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How to welcome employees back after furlough

Toni Robinson, Managing Director - NucleusHR.

What effect may being furloughed have on my team?
Remember, everyone is different; some employees may welcome being furloughed, especially when they may have the additional responsibility of caring for vulnerable relatives or even home schooling for some.  Be mindful that other employees may find the situation more difficult.

We have heard of those that worry that they might not have a job at the end of the lockdown, some feel unvalued, some feel guilty being at home when others have been asked to attend work.  Some have disclosed their isolation concerns, particularly those that live on their own.

Each team member will undoubtedly be facing the lockdown from a unique perspective, and therefore will require something different from you.

What should I be doing to support my team throughout the furlough process?
It is a misconception that you cannot talk to your employees if they are furloughed.  First and foremost, be open, be honest and be clear about the situation with your teams: false promises never work well in the long term, but try and balance the requirement for honesty with the understanding of the differing emotions that each person may be feeling.

Try and arrange wellbeing calls regularly with your employees and, whilst you cannot ask them to work, or really talk about work, you can discuss how they are coping.  Plan a call with each individual, remembering to take into account whether the person lives alone, whether they could be facing a difficult situation at home etc …

If I want to do more, what could I do to give more to my team at this difficult time?
You may have access to an Employee Assistance Program for staff?  If you do, remind employees of the facility and how to access it.  (Check all insurance related benefits, including your pension provision if you are not sure whether you have one to offer out to staff).  Lots of furloughed employees have found this type of facility useful.

Try and arrange weekly or fortnightly meetings by some form of conferencing software, if possible.  Perhaps, group meetings could be useful, sharing best practice of how to cope with the lockdown along with helping with any feelings of social isolation.

Encourage staff to think about their mental wellbeing and how they can be mindful of effects of the crisis on them.  Ask staff to think about any goals they have throughout the period of furlough; is there anything you could do as an employer to assist with those goals?

Encourage staff to stay connected (if they want to, best not to force this).  If staff newsletters are sent out, remember, to find a way of ensuring all furloughed staff receive a copy.

Encourage staff to use any spare time to volunteer if they are struggling with the lockdown.  There are many charities and local support groups that may need their time right now.

Should I be thinking about how to welcome employees back after the furlough?
Yes, absolutely.  Settling staff back into work life may not be as easy as it might appear.  Think about the support available to staff when they are eventually required to return to work, especially if they have been off for some time.  Be mindful that productivity may be reduced whilst they are getting back up to speed.  Try and accommodate the adjustment and support them as much as possible.

Furloughing teams may impact on staff morale – not just the staff that are furloughed, but also for any staff that remained at work throughout the lockdown.  This is a difficult balance when attempting to retain staff engagement.


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