Covid-19 winter plan updates advice for employers

The Northern Ireland Executive has published its Covid-19 Contingency Plan for Autumn/Winter 2021 which, it states, “sets out a realistic approach for the months ahead and details the actions the Executive has taken. It also outlines the options for measures it could take if the situation deteriorates to slow the spread of the virus and protect our health service.”

One of the key areas in the plan is an update to the guidance for employers. Up until now the guidance has been that employees should work from home where they can – in this latest plan, this has been updated to advise employers to “encourage flexible and hybrid working where practicable”. The plan recognises the benefits of people continuing to work from home through this winter – in preventing spread of Covid-19, including through reduced numbers using public transport and a reduction in the number of face-to-face meetings and social activities. However, it also highlights some of the economic impacts that high levels of home working continue to have (in relation to reduced spending in town and city centres for example). Critically, the plan acknowledges that employers have a role in engaging with their own employees and coming up with a model that best suits the needs of their own workforce.

And we understand that this is a really key factor for organisations as they seek to implement flexible working policies – whether that’s working from home or any other form of flexible working. It has to work for the employer as well as the employees. We would encourage employers to use the opportunities that have arisen due to Covid-19 to explore what flexible working policies might work for their organisation and to consider how these can be continued in the longer term, beyond when they are strictly necessary for infection control purposes. Even if this means starting in a modest way and making small adjustments, there are many business benefits to be captured by implementing flexible and family friendly working policies including increased staff loyalty and better retention, reduced recruitment costs and greater overall productivity. At a time when many organisations are struggling to fill vacancies, and with 87% of people saying they want to work flexibly in a recent survey[1] the business case for embracing flexible working is compelling.

Working with employers

Last week, we hosted a successful workshop exploring the benefits of flexible working for employers which heard from a number of organisations making various models of flexible working work for them. All of them spoke about how implementing these policies has brought benefits to them organisationally, as well as to their staff. To find out more, you can download the workshop presentations or watch the recording here.

Our Family Benefits Advice Service is here to support employers who are interested in finding out more about how they can implement flexible and family friendly working policies in their organisations and we have published a Family Friendly Employer Guide which is available to download from our website here. For free, impartial and confidential advice, get in touch on 028 9267 8200 or email

[1] Timewise Flexible Jobs Index