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People are at the heart of co‑ops: A round up of HR in a time of Covid‑19

Blog post

Written by
Tim Knowles
21st December 2020
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Covid-19 brought challenges for all businesses and opportunities for some in dealing with increased or reduced demand, managing staff, keeping them safe and sadly, for some, restructure and redundancies. Our Head of HR Services, Tim Knowles outlines how the UK's co-ops have supported their people in this most challenging of years.

Covid brought new HR issues

This year our HR team helped co-ops understand how to deal with employees shielding, self-isolating, technical issues around furloughing staff and how to support and manage colleagues having childcare issues relating to Covid-19 and much more.

We made this advice freely available to all on our website – not just those members with HR packages.

Through our network, HR Package subscribers were able to access corporate flu jabs for their employees at vastly reduced rates to help ensure we protect our NHS. We provided reward and policy guidance to members in unprecedented circumstances. 

We're proud to support co-ops

We claim little of the credit; it has been a pleasure to serve co-ops who have delivered a support programme for co-operative employees during the Covid-19 pandemic which is a model for other businesses in other sectors.

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We witnessed, shared and were humbled as our members maintained full pay for those unable to work due to the pandemic, took a risk-based approach from the employee's perspective on whether or not it was safe for them to work, and invested very heavily in making workplaces safe for both the employees and the customers we serve.
– Tim Knowles, Head of HR Services

For some co-operative employees working for a co-op will never look the same; not just because there is a safer way of working. But because their co-op will invest in providing them with skills to work in a new area which is safer for them reflecting their individual health needs. 

We work together with our members to put the health of our employees first.

Enhanced support for employers

We have 40 members with HR packages who employ c120,000 co-operative employees. They called on our team for enhanced support with challenging employment problems at all stages of the employment lifecycle, from recruitment to onboarding, needing leave from work, the end of employment and thereafter. Several members who do not have the HR Package benefited from a one hour free HR surgery, thanks to funding from Power to Change.

A core area of our support to HR Package subscribers is employment tribunal claim defences. The wheels of justice proved not to be immune from the pandemic. Whilst the tribunal system adapts to Covid-19 secure working practices and "remote" hearings over the internet, our team helped Co-operatives adapt to these revised ways of delivering justice and at the same time put forward the best possible defence in accordance with co-operative values and principles. We continue to work with our members to ensure not just that we deal with the case in front of us, but to ensure that the tribunal system sees the Co-op movement as a good place to work.

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We work together with our members to put the health of our employees first.
– Tim Knowles

Support for HR package subscribers

HR package subscribers had complimentary access to the UK's best online HR resource, XpertHR, which provided them with unparalleled resources from key updates to process toolkits, training resources to templates, manager guidelines to strategic insights.

To the extent that was too corporate for some, our HR team delivered co-operative benchmarking to ensure that our subscribers were on top of best co-operative practices highlighting where we can deliver a difference and add value.

We developed our networking, learning from administering the Co-operative Employers Association and assisting them to deliver the best co-operative employment experience, adding new forums to the list of ways we bring our members together. Throughout the year we ran a number of sessions, flexing them to include Covid-specific issues as requested by our members:

  • Health and Safety network
  • Forums to cover reward, wellbeing, diversity and inclusion
  • Bringing co-ops together in these arenas helps us and you deliver upon our mission to create a common co-operative experience of market leading Co-operative HR practices.

Working with trade unions

We worked with retail co-operatives and the trade union USDAW on progressing our mutual agenda to protect employment security and secure income for employees during the pandemic whilst seeking to improve basic pay for employees in the retail sector for the long term.

We remain optimistic about our work in this area notwithstanding our members' need to tread a prudent path given the economic uncertainty ahead.

Support for wellbeing and mental health

The pandemic has brought so much pressure on everyone, not just at work but also at home.

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Many people employed by co-operatives in the UK turned to our HR team when they reached a point where they felt they had no-one else to turn to. In many of those cases, people had literally reached their wit's end.
– Tim Knowles

We made sure that they didn't feel no-one was listening or that no-one cared. We rapidly connected them to the right people to help them through their problems, and will continue to do so.

Through our solidarity we can help end the mental health issues people suffer through the pandemic.

Need support with HR?

Our experienced team can support your co-op. Get in touch for more information
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