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HRE’s number of the day: return-to-workplace risks

Here's a look at the most critical concerns for organizations creating pandemic recovery plans, according to a new report from Forrester.
By: | June 11, 2020 • 4 min read


15: “Most critical risks” that accompany returning to workplaces after coronavirus, according to a new report released this week.

Navigating the return to office buildings, production facilities, plants and other workplaces isn’t nearly as simple as unwinding the rapid move to remote work that happened a few months ago, HR leaders are quickly learning.

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Related: Strategies to manage coronavirus in the workplace

New research from Forrester details 15 of the most critical risks in a report titled Returning to Work: How to Avoid the 15 Most Critical Risks, The Legal, Regulatory, and Operational Risks of Pandemic Recovery Everyone Needs to Know.

Here they are, five each in three key areas:

Workplace health and safety

  1. Forced return before employees are ready.
  2. Workplace discrimination based on age, gender or health status.
  3. Failure to comply with health and safety standards and regulations.
  4. Failure to ensure the safety of employees during their entire journey.
  5. Partner violations of safe workplace environment.

Privacy and compliance

  1. Failure to track and manage evolving legal and regulatory uncertainty.
  2. Inability to counter increased cyberattacks and insider threats.
  3. Backlash to layoffs and cost-cutting measures.
  4. Decreased productivity.
  5. Inability to retain a diverse workforce.

Operational risks

  1. Retaliation against employees who execute their rights.
  2. Stimulus non-compliance.
  3. Violation of customers’ privacy rights.
  4. Violation of employees’ privacy rights with contact-tracing solutions.
  5. Violation of employees privacy rights.

What it means to HR leaders

Although none of these concerns is surprising, the sheer number and complexity could be overwhelming.

Forrester’s full report offers deeper dives into the impact of each risk along with ways to mitigate each one. Impacts include such outcomes as creating a toxic culture, customer backlash, loss of revenue, tarnished reputation, supply chain disruption, fines and many more. However, the list of ideas for managing each risk also is long. It includes don’t force employees to return, be flexible, make ethical choices, be transparent, manage visitors into your facility and post signs about the policy, gain buy-in from employees through conversation, and many, many more.

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Overall, go beyond meeting compliance obligations and standards for health and safety, report authors suggest. Among their other recommendations: Include legal counsel on your planning team, invest in trust and empathy above all else, communicate with employees and change policies along the way if you’ve made a mistake, protect those who voice concerns, explain the benefits of polices, and be flexible.

Related: Why empathy is key as employees return to workplaces

“As always, how you behave as an employer defines your brand and values as an organization,” the authors write. “Customers, business partners and your future hires are watching how you treat your employees as they make decisions about their relationship with you in the future.”

Read more: Navigating the legal questions of workplace returns

Elizabeth Clarke is executive editor of Human Resource Executive. She earned a journalism degree from the University of Florida and then spent more than 25 years as a reporter and editor in South Florida before joining HRE. Elizabeth lives with her family in Palm Beach County. She can be reached at eclarke@lrp.com.

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