Happy 2021! The New Year coronavirus updates have brought a mix of good and bad news to UK HR departments. How will the pandemic change staffing practices in the long and short term? This is a good moment to reflect.

COVID-19 has dominated the news for so long that a summary seems redundant. But, just in case you’ve spent the last year hiding up a tree, here are the basic facts.

A new disease resulted in large sections of the UK workforce spending much of 2020 at home. Despite these measures, infection rates have now increased to the point where the NHS is at crisis point. But vaccines have been approved and everyone who wants a preventive jab should receive one by the autumn.

COVID’s impact on business is enormous…and ongoing. How are UK companies to find a passage through these choppy waters? As usual, HR managers will lend their unique skills to navigation efforts. But we also think absence management systems (AMS) like ours have a contribution to make, too.

Let’s review the requirements for the short, medium and long term.

The short term: BAU

In the short term, the priority must remain keeping our businesses ticking over while preventive measures are ongoing. That’s an issue that has already been on the agenda for nearly a year, but it’s even more pressing now that the novelty of homeworking has worn off and staff are itching to get back into the office.

It means taking the obvious steps: maintaining the fundamentals of social distancing by instituting shift systems, supporting homeworking initiatives, and promoting improved office hygiene practices.

Although LeavePlanner can’t assist you in installing disinfectant stations, our time management systems can certainly help you with social distancing – by making it easier to manage, store, log and review timelines around employee sickness and leave-taking. And we can help in other ways, too… ones you might not have considered.

As many business commentators have been pointing out, ‘presenteeism’ now poses more of a threat than absenteeism. Let’s say that a staff member has phoned in sick because of COVID symptoms. Or, worse, that they’ve been taken ill at their desk, or even chosen to come to work while infectious. Such a ‘presentee’ might singlehandedly account for dozens of new cases among your workforce, so it’s imperative that your business prepares properly.

A base level response would be to notify everyone in the building with whom they’ve had contact. But shouldn’t you go further? After all, if you had access to staff infection and vaccination histories, you wouldn’t need to bother staffers who already have immunity. Or you might learn that a contactee has a child who is vulnerable or that they live with elderly parents, making them a priority for isolation efforts. A full-strength AMS can provide ready access to medical and personal data, enabling you to deliver a fully-tailored COVID-19 response even if line managers themselves are off sick.

The medium term: protecting the NHS (and your business)

The same considerations apply in the medium term, too. Given this January’s near-meltdown, it’s clear that we’ll all need to rethink our relationship with the NHS – and that means taking responsibility for preventive measures. After all, it doesn’t require a huge stretch to imagine disgruntled employees suing employers for failing to provide adequate notification of an infection risk.

You’ve been managing coronavirus absences for nearly a year now. Can you be sure you provided formal notices to team members who might have been in contact with the absentees? In these difficult times, an AMS will help you sleep easier.

The long term: predicting wellbeing

What about the long term picture? With businesses focussing on the datum that the wellbeing of staff and business are linked, we can expect to see growing integration between business and medical records systems. As the duty of care increases, so does the requirement for insights into employee healthcare.

Some of those insights require only a slight cultural shift. Issues of mental health, which had been making their way steadily up the corporate to-do list for years before the pandemic hit, have been foregrounded by COVID. As a result, every HR department in the country seems to be taking appropriate steps.

But the pandemic has also shown employers that it’s just as important to anticipate trends in health as in technology. Expect your AMS to provide new predictive capabilities, aimed at enabling you to forecast trends in staff wellbeing and requirements and to identify individuals in need of support and attention.

Perhaps coronavirus will benefit all of us, in the long term.

If you’re looking to kickstart 2021 with an AMS, contact us or start a 30-day free trial.

For any queries, call Steve on 01252 636 070 or email support@leaveplanner.com