Charlotte Steventon (7)

January 29, 2021

Posted by Home (ENG)

Who’s to blame for the increase in COVID cases in the UK workplace?

 


As Britain’s COVID-19 death toll sadly passed 100,000, the Prime Minister declared: “I’m deeply sorry for every life that has been lost.” Milestone figures often make people really consider their thoughts, in this case hitting home how dangerous and damaging this virus is. It also makes many naturally question: where are we going so wrong? And who should be held accountable?

 

The social nature of the office makes it a hotbed for spreading the virus. Therefore, it’s disappointing, but not at all surprising, that COVID cases are so high in the UK after reading these stats from the ONS and RSA:

  • Around 1 in 25 British workers has worked within 10 days of a positive test, rising to 1 in 10 of those in insecure work such as a zero-hours contract, agency work or the gig economy 
  • 6% of British workers have worked with COVID-19 symptoms
  • 12% have been ordered into work when they could have easily and more safely worked from home 
  • More people are travelling to work now than during the first wave with almost 48% of UK workers travelling to work in January 2021
  • Only 16% think Statutory Sick Pay is sufficient to meet their needs

It’s clear that people are putting themselves and others at risk with unnecessary travel and presence in a shared workplace. Given the devastating and prolonged effect that the pandemic has had, why are some of us still making these unnecessary mistakes?

The RSA have said that there is need for stronger welfare provision from the Government. Offering more comprehensive financial support could help curb the spread of the virus and remove the ‘economic security trap’ that employees are facing, stuck between inadequate sick pay and pressure from their employers.

It is concerning that fears for job security could be preventing people that are able to work from home from doing so. The Government have repeatedly drummed their advice into the public: ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’. If employers are pressuring employees to go into the office and go against the formal advice, they surely have to accept some accountability for the ever-worsening COVID statistics.

Sir Cary Cooper, president of the CIPD and Professor of Health and Organisational Psychology at Alliance Manchester Business School, suggested two reasons why more people who are able to work from home might be heading into the workplace:

 

  1. Employees, faced with the common fear of uncertain job security, may want to display their commitment to their job to their bosses commitment
  2. Employees may simply be missing the social aspect of work (something that many of us took for granted before we even knew what a ‘lockdown’ or ‘social distancing’ was)

 

Although feelings of loneliness and isolation are expectedly on the rise, we can all agree that individuals missing the social aspect of work isn’t justification for enabling the exponential spread of the virus and a subsequent strain on hospitals – especially considering that the new strains are even more contagious. Perhaps a better solution to tackling loneliness is for employers to take responsibility for organising more interactive video sessions with their WFH employees – this could help tackle the problem, albeit not having as much as an effect as physical contact in the office, whilst also containing the virus as the Government and the general public so sorely need.

 

It's undeniable that there have been some shortcomings and errors from all parties – the Government, employers, and employees. This is human nature. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that we’re all in this together. When we get back to normality, people will want to remember how they were part of the solution – not the problem.