How to have the conversation with your staff
It is important to spend time to understand any concerns your staff may have, to provide support and to make necessary adjustments to mitigate those risks as far as possible. The issues identified below are not exhaustive and line managers should recognise the diverse lived experience of those affected by Covid-19.
- Ideally you should have a one-to-one return to work discussion with each member of your team. If a staff member indicates they would prefer to speak to someone else then refer them to your line manager.
- You must at least offer to speak to staff before making decisions or putting plans in writing. This can help staff understand, and feel included in, decisions.
- Be open. There are still things we don’t know about the virus. If you do not know something, say you do not know. And then act to find out.
- Be understanding of the personal circumstances and feelings of your staff. Take an empathetic and compassionate approach in supporting them. As a line manager, you have a duty of care to those you manage. Those individuals you manage also have a duty of care for their own wellbeing as well as others they work with.
- If you are uncertain about the support to provide your staff member, contact your HR Adviser for advice.
What to discuss with your staff
The following topics should be discussed with your team member during your conversation with them. There is also guidance available on conversations with staff in specific circumstances, and FAQS about other issues to keep in mind.
- Try to understand how people have felt about the experiences of the last year and how they are feeling now.
- Some colleagues have taken on more work in difficult conditions, while others have been unable to work as normal due to other responsibilities and challenges during this time. It is important to acknowledge and thank people for doing their best.
- Others might be struggling with their mental health (and some may not recognise this and/or may not wish to talk about it with you). There is some useful guidance from Mind about how to start these conversations and how to support people.
- Identify if there are any other factors that have not previously been discussed that may affect their ability or willingness to return to campus if their role requires this. There is further information in the FAQs about this and those with concerns about caring responsibilities and the possible additional risk factors for a range of different groups. Examples of these groups of people are those from a BAME background, men, pregnancy, disabled people, those in the LGBTQ+ community and people who have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable or have other medical conditions (including mental health).
- Explore how staff travel to work and if this could affect their ability or willingness to return to campus. Currently, usage of public transport is low and there is constant monitoring of public transport for the latest Covid variants.
- Refer to the Covid-19 Secure Procedures as needed.
- Understanding of the working circumstances which could raise the risk of the individual, e.g. Dentistry, Dental Nursing, Dental Hygiene Therapy, ENT, Orthopedics, etc. (see local risk assessment).
All staff should by now be spending a good proportion of their time working on our campuses to support our students and staff living, studying and working here. Local management teams will set expectations in relation to attendance on campus.
- Ensure the individual has read recent communications from the Principal and is aware of the content outlined at the top of this guidance; that we are classed by the government as an essential activity and critical workers and that we have a large number of students on campus who we have a duty to support.
- Discuss their need to return to campus in order to support the work of the team or area, along with their colleagues, their expected on-campus working pattern, expected return date and whether the return may be phased. This will be dependent on the service requirements for your area, the individual’s role and personal needs. It might be appropriate to agree that staff initially come on to campus for one day a week, and slowly increase this over time, if appropriate. This should be in line with what the operational / management team has agreed as appropriate need, and work patterns should consider equity and parity across the respective team / staff group .
- When considering who might come in/different shift patterns consider the need for fire marshals or first aiders. Where appropriate you may want to discuss with other local teams. You may want to consider training extra fire marshals see the H&S course calendar and remind people about how to request first aid.
- If there is any potential that staff may be working alone ensure you have discussed the lone working standard and guidance.
- Make staff aware Queen Mary is taking part in the Government scheme to provide Covid-19 testing for asymptomatic students and staff. If you are regularly travelling to our campuses, you are strongly recommended to book 2 tests per week – further information and how to book.
Be aware that some staff members may need existing reasonable adjustments reassessed under potentially new/different working conditions, while others may need new reasonable adjustments put in place on their return to campus. Adjustments may include moving to a lower-risk area, undertaking lower-risk tasks, limiting exposure (for example reducing shift lengths) and remote working. Speak to your staff about this and seek advice from your HR Adviser if required.
- If during a conversation with a staff member they disclose a health condition, including mental health, then with the staff member’s consent, you can contact your HR Adviser for advice.
- Concerns about travelling on public transport could be mitigated by staggering start and finish times or considering alternative journeys to work. There is also research undertaken by Imperial which shows that there was little trace of Covid-19 on public transport. There is guidance here on travelling to and from work safely. Where appropriate, discuss the cycle to work scheme to support colleagues who may be concerned with using public transport. If appropriate discuss the ‘Authorisation to Park’ Permit.
- Additional support for staff that is available through the Employee Assistance Programme.
- Ensure you are aware of the measures that have been taken following the University-wide and local risk assessments to make the campus safe and to protect staff, students, and visitors.
- Remind staff that when they return to work, things will be different, that it may take a while for everyone to get used to the ‘new normal’ but that there will be help and support available through line management, Health and Safety, and HR.
- Reiterate the guidance they should follow to protect our staff and remind them what to do if they experience Covid-19 symptoms (see FAQs on if you experience Covid-19 symptoms or track and trace).
- Advise them about what else has changed, including new rules about entry/exit/emergency procedures, use of communal areas, Face Covering Policy, reminding them to bring own ID pass, cup etc. There will be local communications about this from your School, Institute or Directorate and you can also find general guidance on the health and safety website.
- Remind staff of the recommendation to have twice-weekly Covid-19 test at one of our centres if they are on campus regularly. Regular testing, along with following our Covid Code, will help keep everyone safe.
If staff have other concerns, please see our dedicated sections on FAQs on the following topics:
- Travelling to work and abroad
- People with caring responsibilities including childcare
- Links to wellbeing support and resources
What to do after you have had the conversation
Following the discussion with your team member, briefly summarise by email what has been agreed so everyone is clear from the outset on the agreed campus working plan. Be clear on the approximate timescales of any action points that you need to follow up on and when you expect to get back to the staff member.
Staff have never stopped working on campus and within your team some will need or want to return sooner than others. However, if you have not received confirmation from your Head of School/Institute/Director of Professional Service that your team is required in and that all risk assessments and checks have been completed, this will need to be obtained prior to your staff member(s) returning.
If a staff member needs to return prior to this because conditions at home make it difficult to work please contact your HR Adviser in the first instance to discuss.
Once your team returns to campus
On return, staff may need to adapt to once again to working in a shared environment with colleagues. Some may take more time than others to adjust; it is likely that most staff members will need a period of readjustment.
- Adopt an empathetic and inclusive approach
- Arrange regular one to ones with team members so that you can discuss ongoing support, obtain updates on how they are coping and identify any adjustments you need to consider.
- Be a role model for health and safety compliance and ensure that all staff within your team are following the guidelines put in place. Any concerns should be dealt with immediately.
- Ensure that communication channels are open with the team so they can discuss and share any concerns with you and you can also keep them up to date with all relevant health and safety information.
- Communication in teams where some staff members are working from home and others are on campus on different days needs more thought than if you were all working in the same location.
- Ensure that any modifications or adjustments in the working environment are communicated to the team.
Regular reminders to your team
The safety of staff and students is our foremost concern as we reopen campuses. We need line managers help to do this. Please regularly remind team members of the basics when they come back to campus:
- If they have Covid-19 symptoms or have been in contact with someone who has, they should not attend work and notify Staff Health and you (their line manager). Also refer to the latest NHS guidance on symptoms and self-isolation. Please see further guidance from H&S and in the FAQ on what to do if someone is diagnosed with Covid-19.
- To abide by the Queen Mary Covid Code and all guidance on signs and instructions by security staff while on campus.