Advice for managers

Get answers to questions for managers and leaders during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The majority of us will be working from home for the foreseeable future. Here are some reminders of the good practice that we all adopted during the first lockdown.

  1. Keep in touch with your staff members. For some staff, physical isolation will be particularly challenging and uncomfortable, others will find it easier to adapt. Knowing that you are making your best efforts to stay connected, to offer clarity about work priorities, help in overcoming any barriers to working remotely and just offer the appropriate caring social contact will help keep your people engaged in our endeavour. If you lead a large group, team or department, you could consider asking colleagues to help you keep in touch with staff.
  2. One of our great strengths is the diversity of our population. Please see our resources and support for individuals and for leaders and managers on inclusive working.
  3. Report any COVID 19 diagnoses that you discover and encourage staff to report so that we know the pattern of infection across our workforce and do what we need in terms of care.
  4. Review the ways in which you are keeping in touch as a group or team, both professionally and socially to make sure that you are using the channels available to you all to best advantage.
  5. Look after yourself. You won’t be able to do your best for your people if you don’t. There are many self-help resources and you will receive a number from friends, family members and colleagues. Think about sharing the tools that you find helpful with your staff and encourage them to do the same. Please see our selection of tools to help you as a manager and our staff wellbeing resources.

Who should be working on campus at this time?

Following government guidance issued on 5 January 2021, all workers are instructed to work from home unless they are in critical roles. At Sussex, we refer to critical roles as essential and these are roles which can only be performed part or full time on campus. Heads and Directors should agree essential roles with their managers and their staff.

Some staff may be unable to work from home, perhaps for wellbeing reasons or because they do not have the appropriate working environment and these staff may request to work on campus.

As a manager, your role is to approve campus working for these individuals and to ensure that the staff occupancy level in their work space allows them to work safely. You should record the names and dates when staff attend campus so that you can review occupancy levels. You should also ensure that all staff who work on campus understand the current safety guidance. This is particularly important as we face increased transmission of a new variant of the COVID virus.

Can staff be furloughed?

As we live through this third lockdown, we know that many of our staff are trying to cope with work and caring responsibilities. Others are finding that their work cannot be done remotely either in part or in its entirety. Clinically vulnerable staff who are advised to work from home may be unable to do so because of the nature of their work.

Although the University will not be claiming from the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) at this time to cover the costs of furloughing these and other staff, we are committed to these things:

  • We ask managers to talk to staff about what they can do in terms of work at this time and  agree a pattern of work with their people (this could be compressed hours, reduced hours, a different pattern of working, unpaid leave, annual leave etc.)
  • We will continue to pay our contracted staff at their current salary, even if the pattern of work agreed is less than the usual agreed hours
  • In effect the University is covering the costs of furloughing staff itself, in many cases as if they were being furloughed part-time
  • We already have in place a flexible working policy which allows staff to ask for reduced hours, compressed hours and unpaid leave to suit a variety of circumstances
  • We are about to introduce an annual leave purchase scheme so that staff can “buy” additional leave to use in a way that works for them
  • In committing to cover the costs of salaries for our staff in this way we are ensuring that everyone can keep in touch with their teams (furloughed workers are not permitted to undertake anything that can be defined as work). In this way we are reducing the likelihood of isolation and the challenges of re-entering a team after a period of distance

Our belief is that, having just paid out an award to all those on Grade 8 and below in our DPR scheme, we cannot justify to HMRC the claiming of additional funding to cover the costs of furloughing staff.

What should I say to a member of staff who is keen to be furloughed?

The University has taken the decision that it would be inappropriate at this time to use government funding in order to support our staffing costs. We will not therefore be making claims to the Government’s furlough (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme) at this time.

We recognise that this is an incredibly difficult time for many parents and carers as they cope with the challenges of home schooling/caring for others and working remotely. Many staff are finding that it not only puts strain on their time, energy and ability to work full time, but it also has practical implications such as access to broadband and the ability to work online.

We also recognise there are staff with clinical vulnerabilities in essential (campus tied) roles who will be unable to perform all, or aspects of, their role due to government guidance for clinically vulnerable individuals to work from home.

Managers should keep in regular contact with their staff to understand the challenges they face in working remotely while coping with caring and other responsibilities that are made more complex by the COVID-19 restrictions. Managers are asked to work with all their staff, listening to the challenges faced, considering with them what might be feasible with regard to working flexibly (e.g. compressed hours, different hours of work, reduced hours, variable patterns of working, different work that can be managed remotely) and should agree team and individual work plans. We know that some staff may not be able to undertake a full complement of working hours and managers are asked to support this where necessary. As a manager, you may need to discuss a reallocation of essential work across a team or group, taking into account the availability and working situation of your staff so that you can agree a pattern that supports as many staff as possible.

Managers should discuss and agree what needs to be prioritised across the whole team or group and agree workloads and patterns of work with all team members. These may change as personal and national circumstances change. Conversations between managers and staff should continue so that we continue to flex our approaches, support the needs of our staff and do the best we can for our students.

How do I get a critical worker letter to a member of my staff?

DfE guidance defines all University staff as critical workers. This means that any member of staff who needs to, can have a critical worker status letter.

A critical worker status letter will be required by staff who wish to enter their child/children into school.

We have made an electronic critical worker status letter available on our website for use by any member of staff who needs it. Staff can download, print and email this letter to use for the purposes above.

Please note that a critical worker status letter will not guarantee that your staff will be able to access schooling for their children; this will depend upon staffing levels and available spaces in schools.

The University recognises that here are a number of reasons why it may not be possible, necessary or appropriate for staff to send their children to school at present. The University understands the challenging position many staff are in and encourages managers to support staff as best as possible in developing workable solutions to balance childcare and work through this period. If you think one of your team is struggling with childcare initiate a supportive conversation to explore options. 

A member of staff in my team is clinically vulnerable but holds an essential role that can only be carried out in full or part on campus, what does this mean?

Current government guidance to those shielding is ‘if you cannot work from home, then you should not attend work’. We understand this may mean some staff are therefore unable to perform all or part of their roles at present.

Managers are encouraged to speak to essential staff with clinical vulnerabilities to assess what this means for their workload and any potential options to cover essential aspects of their role through alternative means over coming weeks.

It might be that there are options for work to be reallocated and a shielding member of staff to temporarily support with alternative duties, in turn alleviating work pressure elsewhere within a team or group; we encourage managers and staff to explore options creatively and flexibly.

Clinically vulnerable/extremely vulnerable staff should be reassured there will be no financial detriment to essential staff unable to perform all or part of their role due to shielding during lockdown.

A member of staff who is not in an essential role has said that they need to come on to campus to do their work. How should I respond?

Please see the University’s current guidance. If a member of staff needs to come on to campus to undertake their work (for reasons of wellbeing or working environment), they must have permission from their Divisional Director/Head of School. If you approve their presence on campus please check that the staff occupancy level in their work space allows them to work without compromising their own safety and that of others. You should have a system in place in your school or division for recording the names and dates when staff attend campus so that you can review occupancy levels. You should also ensure that all staff who work on campus understand the current safety guidance. This is particularly important as we face increased transmission of a new variant of the COVID virus.

Some of my staff are designated as essential. They say they feel unsafe coming to campus to work. How should I respond?

Begin by finding out what it is that makes them feel unsafe. Try asking some open questions “What are the triggers that make you feel anxious?” “How do you feel when you think about the things that worry you?” “What could we do to reduce those risks?” 

In this way, we encourage staff to identify what is causing the concern and to look ahead to workable solutions that are of their own choosing. They may be worried about taking public transport to work, in which case you may be able to suggest changing start and finish times so that public transport is quieter. Remember that the University has waived car parking charges during this period.

They may be worried about infection resulting from non-isolation. In this case, reassure them that you have made arrangements for appropriate social distancing between members of staff and that cleaning of campus buildings continues during this period. Don’t forget to explore whether there are under-lying health issues for the individual or for a family member. If this turns out to be the case, then it’s vital that the staff member be offered the opportunity to work from home where they can isolate. (Please see FAQ on clinically vulnerable staff)

What if a member of staff has told me that they don’t feel they can work safely at home?

It’s worth beginning with a conversation to discover what lies behind the concern. There could be many reasons; having to work in a room that isn’t suited to a laptop and trailing cables for example, or working in the same room as frail dependents or small children. Staff with disabilities may not be set up to work from home because they don’t have the adaptations that we have put in place on campus.

Talk your staff member through a risk assessment and encourage them to consider each risk and identify options to mitigate. Making sure that a laptop is charged and that cables are removed may be one option. Consider breaking up the working day so that time can be spent with dependents and shorter blocks of time set aside to work. Staff may need help from you to prioritise their work.

Talk within your own management group about how you could resource additional equipment needed at home for staff with specific needs.

If you discover or suspect that this is a domestic abuse situation, then you should contact your HR Business Partner for advice.

What if a member of staff has told me that they are unable to do their work at home?

The first thing is to have a conversation with that person to discover what barriers there are to working from home.

The staff member may have a disability and need some adaptations or some support to facilitate them working at home. If this is the case, then schedule discussion with your own management group about supplying or signposting to resources and equipment

They may be sharing IT equipment with another family member, or have caring responsibilities that mean they have to stop to take care of others. Some staff may believe that they have to work their usual pattern of office hours’ at home. Explore with them the possibility of changing their working hours so that they perhaps work in a number of short bursts or compressed hours. Where possible, give them the opportunity to be flexible about their working patterns. Many of us have created patterns that help us cope with the demands of everyday life and having these disrupted can feel overwhelming, and particularly so at the moment. Help your member of staff to think about what is possible rather than what seems insurmountable.

How they work is also important. Not everything has to be completed to an exceptional standard for example; sometimes good enough is fine. Urgent and important are different and it may be worth encouraging your staff to focus on the time constrained things first rather than trying to do everything. Encourage people to pace themselves and to value what they achieve rather than worry about what remains to be done.

Remember that some staff have mental health concerns which they may or may not have disclosed to you, and if this is the case, they may need additional support from you or colleagues so that they can find a way to adapt to these new circumstances. 

These are exceptional circumstances and our roles as leaders and managers is to co-create options and solutions with our staff.

A member of staff in my team has completed a DSE assessment in order to work from home and, when I read it, I am concerned that they are not in a position to work safely. What should I do?

Start by talking to your member of staff to explore the information and issues/risks. If you are still worried, then talk to the person about their perspective of the risks and re-do the risk assessment together. Possible solutions to consider include: asking your member of staff to do an online display screen assessment, contacting the IT helpdesk for advice on any IT equipment issue, speaking to your HR Business Partner on Occupational Health and welfare issues or consider within your own management group any need for additional equipment at home. If the issue relates to wellbeing, then it may be helpful to point your colleague to the self-help resources on the HR website. Keep in touch with your colleague to support them.

A member of my staff has realised that they need additional IT equipment in order to work from home that we didn’t include in our original request. What can I do?

Talk to your own management team. There may be others in the same situation and we will be more efficient if we ask for additional equipment in a smaller number of orders. Contact the IT help desk for advice.

I have been contacted by someone we offered a post to recently. They have concerns about the offer being honoured. What should I do?

All existing offers of employment will be honoured by the University. Please relay this back to the individual concerned to allay any fears or concerns. If you have any further concerns please talk to your HR Business Partner.

We are about to welcome a new member of staff and will have to set them up to work remotely from their first day. What should we do?

Create an induction checklist that covers the same topics as a face to face induction. Staff still need to know the essentials. It will be useful to split the checklist into activities that can be undertaken by the individual on their own (maybe online), and those that need some input from you and team members.

Before the new member of staff starts, get in touch and alert them to our current working environment. It’s probably worth finding out if they have a laptop that they can use or whether you need to purchase equipment for them. Whether they will be using their own equipment or not, try to ensure that a member of the department/School can help them access essential tools remotely on their first day. Make sure that you ask about any assistive technology or other adaptations that are needed. Settling into a new group or team is hard in ordinary circumstances: leaving a new staff member to work out what to do by themselves won’t give them a good impression of us and it won’t make them feel as if they are welcome and that they belong.

Build in calendar slots for them to talk to other members of the department/School and think about linking them with a named person or “buddy” so that there is someone they feel they can approach with questions that may feel stupid, but really aren’t!

Book in regular one to one conversations online or by phone with your new member of staff, in the way that you would in any other circumstance and remember to add them to any online groups so that they are included from their first day. For further information please visit: https://www.sussex.ac.uk/organisational-development/new-staff

I have been trying to get in touch with a member of staff and haven’t had a reply. What should I do?

Act quickly. If this is unannounced, then share the information in your own management group first in case anyone else has any relevant information. Try other methods of contacting the individual and if there is still no reply, make that information known to your Director or Head of School. If the individual lives alone, is at risk or has other key responsibilities that mean others may be affected, make sure that you share that information when you refer.

Make sure that your staff know that you will be keeping in touch with them so that they remember to let you know of any changes in their circumstances!

Please contact your HR Business Partner if you require the member of staff’s personal details i.e. address and further advice and guidance.

A member of my team is requesting bereavement/compassionate leave provisions. What should I do?

In this very sad instance, please speak with your staff member and discuss this situation and talk about what they need. You may find it helpful to point your colleague to the University’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), called Care First, which offers all staff access to free, objective and professional information and advice on a range of topics such as family, relationships, finances and includes counselling in support of bereavement: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/humanresources/reward-and-benefits/employee-assistance-programme

The University’s Chaplaincy offers opportunities for one to one support to the whole campus community. http://www.sussex.ac.uk/chaplaincy/index

Cruse, the charity that supports those who have been bereaved offers a wide range of information and self-help materials to help those who are processing loss and those who wish to help someone dealing with loss.

https://www.cruse.org.uk/

The charity Mind also offers a range of self-help materials on processing bereavement.

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/bereavement/about-bereavement/

A member of staff is on maternity leave and wishes to have a Keeping in Touch (KIT) day. What should I do?

Have a discussion with your affected member of staff and explore whether the proposed work can be undertaken at home and/or meetings can be undertaken virtually. If not, then it may be the case that the proposed KIT day could be postponed and rescheduled for another day with agreement of the member of staff.

How can I manage staff interactions on campus? 

Measures have been introduced to enable essential workers to work in a Covid secure way in line to with Government guidelines. Line managers are expected to keep track of which staff are on campus at what time and on what days to manage and mitigate risks in relation to the potential spread of Covid-19 in line with the safety guidance.

A member of my team is self-isolating and is unwell. I am worried that they are struggling to manage. What should I do?

Encourage them to have a Covid-19 test if they have not already done so.

In preparation for this possibility, it may be useful to encourage your staff to agree local support networks so that they can help each other out if need be and to encourage individuals to plan ahead and make sure they can undertake routine activities online if they need to.

If you are worried that someone may be struggling and if the member of staff is well enough to talk, ask them what would help them. Can a colleague shop for them or collect prescriptions? If you are concerned about their mental or physical health and they appear to have little or no support, contact your HR Business Partner for advice.

A member of my team is self-isolating, but can’t work from home. What should I do?

If a member of your team is required to self-isolate, because they have symptoms, a positive test result or they have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace, and they are unable to work from home they will be granted Special Leave with pay for the duration of 10-day quarantine period.

This period of 10 days for the purpose of self-isolation will not be recorded as sick leave. If they go on to develop symptoms of Covid 19 or develop any other sickness, then the Special Leave with pay will cease and the absence should then be recorded as sick leave, in accordance with the Sickness Absence procedure.

Please note that the 10-day quarantine period is calendar days and not working days. Also, the period of 10 days is the maximum amount of Special Leave that can be applied.

Staff should report their self-isolation to the university by contacting their line manager immediately. They must also inform the Health & Safety Team by completing the Covid-19 symptoms or self-isolation reporting form.

Essential workers should only return to campus after this period of self-isolation ends or they have been tested for Covid-19 and the test is negative and

  • They are well/ have no symptoms
  • No one in their household has symptoms or has tested positive for Covid-19
  • They have not been instructed by Test and Trace to isolate
  • Travelled to the UK from a non-exempt country (if relevant)