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How do we ensure employees come back and are able to work safely and effectively while controlling the risks of COVID-19?

Exiting lockdown safely – the next behavioural shift

Jane Mitchell

For most organisations ‘lockdown’ and the need for social distancing has required the fastest change in employee behaviours they have ever needed. COVID-19 has shown how incredibly quickly and effectively businesses can enlist their people in adapting their behaviours to rapidly changing circumstances.

With our health and safety engagement ‘goggles’ on we have observed and helped different organisations prepare for and successfully engage their people to change the way they work; from safely working from home, to safely changing shift patterns, to safely ensuring the continuation of high hazard work.

Now many of our clients are looking ahead. Focusing on the behaviours required to maintain health and safety as they exit lockdown. The challenge being; how do we ensure employees come back and are able to work safely and effectively while controlling the risks of COVID-19?

For our global retail clients, the question is how we re-open our stores, welcome customers and provide our usual level of customer experience. For our manufacturing clients the challenge is how do we safely ramp up production in an environment where tasks often require colleagues to work in very close proximity. All of these challenges will require different behaviours from employees – all will require a different mindset in how they go about their day to day work. All will need strong, consistent and engaging communication that makes it clear ‘what it means for me’ and that supports employees to behave in the right way.

The unprecedented speed of the changes required to how we work means the temptation will be to forget the basics of effective change communication and blanket broadcast instructions and rules at employees. We are urging clients to:

  • remember the why and how the required behaviours link to overall strategy and values
  • enable conversation and reflection so that employees can work out and buy in to for themselves what it means for how they work
  • ensure messages are clear, relevant, targeted and meaningful and include examples of what it means in practise
  • enable feedback so that employees can share their own ideas, concerns, and questions.

COVID-19 is a perfect example of rapid and dynamic change. Change is a key contributor to health and safety incidents at work. Clear, effective, change communication will be critical to ensuring that health and safety risks are managed and employees stay safe and well.

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