The Acas Podcast


Black lives matter: the workplace

Black lives matter: the workplace

The Black Lives Matter movement has brought ingrained racism to the foreground. In this episode, Rachel Rockson, Chair of the Acas Race Equality Network, and Julie Dennis, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Acas, share their insights into what organisations and individuals can do to make our workplaces truly more equal, including what intersectionality is and why it matters. We look at how racism and inequality are experienced and persist, what white people need to do to be part of change, and what organisations and leaders need to do to be responsible for change. Plus: how investing and committing to equality benefits everyone.

Acas advice

Improving equality, diversity and inclusion in workplaces:

Discrimination, bullying and harassment:

Webinar - what to do if you think you are being discriminate against:

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy template:

Acas helpline: 0300 123 1100

Key UK organisations

The Equality, Advisory and Support Service offers advice for people facing discrimination:

Government Equalities Office:

Equality and Human Rights Commission:

External resources

This is not an exhaustive list and we highly recommend carrying out your own research too, but we hope you find these links useful:

McKinsey evidence for the positive impact of diversity and barriers to inclusion:

Everyday racism: what should we do? Akala (3m):

3 ways to be a better ally in the workplace | Melinda Epler (9m):

Deconstructing White Privilege with Dr. Robin DiAngelo (20m):

An anti-racist reading list:


Sarah Guthrie 0:00  

Welcome to the Acast Podcast. I'm Sarah Guthrie, part of the communications team here at Acas, and today I'm here with Rachel Rockson, Chair of our Race Equality Network, and she also works on our helpline, and Julie Dennis, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Acas. Thanks for joining me today.

Rachel Rockson 0:16  

Thank you for having us.

Sarah Guthrie 0:18  

Today, we're talking about racism, particularly in the light of the tragic death of George Floyd in the US and the way that that has highlighted, through Black Lives Matter, racism in our own country. I'm really aware that we're only scratching the surface in the short podcast, but I've been really looking forward to talking to you both Rachel and Julie, about what organisations and individuals can do to make our workplaces truly more equal. But let's start off first with exploring the problem. So from your roles in Acas, how do you see racism showing up? Rachel, do you want to kick us off? 

Rachel Rockson 0:54  

As an Acas helpline advisor, we are on the front line and we are usually the first port of call for people who feel that they're having difficulties to do with racial issues in their workplace. When it comes to the systematic mindset, the issue is, what we find is, well what I find in my experience as a helpline advisor is, those that are being discriminated against, until recently, found it a little bit difficult to come forward to ask for help, because there was this stigma against playing the race card if there's something going on in the workplace that they feel has got an underlying race element. From a personal perspective, what I find is, sometimes an individual may take action from a well meaning place. A typical experience for me, I am a black woman and I have a bit of an accent. So sometimes in a social gathering, when I start talking to people who don't know me, the reaction I usually get is, "Oh my gosh, you speak very good English." Now, that person may not mean any negativity by that comment, when you analyse the comment, really, it could have come from a good place, it could have been meant as a compliment. But when you drill right down into it, you find that maybe there is that that underlying unconscious bias that may have led to them making such a comment and that I usually use that as an opportunity to start a conversation, to make the individual aware what may have triggered the comment in the first place and to give them the opportunity to bring the potential unconscious bias into the consciousness. So my response usually to that is, thank you, so do you. And then we start a conversation from that.

Sarah Guthrie 3:08  

Mmm. So people don't come forward because of the fear of playing the race card, as you put it. And in your own life, you've experienced what might seem as good intentions to mask a bias, and actually, you personally take that as an opportunity to open a conversation about that, which is pretty incredible. Julie, what have you seen as Head of Diversity and Inclusion? I know you're often out and about talking to companies about this.

Julie Dennis 3:33  

For me, I think the whole issue of institutional racism is still not really understood by a lot of individuals and a lot of organisations. You know, I've been working in this field for over 20 years and I've been championing race equality within organisations. And I've seen that a lot of organisations have this perception that there is no longer an issue around race because we're seeing people from minority ethnic backgrounds in senior roles in organisations. And I think there's been this perception that everything's okay in the world. And I think for me, we were already seeing how unequal the world was, and COVID-19, I think has really highlighted that. I've not been surprised to see how this pandemic has a disproportionate impact on individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK. It's just reinforced that we have a long, a long, long way to go.

Sarah Guthrie 4:36  

So on that, what can we as individuals do to make progress to make our workplaces and our society more equal and inclusive? And how can we do that well?

Rachel Rockson 4:46  

This may sound like a bit of a cliche, but talking helps. One of my best friends - well, she's now one of my best friends - we had hit things off when we started working together, but somewhere down the line there seemed to have been a bit of friction. And it turned out that there were certain barriers that she had. She thought it might be offensive if she referred to me as black. So she didn't know whether to refer to me as coloured, etc. when she had to use some sort of description for me. I didn't know there were barriers for her. So it wasn't until she came out and told me that I just, we had a very frank conversation, and it was just a matter of talking for two minutes. And our relationship got back on track. And we are now best friends. So sometimes talking and trying to address any concerns that somebody has about potential barriers might actually break down that barrier. So it could turn out that those may not be buried at all. So yes, please, let's talk.

Julie Dennis 5:59  

I'd completely agree with that, Rachel, I think also as a white woman, I think it's a time for us to listen, to actually sit back and listen and have that conversation with our colleagues, and hear what they have been saying, for a long, long time. We need to really understand now what this concept is all about. And for some of us, that's going to be really difficult. And what I found interesting over the last couple of weeks, is the amount of people that really have an issue when we start having that conversation around white privilege because the natural reaction for people when they heard that is for them to say, "Well, I've not had privilege. You know, I've had to work hard where I've got to." And when we talk about white privilege, we're not talking about that, you know, it's about recognising that, again, as a society, everything is geared towards individuals who are white and it comes down to recognising that our friends and our colleagues that are from minority ethnic backgrounds have a completely different experience in the UK. And that can be down to something really simple. As you know, me and Rachel actually was talking about this the other day, weren't we Rachel, when we talked about when we get clothing and someone says let's have flesh coloured clothing well, flesh for me is completely different to Rachel and, and I shared an example with Rachel the other day that you know, next month it's my beautiful daughter's birthday. She's getting older, makes me feel older, but I will not be able to get a birthday card that has a proper photo or image of a mother and daughter because you go into any high street Especially where I live in the north of England. All of those images are the white woman and a white child holding hands. And I would love to be able to buy a picture that actually, is of a white woman with a mixed race child holding that because that is my reality. One of my heroes actually in the diversity world, Jane Elliott, who's an American diversity specialist always says, you can never understand someone reality until you walk in their shoes. So listening to the experience of your black, Asian and another ethnic minority colleagues will give you a greater insight into what the world is like. And then it is our role to step up and make that change happen. Because, you know, we need to step up to the plate now and make this change happen. And we need to do that in the right way, in a constructive way. And education. listening and talking is a great way to do that.

Sarah Guthrie 9:03  

So speaking of action, there's a danger that white people, white leaders don't take responsibility, perhaps a temptation for the work to fall on black people or Asian people or the people who do not hold the privilege that can make it easier to act. So how can organisations do this well?

Julie Dennis 9:22  

What I see and I've seen over the years when we go into companies, is the first thing that a company will say is what what "Well, we've, we've, we've got X amount of people who are from this background working for our organisation," just like they'll tell you how many people with disabilities they've gotten, how many women they've got in senior roles and like, it's like, job done we've, we've, we've done it and I think the issue that a lot of employers do, they they just see their.. equality is about how many people you have not about what are the systematic structures within your organisation that are preventing you progressing in your diversity and inclusion journey? And I think one big tip I'd give a lot of employers, take a step back. This is not just about how many people but also, what is the culture? What is it really like working here? Are we actually seeing in some pockets of our business that actually when someone from a minority ethnic background goes and works in that department, they only stay there for six to 12 months and then all of a sudden they move, or are we actually seeing that more minority ethnic individuals are leaving the business full stop, in comparison to their their white counterparts. They're all trends that tell you there may be a problem here and there may be a cultural issue.

Rachel Rockson 10:45  

Just to build on that, I find that in my experience anyway, having consistent education in place helps because like Julie had said before, when you have got a culture that has been consistently ingrained over centuries, it doesn't take just a days or maybe Black History Month event to change that mindset. So the any educational tools that the employer puts in place have to be continuous and consistent across the board to ensure that the managers of these people are aware what their duties are, and that the fact that they, they could maybe do a little bit more when this talent to try and encourage the staff to really step out of their comfort zone and potentially, maybe do something more to try to address some of the issues to do with under representation, and hopefully to get on to a more equal playing field for everybody. There is also an additional resource that employers could utilise effectively and having been a lead of that resource - and that is the only word that I can use for it, it's a very powerful resource - of staff networks. Now, these are made up of staff, they know the experience they have in the workplace, they experience the culture on a daily basis. They may have some really good ideas, good and simple ideas on how to address racism in the workplace, or maybe try to change the culture. So start networks are a really good source of information and resources that could be utilised to drive positive change, it could be a safe platform that individuals could access to voice any concerns that they may have that which they probably, if they are not able to discuss it with their manager or with colleagues, they could also suggest ways in which this issue could be addressed. There may be others who may not be in a position to speak up who might benefit. And it could also go some way towards enhancing the employers image and potentially the output of the employees would be increased as a result of becoming a more engaged workforce.

Sarah Guthrie 13:26  

Mmm, Rachel, from your experience of running the network at Acas, what advice would you give to someone looking to set up or reinvigorate a network?

Rachel Rockson 13:37  

It just takes one person with a passion for equality, to get it going. And my experience from chairing of previous networks is is hard work if you have a culture in a workplace where that there isn't that...openness almost? That if an individual recognises, that is the first step - if they recognise that this is a resource that we can utilise, and we can all work towards achieving that the equalities is each individual person's responsibility to do their bit, then any individual no matter your grade, etc, I mean, I am leading the Acas Race Equality Network, and I'm not a senior member of staff, but I'm having to liaise with senior members of staff to try and get as much input into policy etc. And this is all based on input from the network. So it's, it's helpful if a senior member of staff could be identified, who might be maybe a champion or you know, somebody to coach and mentor this individual and try and connect them expand their network. By expand their network, I mean, maybe put them in touch with other people. When I first started on my first race equality network chair role, that was the first big break that I had: having someone who was passionate, a senior leader who was passionate about race equality. And all she did was put me in touch with others when I needed to get maybe some issues raised or some policy loopholes, addressed, etc. She would go to then she would say, "This person can help you and that person can't," and all she did was send an email to various individuals introducing that introducing me and telling them what it was that I needed, and the individuals that got back in touch with me straight away. Now, because she was senior, there was that authority that she was lending to the voice that I had, it had an impact - it had a huge big impact. And we were able to achieve a lot as a result of her input. What then happened was, we, that was the first step to setting up a network, we set up the network, senior leaders became more engaged, they were able to release staff to participate and become more engaged and, and that led to, when it came to staff survey time, it led to a big jump in the survey results. People were also becoming a lot more enthusiastic in the workplace. So you could see the whole culture of the place had changed somewhat, because people now felt free to speak with - within reason! And know that whatever they had to contribute would be treated as valuable contribution.

Sarah Guthrie 16:53  

That's great. So only takes one person with passion, and a senior sponsor really helps. What about from your experience in HR, Julie? 

Julie Dennis 17:02  

Where I see some organisations get it wrong is they will set up a network. But then they don't think about, first of all, giving that network time and space to be able to do that job, they give it part of a person who's got 99 other things to do. It is not as simple as "Right, we'll have a, we'll set up a race network, we've got a Chair, we've got a Vice Chair, right, crack on, get on with it and leave them." You've got to...just like a plant, you have to make sure it's watered and it's nourished and it's cared for. And if you do all those three simple things, you will have a fantastic network and you will reap the benefits of that hard work that you've had to put in at the beginning.

Sarah Guthrie 17:48  

That's great. What about employers who might be reluctant to do anything because they're perhaps embarrassed about where they are? They don't have a great record. What would you say to them?

Rachel Rockson 17:59  

Well... no one's perfect. And so from my perspective, we can't change the past. So if we haven't been doing this in the past, then we could learn from, you know, what detriment that may have caused or indeed from other organisations who may have done it successfully. You can't obviously go back in time and change what had happened in the past, but we can start from now and make a brand new ending. So taking action now is going to affect what happens in future, so now's the time that this opportunity has become available. So you could consider utilising it and taking action to ensure that equality elements of your organisation are addressed and your staff get all the benefits as well as your business actually get all the benefits from having an engaged and diverse workforce.

Julie Dennis 19:03  

I'd also like to just add to that what we're doing in Acas is we're actually using what's happened as a way for us to just step back for a little bit and to reflect on, "What have we done so far? What's worked well, what's not worked? So, well, why hasn't that worked?" So, well, and, and learn from some of those mistakes, too, then, like Rachel said, to move forward and actually do things and maybe accelerate some of that, that work. So I think, you know, for companies out there, you know, don't beat yourself up too much. There are, I know, there's some great practice out there that that companies are doing. But don't just sit there on your laurels and go, this isn't we don't need to focus on it either. It's about time for reflection. Time for us to see what's worked well, what hasn't worked well. And let's have a refocus.

Sarah Guthrie 19:53  

Thank you both. That's great. So now is the time to create a new ending. And even for those with strategies already in place, it's a really good time to step back, reflect on what's working and what's not to accelerate change. I wondered if we could touch briefly on intersectionality, which is a word I'd heard of before I joined Acas, I didn't really understand what it meant. Julie, what is it and why does it matter?

Julie Dennis 20:22  

So for me, it's, it's common sense. Let's take race for example, people from different ethnic minority backgrounds will be men and women. Some of them will have disabilities, some of them will not. Some of them will be heterosexual, or gay or lesbian or bisexual. Some of them will be trans, some of them will be intersex. Some of them will have different religions. And to me, that is what the human race is all about. And that is what this subject is all about. So I think again, for those organisations that are on this journey and looking at race equality, think about the different layers of that. An experience of an individual from a minority ethnic background who is male will be different from someone who is female, will be different for someone who has a disability, because the inequality that comes along with those different protected characteristics, as we call them, are the ones that layer on and, you know, I remember having a conversation with my sister in law once and she said to me, she doesn't know whether the inequality she faces is because she's a woman, or if it's because she's a black woman, she does not know. And actually, to her, it does not matter. The fact is, she wants the inequality to stop and she wants to be able to seen as an individual and be able to grow and flourish. So I think it's very dangerous for organisations to just look through that lens. So again, as part of what we're doing in the race equality space at the minute, we've also been having those conversations with our LGBT plus network about "So, what does that mean in the context of sexual orientation? And with our Disability and You network, " So, what does that mean in the context of disability?"

Rachel Rockson 22:22  

The points that she raised are very relevant, because when you're talking about overlapping protected characteristics, obviously culture has an impact and if there is a workforce who come from a specific culture and sort of fall into more than one of those protected characteristics, then having the cultural knowledge as an employer to be able to address any issues that may arise and have the intelligence to be able to recognise signs when they start developing might go some way towards addressing any inequalities in the workplace. 

When it comes to leaders, like Julie said, it's not good enough, I feel for leaders to say "Right! We have got a network and there you go, go and do whatever you have to do." That commitment is required for the network to become an engaged network. And it's only when the network becomes an engaged network that you start reaping the rewards, as Julie said, so if an employer is wanting to take action in the workplace to address any inequalities, then from my perspective, it is beneficial if there is a clear cut strategy in place and commitment and, rather importantly, budget. There is a specific budget allocated to it. That would help make whatever is going on - the education, the coaching, etc. - it would help make it consistent and potentially embed it in the existing culture. And that would go to us changing the culture for the better.

Sarah Guthrie 24:17  

Thank you, Rachel. It's interesting you say budget there, because I have to ask a question I don't really want to ask at this point. But in the current context of Coronavirus, and lots of organisations feeling very financially strapped, what would you say to employers who are listening to this and saying, "You know what, this all sounds great, but there is no way that I can devote time and attention to that when my business is about to fail." What would you say to that?

Rachel Rockson 24:45  

Where you have an engaged, diverse team, the productivity, the profitability of your business, it's been proven to be enhanced. So investing in equality and diversity and committing to it, even during difficult times, I don't think it will detract from the long term prospects of the business. I think it would enhance it, if anything.

Sarah Guthrie 25:26  

Thank you, Rachel. And on that really positive note about how good diversity is for organisations and how we can measure that, let's sum up. We've talked about talking and how important that is listening, particularly for white colleagues, and taking action. And for organisations, that means looking deeply at your culture and what it really feels like and resourcing your staff networks with budget. And we also touched very briefly on the idea of intersectionality, the different layers that privilege and discrimination can have. We'll put some links to further resources in the Session Notes for this episode. All that remains is to say thank you so much, Rachel and Julie, for sharing your expertise and insight today. Thank you. 

This has been the Acas podcast. If you'd like to give us any feedback, we'd love to hear from you. You can email us at Acas Thanks for listening. 

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Brendan Barber on conflict, coronavirus and being Acas Chair

In his last week as Acas Chair, Sir Brendan Barber shares his insights from behind the scenes. We find out how he successfully helped resolve the junior doctors dispute, plus his tips on handling conflict, why listening matters and the key issues for working life after the coronavirus pandemic.Plus: what it is really like to be a knight.Episode resources:Acas Policy Paper: Brendan Barber on Building Back: making working lives better after the Coronavirus pandemic.Acas Policy Paper: Managing workplace conflict: the changing role of HRCollective conciliation (resolving disputes between groups of employees and employers): conciliation (resolving disputes between individuals and employers): Guthrie 0:00Welcome to the Acas Podcast. I'm Sarah Guthrie , part of the communications team here at Acas and today I'm joined by Brendan Barber, who's been Chair of Acas for the last six years and steps down at the end of July. I'm also joined by Shumon Ali-Rahman, who heads up our media team, joining me today to grill Brandon on his time at Acas and everything he's learned. So Brendan, you've been Chair of Acas for six years and before that, you'll be most known for your role as General Secretary of the TUC. I was wondering, what's been your proudest achievement during your years as Acas Chair?Brendan Barber 0:33I guessed you were going to ask me that. In terms of personal things, dispute resolution is something that you get a buzz if you have been able to help play a positive role in helping to resolve particular big disputes where the dynamics of the way you've handled something might have made a real difference and you can kind of sense that. So some of the particular disputes that I've kind of played a part in - the junior doctors, British Airways one relatively recently with the pilots, the universities dispute a while back - some of those I got personally involved in, if they do move forward in a positive way, then those are things that give particular satisfaction.Shumon Ali-Rahman1:24So, the junior doctors dispute, probably one of the most high profile disputes since I've been here at Acas anyway, it was top news story. I still, still record coverage at 1280 pieces of media covering back in 2016in my head. You led the conciliation team for this dispute. It was considered unsolvable and yet you managed to get a deal. How did you do it?Brendan1:49I knew some of the leading figures in the BMA, the doctors union that was in dispute. As the dispute unfolded, I kind of made an approach initially to the BMA to try and get a feel for what the key issues were from their perspective. I did know some people on the government side, also talked to them about it and felt my way towards, you know, reaching a point where potentially both sides might be willing to talk and could see value in perhaps Acas holding the ring. There'd been a lot of distrust on both sides in some of the earlier exchanges in the earlier stages of the dispute. And sometimes that's what the third party can do - create a different kind of arena to try and work through what the issues are and what the differences are. Sometimes in disputes, the sides aren't very good at listening to each other. They're not very good at listening to actually understand what the real positions are with the people on the other side of the table. And again, sometimes a third party can help explain things in ways that the side then actually listens and understands better, perhaps what the other side's perspective isn't on.Shumon3:05Conciliation is obviously one of Acas' top services that we provide. But what would you say, what kind of personality attributes do you think it's almost like essential in that kind of role? And what would your tips be?Brendan3:19Well, you've got to try and leave your ego outside the room. Sometimes you're dealing with very strong personalities, with strongly held views about the issues. And sometimes you're dealing with delicate egos that feel their own status is at stake. You have to be able to engage in a way that helps build trust in you, but certainly leave your ego outside the room. So if one side asserts very strongly A, B or C, there are times when you have to say, well, that's rubbish. But certainly you need to earn the right to say that by being able to absorb people's feelings as well as, as well as what they're actually saying about the issue.Shumon4:00I was curious if we're talking about junior doctors, yeah, was there any kind of time within when you were dealing with because it went on for quite a while when you think, Oh my god, this is never going to be solved.Brendan4:12I never thought that. There were certainly times and other disputes where you find it very difficult. And you read some real impasse points. And what I've learned is you do have to be prepared to stick out it and take the knockbacks and keep working on things and keeping the relationships on both sides in a state of good repair so that even if immediately you're not able to resume the process, as and when there may be a thought about a different idea or a different approach, you've still got the credibility and goodwill on both sides to be able to bring them back together, perhaps at a later point.Sarah4:51So leaving your ego at the door, listening, absorbing the emotions. These aren't simple skills. And I'm wondering, were you always a natural at this or is it something that grew?Brendan5:01It's something that's definitely grown. I did a lot of dispute resolution work at the TUC. And as you kind of gather experience, you get a little bit more confidence obviously. And you realise that at the end of the world if an idea doesn't fly, that's fine. Again, that's where you leave your ego outside, you don't worry about being knocked back. If something's not gonna work, but other kinds of things I learned to both the TUC and Acas experience is writing skills very, very important in conciliation and dispute resolution. Because even if you think you've got an understanding of an issue, of a solution to a problem, unless you can write it down, so that it's clear, it's on the record, and you can confirm with both sides, this is what we're agreeing, then it's so easy for things to just dissipate once people leave the room and "That was, that wasn't exactly what I meant. That wasn't exactly what I said." So the ability to craft the words, find the language is an important kind of skill. And I learned through my time at the TUC, particularly actually, during my time as the kind of TUC press officer, I was given the opportunity to sit in on a lot of big dispute meetings and develop the craft of writing the press release. So what are we saying about this meeting at the end of it, if there's a, you know, at that time, a lot of disputes with a lot of journalistic media interest, and so on. People outside wanting the statement, what's happened, and so on. Through trial and error, I kind of developed some skills of actually trying to craft the conclusions, find the language - that's a very important skill in conciliation, not just about the dynamics in the meeting, you've got to be able to nail it down and find the language to nail it down.Sarah6:57And are those skills that you just mentioned relevant to everyday working life? Not many of us find ourselves in headline hitting disputes on a daily basis.Brendan7:06Yes, absolutely. I mean, conflict is a part of working life, isn't it? Whether it's about individuals falling out, working relationships, you know, deteriorating, and all these kind of issues about listening skills to really understand what somebody's saying is the cause of their grievance or concern through to trying to deal with issues empathetically, trying to build trust that you're not going to go out and rat on them. Building the trust is about demonstrating you can observe confidentiality, manage the communication in a thoughtful, intelligent, respectful way that's not going to drop somebody in it. You have to recognise as well the lead negotiators on whichever side are sometimes playing an extraordinarily difficult role trying to keep their side together. I've seen in many disputes to where there are big fractures on the management side or the trade union side, with hawks and doves on either side. On the union side, sometimes of sense of people who may not really want to get the solution they want, they want to pursue the battle further and others perhaps keen to get the solution. On the management side, doves who want to get a settlement and reach a compromise, rebuild relationship, and hawks who are saying, "Well, we want to beat the union up, you know, we need to teach them lesson." So you have to understand the dynamics and the difficult challenges facing lead negotiators either side of the dispute.Sarah8:50Hmm. So these complex skills of listening, empathy, building trust are all really important for all of us because conflict shows up in work and you can actually see also playing out within each party's workplace and grouping in a dispute. So panning out a bit, coronavirus is having a dramatic impact on the country and we're likely to head into a recession. Lots of people are talking about how it's likely to change the way that we work. What do you think are going to be the key issues going forward that we should pay attention to?Brendan9:21For me, there are lots of issues that arise but just to mention two or three, there's been a lot of commentary about in the crisis, who we see as important that perhaps ought to be valued in different ways. Now a lot of commentary about that amongst the lowest paid workers in the British economy are the people who are working the care sector. Is that the right value for all of those people working in that sector. So issues around equality and inequality have come to the fore that have been highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement, have been highlighted by the metoo to movement. So there's been a lot of lip service paid over a long period to the issues around equality and inequality. But as we're thinking about a new economy, in the wake of the crisis, if we get a vaccine and so on, we don't want to just go back to the old normal, we want to create something new and something different, something more positive. I think about the issue of well being and mental health, again, perhaps a lot more attention just in the last year or two has been paid to that. We're going to see real increases in mental health problems, the number of young people who are potentially going to really struggle to get a decent start in the labour market, we know from history, they can be particularly vulnerable in the context of the deep recession. So they're issues in that space too that I think are going to need a lot of really serious thought and attention. And the other kind of issue I'd headline is, if there are going to be big changes, if a lot of firms are going to be thinking, we need to restructure, we need to change our business model, we need to rejig the whole way people work, how are they going to manage that change? Are they going to really work hard to engage with the workforce, to bring their people with them on that journey of change? Are they going to be genuinely open and transparent? Are they going to actually really listen to the priorities and concerns of that workforce? Or are they just gonna kind of pay lip service to that and bang through profound changes that might have a huge impact on the lives and living standards of their workforce without any genuine consultations? So equality, inequality, health, mental health in particular and wellbeing? Is there going to be a real process of engagement? These are going to be big, big challenges.Shumon12:03We've seen a lot of interest in the media about the challenges for businesses in this new climate. What do you think the challenges are for trade unions? What's going to happen in the future? I mean, there's talk of recession, there's talk about massive redundancies, etc. How do you think unions can effectively navigate in the new future?Brendan12:20Well, there's gonna be a tough period for many unions. They may see membership hit if unemployment rises to the kind of levels that commentators are speculating about. But the broader challenge, I guess, strategically for unions, is in this context, whether they can really secure the opportunities to be able to exert the influence that they arguably should have. And that's both at the level of individual company and organisations and employers and in terms of our national discourse. Can they be brought into the process in a constructive way, so that the views are genuinely taken into account? I mean, my impression was that in designing some of the emergency responses to the crisis, the TUC along with the CBI and others were listened to. That was very important. Well, we're going to need more specific interventions in the labour market over the next period, I suspect. How those measures are actually designed, both the TuC and the CBI really ought to be a big part of the discussion because they're the people who have to make it work in practice. We go way back to the 80s and so on. There were periods where the quality of some of the training interventions was just seen to be inadequate. And they, they lost credibility as opportunities for young people. Making sure that you design things in ways that have proper quality guarantees, and you safeguard against the possible negative consequences of interventions, those are things where the CPI, the TuC will have really important insights that I would hope that the Governmemt will want to bring, bring into the conversation.Sarah14:26And these are really big issues that we're talking about. If I were to give you a magic wand to get all workplaces to do one thing, what do you think would make the biggest difference?Brendan14:36I think it will be about listening and engaging. I mean, there are some places that do this very well and they get the benefits. Lots and lots don't fall into that category. Given that we're facing a period of probably big, big, big, big change in so many places, key to handling that well and positively will be the extent to which employers find the right mechanism for engaging, and genuinely listen to their workforce. I mean, we just all know this in our everyday life, don't we? When things are handled well, in your own workplace in your own personal life, people feel better about things and engage more positively with things, and so on. When things are really badly handled, they retreat, withdraw, they, they have lots of negative feelings. Listening, I can't overstate the importance. And sometimes you see people that have exceptionally good listening skills. And sometimes you just see people just wanting to move on to the next kind of thing coming out of their own mouth. I know which I think is rather more effective.Sarah15:44So moving on without listening to you [laughter]Shumon15:48I've got one final question. So you are Sir Brendan Barber and I have this vision of all the knights meeting up every single year around a round table? [laughter] But what is it like being a knight?Brendan16:03It's not the most important thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. [laughter] When you become a knight, you get a letter from an organisation that is an organisation for Knights for which quite a reasonable fee was being asked for wanting to join this organisation? The only benefit I could see was that you could marry your daughter in the crypt of some notable chapel somewhere. [laughter] which I never thought was something Felicity had ever particularly ever wanted to take up.So it's a form of recognition isn't it? And in the trade union world, I found that there were always different feelings about it, the whole kind of idea about honours, some people, always rather negative about the idea for anybody from my background. I was always more positive than that and thought, you know, if in British society we're giving recognition to people who contributed in all these other different ways, why should you say they don't want to be a part of that? Trade union representatives give a real huge commitment, many on a voluntary basis, to try and make their workplaces better, their communities better, and should be able to be recognised for that as people have a different kind of contribution. So that was always my, my view. But I totally respect some people take a different view.Sarah17:41Well, on that very respectful note, demonstrating your ability there to see two sides of an argument, Brendan, thank you so much for sharing your insight on how you handled these high profile disputes, on the challenges of workplaces rebuilding after COVID and how important listening is in all of that. Thank you. This has been the Acas Podcast. If you'd like to get the latest episodes, then do feel free to like and subscribe review on podcast apps. We're on Apple podcasts, Spotify, most major Android apps, and you can find more information on conciliation on our website. We'll put some useful links in the session notes for this episode too. Thanks for listening.

Managing the transition from furlough

With the furlough scheme beginning to end, Acas adviser Sue Raftery shares her insights into the main challenges for workplaces and how to navigate them. We look at ideas for minimising the practical and emotional impact of transition from furlough, plus the critical conversations employers, managers and staff need to be having.Episode resources:Acas advice on webinar on flexible furlough (free): Robbie Hurley0:00Hello and welcome to The Acas Podcast. I'm Robbie Hurley, part of the communications team here at Acas. In this episode we'll be focusing on furlough and returning to work. Today I'm very lucky to be joined by Susan Raftery, one of the senior advisors who has been particularly involved in aiding the Acas response to the Coronavirus emergency. Hi, Susan. Thanks very much for coming on. So we know that you've been speaking to many employers recently about these issues. Could you give us a quick overview of what you've been hearing?Susan Raftery0:26Yeah, I think employers have got quite a difficult time at the moment. It was almost easier in sometimes some ways whilst we were all completely locked down, because they didn't really have any choice. But the managing the return to work is is difficult. It's difficult for employers, it's difficult for employees and it's trying to reach that balance of helping everyone to get back to work in a safer way. It's possible. I think probably the biggest issue that I have been hearing from employers is around getting people back in safely and also for those employees who may be can't get back into work at the moment, particularly around things like shielding and childcare. I've spoken to actually a couple of employers this morning who were saying that they've got employees who are saying, "We can't come back to work because we have no childcare." That is a big concern for employers and understand to be for employees as well.Robbie Hurley1:30Absolutely, I mean, more than 9 million people in the UK were on furlough at the peak of it, and obviously a lot of people are starting to return to work. What do you think, are the are the challenges and what are the conversations that should be being had between the employers and the employees?Susan Raftery1:46Yeah, you're absolutely right. And it's one of those unusual things where every employee has a different set of circumstances. So the employer is having to be extremely flexible in each in each different set of circumstances. I think the most important thing is not making assumptions, whether you're an employer or an employee. So there's a risk that employers will assume that, for example, right, furlough is coming to an end employee can come back to work full time. And of course, that's not always the case. As we've said, if they're carrying responsibilities, they may still have health issues. Similarly, employees, I think, are assuming I can go straight back into work into my old job in exactly the same way. And again, that's not always going to be the case. So it's it's trying to find that balance. There will be some employers that want employees to come back, for example, part time or doing the flexible furloughs, so maybe doing a few hours a week and being furloughed for the rest, some employees who will want to carry on working from home. They've been doing it successfully in their mind for the last three months and "Don't see why I can't continue to do that." And there will be so employees who are actually too scared to go back to work because they're concerned about things like having to travel on public transport. And I think it's remembering that the message is still, if employees can work from home, then they should still be working from home. But obviously, that's not always appropriate or practical for the employers to be able to allow them to do that. There's a myth amongst employees, some employees that they can ask for flexible working, working from home changing their hours, and they have to be given it. That's not the case. It's a right to request it. It's not a right to be given it. The biggest piece of advice we're giving to everybody is talk to each other. Employees, ask your employer, employer speak to employees and not making assumptions.Robbie Hurley3:50We touched on a really, really interesting point about people sort of anxiety about returning to work, and I'm just wondering what you've found and what you'd recommend. To make that transition back to work comfortable for employees,Susan Raftery4:04I've actually spoken to some occupational health experts who've said that they are seeing what they're calling COVID anxiety. And it's not anxiety about COVID itself, but rather about the return. And it's a question of communicating, the employer has to do a risk assessment of to make sure that their workplace is as COVID safe as it can be. And the government's advice is that if you have more than 50 employees, you should be publishing that risk assessment onto your website. But actually, we'd be saying less than 50 employees publish it. In any event, employers should be sharing that risk assessment with the employee and explaining it and whether it's small things like more hand sanitizers around, whether it's large things like having automatic doors, for example, but sharing that information with employees and again speaking to employees and asking them what they think. Because the employees are the ones who know where, for example, the bottlenecks will be of people coming in and out of the workplace. So it's it's talking to the employees and reassuring them and making sure the employee understands actually their input is incredibly important. But you're right, the psychological anxiety is huge if people haven't been in the workplace for three months, and "I've only been working on the other side of the screen," how do they know what it's going to look like? I've spoken to some employers who've said they've actually been doing like a mini video, if that makes sense that they've sent out to their employees. So a tour of the workplace, saying you know, these are how the doors are gonna open. This is how we're going to reconfigure the the desks for example, and and almost doing in a mini induction for employees. So if it was a new starter, what would you be doing, and doing that for employees? I know other employers that have been buddying people up. So if we've got people who've been in the workplace throughout, then they are then speaking to colleagues who are coming back in, who've been on either furlough or working from home. Because of course, we're sometimes more reassured by our workmates than we are necessarily by our managers. So it's it's thinking about all of those things to say to help them to understand look, we have your safety is of paramount importance to us, and this is what we've done to help you.Robbie Hurley6:42And typically, on that point, how do you think that employers and line managers are going to cope with such a unique situation? There's so many furloughed workers who are going to be coming back, some to the same organisation sometimes at different times, and sometimes into different teams. Have you seen any examples of how they're already dealing with this?Susan Raftery7:01I think it is something that employers really do need to think about. I certainly spoke to an employer who said, they'd got a situation, which I don't think is unusual, where they had a group of people in work who've worked throughout. They've brought some people back from furlough already. And they've got other people who are going to be coming back at a later stage. And it's always the grass is always greener. So the non furloughed employees assume the furloughed employees have been sitting at home and getting the town. The furloughed employees are possibly on less pay, because they may only be an 80% of their pay and have been out of the workforce for maybe three months and are worried that they're not going to understand the new the new routines, the new rules, the new procedures. So for employers, it's thinking about how they do that do they have a gradual return to work? I know some employers who were putting their employees into teams. So Team A would come in for a few weeks, and then Team B would come in for a few weeks. It's having that conversation with them, making sure that there isn't conflict because there is potential for conflict. As I say, each side has their own concerns. And it's thinking, well, how can we move this forward? What conversations can we have with them? And as I say, a lot of it has been around things like reinterpreting the employees. And also thinking about things like well, what would we do if the employee had been off sick for three months, six months, for example, a lot of organisations have policies around return to work for people who've been ill, or for example, people who are on maternity leave, well, can we use some of those policies and procedures and help line managers to follow those sorts of procedures to get people back into the workplace. I do know some people who've done the equivalent of keeping in touch days for furloughed workers in the same way they do for people on maternity leave. So it's just being a bit more imaginative and maybe using the policies you've already got. And looking at those and saying, "Well, we've managed this before, how can we do this going forward?"Robbie Hurley9:24So we've heard that there are a lot of people who have gone off on furlough, and possibly weren't quite sure about the circumstances on which they've gone on to furlough, and then henceforth aren't quite sure about how they're going to come back to work. How do you think that they should be communicating with their employers? And what do you think employers can do to help sort of manage this engagement and trust as they return to work?Susan Raftery9:50It is something that we have heard about and I can see how it can have risen because of course employers think was so relieved when the furlough scheme came in And to be fair, we're having to make very quick decisions. So we're sending people home on furlough, perhaps without explaining that actually, they were doing this to try and protect people's jobs, and that people were valued. And that's why they were putting them on furlough. Now, that message may have been lost for some employees. And if there hasn't been good communication during furlough, which again, some employers have had haven't had too many other things to do. So it's really a question of trying to get the message across to employees when they come back to reassure them that they are valued. And if for example, you are bringing people back maybe part time, or keeping some people on furlough and bringing some people back earlier. Then again, explaining why so, "Why have I still got to stay at home for the next six weeks, whereas the person I work next to is being brought back in?" So if there are reasons for It then explaining it. What I've seen some employers do is almost using the equivalent of a selection criteria a little bit like redundancy, but this isn't redundancy. So saying, "At the moment we've brought these people back because they've got these skills, however, we will need you to come back because you've got these other skills." So it's the reassurance and just being really honest and explaining why so even if the employer forgot to tell the employee why they're being furloughed, or didn't get that message across, holding their hands up and saying, "I didn't explain this very clearly, but you are a really valued member of the team. And this is what we're going to do going forward and sharing the plans going forward."Robbie Hurley11:44And then with line managers, obviously lots of them will have been furloughed will be coming back as some part time and full time and their staff will be doing the same with the teams that they manage. Do you have any specific advice for them and how they can cope as they come back into the workplace?Susan Raftery12:01Yes, it can be very difficult for managers, we do a lot of training for line managers. And I always say to them that I think in some ways, it's the hardest job, they've got to put into place the instructions from their senior management. But they've also got to keep their teams, productive, engaged, as well. And again, using those skills that they probably already have, talking to people, understanding what's happening, and actually really looking at their policies and procedures, because quite often we find that line managers, they are so busy, quite rightly doing the day to day work, that of course they're not necessarily that familiar with some of their policies around parental leave maternity leave until it happens. But actually looking at what the processes are and saying, "Oh, actually, I could use that I could adapt that", talking to their colleagues if there are other line managers, some of them We'll have had different experiences and may be able to come up with different ways of doing things. And again, being prepared to flag up your concerns to senior managers think sometimes line managers are worried that they have to make decisions on their own, because they need to be seen to be reacting. But actually having that taking a step back, talking to senior management, talking to HR, and if there are trade unions in the workplace, speaking to the trade union representatives, because this is a situation everybody wants the same thing they want the business to do well, they all want to get back into work and for the business to be productive. So having those conversations.Robbie Hurley13:44And now, of course, line managers - you tend to sort of talk about them in bigger organisations, but there's also lots of small to medium businesses that are now opening up and returning to work. We're looking at things like pubs and hairdressers, these kind of things, where pressures are possibly slightly different on staff and on employers, because they've naturally got a smaller team and maybe don't have things like line managers and HRs. Do you have any advice specifically on how maybe smaller businesses might be dealing with their staff coming back from furlough?Susan Raftery14:16I think there are, I think it's in some ways that there is going to be slightly easier now we've got the flexible furlough scheme, because of course, one of the difficulties was that previously furloughed workers could do no work. And there were small businesses who needed their staff in for short periods of time, but couldn't have come in and I absolutely understand why the rules were put in the way they will put. But I think now it is a good opportunity for smaller businesses to say, "Well, actually, we can't take you off furlough completely. But if we could have you back in for a few hours a week to help us get the business up and running." You mentioned bars I've certainly seen it with things like breweries - makes me sound like I'm slightly drink obsessed - but things like hairdressers, as you've said, places where we maybe don't need you back in full time. But we need you back in to help out so that we can start to build the business back up and get some income, whilst we still have the benefits of the furlough scheme being much more flexible. So I think for smaller employers, that is going to be really helpful to them.Robbie Hurley15:30Thank you so much, Susan. It was really enlightening. And I think it's really going to help a lot of people who've been on furlough, or who are going back to work and helping employers who are bringing their furloughed employees back in so thank you very much.Susan Raftery15:43Okay. You're welcome. Thank you.Robbie Hurley15:45Thanks very much for listening to today's Acas Podcast. You can find more useful links in today's session notes and on and if you enjoyed today's episode and would like to listen to more, please like and subscribe.

Facing the juggle: carers, work and wellbeing in a pandemic

Juggling childcare or looking after others alongside working from home, without burning out, is a real struggle. Mental health expert Abigail Hirshman unpacks what employers, managers and carers themselves can and should do to build and support carers' wellbeing during coronavirus.Plus: what happens if we ignore this, the common mistakes employers make and how to broach the topic when you think your manager might not listen to you.Episode links: Mental health resources: and mental health guidance: at work: can also ring our helpline on 0300 123 1100.TranscriptSarah Guthrie0:00Welcome to the Acas Podcast. I'm Sarah Guthrie, part of the communications team here at Acas. And today I'm joined by Abigail Hirshman, who is Head of Workplace Wellbeing and Mental Health at Acas. Thanks for joining me today.Abigail Hirshman0:13Pleasure always to speak to you Sarah.Sarah Guthrie0:15So today we're focusing on mental health, particularly how we can support the mental health of people who are juggling caring responsibilities, and work, so, looking after children or other relatives during this period of lockdown. We've learned recently that schools are not opening fully until September. So I wondered if you could start off by saying what are the main challenges in relation to well being for people who are juggling, childcare and other caring responsibilities while working?Abigail Hirshman0:47Yeah, yes, absolutely. So that is quite a big question, though, isn't it really because I think even just hearing that message a couple of weeks ago about the fact that schools aren't opening as parents had anticipated, will have had an impact on people, would have made them think, "Oh my lord!" you know, some that expected maybe a bit of relief for a period of time, there is now a longer stretch. So it's really about how workplaces can think about how can they continue to support the employees to work, knowing that they can be continually caring for children. So the wellbeing impacts of this is not static, it will have gone up and down over the period. And it may have been at the beginning that people may have thought, "Well, actually, this is quite nice. I'm getting to spend some more time at home with my children." But as I said, as this has gone on, I think there have been further challenges for people. And, but I suppose what I was thinking about when we decided we were going to talk about this was whether it's worth just rewinding a little bit. And so if we think say back to maybe February, okay, so February of this year, so think maybe your care of two small children, and they go to school or nursery, and then someone says to you, "For the next six months, we need you to do your job from home." And you may think great "No, no more commuting, no more business suits, no more high heels. That's fantastic." But then at the same time, your manager or your employer says to you, "Well, actually, all schools and nurseries are going to close as well. So you can have to look after your small children whilst you work." And that's essentially what happened to people that this information was given to them. It wasn't the employers fault or the managers fault. But this information was suddenly given to a whole group of people in the workplace, that very quickly, they had to suddenly understand that basically, the world of work and the world of parenting became entirely combined. So I think what people had to do was to adapt really, really quickly. And I think from a positive perspective, we can say that employers have really benefited from a workforce it's met that challenge, you know, and continue to adapt. But as I said, there are going to be lots of peaks and troughs to that challenge, and it's how the employer and the manager and the individual navigate those different rises and falls as we carry on through this period.Sarah Guthrie3:01Yeah, that's really interesting. I wondered if you could maybe unpack a bit more of the impact if we - employers, line managers or individuals - do nothing about this?Abigail Hirshman3:16Right. Okay. That is an interesting question. So, as I said, you're now, you put, I always like to put myself in the heads of people who are in this experience or having experience I have got, I've got children at home, but they're a bit older, they're teenagers. And I think the challenges for parents with teenagers is different for parents of small children. So I think we have to recognize as an employer, that we have people with different, you know, family setups, so the employer that does nothing that ignores essentially that this person is doing their job was managing teenagers, young children, whatever it is, it's it's going to have massive consequences, isn't it? It's about that person is basically going to feel not recognized, and not understood, for the challenges that that's arising and lack of recognition and lack of being understood by your employer does have a massive impact on wellbeing and has an impact on motivation. So let's hope that there aren't many employers out there who are doing nothing. But I think what employers are grappling with is "What is the thing that we can do?" because those employers, again, like the parents, and the, you know, the mothers and the fathers and the carers had to adapt very quickly, employers have had to adapt very quickly, they've had to think about, "What can we do to continue to meet the business demands, given the fact that my business has moved to a totally different location and distributed location," but equally, "How can we continue to adapt? What can we do as a business to adapt?" So it's understandable that employers may not have been thinking about you know, John, and his two small kids or you know, or Sarah and her two small children, they're thinking about the business. So how can they have those conversations and understand what the challenges are for the people who are looking after small children, those conversations have to happen.Sarah Guthrie5:01Following on from that, what do you think are the main mistakes that employers are making when they're having those conversations with their staff?Abigail Hirshman5:12Well, I think employers and this is why I sort of went back a bit, this is why I went to this thing. Well, what would we have done differently with hindsight, and I think it's about having those conversations about what's realistic, what is realistic for that person to be able to do, given they've also got these other priorities and demands? And how is the individual going to manage those different challenges. So it's not just all on the employer, to give them a whole host of, you know, sort of reductions or changes or adaptations, it's about them working with the employee to understand how that person continue to do their job whilst managing the children at home.Sarah Guthrie5:50And you just said it's not all on the employer, there. At Acas when we're talking about mental health, generally, we talk about how it's a shared responsibility between line managers, individuals and employees. On this issue specifically of supporting people when they're juggling, could you just outline what those different responsibilities look like for each of those players involved?Abigail Hirshman6:12Yeah, absolutely. So essentially, the employer will have made a decision and this is this happened pre pandemic, this isn't something new, an employer makes a decision, say, to take on a new project or to, you know, do something different in the workplace that is going to have people impact. So the employer has to have responsibility for thinking, well, I've got five people in my team that are going to have to do this. So ordinarily, they'd have had five people in their team who they knew worked, you know, a collective amount of hours, they may still have those five people in their team, but those collective hours are going to be different. They're not going to be maybe in the same nine to five space. So it's about the manager, the employee thinking, "Well, okay, this is the end goal that I need to get to in order to reach you know, complete that project. These are the amount of hours I'm going to need to get to finish that project." I know I'm being quite simplistic, but it's really breaking it down and thinking, what are going to be the demands on those five people to complete that. And of those demands, I know the two of them have got additional home life demands. So this is what the employer needs to achieve. The employer then needs to make sure that the manager is entirely aware of what those projects outputs are, what does the manager need on a daily transactional basis to work with the employees, their employees, their staff, to fulfill those the demands of that project. And then the manager has to have those very honest and open conversations with people in the team. And it's about a team approach. And this is where it gets quite complicated because you will have a team where you'd have people who are managing children or managing children's if you can ever manage children but you know what I mean, who are looking after their children, and people who aren't. So how do the people who aren't looking after children don't feel that they're taking the load and how to people who have got the children don't feel too guilty? So these are complex situations. But the first point is about what do we need to achieve? Who are the people that I've got in my team to achieve that? And how are we going to do it? So it's a combination of quite compassionate leadership, understanding leadership, but also quite transactional management, thinking about one of the things I need to get done.Sarah Guthrie8:15So seeing how all of those different players fit together and as an employer thinking about what are the downstream effects of the decisions that you make, as a manager working out how to support your individuals that you're working with and as an individual, being able to give feedback and show what you are actually able to do at the moment. And we've been talking about children and I just wanted to acknowledge that for a lot of people, it's not necessarily children, it's adults with health conditions or older relatives. Is there anything that's particular to that group of people that would help them have the conversation with their employersAbigail Hirshman9:01I think what one of the things that we've sort of recommended we talk about is sometimes rehearsing that conversation or writing it down during the script. So people aren't necessarily confident about having these discussions because he's a new conversation they've had to have, they may have to, their employee may have to know about stuff that they didn't actually have any awareness or before or not. That's right. But actually, these these conversations have suddenly gone on fast forward. So I always think about, it's a bit like a time lapse video. That's how it feels like with a pandemic, so things are happening very quickly at speed that maybe in the past, you know, wouldn't have ever come up would have taken a long time. But all of these things are about, ""hat are the demands and challenges that people in my workplace have? And how does that affect their ability, that opportunity in their time to be able to do the job that I need them to do?" So regardless of the demand that they have, it's how that affects their role and how they can discuss it with their managers. And as I said, Sometimes we're hurting those conversations. Thinking about how the employer or the manager might respond to some of the things you're raising is worth doing. And also sometimes writing down what you plan to do as an individual, you recognize that this, this is your job and you recognize your employer is supportive, but sometimes being able to say, well, one at some of the things I might be able to do, so one employee I was talking to recently, they negotiated with some of their staff who had additional responsibilities, about thinking about the difference between their work that was quite heavy on the brain, you know, so they will thinking work that they needed to do, and the work that was a little bit more, you know, easy to do so sort of diary entries, or answering emails or those more sort of prosaic workplace tasks that we have to do. So working with the employees at which time maybe for them, they were able to do the more heavy thinking stuff, and when they could do the more light touch stuff, and then how that then impacted back on the work outputs and the work team.Sarah Guthrie10:56So actually taking the time to think through in detail not,just the task that needs to be done, but also how you're going to do them and how that will affect your own wellbeing and wellbeing of the other people and colleagues and teams around you.Abigail Hirshman11:10Yeah, I think that's come up time and time again, and this has been in our conversations, Sarah, and lots of conversations I've had with employers is about boundaries. And boundaries are sort of, you know, a thing that employers and managers and individuals can all really really benefit from using. And I don't think I'm seeing probably quite enough of that. So what I'm, what I'm seeing is I'm seeing you've got employers who are really flexible, who do the well being stuff, you know, they would win awards in well being because they're so fantastic at it. But actually, sometimes those employers and managers find it harder to put in some lines with employees. And that may be a line as if "I need you to switch off. I understand you're really dedicated, you really want to work, but I need you to switch off at this time. And I'm going to make sure that we have conversations that enable that," or you get the employer who so flexible and wanting to be so supportive, oh, it's fine. You know, just do what you can, you know, we trust you, we really value you. And that's all great. Please don't think that I'm not saying that's not a good thing. But the employee doesn't really know where they are. Because what's happened is they feel sort of so committed and so not grateful. That's probably not the right word. But so, you know, so engaged with the employer that they think, "Oh, well, I'll just do that extra because actually, they really are trusting me." And what the employer then does, because they haven't put in clear guidelines and boundaries, as in I won't contact you after three o'clock because I know that's when you're feeding the children or whatever it is. They then put in those extra things. "Oh, actually, can you just fill out that report for me? I know you don't work those extra hours, but would you just mind doing that?" and the employee feels responsible for then going, "Oh, okay, then" and then it all starts to go horribly wrong. So putting in boundaries and expectations about what you have in reviewing. These don't need to be static and one offs is really, really important. And then the other thing on boundaries, which I just want to highlight, and I understand that a lot of people who are going to be working at home with children are going to be in combined different family groups who have single parents, you know, blended families, you know, different, different relationships. But what some research has shown recently is that we have a default parent. So we have a parent who is one that the child is most likely to come and interrupt when that child that parents doing their work. So it's not that the other parent doesn't do lots of other domestic stuff. But it's about that interrupted work time. So what I'm finding with some discussions with family, friends and people is that some of the couples are really negotiating the boundaries between them and how one parent takes time. And that's, that's protected time. This is when I'm going to be working at my computer and you mustn't interrupt me in those situations you need to go to the other parent and understand there isn't always another parent to go to But it's just trying to make those boundaries at home as well as at work.Sarah Guthrie14:05Yeah. And actually, that brings out what you were saying earlier that although as we focus on the workplace, we know that we are whole people, we don't leave ourselves when we go to work. And that has particularly come out in this pandemic, when we can't leave our homes and so we have to be our home self under works up in the same place.Abigail Hirshman14:22Yes, absolutely. And I think,sorry, I'm gonna get excited here because I think there's a real, there's a real benefit to this situation. And it's really humanizing people. You know, we come into the workplace as sort of like a fully formed person. Nobody saw us that morning, sort of like spooning cereal into the kids mouths, you know, also like balancing and all the things that we have to do as a parent, you know, sort of like what are the challenges, packed lunches and all those different things and then we come into the office and we sort of got our game face on and we're ready to go. But what this has shown is actually, there are skills and qualities that we bring into the workplace actually really beneficial, and I was on the too, I was on a team call with my team that I work with and then my manager, and we were on the call and once we're having the call, there was like a little knock on the door. I don't even know there's a knock Actually, this little person walked into the room and a very, very adorable looking two year old and she came to bring her daddy some crisps. And she got on her lap and I got a little bit of broody as I do, because I do like young children and we will like an eyes and she's cute. Isn't she lovely? But what it did it did two things. It sort of showed us a window into our managers world that maybe we weren't aware of before. And it also made us think as team as individuals. Oh, actually. So when I'm contacting him at eight o'clock at night, because I don't have that additional responsibility, is he actually able to respond to me?So it it humanizes the people you work with and makes you understand in a very quick way, what they've got going on for them. So please don't, to employees, to managers, to individuals, please don't you know, keep your child locked in another room when you're on workplace calls. Maybe it's not always going to be appropriate, there are going to be some professions when actually, you know, it would not work well, but actually equally it does, as I said, humanize those relationships and help you understand things from the other person's perspective and see what they've got going on.Sarah Guthrie16:18Thanks, Abigail. That's a really valuable advice. For our listeners who might be listening to this thinking, "There's no way my manager would deal with a conversation like that well, or I just don't want to admit that I'm struggling, because I want to be competent, and my manager relies on my competence," what would you say to those people who are really actually dreading having conversation about this, and so avoid it entirely?Abigail Hirshman16:47I would, I think the first point I want is to recognize that this is a reality that this is a reality for people who are in a situation where maybe they don't feel their jobs to secure they may have seen colleagues furloughed, there may be an organization that may be facing redundancy. So in that climate, it is even harder for people who to admit or to acknowledge or to express that maybe they are finding the workload too challenging or too demanding, given their other responsibilities at home. I was, I was talking to a business yesterday and they are a company that has chargeable time because of the jobs that they do. And the expectation is still on all of the employees that they still do the same amount of chargeable time that they did prior to the pandemic. Some of these will have children at home, some of them won't. And even if you haven't got responsibilities at home, we all know that we know that people are challenged, you know, from a mental capacity at the moment. So I think that is a risky strategy for business to take. So that's my sort of first point is just think about the longer term impacts of these decisions you're making at the moment. You are possibly going to be a workplace that's going to have less people, as you go forward, because you may have to do cost cutting measures, we understand that. So the people that you have in your workplace it's about keeping them as healthy and as well now for the future. So that's sort of the bigger picture answer. But in terms of the individual who doesn't feel able to disclose or to talk about something with their employer, as I said, I completely understand that, but they also have a responsibility to look after themselves and to think about what is possible, what can I actually do, and what do I need to change? What do I need that's differently given to me differently so that I can keep my work responsibilities going, whilst absolutely not making myself on? Well, it's about rehearsing it's about writing down a list. It's about thinking, what do I need to get from this conversation? Do I want just somebody to listen to understand that actually, this is a struggle. Do I want some practical changes to my workload? Is it about taking my leave differently? Is it taking half days or working slightly different adjusted hours. So there are lots of different practical routes that an employee can do. And if you have a list of options in front of you and showing that you thought about it, even the most unresponsive manager would be able to work with that because it'd be something that would be practical and tangible for them to work with.Sarah Guthrie19:18Thank you, Abigail. That's really important advice. Just to finish off, what would be your one takeaway that you wish we could remember from this podcast?Abigail Hirshman19:29Oh gosh Sarah, one takeaway? [Abigail and Sarah laugh]I know that's very challenging for me. Know the challenges that your staff are facing, understand the demands they have on them, work with them to negotiate a different way that they may be able to meet those demands, help them understand what the challenges are for the business. So be as open and as authentic and as available as you can about the challenges within the business, the challenges for managers and work together collectively in order to meet those.Sarah Guthrie20:08Thank you Abigail. That is a brilliant note to end on. You've been listening to the Acas Podcast, we've put some useful links on mental health and homeworking in the session notes for this episode, or you can visit our website at Thanks for listening.