At the start of the year, not many would have heard of the term ‘furlough leave’, fast forward 9 months and many would consider the scheme as a saviour in keeping their jobs safe amid the pandemic outbreak. In July it was announced that roughly 9.6 million employees across the UK were on furlough, which is equivalent to more than one in four workers being put on the plan.
Despite fears of a potential second national lockdown, restrictions have been loosened since the peak. In mid-August it was confirmed that half of those furloughed have already returned to work, with more expected to come back by the time the scheme ends on 31st October.
Recently it was announced a top-up scheme would replace the furlough plan, starting in November. However if workers get transferred onto the new scheme, they will still have to go back to work anyway on a part-time capacity. With some being put on furlough as early as March - that's six months out of the business, and many might be feeling nervous and anxious about returning.
Some of the questions these people might be asking themselves are:
Obviously, these questions will vary depending on the furlough employee’s situation. After so much time to reflect on their career, some might be thinking about a new opportunity or even a career change.
We have spoken to employers about how they have helped furloughed staff successfully return to work, and have complied some of the best ways in which you can help professionals re-join your team:
With many anxious to return to work, it is important for the HR department and respective line managers to keep in touch. Many of the clients we speak to say that they keep in contact with furloughed employees on a weekly basis, updating them on what is happening within the business and the changes that have happened that might impact their job when they return (e.g. team dynamics).
With increasing concerns around mental health, communication can really help those off work, to still feel apart of the company. It's also an opportunity to understand and iron out any anxieties or worries they are feeling and to help them smoothly transition back into working life.
Here at RHL Recruitment, our Group CEO, Roddy Barrow, would speak to our furloughed team members on a weekly basis – providing business updates and listening to and answering questions they may have. This helped our consultants to still feel a part of the team, and they appreciated the time given by management to ensure their best interests were kept in mind.
Despite the fact people are returning to work, the pandemic still exists, and with COVID cases going up, employees who can’t work from home might be worried about going back into their work environment. Whether that is going back to a lab, office or work site, it might be worth creating and sending them a risk assessment form, explaining all the PPE equipment and procedures put in place in order to protect the workforces’ safety. From an employer perspective, not only does it help employees stop worrying about their return, but also helps establish if there are any further changes needed.
As mentioned previously, professionals returning to work might find the social aspect of their job overbearing. Whether its team meetings in the office, or multiple video calls throughout the day, it might take some time to settle back in and build that team bond back up. Before your furloughed staff come back, it’s important to make non-furloughed colleagues aware that returning back to work for some staff might be a difficult transition, and that they will need their support in ensuring it is as smooth as possible. This includes, encouraging colleagues to help re-train furlough colleagues back up if need be, being supportive and always being readily available to answer or solve any issues the returning staff member might have.
While on furlough, employees are not supposed to do any form of work for their employer, they can do some training if they wish. A couple of weeks before they start, it might be worth suggesting some relevant online courses. Online websites such as Coursera and Udemy, have thousands of courses on various subjects. Suggesting courses to furloughed staff might help refresh some knowledge and build confidence.
With some furloughed staff having up to half the year off, it is safe to assume that they might have forgotten how to perform certain tasks. A re-introduction back into the business might be the perfect way for them to settle back in. Not only does it show the employee that you empathise with their need for time to reintegrate, but it also gives them a chance to re-learn how the business works and what changes have been made. This could include a meeting with them to discuss their new goals and any changes to their job specification.
It's also a good idea to arrange meetings with team members, and staff from other departments so that they get more of an understanding of what is expected of them and how the pandemic has impacted other areas of the organisation.
Going forward, if you use the discussed suggestions to help furloughed staff back into the organisation, the transition will be a lot smoother and quicker to get them back to full productivity. This will also help maintain or even improve your employer brand image, so that when you do have opportunities in the future you will have more chances of employing the best talent available.