The results of Pannone Corporate’s 2023 Regulatory survey are in!

Earlier this year we invited responses on a number of issues, to gauge the current concerns and anxieties within businesses as to their compliance obligations and worries for the coming year.

Responses continue to be received, although at this early stage a number of clear trends have already started to emerge.

What EHS issues are currently causing the greatest concerns for businesses?

By far and away the most common concern for recipients of the survey is the issue and impact of sustainability, with 75% of respondents highlighting this as an area of current concern for them and their business.

Of almost equal concern amongst respondents to our survey (62%) was their ability to attract and retain quality staff.

However, somewhat surprisingly, less than 40% of respondents ranked employee wellbeing as a current concern for their business.

What has had the biggest impact on EHS?

A clear concern amongst respondents to our survey is confusion caused around the introduction of new legislation, the extent to which new regulations will apply to them and the potentially limited guidance available from central Government in respect of discrete issues, with one respondent stating a desire for, “plain and simple,” language to be used.  For regulations and guidance to be effective, they need to be capable of understanding and comprehension by recipients.

Added to this, the still unknown impact of the Retained EU Law Bill is continuing to cause anxiety for many respondents to our survey, with a number highlighting this as a concern for the immediate future.

The draft Bill continues to work its way through Parliament but, if enacted in its current form, risks removing overnight the majority of EU-derived workplace regulations, including the Working Time Directive, Work at Height Regulations and CDM. Were this to occur, it would have a seismic impact on all businesses and would fundamentally change the nature of workplace regulation.

How can businesses prepare?

The world of workplace and business regulation has been evolving over a number of years, and global events since 2020 have accelerated this change. For example, not only has there been an increase in the number of matters subject to regulation, but the manner and methodology by which regulators discharge their functions has also had to be revised.

These changes look set to continue, and what is clear from the survey responses is that businesses appear to be less concerned with traditional compliance issues and physical health and safety and are currently focused instead on novel issues.

No one can predict the future, but the recent shift in the nature of workplace compliance looks set to continue and businesses should take steps to embrace these changes.

As Lord Robens suggested in his 1972 report, which laid the foundation for the Health and Safety at Work etc Act, what he considered was required was a greater acceptance of shared responsibility, for more reliance on self-inspection and self-regulation and less on state regulation.”

Going forwards, we consider that rather than businesses addressing their mind to specific risk as they arise – as may have been the case in respect of traditional health and safety concerns and risks to physical safety – what the world of workplace compliance increasingly requires now is a holistic approach.

For example, in respect of employee wellbeing, provision of workplace perks is unlikely to be sufficient on its own. Whilst such measures will usually be appreciated by a workforce, what is of increasing importance is the condition of their entire employment relationship, including in respect of management culture, monotony of daily routines and efficiency of IT systems.

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The mental and physical wellbeing of employees will be the biggest HR challenge for businesses in the next 12 months, as concerns grow about the welfare of remote workforces. 

More than half of HR professionals (55%) admit that the issue will be the main focus in the year ahead, with an overwhelming 83% saying they have concerns about the overall mental wellbeing of employees as a result of the pandemic.

According to our survey of HR professionals, carried out during a recent HR Forum, managing the ongoing COVID response, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), redundancies and health and safety, was also a significant HR obstacle. Furthermore, managing change for future working ranked highly amongst HR professionals, as they continue to adjust to a new hybrid of home and office working, the impact on wellbeing, recruitment, flexible working and performance management.

The survey found that a significant number of respondents planned to make permanent operational changes in 2021, as a result of their lockdown experience, with nearly half (44%) intending to introduce flexible working, and a further 44% looking at a working from home model.

Jack Harrington, partner and employment lawyer at Pannone Corporate, commented: “The workplace has changed beyond recognition in the last 12 months, with what were sometimes seen previously as peripheral HR issues being brought to the fore as a result of the pandemic. 

“Unsurprisingly, the majority of HR professionals (94%) anticipate an increase in flexible working requests as restrictions are gradually lifted, with nearly half (44%) planning permanent changes to contracts of employment or HR policies, as businesses continue to adjust to the new ways of working that COVID-19 has forced many employers to adopt.”

Currently, all employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers. Employees must have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks to be eligible for making a ‘statutory application’. However, campaigners, including employment and discrimination barristers Ijeoma Omambala QC and Rebecca Tuck QC, presented their ‘Flexible Working Beyond a Crisis’ report, funded by Sir Robert McAlpine, to the Law Commission last month. This follows a six-year campaign to make flexible working a right for everyone from day one. 

 

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