The 1st of August saw the first changes in the Job Retention Scheme.  Employers are now expected to pay gradually increasing contributions to furloughed employees’ wages, until the scheme ends in October.  As a result, employers can bring furloughed employees back on a part time basis.  Some businesses are opening more fully and bringing furloughed employees back full time. 

This great news for everyone involved, but we should be prepared for any challenges that the process might present.

Employee Anxiety

Many employees will be extremely apprehensive about returning to work.  Some have lost confidence in their abilities following a long period at home.  If other staff members carried on working, furloughed ones may feel that they are out of the loop or resentful that they were selected for furlough.  They may have childcare commitments that they have not been able to resolve or be worried about members of their household who are still shielding. Finally, for some the fear of redundancy will be high.

Equally, employees that carried on working may be resentful that they were left to carry the “burden”, and this could cause difficult working dynamics going forward. All that considered, it is not going to be like returning from holiday for furloughed staff and employers would do well to prepare for this.

For businesses to successfully survive this current crisis, great care should be taken when reintroducing furloughed employees back into the workplace, whether remotely or physically coming back to their place of work.  Taking an approach like that taken when employees return from a long absence e.g. maternity/paternity leave, long term illness or sabbatical is advisable.  Key areas to consider are:

  • Giving reassurance that their safety and wellbeing are a top priority
  • Giving sufficient time for the individual to settle in
  • Equipping your managers with the tools to support their teams
  • Creating a new sense of belonging
  • Considering changes to working hours and/or practices

Make Sure They Feel Safe

SEISS for those who have been affected by Covid-19 has been bolstered and extended.  If you are eligible (and you must have received previous grants in order to qualify) the next grant can be claimed on November 30th, and will now cover 80% of your profits for November to January 2021. The grant will be capped at £7500. An additional grant will be available for the period covering  February to April, 2021. However, there are no further details on this grant yet.

Making sure everyone feels safe, must be your top priority for all your team. A large number of employees are apprehensive about returning. They will need reassurance that their safety and well-being is your top priority.  The same applies to individuals working from home. 

You can provide reassurance with the following steps.

  • Stock suitable levels of PPE supplies (from sanitising gel to high-vis vests)
  • Carry out Risk Assessments from managing interaction in communal areas, to returning to use specialist equipment
  • Schedule Health & Safety refresher training (where possible, in formats easily accessible remotely)
  • Schedule Information Security refresher training (again in formats easily accessible remotely if possible)
  • Provide guidance on setting up a suitable working environment at home.  This could be a DSE checklist to more detailed guidance or training
  • Ensure easy access to support services such as mental health first-aiders, employee assistance programmes and HR teams
  • Make sure that social distancing and safety measures are clearly communicated to both employees and customers

Give them time to settle in

Be prepared for returning furloughed employees to take several weeks to become fully productive and comfortable in their role.  To ease the transition, ensure your managers:

  • Regularly check in with the individual, giving them the opportunity to discuss their wellbeing and ask questions
  • Set realistic, short term objectives/tasks to give both focus and a sense of accomplishment
  • Ask employees what you can do as an employer and/or manager to make the transition easier
  • Make available training (refresher or new) and where possible, ensure it is in a format that can be easily accessed e.g. eLearning, guides, webinars
  • Consider using annual leave to enable a phased return

Equip your managers with the tools to support their teams

In larger organisations it will be difficult to take on this burden of reintegrating returning employees alone.  Your managers will be key to successfully reintroducing employees at all levels of your business. If you don’t have a formal structure, consider delegating to senior members of your team. There could be legal implications if your returning staff are struggling, so ensuring managers have access to the right information (from Employee Assistance Programmes to business/department objectives) is key.  They will also need the right technology to manage teams still working remotely.   Make sure they have access to HR advice when needed and that they understand flexible working allowances.

Creating a new sense of belonging

Re-engaging employees with the business vision, strategy and values as well as helping them re-establish working relationships help create a feeling of belonging. This in turn positively impacts employee commitment and performance.

Use internal communication channels to ensure they feel back “in the loop” as quickly as possible. Equally, find ways to encourage the whole team to re-establish working relationships with colleagues, both in their immediate team but also across the business. Finally, give your employees opportunities to give feedback on how they are feeling. This will help them to understand they are important to the business. 

Consider changes to working hours and/or practices

Covid-19 has affected every aspect of our lives. Many employees who have been furloughed have established new routines that do not reflect traditional working hours.  Don’t expect them to slot straight back into the hours they worked before. Businesses may need to adapt to stay successful.  This is a new reality and changes including adjusting working hours, work locations, as well as moving from a time based mindset to an outcome-based approach, are all becoming a reality that businesses face.  Where possible, things businesses could consider include:

  • Introducing core working hours (e.g. 10:00 – 14:00) and enabling individuals to flex their hours
  • Consider rotating furloughed workers in similar roles where returning all employees is not an option
  • Consider working from home options, even for roles that are operational (e.g. day a month to catch up on admin or project work)
  • Part furloughing staff so they return in a limited capacity

This will involve extra work, however, employees who feel supported, nurtured, and valued are more productive and loyal.  Therefore, the effort placed in ensuring furloughed staff return to work safely and securely will pay off.

For further guidance or support, contact us now. We are here to help.

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