Imbibe Live Online: Four ways to look after your employees in their return to work

Millie Milliken

Millie Milliken

13 July 2020

As part of our Imbibe Live Online event, Rishi Malliwal (SGM Law) spoke to Humble Grape's James Dawson, Lyndsay Jones from The Alchemist and Everyday People's Kat Hounsell about how employers can look after staff in the return to work during Covid-19. Here are some useful tips

1. Keep communication open

The Alchemist's head of people and talent, Lyndsay Jones, emphasised how important keeping communication open with its employees was during and after lockdown. 'We have an HR email so they can query anything at any point,' she told moderator Rishi Malliwal of SGM Law.

'We also put out a back-to-work survey to ask staff about queries and how they were feeling so we can devise measures, including PPE and social distancing, and address any concerns. For those shielding we have been in touch on a one-to-one basis. It was important that people felt safe about coming back.'

CEO and founder of Humble Grape, James Dawson, also touched on how the type of person working in hospitality means that extra attention and communication is key. 'At a more human level, we have created group leaders, and we have made sure that they are in contact with those on furlough once or twice a week. We were worried some of our front of house people, who are very vivacious, might have problems and be a bit down and emotionally struggling with the situation... We have made sure that we can identify someone who isn't feeling well, and then a more senior person in the team can give them a call and reassure them.' 

We were worried some of our front of house people, who are very vivacious, might have problems and be a bit down and emotionally struggling with the situation

James Dawson

Founder of Everyday People, Kat Hounsell, was also behind open communication but warned that it is important to continue being open as people start getting back to work: 'It's easy to let that slide... but there will be some teething problems, there is going to be stress around.'

2. Empower your staff

Giving staff more responsibility, without widely changing roles or complicating things, is something that Jones and her team were implementing before Covid and will be continuing in their efforts. 'We started empowering some of our duty managers before lockdown to make more decisions. I think that is something we will definitely continue – now more than ever we need to pick up on warning signs, and have duty managers confident to have those conversations and then escalate if needs be.

Hounsell also pointed out that in order to recognise change in your staff, you need to know how they usually express themselves. 'What you’re looking for is a change in somebody – and we can only spot those changes if we know their baseline to start with.'

3. Make sure they're prepared

Re-training staff will of course not only make business on reopening run smoothly but will also ease any back-to-work anxieties for staff. Jones held a training day before reopening with a 'cook off' and 'mix off' to familiarise staff with new menus and re-familiarise themselves with existing cocktails and dishes.

'To expect an employee to remember processes that were in place three months ago is unfair,' she said. 

To expect an employee to remember processes that were in place three months ago is unfair

Lyndsay Jones

She also pointed out that it is a chance to, 'meet colleagues and get to know the space,' which will no doubt have changed since they were last on the floor or behind the bar. PPE will also be optional: 'It’s not going to be clinical but we want our employees to feel comfortable and safe'.

Hounsell made a good suggestion for preparing staff who may have been shielding but are hoping to come back to work soon: 'Is there something you can do like a video [walkround] to show them what they are walking back into?' 

Dawson also touched on keeping levels of service high while staff are beginning to welcome back customers. 'We'd like [customers] to come back as if this hadn't happened, while also knowing that we're safe. We don't want to talk to them about Covid... the last thing we want to do is remind them... Of course, anyone who wants to know, we can show them.'

What you’re looking for is a change in somebody – and we can only spot those changes if we know their baseline to start with

Kat Hounsell

Jones believes that proper preparation will also lead to good service: 'When they [go on] their shift, they would have had a refresher and a knowledge check and that will make sure that the guests are the focus.' 

4. Give employees a voice

Hounsell points out that open comms post-opening are just as important as during lockdown. She suggests setting up an anonymous system for staff to contribute to, expressing how they feel operations and measures are working and voicing any concerns.

Jones reveals that The Alchemist is already doing this, putting an anonymous poll on their company staff app for feedback.

Of course, face-to-face briefings are also an important post- and pre-shift way of making sure staff's concerns are dealt with. 'Our core team will get together after every shift and discuss what went right and what went wrong. This will be a core focus for us,' said Dawson.

To watch the full session, head here.

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