How are employees feeling after a year characterised by the coronavirus pandemic and working from home? What kind of reactions have reached the Human Resources Office and the trade union? And how do employees feel about the fact that working from home will continue for many people for several months to come?
“How employees are feeling is probably best described as: a mixed bag. I think most people are doing pretty well and have managed this transition better than expected. Some say that it’s been less stressful in the morning, not having to travel to the workplace every day. But one drawback for some may have been that the work environment at home isn’t always as good as it is on campus, and we’ve noticed that it’s been a tougher time for many managers,” says Marie Högström, Head of the Human Resources Office. Her impression is that there has not been any more sick leave during 2020 due to the pandemic.
“But it may be too soon to be certain. We’ll have to wait until we get the time utilisation statistics in a month or so to see how the sickness figures have developed. I’d imagine that it may also have been the other way around, that sick leave has been reduced, as it’s a bit easier to work from home, even if you’re feeling a bit off-colour.”
Possible risks listed
In accordance with the Swedish Work Environment Act, the employer must continuously examine and risk-assess the work environment, as well as taking measures to prevent ill health and accidents. So, in spring 2020 all departments or equivalent conducted specific risk assessments in connection with the coronavirus pandemic.
“Each department or unit, working together with local health and safety representatives, listed possible risks and then had to assess whether there was a low, medium or high risk of them occurring. The Human Resources Office drew up a quick guide with examples of risks that might arise when many people switched to working from home,” says Anna-Karin Huggare, HR specialist in the Human Resources Office with a specific focus on the work environment.
Examples of risks that could arise include, for example, that the pandemic could result in more people working alone in the lab, which might affect safety, or that the workload might become unhealthy if, for example, working hours become more fluid.
“It’s important to continuously investigate the possible occupational health and safety risks associated with the coronavirus pandemic, and to see if there are any trends suggesting problems to which we need to adopt a preventive approach,” says Anna-Karin Huggare.
After the summer, when new directives were issued by the Public Health Agency of Sweden, departments and units updated their risk assessments. A summary of all risk assessments was completed at the end of the year, and it shows that issues of ergonomics and load, as well as risks relating to the organisational and social work environment, are areas highlighted in all operations.
The social focus during the autumn
“During the autumn, the Human Resources Office felt that there was a slight shift of issues from ergonomics and technology to issues that were more about the organisational and social work environment. There’s concern about a lack of communication between employees and a loss of engagement. All operations classified this as a medium risk, and it’s likely to be an impending problem that’s important for us to keep an eye on,” says Anna-Karin Huggare.
The branch of Fackförbundet ST (Swedish Union of Civil Servants) at Stockholm University sent out a survey to its members in spring 2020 to investigate how members perceived the work situation during the pandemic and working online. The branch has about 850 members, most of them technical and administrative staff, and about 44 per cent of members responded to the survey, according to Chair Alejandra Pizarro Carrasco.
Many positive about working from home
“Most of what emerged was positive. The survey showed that most people worked from home during the spring, either partly or fully, about 95 per cent. Many were very positive about working from home and wrote in their comments that they hope that the employer can allow more working from home, even after the pandemic,” says Alejandra Pizarro Carrasco.
ST also asked what kind of equipment employees were able to take home with them, and whether employees were able to be involved in the decision to work from home.
“Most people were able to be involved in that decision, but teachers and researchers found it a little easier to work from home at the beginning, it was a bit more difficult for some technical and administrative staff, the situation was a bit different for different departments and units.”
The board of ST will be discussing the issue of what lessons the union can take with it from this time.
“I think many people have seen the benefits of being able sometimes to work independently at home. And you create a positive attitude towards change if employees themselves can be involved in influencing the situation. It is important that all employees have equal conditions and that everyone has good opportunities to work from home.”
Alejandra Pizarro Carrasco says that they are getting more calls now than before, and that many of the questions being asked are complex.
“There doesn’t seem to be a problem with sick leave, but we are noticing that certain things that were a problem in a workgroup before the pandemic may have worsened,” she says.
Managers have asked for advice about supervision
The Human Resources Office has seen an increased need for advice to managers about how to supervise employees remotely.
“If there were difficulties in a work situation from the outset, this can be reinforced by the distance. It doesn’t get any easier because you’re not there. It’s much more difficult to have short, spontaneous status checks, for example. Our tip is to try to keep doing this regularly now, it’s important for managers to show that they are present,” says Cecilia Strandman, HR specialist in the Human Resources Office who works with management and leadership issues.
In order to support managers during the pandemic, the Human Resources Office has offered various courses to provide advice and support, ranging from individual courses where a manager has had to come up with a special problem to group-based courses.
Source: Stockholm University Press Office