This month we introduce Rachel Etterley a new contributor to our newsletter. Rachel is founder of Etterley Consulting, a HR Consultancy which provides a personal and professional service for all your HR issues from the beginning of the employment journey to the end and everything in between. Rachel refers back to her Girl Guide days in convincing us that the only way we will have any chance of surviving a potential swine flu pandemic is to ‘Be Prepared’.
When it comes to Swine Flu the one thing we can all be sure of is that none of us knows the full implications of this outbreak of flu until it hits us. The information we are getting from the media and from the ‘experts’ keeps changing and as a result is quite confusing. But this is because nobody really knows what the full impact of it is going to be. Phase one of the illness appears to have been fairly mild for most people who have contracted it. Data from the absence management firm FirstCare found employees with swine flu were taking an average of 4.3 days off work. However, it is anticipated that the outbreak will peak in the Autumn and could infect one in three people in the UK. Further it might have mutated leading to a more severe form of flu and more days off work.
According to public health experts a pandemic could escalate quickly, last for many months and infect 25% or more of the world’s population. Many organisations believe that at the peak of a severe pandemic, up to 75% of the workforce might be absent from work. (Personnel Today May 2009).Despite the risk this could pose to businesses, a Whitehall meeting of emergency services and business chiefs were told in August that 38% of companies have no response plans in place to deal with the pandemic. (Border Business Sept/Oct 2009)
It is often hard to find the time to sit down and discuss and agree plans for a potential pandemic. However, it will be time well spent because once staff start going off sick or needing time off to care for dependents it is much more difficult to react to an ever worsening scenario if you have no plans in place. On the bright side if your business is not hugely affected by the outbreak you will not have wasted your time because you will have a set of plans in place for any crises or threats to business continuity, such as a major IT failure or terrorism.
FIVE KEY ISSUES TO CONSIDER WHEN PLANNING FOR A FLU PANDEMIC
1 WHO ARE YOUR KEY STAFF?
A sensible starting place would be to consider the basic requirements of the business without which it will not be able to function. Particular regard should be paid to the minimum number of employees required to run each division or department.
Try and identify those most at risk of being unable to attend work eg, pregnant staff and potentially younger staff. According to Personnel Today (Aug 2009)young people took three times as many sick days off with flu in July 09 compared to older workers, adding weight to the NHS theory that over-60s may have partial resistance to the swine flu virus.
As part of this exercise, it would be useful to compile a list of the transferable skills of each staff member, and consider which staff could be easily retrained or redeployed in the event of a heavily depleted workforce.
2 RETRAINING AND HIRING TEMPORARY STAFF
Throughout the duration of a pandemic, it is likely that your workforce will be depleted. In these circumstances, it is important to ensure that appropriate training is given to any remaining workers who may be required to carry out unfamiliar tasks. This is particularly paramount in the IT industry where often key knowledge is held by few staff and if ill their absences could paralyse the functioning of certain departments.
You should also be prepared for the possibility of hiring and training additional temporary staff to supplement departments where staff numbers have fallen below the minimum level required. Langley James can help you with your temporary staffing needs www.langleyjames.net
3 REVIEW TECHNOLOGY TO ENABLE FLEXIBLE WORKING
Advise your staff to stay at home if they are sick, and be prepared for the possibility that it may become harder for employees to attend work. For example, travel restrictions may be put in place, or public transport may be suspended. Employers should consider using technology such as remote access via broadband or satellite connections
, to enable employees to work from home.To reduce face-to-face meetings you could consider using video-conferencing, teleconferencing, webcams or real time emails.
Allowing employees to work more flexible hours may also enable them to undertake their obligations to care for sick relatives, or for children whose schools have closed, without having to stop work completely. If you have employees who can safely work from home then this should be identified and encouraged.
It is also key to use technology to keep lines of communication open with staff who are at home.
4 DEVELOP AN EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS PLAN
Consider how information will flow to employees and suppliers and/or customers or clients. Communications may be of vital importance in keeping the business running smoothly, so an emergency communications plan
should be put in place which identifies key contacts and establishes chains of communication so that information can be disseminated quickly to the relevant people.
5 POLICY REVIEW
All of these suggestions will require careful implementation, so employers should consider whether it might be necessary to put further employment policies in place to deal with them. Where trade unions are recognised it is important to work together with them to develop and agree any revisions to current policies in the light of a potential pandemic.
Employers should consider carers leave policies for those staff who have to care for sick relatives or are required to look after children if their schools close. They need to carefully review their flexible working policies, covering flexibility of hours and location, health and safety policies aimed at preventing the spread of the illness among employees who do attend the office, and policies that deal with how to reintegrate employees back into the office environment after they have been ill or caring for sick relatives.
Sickness policies should be reviewed to ensure that they deal with all the relevant issues, including the potential for employees to be absent for extended periods, and the appropriate compensation in such a situation.
In the meantime its ‘business as usual’, although it is important to encourage your staff to be extremely vigilant with regard to their own and other colleagues hygiene routines in order to stop the spread of swine flu.
If flu-like symptoms appear, send employees home and alert them to the relevant UK helplines England:
Use the online National Pandemic Flu Service
for advice and possible medication, or call the swine flu helpline on 0800 1 513 513 for information or 0800 1 513 100 for treatment.
BUT don't panic – plan ahead
If you would like any help or advice in developing your Swine Flu Contingency Plan or you would like to discuss any other HR issues or concerns, you can contact Rachel Etterley from Etterley Consulting by email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 07941458070 or visit the website www.etterley-consulting.co.uk