Coronavirus and the workforce: how to take an inclusive approach

Employers must ensure they take an inclusive approach to support employees in the wake of coronavirus

In the wake of COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus, businesses are navigating increasingly complex business continuity planning and rapidly changing public health advice. 

Inclusion may not be at the forefront of the mind when doing this. However, it’s as important as ever that employers are sensitive and inclusive in the way they manage their response to coronavirus.  

In our research Building Inclusive Workplaces, we highlight that ‘taking an intersectional approach where organisations consider how they value and support employees as individuals is the first step to becoming more inclusive’.  In the context of coronavirus, employers need to understand the impact the pandemic and related workplace changes have on individuals, depending on their background or circumstances.   

Zero tolerance to harassment and discrimination  

Organisations may need to reiterate zero-tolerance policies to harassment or discrimination.  There have been reports of several racially motivated attacks in the wake of coronavirus as well as verbal harassment. In addition, employees may be facing negative reactions or inappropriate questions.  

Employers should be aware of this and other potential issues that employees might be facing and support them accordingly. It’s important that all employees understand their role too; research indicates that the willingness of employees to challenge inappropriate behaviour can help create a supportive environment.

Consider those with caring responsibilities 

Organisations should ensure that their approach considers those with caring responsibilities. For example, the working ability of those with childcare responsibilities will be impacted by school closures. Be aware that women are more likely to assume caring responsibilities; 58% of unpaid carers are women, and women are more likely than men to reduce their working hours to accommodate children. As one Bloomberg article notes ‘when the virus closes schools, restricts travel, and puts aged relatives at risk, [women] have more to do’. 

Organisations should take a sensible approach in supporting those worried about spreading infection to vulnerable family members, regardless of gender. They should be aware of the roles employees play outside of work, and how they will be impacted by any remote working arrangements.  

Working from home may be more difficult for some employees 

With many businesses trialling remote working arrangement where possible, it’s important to remember that working from home requires planning. It’s also important to remember that remote working can have negative, as well as positive impacts. Some employees won’t have optimal workspaces at home, which can have physical health implications. Some may have difficult home environments, live in poor-quality housing or live alone and will lack social support. Being at home for an extended period of time could impact on productivity but also well-being.   

Organisations must follow government advice on this issue and move towards remote working if required. But they should equip line managers to maintain good digital links with their team, think about what equipment might be needed to aid remote working, and be aware of what additional support is available for those who may struggle to work remotely. This might include signposting employees to an Employee Assistance programme if available. The CIPD has produced a questionnaire that can be used to understand what next steps are needed for remote or flexible working.   

Take into account employees with pre-existing health issues 

As well as those with physical health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness, this time can be difficult for those with mental health issues or those concerned about receiving ongoing medical treatment or prescriptions.  

Mind and the World Health Organisation have produced specific guidance for well-being in relation to coronavirus, including suggestions for employees to manage their own well-being. Employers should also consider what support they need to put in place for employees with mental health issues. This could include holding more regular catch-ups with employees and making reasonable adjustments where required, as well as signposting to resources.   

Ultimately, employers will need to act consistently to safeguard the health of employees and do their part to reduce the spread of the virus. However, we must equip line managers to support their people and understand how any workplace decisions or government action might impact each person in their team.  

People professionals can support line managers by surfacing inclusion issues and considering them in contingency planning and employee support offerings. You can access the CIPD’s resources and guidance for employers on coronavirus here.  

Mel Green

Mel is Research Adviser at the CIPD. Her research interests include diversity and inclusion, ethical practice and organisation development. When she’s not exploring the evidence on HR practice, Mel enjoys yoga and travel.