Transitioning Employees Back From Furlough
As we draw closer to lockdown restrictions ending, many organisations are planning to return their furloughed employees and try to get back to business-as-usual with their pre-pandemic staffing numbers, customers and workloads. But the differences between the experiences of furloughed and working people have been vast and as an employer you cannot underestimate the importance of giving all your employees a smooth transition back to normal.
Let’s face it, it’s not going to necessarily be pre-pandemic ‘normal’ but a key step to getting back on track for many businesses is having a full workforce again and that will involve bringing furloughed staff back.
Personnel Today examined the Pearn Kandola study of over 500 employees across the UK and found that furloughed staff experienced “a significant reduction in wellbeing, personal confidence, job satisfaction and commitment to their employers”. They also found that staff who were not furloughed, often harboured resentment over being left to deal with extra workloads and full-time work. Although during the heatwave of spring 2020 it seemed, to some, like furloughed people were basically on holiday, that definitely wasn’t the case. Many people took jobs in warehouses and as drivers to help support the vital logistics and supply chains. Some started home-schooling and others volunteered and yes, some people built back-garden bars and took up knitting but the Pearn Kandola study found that they also felt let-down, rejected and under-valued than their colleagues who weren’t furloughed. They have become less likely to be loyal to their employers and have lower job satisfaction and confidence than before.
This presents a new challenge to employers asking them to come back to work, whether onsite or working from home, so here are some tips to help you succeed with the transition.
Good Communications Are Vital
Rumours, assumptions and dissatisfaction festers when employees are kept in the dark about decision-making or changes, so be upfront and open when discussing the subject and address concerns in a timely manner. Talk with furloughed and non-furloughed staff ahead of time so you can answer questions and find out how they feel. Do your best to dispel any notions that furloughed staff have ‘had it easy’ or been lazy and acknowledge how hard the staff who stayed have worked.
Encourage Connections and Integration
Set up support groups or buddy pairs for returning workers so they have someone they can go to with questions and help each other through the transition. Organise social events (if restrictions allow) to build comradery and introduce team members to each other, especially if new people have joined during the Job Retention Scheme. It’s important for mental wellbeing to foster social connections with colleagues so
Manage Everyone’s Expectations
Be clear with returning staff about changes in the workplace and how they will manage their workload after so long without one. Discuss flexible working or a reduced timetable so they can adjust gradually and organise regular reviews to check their progress. You might need to negotiate their working hours, especially if they now have commitments (such as caring for a parent) that they didn’t have pre-pandemic. Whatever you agree, make sure you put it in writing and discuss it with your HR team so they can advise you on whether contracts or terms of employment need to be changed.
Provide Training and Updates
Did you know how to share your screen on Teams before March 2020? Furloughed staff still might not know how, so think about the changes to business operations, processes and procedures that have happened and include it in their back-to-work orientation. Think about the small changes as well as the big ones, and ensure returning staff know who they can go to for help. Personnel Today suggest that it’s likely a returning manager will now need to learn how to manage mental health issues at work, hold delicate conversations and mediate between furloughed and non-furloughed staff.
Put Safety First
Having your full complement of staff again will be exciting and hopefully the transition will go smoothly but don’t forget the importance of keeping everyone safe. COVID-19 hasn’t been eradicated and many people are still very anxious about mingling with people again so a new risk-assessment will be helpful to do. Check that you can fit those extra desks back in the office (will that mean staff aren’t socially distanced?), that there is enough hand sanitiser etc. being ordered for the increased number of staff and that returning staff are aware of any changes to entrances and exits for example. Remember that everyone has had a different experience and where one employee is ready and willing to return, someone with an underlying medical condition for example, may be more hesitant.
Be Prepared and Welcoming
Have you ever come back from holiday only to find your computer mouse is missing because someone took it off your desk whilst you where away? Don’t let the first day back be full of employees trying to find IT equipment; make sure they have everything they need ready to go so they can concentrate on meeting people and getting on with work. Maybe put a little plant or something on their desk as a nice gesture to make them feel welcome back and valued.
For more guidance, the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) have a wealth of additional information, including on specific topics such as flexible working, shielding and lateral flow tests. They also have a template risk-assessment and ideas on how to reintegrate staff to ensure a smooth transition for everyone.