Although reopening your doors may feel like a long time away, it is time to dust off your staff rota sheets and start to consider what will need to be in place for the ‘new normal’.
In welcome news for the sector, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that a flexible furlough system will be introduced later this summer. This means businesses will have the freedom to bring staff back to work while continuing to receive support for their wage bill.
Sunak said: “No one wants to be at home, on furlough. No one wants to feel unable to contribute so HMRC and the Treasury have worked hard to put the flexible furlough in place, not from 1 August as planned, but from 1 July – one month early.
“From 1 July, employers will have the maximum possible flexibility to decide the right arrangements for them, and their furloughed staff.”
The announcement means that a pub would be able to bring a member of staff back for fewer days per week than they previously worked, and that the Government would cover the days the employee was not working.
Hands on deck
However, Kathryn Boam, operator of the Dog & Parrot, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, says that rather than reducing staff to match a reduced trade, it is imperative for health and safety to have more staff on the go at one given time.
This, of course, is a tricky balance when the prospect of slim takings, which will be created by a cocktail of hesitant consumers and social distancing restrictions on numbers, comes into the mix.
Boam says increased hands on deck will be crucial to regain confidence in the sector and ensure customers’ safety is protected. With this in mind, she is currently weighing up what this increase will mean for her trading hours and says it is likely she will drop these so she can manage an effective operation and hope that doing so will keep operating costs down.
She explains: “One [staff member] will stay and work behind the bar, one will work the floor and then somebody will be monitoring the floor, the toilets, and the entrance and exit so we can let people in and people can keep their distance.
“To tell you the truth, you are going to be needing more staff to keep the social distancing side than what you would need normally. Usually, on a Thursday daytime, it would be one working but I’m going to possibly have four in working. It is a big increase, from one wage to four.
Boam adds: “Then you’re going to have to have them on all the time when you are open. You can’t drop one off because you’re still going to need somebody serving, on the tables, cleaning the toilets and monitoring social distancing and on the door letting people in and out. So it’s going to be a lot more financially hard-hitting to keep up with the social distancing.”
“It’s like a Catch 22 – do you open 12 hours a day and have four people in for 12 or do you open at limited times? Do four come in and then go home and another four come in? I don’t really know how it is going to work yet.”
She plans to un-furlough her staff as soon as the Government confirms which date pubs will be allowed to reopen, to begin a cleaning and sterilising operation.
The Government’s test and trace system could also play a prominent part in planning staff rotas. If a member of staff is contacted by an NHS contact tracer to say that they have been in recent contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, they will be asked to isolate. This means they will not be able to work for 14 days, even if they are not showing any symptoms. These individuals will be eligible for statutory sick pay – an amount of £95.85 per week as it stands, though unions have been calling on the Government to increase this amount to protect workers from feeling they must go to work and acting against guidance to stay at home.
Software provider Fourth has launched an app whereby staff can log their health so that pub employers can decide if they are fit to work ahead of their shift. It says this will help prevent sick staff members from working and enable other well staff members to be able to volunteer to swap shifts, preventing businesses from being short-staffed.
While there is a clear spotlight on reducing the risk of a staff member catching or transmitting coronavirus, voices in the pub sector have also urged bosses to make sure they are considering their staff’s mental wellbeing too – particularly when devising rotas for the reopening phase.
Kris Hall, the founder of the hospitality-focused mental health awareness initiative The Burnt Chef Project has called on employers to use the rest of the lockdown period to assess how their shift patterns work for their staff.
He previously described the closure period as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for the sector to look at how it could improve work-life balance and wellbeing structures for staff members.
Many individuals who work in a pub, be it behind the bar or in a kitchen, have struggled with the change in pace since being furloughed, according to Hall. This means employers have an even greater responsibility when planning schedules. “It is vital that people start gearing up for the return and protect themselves because it’s going to be a big shock to the system having to go back again,” Hall says.
In a survey by the project, hospitality staff cited difficulty in achieving a work-life balance as one of the main causes of poor mental wellbeing.
Some 27% said they felt hiring more staff to reduce their workload would help, while others pointed to mental health training and awareness. Changes such as ensuring staff take adequate breaks where they can get outside and eat, in addition to preventing shifts from being too close together or too long, can also go a long way in helping staff mental wellbeing, Hall advises.