Employers must play their role in helping furloughed workers back to work

Vicky Webber
Human Resources

As the prime minister encourages Britain to go back to work, employers will need to take steps to help furloughed workers return.

With Boris Johnson’s promise to get the country back to work, and an announcement from Rishi Sunak this week about the extension and changes to the Job Retention Scheme, furloughed employees and their employers will both be turning their attention to when and how they re-join the workforce.

After as much as two months away from their place of work, and with considerable uncertainty and anxiety still in the air, this process won’t be as simple as staff members coming back in at 9am one morning and picking up where they left off.

Aside from the fact that they will have got out of the habit of actually doing their job, there are all sorts of distractions, ranging from concern about having to home-school their children, financial worries, and, of course, genuine anxiety about their health and that of their families.  

So employers preparing for the return of furloughed workers need to consider the following;

1. Listen to your staff

Ask your employees how they feel about returning, and what their concerns might be. Some will be perfectly happy to come back, others will be relieved but uncertain, and still more will be very reluctant to leave the relative safety of their homes. Allowing them the opportunity to express these concerns shows that you are taking them seriously; if you don’t, you can’t expect staff to operate effectively on their return.

2. Focus your plan on those concerns

You need to build those genuine anxieties into your plan for people to return. That might be taking into account practical matters such as people being unable to get to work on public transport or not having childcare in place for children who are not at school, or it might be tackling worries about the health implications of coming back to work.

For those who will struggle simply to get to the workplace, working from home might be an option, and is certainly what the PM is still encouraging for the time being. For those who have to come in to do their job, issues such as how you implement social distancing, provide PPE where appropriate, as well as things like hand sanitiser, will all have a bearing on how quickly your staff adapt to being back at work. Any such measures should be communicated to staff as soon as possible to provide reassurance on their return.

3. Be flexible

One thing is certain: the world of work is unlikely to be the same again. Flexibility has been important for a long while, but right now it is vital. That might entail staggering work hours so that people can physically get to work, cope with childcare responsibilities, and maintain social distancing once there; it might be allowing working from home for part or all of the week; or it might be allowing staff to come back part time for a while, especially as the Chancellor’s announcement this week indicates that this will be possible within the Job retention Scheme from the end of July.

4. Re-induct your staff

After two months away from work, you will need to induct your returning staff, no matter how long they have worked for you. Not only will they be a bit rusty around the job itself, but they will have to get used to a new way of working (and it may not be immediately obvious to them what has changed).

Managers need to set out their expectations (which need to be realistic – no-one will be operating at 100 per cent from day one), and you need to continue to monitor, support staff, offer training and review how people are doing.

5. The importance of wellbeing

This is a very good time to look at introducing staff wellbeing initiatives, which can offer support for staff on all sorts of levels, including financial, mental health, physical health and social. Many such packages offer telephone counselling, which could be very valuable if your workforce is anxious and disoriented - which let’s face it, you can forgive them for being.

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