The Acas Podcast


How can we return to work well?

Acas workplace adviser Rich Jones shares his insights for employers, managers and returning workers on how we can return well. We explore: the major issues, the best way to raise concerns, why listening and taking action matters, what role employers, managers and workers can each play and what to do if your plans need to change.

Useful links:

Acas guidance:

UK Government guidance:

HSE guidance:

If you are concerned about a workplace, contact the Health and Safety Executive, or your local authority. You can report your concern anonymously to HSE: or call 0300 790 6787 (Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm)

Acas tailored support for your workplace:


Sarah Guthrie 0:00 

Welcome to the Acas Podcast. I'm Sarah Guthrie part of the communications team here at Acast. And today I'm joined by Rich Jones, who is one of our workplace advisors based in Leeds. Well, thanks for joining me today Rich. Today we're talking about returning to work, which is obviously a huge issue, and one that no one has really had to deal with in a pandemic in this country before at least in most people's living memories. So I wondered if you could start off by giving an insight into what you think the major concerns are for employers and employees.


Rich Jones 0:32 

Yeah, I mean, I think you've you've prefaced it nicely there. I don't think we can underestimate just what strange circumstances we're in at the moment. We really don't know how it's affecting other people because it seems to be massive impacts across the board but in very different ways. And, and I know this from because my role brings me into contact with lots of employers, lots of trade unions, and various other organisations and I've talked these things through and there's absolutely no one size fits all, in terms of what's going off here. I think the other thing is we've got to remember some people have been working throughout this. And so there are massive issues of equality, in terms of some people are working, not just working but working longer hours working harder working in harder environments, and others, for whatever reason found themselves either working from home and potentially the job has become slightly easier or maybe furloughed, in which case some people are are probably struggling financially as a result of that. Others may actually quite likely the break. So there's huge differences which themselves might cause some tension as people start to go back into what's being called the new normal and people start going back to work. The evidence suggests from talking to these different bodies that a lot of staff have shown a lot of goodwill to get us this far. Without that goodwill, we'd be in a far worse place. But the message coming through loud and clear from those staff and from the bodies that represent them, is that they don't want this to just go back to what it used to be like, you know, there's been lots of good things that have come out of this crisis, and the goodwill and the relationships that have been built and some of the new systems and processes that have been put in place, there may well be a role for those moving forwards. And we don't want a knee jerk reaction to just go back to how things used to be. But but at the same time, businesses have got it really difficult because they've got to balance the needs of individuals against their survival and the need to move forward. So that's going to be the sort of difficulty we face in trying to balance the needs of individuals and the needs of businesses to survive and prosper. And sometimes those two things are compatible. Sometimes they're not. And that's what's gonna lead to the tension.


Sarah Guthrie 3:09 

So, almost as you're talking, I'm thinking, imagining that I'm a, you know, a business that is thinking of opening up in the next couple of weeks couple of months. How do I do that that balancing well? How do I approach this issue of returning physically to the workplace well?


Rich Jones 3:28 

The big message is do not underestimate the concerns and the fear that some employees have about returning to work. I've seen various statistics, anything from 40% of the workforce, right up to 70% of the workforce, who are being asked to return have real concerns about what that's going to involve. So employers have got to first of all, bear that in mind and talk to and listen to all of the employees. If all they do is draw up a plan and say, "Right, we've spoken to some consultants, this is what's going to happen," I think that's a recipe for disaster. Because we all know in Acas that you need to take people with you. So being right isn't good enough. You've got to show you're right. And and showing your right is talking to people explaining the logic behind decisions that are being proposed, and listening to concerns and dealing with those so that it reduces that sort of tension that people have. And you take people with you that way. So I think that's the first thing I would say. And that's based on an understanding that the issues for individuals will be very different. One of the big problems that we come across is is managers and people judging others by the what, what it's meant for them, or how they've, they've dealt with a particular situation. But of course, just because I can deal with maybe working from home or wearing peopIe It doesn't mean that somebody else can do so we have to take This whole person approach, because you could be talking about somebody, for instance, who is worried about not going back to work, but about catching the virus and then going back to where they live, where maybe they're shielding a vulnerable person or something like that, and passing the virus on to them. It could be that people are concerned about how they're going to get to work and back. It could be that cleanliness is an issue. So people might want assurances that there's been a real deep clean to the premises. Others might be worried about things like social distancing. And another issue might be depending on the circumstances you're working in, you know, the provision of PPE, and is, is it adequate? Is there enough of it? Is Is there an alternative way of dealing with the return to work that doesn't involve BP at all? So it's a really complex picture. I'm sorry, that was a very long answer. But there's a lot of things that I've I've picked up on my travels and I'm just trying to relay as much as I can to get a feel for the The complex landscape we're in.


Sarah Guthrie 6:02 

Yeah, because it's complex on so many different levels. So given that complex picture, what's the best way of managers in an organisation dealing with say someone coming to them and asking for, say, a specific approach that suits their situation? How do you balance that with organisations needing to set overall policy?


Rich Jones 6:24 

Okay, well, again, there's not going to be a one size fits all here, but it's about listening with an open mind to any concerns that employees have, and listening to what sorts of suggestions they may have to try and get around those. So rather than the employer suggesting things, listen to anything that's coming from the employee themselves, because they probably know what's gonna work and what's not gonna work, whereas the employee or the employer, because they're not that person, they may not. It's not rocket science, but it's about listening. And then it's about trying to find strategies that will alleviate the concerns of those individuals, it could be as simple as explaining what's what's going to happen, because they may be under a false assumption. Or it could be that there are adjustments, which could be quite easily put in place, which the employer had never thought about, and which aren't going to be a big burden on the business. But equally, it could be that the employee doesn't really know what to suggest. And the employer is a bit of a loss because things have to happen and they can't find another way around it. And that's where you have to have a very difficult conversation with people about what the options are. It's going to depend on each individual business, it's going to depend on the amount of labour that they need and potentially how desperate it is that the business gets running again for its survival, but it could ultimately come to the point where employees have to say to people, "We've tried to deal with these as sensitively as we can your concerns. But ultimately, we have to, we have to move forward on this. And we can't just leave you sitting at home. And that's where potentially a long, long way down the line, employers might be looking at disciplinary action, but the last thing they should do is jump straight to that premise and start waving the stick that if you don't come back to work, I'll be sacking you. That's absolutely the wrong way to do it. And all that will happen is it will antagonise people will lead to complaints, wasted time tribunal complaints and you might well lose a very good employee and have to re recruit at difficult time. When by talking to the individual and spending a bit more time with them, you might have been able to find an accommodation to keep them. So I've been concentrating a lot there on individuals but of course employers also need to remember that if they're in an environment where there are recognised trade unions or there are staff associations or groups of workers who they traditionally consult, it would be good practice to do that first. So try and get some sort of agreement in place that's pooled the knowledge of those people, before you start presenting plans to individuals. Again, it's just about two heads are better than one. And if you consult with all relevant parties, you're likely to get an outcome that A is going to be more acceptable to everybody, and be is more likely to work.


Sarah Guthrie 9:26 

Yeah, thank you Rich, that's really interesting. It feels like we've been talking a lot from the employer level, what’s the role of managers in this, like, how can they play a part in helping an organisation return to work well?


Rich Jones 9:40 

The difficulty is that with a senior management team, you're talking about a small number of individuals in most organisations, but with middle managers and supervisors, you could have quite a large number of people. The wider spread of people you're talking about, the more risk there is that you get inconsistency both in the message that's conveyed, and in the approach that's taken to solving problems. So I think it's about trying to encapsulate in writing the agreement that I just talked about that hopefully you can reach with union staff, associations, groups of staff. And then making sure that when that's rolled out, everybody's clear about what the message is, so that you don't get those inconsistency is sure you're always going to get some managers who view things slightly differently. But if you can stop some of the beginning consistencies, then that's going to lead to a better implementation of the strategy and a happier workforce. And that might be involve some sort of training you know, you might have to sit people down and talk them through the why and and how this is going to work, take questions from them because of course, managers and supervisors may have concerns about the approach their employees as well. So similar sort of approach, but they have a key role. And we often find that it's the middle managers in organisations, that can often be an issue when an organisation is trying to embark on a big change like this, if they don't understand the message or if they're not signed up to it.


Sarah Guthrie 11:19 

So spending some time on those, like actually prepping everybody at all points of the organisation organisation to cascade the message.


Rich Jones 11:28 

Yeah, so recognising that they're their managers, but they're also individuals. So you need to have two conversations with them. One is about how are you? What are your concerns? What can I do to help? The other is, this is the approach we're thinking of taking. What do you think about it? Any concerns, any other suggestions on how we can improve it? Any problems with you going away and cascading that now? So you have the two conversations and hopefully, that deals with your concern.


Sarah Guthrie 11:54 

Yeah. Almost as as we mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, this is unpredented and I have pictured in my head, almost this grand plan that you kind of roll out and then you do it and it works. When in reality this is this is not something that we can control down to the nth degree. What would you say to an employee who perhaps has started to return to work? What happens if, if it's not working? Or if things change? How can they deal with this as an evolving situation?


Rich Jones 12:28 

Again, it's about talking. But your your question is actually very pertinent because one of the things that we find in Acast is that no matter how good an employer is, no matter how good a manager or senior manager is, they never quite get the full story from employees about what's concerning them. Partly because people are concerned sometimes to voice their concerns for fear of been seen as a troublemaker or something like that. And partly because sometimes supervisors and managers sift out what might seem unpalatable parts of staff concerns when they feed them the line. So what we say is senior managers never ever get the full picture of how staff are feeling. But it's this is about trying to get as accurate a picture as you can about what the staff concerns are so that you can take remedial action which addresses those concerns, rather than addresses perceived concerns. And and it's quite interesting because we actually do quite a lot of work in this area, which we don't tend to publicise because employers don't normally want to publicise it, understandably, but we actually use our badge of independence and impartiality, to talk, either individually or in groups, to staff about what their real concerns are. And because we are independent and we don't work for the organisation, they will actually tell us what the real concerns are, and what they would like to see done differently and we can then use them to shine a light back to the organisation and say, "This is what the real picture looks like. So now now you understand that you can go away and devise an appropriate action plan." So that's where we get that, that sort of understanding from because we do that sort of work.


Sarah Guthrie 14:16 

So thinking about it, actually, from the employees perspective, for a moment, imagine, say, I had a concern, what advice would you have for individuals who are concerned? How can they feedback their concerns in a way that really helps employers to hear and act on them?


Rich Jones 14:32 

Well, the first thing is to be diplomatic. What you have to remember when you're an employee, is that you, your only power is to influence people. So the best way to do that is to take a reasonable approach, and to make sure that the logic in your argument stands out because it is the logic of an argument that will win the day, rather than somebody threatening somebody shouting, somebody's making all sorts of accusations which we've all seen. might make people feel good, but actually, it doesn't lead to good employment relations moving forward, and he doesn't normally get what you want anyway. So it's about trying to be clear what it is that you concerned about how you're going to articulate. And also try and come up with an alternative. Rather than just being a blocker and saying, I don't want to do that. Offer a suggestion about what you might do instead that you think might be appropriate or might be the word I'm looking for, might be acceptable to the employer as well. So you, you're trying to find a win win, but it's not necessarily the win win that you set out to achieve, if that makes sense.


Sarah Guthrie 15:42 

Yeah, yeah. So diplomacy and logic to help you kind of move forward in a way that is a bit more watertight than throwing emotion around perhaps?


Rich Jones 15:55 

Yeah, diplomacy, logic and the positive spin on it. So trying to look to what you can do rather than what you can't?


Sarah Guthrie 16:03 

So imagine as an employee that you've done all of what we've been talking about, maybe your employer has consulted with you or they haven't, and you've raised your concerns, but you still don't think that they are being compliant to the guidance that the government set out. What can an employee do in that situation?


Rich Jones 16:24 

Well, hopefully, many employees will be in a position where they have a good enough relationship with their boss to be able to talk to them. That's the starting point. But I accept that sometimes these things are difficult and it's quite sensitive. So if employees don't feel able to do that, they may want to seek further advice. And obviously, there's the Acas helpline, there's the Acas website and there's a whole host of other organisations that can help. One of the things we would always suggest if if somebody comes to our helpline, for instance, with a concern, and we think it could help is, "Are you a member of a trade union? Because if you are and the trade unions have often got a lot of help that they can offer, both in terms of advice and in terms of representing individuals."


Sarah Guthrie 17:07 

Thank you Rich, that's really useful. And of course, people can also contact HSE if they have concerns, and we'll put links to that in the session notes for this episode. So thank you, Rich, it has been great talking to you today about returning to work and unpacking the complexities of that and how we do it in a way that smooth, that reduces anxiety that keeps communication up so that we can return to work. It's been great talking to you today. So thank you.


Rich Jones 17:33 

Thank you, Sarah. All the best.


Sarah Guthrie 17:34 

This has been the Acas Podcast. You can find useful links to our website and guidance on returning to work, plus links to the Health and Safety Executive, if you have a concern about a workplace you're returning to in the session notes for this episode. Thanks for listening.

More Episodes


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.Collective 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.

Black lives matter: the workplace

Black lives matter: the workplaceThe 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 adviceImproving equality, diversity and inclusion in workplaces:, bullying and harassment: - what to do if you think you are being discriminate against:, Diversity and Inclusion policy template: helpline: 0300 123 1100Key UK organisationsThe Equality, Advisory and Support Service offers advice for people facing discrimination: www.equalityadvisoryservice.comGovernment Equalities Office: and Human Rights Commission: www.equalityhumanrights.comExternal resourcesThis 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: racism: what should we do? Akala (3m): ways to be a better ally in the workplace | Melinda Epler (9m): White Privilege with Dr. Robin DiAngelo (20m): anti-racist reading list: Guthrie0:00Welcome 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 Rockson0:16Thank you for having us.Sarah Guthrie0:18Today, 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 Rockson0:54As 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 Guthrie3:08Mmm. 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 Dennis3:33For 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 howunequal 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 Guthrie4:36So 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 Rockson4:46This 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 Dennis5:59I'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 Guthrie9:03So 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 Dennis9:22What 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 Rockson10:45Just 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 Guthrie13:26Mmm, 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 Rockson13:37It 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 Guthrie16:53That's great. So only takes one person with passion, and a senior sponsor really helps. What about from your experience in HR, Julie?Julie Dennis17:02Where 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 Guthrie17:48That'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 Rockson17:59Well... 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 Dennis19:03I'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 Guthrie19:53Thank 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 Dennis20:22So 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 Younetwork, " So, what does that mean in the context of disability?"Rachel Rockson22:22The 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 engagednetwork 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 Guthrie24:17Thank 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 Rockson24:45Where 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 Guthrie25:26Thank 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.