and that will affect consumer and business behaviour.”
With the PM and his Chancellor themselves isolating, what is the landscape ahead for employers and the job market?
What’s changed for office-based employers this week?
The reality is that despite the hype in the media, not a huge amount has actually changed for employers this week in practical terms. Despite the lifting of the last layer of coronavirus restrictions, employers have the same duty of care to their employees that they’ve always had under the Health and Safety at Work Act. They have a legal duty to protect their employees and that hasn’t got up and vanished.
Indeed, the Government Guidelines in place from 19 July haven’t encouraged a sweeping return to business as usual. Instead, it conveys the Government’s message that it “expects and recommends a gradual return over the summer.”
And that’s what we’re seeing on the ground. Different employers are implementing this gradual return in different ways, but very few are going all out and insisting everyone is back in with no mitigation measures (and if they are, there’s a problem). Hybrid working practices that are set to change weekly are very much the order of the day, and time will tell how permanent these become.
But what does this mean for employer confidence and hiring decisions?
Generally speaking, all of the most recent data had been pointing to booming employer confidence – in both the economy and their hiring decisions. Certainly, on the ground, in the recruitment sector, that picture doesn’t appear to be changing.
It’s perhaps a little flattened and subdued right now, but generally, the trend is upwards. Next month’s data will be the retrospective insight as to whether that’s a true picture across the country and across all sectors.
What is different is that post-Freedom Day is a different hiring environment for employers. It’s not back to pre-pandemic approaches and it’s not yet a post-pandemic new normal. It’s a funny limbo that needs to be navigated on a case by case basis fitting in with the somewhat temporary landscape of a workforce partly back in the office and partly not.
It has an element of uncertainty and, generally, employers don’t like hiring in periods of uncertainty.
And that’s before the inevitable disruption of rising cases and self-isolation that we’re already seeing hitting clusters of employers hard.
Communication is everything
The way to navigate this post Freedom Day period of uncertainty is to bring certainty into your own landscape. With the restrictions lifted and the old-school approach to workplace health and safety back in, you can create a secure working environment and arrangement for your employees, and feel confident to make growth and hiring decisions.
What will make that work is exceptional communication. Communicate effectively with your employees. Hear their concerns and address them. Encourage confidence in them. If you continue to allow homeworking, but still consider it temporary, spell it out, so that employees can’t in the future claim their contractual place of work has changed.
Set out your own roadmap for returning to the office.
Use Freedom Day and its changes to demonstrate that you are a trustworthy and reputable employer and how you’ll thrive in the post-Covid world. Welcome flexibility and resilience and your organisation will be able to inspire confidence in both existing and new employees, to enable growth and success.