Last week saw the first person in the UK to be vaccinated with the new Pfizer jab, along with mass rollouts will do a lot to make many people feel as if the UK is on the right track to recovery. A year where negative headlines about COVID-19 have dominated seems set to end with some positive news – albeit still COVID related.

While this is welcome news here at e-days, we are keen to highlight the continued impact to businesses, and the prolonged effects it will have on workforces, especially for those that do not have employee wellbeing as a priority on their 2021 agendas.

Data from 86,000 recorded UK absences has revealed that stress levels have spiked twice in 2020 following changes to the furlough schemes. These peaks were especially noticeable in organisations with fewer than 250 employees as the effects of the pandemic proved more challenging for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

A stressful year for SMEs

While 2020 has been far from a walk in the park’ for any organisation, data reveals that for businesses with fewer than 250 people, the burden was heaviest.

In April this year when 42% of the workforce at companies with fewer than 250 employees were furloughed, only 0.85% of leave was stress-related in companies of this size – the lowest figure of the year. However, in July and August, just as the government job retention scheme was updated to allow a more flexible return to work for an increased proportion of the workforce and furlough uptake figures reduced, stress-related absence figures in SMEs grew to 3.4% and 3.2% respectively.

The trend continued into October, where uncertainty over whether the UK would enter a second nationwide lockdown or not, and if the Government intended to extend the furlough scheme, saw stress-related absence hit its highest peak of 4.3%. This figure is made all the more stark when compared to the fact that stress-related absences in organisations with 250+ employees dropped to 1.7% – the lowest since the pandemic began.

Expect a spike in spring

This data highlights the significant likelihood that stress-related absence will rise once again at the end of March 2021, when the furlough scheme is expected to end. Equally, with the scheme expected to be revised in January, organisations need to be ready and prepared for spikes in absence in Q1.

How to be proactive when planning for this can be daunting, with many points to consider, not to mention the concern from employees. Communication, visibility, Q&As, support groups are all ways to begin to manage the uncertainty. Many SMEs will feel the pressure, but it is the responsibility of the employer to make this period as seamless as possible.

One crucial area to consider is how you manage employee absence. This should already factor in your ‘furlough gameplan’, but with added pressures around holiday roll-over due to planned holidays being postponed this year, as well as employee burnout and stress being a key issue, ensuring your HR teams have the proper resources to handle this administration nightmare is vital.

Our recent State of Work podcast episode ‘‘The three little-known secrets to tracking absence management’ will be useful if you are in the middle of your 2021 planning.

Workplace stress is not unheard of, but the year we have had it is! With the data all pointing to further unplanned absence, businesses need to take the opportunity to plan for this and begin to implement systems that will assist them in what is likely to be a bumpy start to 2021.

 

top five things hr directors are prioritising for 2021 image