Fixer: Our employees aren’t sticking to social distancing rules

How can we convey the importance of following the restrictions?

I’m an HR manager for a manufacturing company, so lots of staff are frontline and can’t work from home. We’ve been meticulous about putting measures in place to keep them safe but, after initially being very stringent, standards have started to slip and employees are getting complacent with their PPE and social distancing – so much so we had a minor Covid outbreak just before Christmas. I know lockdown is getting to everyone and I feel guilty that they have to come into work, but how can we reiterate the importance of sticking to the rules?

You’re right. We’re all getting weary of the restrictions, even though they are vital, and complacency will lead to people cutting corners. The increased rate of transmission of the new virus variants means more infections are likely if we don’t act. But the answer lies with the employees – just telling them is not going to do the trick. They need to want to avoid catching the virus and understand how real the risks are.

I suggest you set up a representative group, if possible including some of those who have recovered from Covid and your safety representatives. Put the problem to them and see what suggestions they come up with. They are going to be feeling vulnerable – particularly those who have been ill – and so are more likely to be able to come up with ideas as to how to strengthen the measures. It would also be a good idea to review the measures you currently have in place to see whether you can strengthen them further.

You are looking at changing behaviours, so this needs to be ‘owned’ by the employees. Those who have had the virus are likely to be better at explaining to their colleagues how awful they felt, and this will have a greater impact on others than simply reading staff notices. At the same time, you need to make sure managers are also setting a good example and are empowered to enforce the rules.