The Acas Podcast


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:

Coronavirus and mental health guidance:


Rights at work:

You can also ring our helpline on 0300 123 1100.


Sarah Guthrie 0:00  

Welcome 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 Hirshman 0:13  

Pleasure always to speak to you Sarah.

Sarah Guthrie 0:15  

So 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 Hirshman 0:47  

Yeah, 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 Guthrie 3:01  

Yeah, 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 Hirshman 3:16  

Right. 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 Guthrie 5:01  

Following 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 Hirshman 5:12  

Well, 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 Guthrie 5:50  

And 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 Hirshman 6:12  

Yeah, 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 Guthrie 8:15  

So 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 employers

Abigail Hirshman 9:01  

I 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 Guthrie 10:56  

So 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 Hirshman 11:10  

Yeah, 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 Guthrie 14:05  

Yeah. 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 Hirshman 14:22  

Yes, 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 Guthrie 16:18  

Thanks, 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 Hirshman 16:47  

I 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 Guthrie 19:18  

Thank 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 Hirshman 19:29  

Oh 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 Guthrie 20:08  

Thank 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. 

More Episodes


Redundancy and rights: your FAQs

Acas adviser Chau Doan covers the main questions employees have been asking about redundancy and rights. We look at:What to do if you think you’ve been made redundant unfairlyHow to encourage your employer to look at alternatives to redundancy (if they aren’t already)Your rights around changing contractsPay and notice periodsPlus why checking your contract, communicating early and following the process is so important. It's a huge topic and we couldn't cover everything - but watch this space for more content about redundancies involving large numbers of staff. Episode links Your rights and redundancy: pay calculator: helpline: 0300 123 1100Coping with redundancy: Sarah GuthrieHello and welcome to The Acas podcast. I'm Sarah Guthrie, part of the communications team here at Acas and today, I'm joined by Chau Doan, who's part of our helpline team working incredibly hard at the moment to advise employers and employees on everything to do with the workplace. Today, we're looking at redundancy, what employees are particularly ringing us about the moment. We've seen calls on the helpline about redundancy go up by more than double. And I wonder Chau, if you could just start off by giving us an insight into what kind of questions you've been getting from employees around redundancy at the moment?Chau DoanHi, Sarah. So yes, we have been receiving a lot of calls regarding redundancy, especially now the news has just been announced that we're going through a recession at this moment in time. So we've been getting a lot of people actually worried about their job status. So they're concerned that whether if they're on furlough now, whether there's still a job for them to return back to. Or if they're going through consultation at this moment in time, what their rights are, or essentially if the employee has already given formal notice of the redundancy, what they can do to address that situation that they're in as well.Sarah GuthrieOkay, so let's start off with that point you just mentioned there about what can you do if you've been given notice of redundancy but you feel like it's been unfair or you don't think the decision has been the right decision. What do you do about that as an employee?Chau DoanSo we would advise that if they have any concerns regarding their redundancy, or they believe that the redundancy was not genuine as such, then we would advise them to speak to the employer first to raise that concern to them. Now, it might be the case that if they have been given formal notice of the redundancy, the employer should also inform them how to appeal that decision as well. There might be certain instructions that the employer has to follow to go for that the appeals process to that but we normally advise that you should be best practice for the employer to allow the employees to appeal that decision if they disagree with their redundancy. If it's the case that the employer does accept the appeals process to that then they should then invite the employees to an appeal meeting to discuss that between them during that period of time and in essence that would be their opportunity to bring anything forward to the table that they're having concerns about. And they would normally have the right to be accompanied by another work colleague or Trade Representative in that appeal meeting between them and employer as well.Sarah GuthrieOkay, so usually your employees should have let you know that if you disagree with a decision you can appeal and how to do it and even bring someone along to that. That sounds like quite a stressful, obviously, discussion for everybody involved, what advice would you have for employees who are in that position about how to conduct that appeal really well?Chau DoanSo again, the first thing we'd also advise them to do is check the contracts. So there's a clear process that both the employee and the employer has followed as part of the appeals process, check the guidelines to that as well. So in a way, both employees and the employers know what to expect in that meeting where they attend that meeting. And then also if they are a member of any trade unions as well, it might be advisable to get in contact with them as well to see if they can represent them in that meeting as well if they haven't consented either attending that meeting by themselves or if they wish to have another work colleague attend that meeting with them. Because it can be a stressful situation. And especially if you've just lost your job and you're trying to argue, to either try and get your job back or you disagree with the way that you've been essentially made redundant, then it might be beneficial to have someone there to support them as well in that meeting.Sarah GuthrieSo both for the emotional support, and I guess because you were just saying that the contract is almost the guide through this process, and you both should be following the contract and the process, policy, that your organisation sets out, that that can be really helpful as well for another person to hold those details and that structure in their heads almost. So after that meeting, your employer says either yes or no. If it's a no to the appeal and you still feel like there's some unfairness there, what could you do with that as an employee?Chau DoanThen ultimately, if you believe that you've been unfairly dismissed by the employer, so technically a redundancy isalso classed as dismissal from your job, then if you do have two year's length of service, you would have the right to be able to bring a claim against the employee for an unfair dismissal due to your length of service. We will still advise you, rather than treating that claim straightaway, if you can, go for that appeals process first and see what the outcome of that would be. But yes, if it's the case that you believe that you've been unfairly dismissed, due to either redundancy not being a genuine one as such, and you have that two years of service, you would have the right to pursue a claim to an employment tribunal. If you're considering doing that, you can call one of us on the helpline to help you potentially go through the steps that you can take if you should pursue that claim further.Sarah GuthrieAnd in what kind of situations might a dismissal of any kind be unfair? Could you describe that for people who might be wondering, well, is this unfair or not? How do I tell?Chau DoanIn the case of any unfair dismissal, it would mean that they believe that in essence, they've been dismissed unfairly. So for example, if they believe that the employer is not followed through with a correct procedure first or they've been unfairly selected for redundancy, then as long as they have that two years length of service they can bring that claim. The other exception would be it's classed as an automatic unfair dismissal. So that would mean that normally the employer's essentially done something against their statutory rights. So for example, if they felt that they've been discriminated in any way as part of their redundancy. So if for example, you were pregnant, and you believe that you were only put forward for redundancy because of your pregnancy, then technically that would be classed as automatically unfair dismissal instead. So there's no length of service required for the employer essentially terminating your employment due to a statuory right.Sarah GuthrieOkay. So if you're worried about a discrimination case, if you feel like perhaps you've been on furlough, you've been looking after children or you've about to go on maternity leave, and that might be why you're being made redundant, then actually, you don't need to have been in your job for two years to raise a concern about that. You're right to apply however long you've been in the job, is that right?Chau DoanYes, that's correct. So as part of the employment act of 2010, the nine protective characteristics that are protected against discrimination, where there's no length of service required to bring a claim to an employment tribunal for that. And if you believe that, you've been unfairly dismissed due to those reasons as part of your redundancy, then there's no length of service prior to being that claim. But we would still advise you to go through any appeals process first, or potentially raise that as a grievance to your employer, because ultimately, if you were to bring that claim to the employment tribunal at a later date, the courts or the judge might also ask you as well, have you tried to follow the correct procedures yourself? So the benefit of doing all of this first, if you still can, is that you're showing that you've tried to follow the procedures yourself. But also you tried to actually speak to your employer to try and resolve that issue before you brought that claim to the courts.Sarah GuthrieSo it sounds like following procedures and making sure that you've gone through the process and paid attention to the contract will help you at a later date, if it does escalate to court.Chau DoanYes, that's correct. So at least you can show that you've done everything correctly yourself. So regardless what your employer does, you're showing that you followed the procedures yourself as well.Sarah GuthrieThanks, Chau. That's really helpful. So moving on from that, I'm thinking about employees who might actually have some ideas in their heads of alternatives to redundancy. Their workplace might be considering making reduncies, but actually they've thought of alternatives to it - that might be changing contracts. What happens if you can see something as an employee, but your employer isn't considering any of those alternatives? How could you influence them in this process?Chau DoanSo speak to your employer, raise your concerns, and if there's something that you believe that they've either neglected or not taken account of, bring that forward to the employee, though, we do advise that if they can have that informal discussion first with the employer, if it's an idea that they think that we could bring to the table that could either help them with their jobs or keep their jobs, and it's something that could be rolled out throughout the company, then that would be their opportunity to do so.Sarah GuthrieSo be proactive, don't wait for them to come to you. And do you have any advice for employees about how they might broach that conversation and things that they should keep in mind as they do that?Chau DoanAgain, it can be a bit of a sensitive subject as well if you're discussing your employment, or you're having fears about that you might be losing your job. But until you have that conversation you might not know what the outcome of that would be. Yeah, sometimes you have to have a bit of confidence to do that. And if you're worried about it, then we advise you to try and speak to your employer. So you have a quiet conversation with them at the sidelines to say, well actually, there's an idea that I thought about that could keep my job or keep everyone's job as well. Are you willing to consider that? Every employee should take that in consideration and essentially come up with the ideas themselves. Or if it's the case that they cannot meet fully the considerations that the employees have suggested, then it might be the case that they could also try and negotiate with them as well come to compromise.Sarah GuthrieSo perhaps starting informally, to kind of sound out and suggest ideas rather than perhaps assuming that everything's done and dusted?Chau DoanYes and the reasons why we advise them to do that as well - to the employers - is ultimately if they don't, they might potentially cause some doubts within employees' minds to that. So I've actually spoken to people in the helpline before where they said, well, actually, we believe that the employee already had made a decision in their mind. Even though they're going through the process with us, they felt that they've actually already been decision. Though, again, by the employer not allowing to have that open discussion, it might be the case that they're already causing that tension beforehand. And then when it does come to the consultation stage, they've already built up that barrier between both parties. So if both parties can be open about it in the very beginning, it makes the process a lot easier and a lot smoother for everyone to go through.Sarah GuthrieAnd speaking of consultation, what about if your employer is thinking of changing your contract, but they haven't consulted you? What would you do as an employee in that situation? That's another question that we've had.Chau DoanSo we would again, suggest to them to check their contracts of employment to see whether there's any clauses that allows the employer to do that. So for example, if there's a flexibility clause in there that allows them to make any changes to their contract as such, so for example, reducing their wages, reducing the hours or changing their job roles, then technically, if that clause is already in a contract, the employer could also reserve the right to make those changes. But at the same time, we would still advise it would be best practice for the employer to consult with the employees first before they make any changes to that. So again, we've talked about the communication aspect before, reasons why we advise that the employer communicates with them first is essentially, they explain to them why they're wishing to propose any changes to their contracts, and essentially, what effect it would have upon the employer as well. Because if they don't, then again, it's creating further tension between them and the employees. And it might be the case that they run the risk of potentially having a grievance against them in relation to that by them not consulting with the employees first. Now if there isn't one in there, and if the employer wishes to make any changes to that, we were still advise that they need to consult with employees first and get them to either agree to those changes as such. Or the other option is they could essentially just, unilaterally just make the change to that. But again, the risk of them doing that is ultimately if they were to dismiss any employees on any old contracts and then re engage in a brand new one is if the employer has been working with them for more than two years, they could also potentially pursue a claim against the employer for any unfair dismissal as a result of that as well. So the caveat that we warn to employers is if they do that, then they could also risk a claim to the courts as well.Sarah GuthrieThat's interesting, because that actually relates to another question that we've had through a lot, which is about the law around making someone redundant and then hiring someone else. You're talking there about hiring the same person back over contract. But thinking about one of the questions we've had is, my employer has made me redundant and then hired someone else. Is this legal?Chau DoanSo potentially it can be, so it's a bit of a slightly grey area and in terms of employment law for that. Now, as long as the employee can show that there's a necessity for them to hire on another person to that role as such, or potentially if they've lost that contract for that role, and they've lost essentially the employees to that but then they gained another contract, but they need to hire the new employees in relation to that, then, in essence, the employee could show that there is a need for the employment for them to do so. But it might be best practice that they offer that employment first back to the original employee that was made redundant rather than hiring any new persons on. Because if they don't, then technically, if the employee felt that they've been unfairly dismissed as a result of that, or they believe that the redundancy was not a genuine one as such, as we mentioned before, if they have that two years length of service, they would also have that right to claim any unfair dismissal against the employee for that reason as well.Sarah GuthrieThanks, Chau. And we've had quite a few questions around pay and notice periods. It's quite confusing, I think, especially at the moment when people have been on furlough and working different hours. How can people work out what they are entitled to in terms of pay and notice periods if they are made redundant?Chau DoanSo if they are being made redundant, then the employer would then have to serve them notice for their redundancy as well. Now, they might need to check their contracts again to see if there's any contractual notice that they're entitled to. But if there is no contractual notice, then they will be given statutory notice in. And the statutory notice would normally be for every year that they worked they're entitled to one week's notice, up to a maximum of 12 weeks.Sarah GuthrieChau, I wondered, because this is a really stressful time for everybody involved, whether you could give our listeners who might be facing redundancy, perhaps a kind of key thing to keep in their mind that will help them go through this process really smoothly, and kind of navigate these complexities that most people don't often face around employment law. What could they take away with them that will help them go through this really well?Chau DoanSo the first thing I would advise to everyone who's potentially at risk of redundancy now is check their contract. So I cannot reiterate the importance of that. Your contract should always tell you what you're entitled to as part of your redundnacy procedures, so it should include your redundancy pay and any notice that you're entitled to as well. Now, if you have any concerns about essentially what you're entitled to exactly in your redundancy package, there's a really good redundancy calculator they can use on the government website as well. But at the same time, we would also advise that if you have any concerns regarding your redundancy, so either whether your at risk of it or either going through any consultation period at this moment in time, or you're just suspecting that you might be at risk of redundancies, have that open and honest discussion with the employer. So sometimes it might be the case that you take the first step rather than waiting for your employer to do that for you. So at least you're being proactive. So things do come arise later down the line, at least you try to address those concerns. And essentially, you've allowed the employer to prepare for that situation between yourselves as well.Sarah GuthrieThanks, Chau. So be proactive, have the conversation. First, look at your contracts, know it inside out. And you can use tools like our helpline and redundancy pay calculator, where you need to know what the details are and to work out what the correct processes.Chau DoanThese are just the basic guidelines that we give, but if anyone does have any concerns regarding the redundancy that they might be going through, they can always call us on the helpline. So if they have a specific question that we've not covered today. They can speak to one of our advisors and a helpline as well.Sarah GuthrieThanks so much. Thanks for joining me.Chau DoanThank you.Sarah GuthrieThis has been The Acas Podcast. I've put links to the redundancy pay calculator Chau mentioned, plus our free helpline number in the session notes for this episode. We're really aware that this is a stressful process at any time, but particularly at the moment, so I've also put a link to a resource from Mind, the mental health charity, about how you can take care of yourself if you are facing redundancy. Please feel free to share with anyone who you think find this podcast useful and thanks for listening.Transcribed by

Redundancy: what to remember and what to avoid

Acas advisers Maggie Steven and Faye Law talk through the key things to keep in mind when managing redundancies. We look at communicating well and why it matters, maintaining trust, how to support the wellbeing of all involved and ensuring it’s a fair process.Episode links: Acas Helpline: 0300 123 1100Transcript Sarah Guthrie 0:00Welcome to The Acas Podcast. My name is Sarah Guthrie. I'm part of the communications team here at Acas and today I'm joined by Faye law and Maggie Steven, who are workplace advisors with Acas. We're focusing on redundancy today, which is a huge topic at the moment. And I wondered, Maggie, if you could kick us off with giving us a bit of context: what are the main challenges that employers and staff are finding at the moment around redundancies?Maggie Steven0:27I think the one of the biggest challenges - and this is whether it's a large organisation or small organisation - is the fact that could happen very quickly. And so for many very viable businesses with healthy cash flows very quickly, very suddenly, their business model changed. But because of that, it meant for a lot of organisations they weren't able to plan as you would normally do, and therefore we're now kind of almost five, six months down the line and organisations still don't really know where we're going in terms of the economy. They're starting to open up, there's some really good green shoots. But for many, it's still unsure. And therefore when we could talk about redundancies, you know, what is the right way to go? Often organisations are hoping they're going to build their business. But in the short term, they may have some cashflow implications. So they want to retain skills rather than redundancies, but they may find that they're in a position that they may have to make some in the short term for the long term. So there's some real kind of many variants that are feeding in and it's still quite a lot of unsurity about what's what's right for them at the moment, very difficult decisions.Sarah1:37What do you think the alternatives to redundancy are? You mentioned that organisations need to retain skills, how can they do that?FayeLaw 1:45The first thing you can do is ask your staff.You're in a really difficult position and it's so...the most important thing to do is to communicate clearly and openly and be as honest with your staff as you can. You've got to consult them. And the obvious benefit of that is that often those who are doing the jobs are the ones who best know where improvements are. But if you engage with your staff and you work collaboratively with them, that's better for morale, you, they might come up with great ideas to help reduce redundancies. You're going through a difficult exercise and the aim of that is to preserve a viable organisation at the end of it. So I like to think as you're going through this, you should be planning for the organisation after the end of the exercise and keep a focus on that. And you want the people that you keep, as well as the people that you have, sadly, have to lose, to not be scarred by the process. You want them to be engaged employees who still trust you. And the only way you can achieve that is by having them understand the position you're in and hearing their concerns and responding to their concerns and using that to make better informed decisions that they can buy into.Sarah 3:03That sounds like quite a challenge at the moment. Could you give us an example, perhaps of where you've seen it done well?Faye3:10Yes, I worked with an organisation recently that was unfortunately facing the loss of quita a proportion of its workforce. And they did the exercise well in that they jointly trained staff representatives and the management representatives, both around the law on redundancy in consultation, but also on how to work together and communicate collaboratively. And as the process has gone on, we can see that management was sharing information, gaining the trust and the joint working then of the staff who were at risk and the staff, although in that awful position themselves of fearing loss of their own jobs and their colleagues jobs, could genuinely see and believe that management were having to make difficult decisions and they could understand the reasons why. And there was one particular group of staff that were looking at losing half of their team. Clearly that was a very difficult situation for them. But they understood management's proposals, they, they'd seen the financial information, they'd seen the projections on football in the business. And they really understood that there was a need to make those cuts. And then they also looked at work in their sector and realised that in their particular job line, there wasn't a lot of local employment for them. So collectively, that group of staff got together and agreed to vary their contracts and cut their hours by 50%. And that's a decision that had a huge impact for each of them personally, but they decided to stay together as a group and take that impact, rather than become unemployed. And the employer had gained the trust in that and reinforced that trust by negotiating that as a temporary reduction in hours - I think it was for six months period - and that way they could, the staff could retain some employment, albeit at a huge cost, and the employer then retained the flexibility in the workforce so that in six months time, things do begin to pick up because it's also hard to predict right now, they wouldn't have to go through future costs of recruitment. It was a huge decision for those staff involved and a dramatic one. And it's worked out well, for that particular organisation. It's not going to be suitable for everybody, not all members of staff could could could possibly even contemplate that. And I know the unions have cautioned very strongly against current financial circumstances driving down people's terms and conditions. It was just that in this particular institution, there was a high degree of trust, and people wanted to remain there.Sarah5:43And that sounds like quite an unusual example. What was it do you think that made that outcome possible?Faye5:49It was the openness. It was that management and the decision makers were able to sit in virtual meetings with people and be transparent and honest and the emploees had felt that it was a genuine process because they felt fully informed, they felt invested in and they'd been trained, so that they could participate to their best in the process. And it was that degree of trust between the two, and the fact that management were happy to make it a temporary contract variation enabled that to happen.Maggie6:19I would certainly agree with Faye, you know, throughout the workplaces, everyone knows how significant this has been to, you know, the economy. So, this, this is the opportunity to be working collaboratively about how do you maintain and really look to the future to secure employment, but it is going to be difficult times so to totally agree - where I've seen that work well, it's where that transparency and trust is built.Sarah 6:50So it's, it's about communicating openly, keeping your employees fully informed, investing in them through training in this example and being transparent, collaborating with them and all of that builds trust. One of the very practical questions someone might have listening to this podcast is how do you build that trust and do that consultation remotely?Faye7:12The more information you can share about the prospects of the company, your plans, your reasons for your proposals, and importantly, how you propose to maintain a viable structure, the better but also, you've got to be open to staffs' questions, concerns, suggestions. If you're not responding to staff on what they're saying and what they're feeling, they're not going to take in what it is that that you want them to understand, no matter how valid or necessary you feel your proposals are, it has to be a two way street.Maggie7:44And that comes back to the early planning. The people that may be being made redundant today may well be the people you want back in three, four months that have the skill has a knowledge of your business, you're in a position to take them back on. So really, you know, working with people and really giving the respect and the communication tools helps kind of maintain that relationship, not just now, but actually if they do leave you, you continue to have that good relationship that they'll want to come back and work with you. But coming back to the planning stage, and building on what Faye is saying, it's looking at those communication tools and how you're going to communicate. So, working remotely brings additional challenges. And there's certainly something to say that people are finding working using the different methods of working remotely, camera screen can be quite tiring, actually. And this is a very, can be a very intense process as well. So allow more time for that. But also look at the different forms of collaborative sharing of information spreadsheets, looking at Question and Answers, how people are accessing thing that and, if people are working remotely, what's their bandwidth? So really have those early stage conversations with anyone that's impacted, to understand what might create any barriers for them to be able to be involved with the consultation process well, and then look at how you can overcome those barriers.Sarah 9:22So it's a two way street and it works best when employers listen and show that they've listened. And as Maggie you were saying, planning is so important in this. So you've given us a good idea about what good looks like could you maybe share some of the perhaps the mistakes that employers have been making?Maggie9:41I'll give a couple of examples not necessarily from this period, but certainly over my number of years I've been, you know, observed working with organisations and a couple of them one would be not having that visible presence as Faye was saying there as well. When people want questions answered, actually there hasn't been anyone they can turn to. And therefore often what happens is the wrong information may well get out there you the two things, one, you've got wellbeing, so people are already potentially in a very distressed state, they're wanting to understand, what, where, maybe the timeline or just needing little bit of information on how it's going to impact them. And not being able to find anyone or any method or having their their questions answered, really starts to fuel incorrect information within the organisation, and also kind of bad feeling as well. And it starts to kind of that process of " isn't fair. It's not transparent and no one cares as well." So there's a real, real risk of not having the availability of people. And the other one I would give an example of is a large organisation who are making redundancies or starting to go down the route of consultation for potential redundancies. And when the team went in on a Monday morning, they went down to their positions and there were benches where they were sitting. And across every single one of them was a leaflet that said, if you're stressed by today's announcements, then ring employment assist programme. Now, they didn't know there was going to be a process. And that was meant from the employer side, they thought that was a helpful gesture, but actually, it wasn't at that time. In fact, it fuelled real stress within that organisation at very early stage.Faye11:40Yes, I absolutely agree. Where I've seen most ongoing harm done is where communications haven't been planned and clear. Perhaps they've not been coordinated at senior management level and bits of information have started to leak and cause suspicion, rumours, uncertainty, bad feeling, the and probably the incorrect perception that decisions have already been made and it's not fair. And then you have a resentful and suspicious workforce before you even start. So as Maggie says, it all goes back to the planning, and making sure that you've got everything you need in place before you start the process.Sarah12:18And kind of expanding on that cards on the desk example,there are three groups of people in a redundancy process, the tellers, the people who are being made redundant, and then those that stay in the workforce. What advice would you have for each of those groups on how they can look after themselves in this process and each other from a wellbeing perspective?Faye12:40So the tellers have obviously got a particularly difficult role because they might even be at risk themselves. And they may have to be delivering some very difficult news to people just they've worked with for a long time, people who've even become their friends and in the moment of having those conversations, they, they have to take their own feelings out of it to give a fair process and a fair compensation to the person who's receiving the news. But they absolutely should then take some time to acknowledge on what what they're going through. And hopefully the company or the employer is making available to them sources of support, and has another member of staff checking in on their well being as well. And I think it's even more significant at this time, because we're not just in our workplaces, consulting and having these conversations as we normally would, we might have a workforce that's partly based back in the workplace socially distanced, partly working from home and partly furloughed. So we're looking communicating with people in all kinds of different ways, but probably predominantly online without the usual sources of support around us. We can't just say to our colleagues, "Let me get you a cup of tea." So we've really got to acknowledge that we're in an even more taxing situation than redundancy. would normally be, and make allowances for ourselves in that.Maggie14:03As part of that planning process, looking at the potential flashpoints, right right through the stages. And I think it has helped when we talked about the teller and all the people that might be involved in it, is to make sure they understand the statutory requirements as well as what the organisation is doing, because for the teller, this may well be and very often is the first time they've ever undertaken this process. So at every stage, it's new, and we certainly find that they're going to meet a range of emotions, as people go on that journey, and often are quite taken back of that range of emotions and quite often, they're, the, although they are the teller, they're, they are challenged quite significantly on the decisions in quite an emotive way, because it is a very emotive time. So it can be very challenging. So part of the prep would also be having some work with them how to deal with those difficult conversations, how to deliver, how to defuse, when to know to step back, allow a little bit of time and then come back and support people because actually just putting those pauses in, can make a significant difference to whether the rela-, you know, that relationship can continue in in a constructive way, or whether it becomes almost a broken relationship and then very challenging at any step of the way going forward.Faye15:42Employers also need to bear in mind that once they've given notice of dismissal on the grounds of redundancy to an employee, that's still not the end of the employment for that that person: they have anotice period. And it's really important that the employer does what they can to support the employee during their notice period. And there are things that they can do to help mitigate the effects of the redundancy for those individuals who are having to go through it. So things I've seen organisations do is try to upskill those colleagues before they have to leave and that might be with help around CV writing, but things that they can offer that are of little cost to them: job shadowing, coaching, mentoring, and encouraging colleagues to support each other so that they can get the most on their CVS as they can before they leave the organisation. It might also be a staged retention of benefits, continuing subscriptions of professional memberships or health insurance or anything that they can offer. Because as well as supporting the individuals that they're sadly losing, it helps show the remaining workforce that the organisation still cares about its people and still invests in its people and that will help with the survivors of the exercise to continue to have trust in the organisation.Maggie17:00And just a note there too, if staff, you know, those impacted and have had that notice, if they've got two years or more service, including notice period, then actually there is an obligation for the employee to allow staff a reasonable amount of paid time off or to look for another job or do some training.Sarah17:20So when we're thinking about wellbeing, there's something for each of us individually just to recognise that this is a new process for a lot of people and it's stressful, and there are lots of emotions and to give ourselves time for that. And then for employers for each of those three groups, it's about supporting your tellers, giving them training in difficult conversations is one way to really help them navigate those emotions. And then supporting the people who have been made redundant through upskilling, coaching, mentoring, paid time off, which will not only help them but will also reassure your remaining employees that you care, and that again, builds trust. And with all of that making sure that you've planned ways in advance of making yourselves available and visible to all of these groups involved. And it's obviously a huge topic, so we'll have to move on now. But I wonder if we can now focus on another big topic? How do you make this a fair process? We've heard a lot in the news recently about discrimination around race and there are lots of forms of discrimination. But what does that look like at the moment? And how can we avoid discrimination in this process?Faye18:30So once you've consulted with the staff and looked at all the ways you can to avoid or reduce redundancies and it's still looking inevitable, you'll get to a point where you're having to select between colleagues and that should be done on an on a transparent and objective basis that is consistently applied. So everybody who's in the same selection pool is goes through the same process of assessment or selection and it should be on objective criteria, relevant and appropriate to the job and clearly defined and you must, it's also really important to be sure that they don't disadvantage any particular groups. And so be aware that there is no indirect discrimination. For example, if you look at your criteria, you have a sense check that they don't disproportionately affect anybody because of their race or their sex, for example, but it's also really important that your managers who are going through this process are trained on equality legislation, but also have an awareness of their unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is the automatic decisions that our brains make, particularly when we're making decisions at speed or under stress and making these difficult decisions around redundancy is exactly the time when any person is vulnerable to making decisions based on feeling or instinct. So you've got to have an absolute focus on keeping the selection criteria objective, and something that you can explain and account for.Sarah20:07And if you are an employee who is being made redundant, and you have concerned about how that process has been handled, what can you do about that?Maggie20:17Well, the first thing I would say is if you've got an employer representative, talk to your employer representative talk to your trade union. Again, if there's a recognised trade union, within the organisation, they'll be involved in that process. So they can call our helpline and they will be able to kind of guide them through what they should be expecting, which areas perhaps they can look forward to understand for more detail.Sarah 20:43As you said, Faye, people when they are doing things at speed when they're in a crisis, this is when you're most likely to make bad decisions or make decisions based on your bias. I wondered both of you, if there was one thing that you would want employers to kind of keep In the back of their mind, what would it be?Faye21:03I would say think, "What do I want this organisation to be like after this process has finished?" That helps you to plan for the ongoing welfare of your staff and the structure of the organisation.Maggie21:17I totally agree. It's about the future. It's about dignity. So I think probably for me would be: the future dignity, plan, communicate, and probably communicate again, because you can never communicate that that's where, you can always communicate more, can't you?Faye21:35Yeah, it's, communicating with staff is the most vital part of this.Sarah21:40Well, thank you so much for your advice on navigating this difficult process, Maggie and Faye, I'm sure our listeners will really appreciate your insights about communication, well being fair selection, and ultimately, that question of how do I want my organisation to be at the end of this process? What do I want it to look like in the long term? Thank you.Maggie21:59Thank you Sarah.Faye22:00Thank you, Sarah.Sarah22:02This has been The Acas Podcast. You can find more information on redundancy and your rights on our website and I've put some direct links in the session notes for this episode, including our helpline number. If you found this podcast useful, please do like review, subscribe and share with others who could find it useful too. Thanks for listening.Transcribed by

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.