By Paul Sleath, CEO at PEO Worldwide (www.peoworldwide.com/en-gb/)
On Wednesday the 3rd of March, the UK Government announced that the furlough scheme will be extended until September 2021.
This news will no doubt be welcomed by businesses across many different industries, as the furlough scheme has helped keep millions of employees’ jobs secure and avoid mass redundancies over the past 12 months.
However, the extension shouldn’t be a cue for employers to kick back and relax. Now more than ever, it’s crucial to attend to the wellbeing of your furloughed employees and ensure they’re well prepared for their return to the workplace.
So, if you’re thinking of bringing your staff back to work, it’s essential to do so in the right way at a time that’s right for both your employees and your business — whether it’s next week or in September.
HOW DO I DECIDE WHO TO BRING BACK?
There’s no prescribed way to bring employees back to work, but it’s advisable to give reasonable written notice of at least 48 hours. Remember, some staff members may still have children at home unable to go to school and need to arrange childcare.
In an ideal world, you’d want to bring back ALL employees on their previous terms and conditions. However, this might not be possible yet — particularly if they cannot work from home and your office or facility isn’t big enough to allow for social distancing.
Realistically, many companies who shut down entirely also won’t be at full operations as soon as they reopen (hence why furlough is being extended beyond the hopeful return to ‘normality’ at the end of June). In these circumstances, you’ll have some difficult decisions to make about who to bring back first.
During this process, you should set out clear criteria for recalling staff. Will the decision be based merely on business need, or will you consider individual circumstances? It’s important to be fair and inclusive when making your decision and to document your reasons (such as seniority or operational needs) to mitigate the risk of potential discrimination claims.
So, once you’ve decided who to bring back, what’s the best approach to handling the re-onboarding process?
WELCOME THEM BACK AS YOU WOULD ANY EMPLOYEE
Start with an offer letter which states all the information they need to know.The employee needs to know what’s changed (if anything) when it comes to their position, salary and benefits. For example, have wages been reduced across the board? How does being on furlough affect their sick leave or annual leave entitlement? You should also provide details about how you will be ensuring workplace safety and staff wellbeing.
As an employer, you also need to understand that transitioning back to work after an extended period can come as a shock (particularly under these circumstances), so it’s essential to allow a degree of flexibility.
INTEGRATE THEM BACK INTO THE WORKPLACE CULTURE
Employees should feel they are returning to a supportive and caring environment. However, it’s also vital to recognise that the pandemic may have had an unequal impact on your workforce. Some people will have been furloughed (potentially with full pay depending on which country they are in) while others might have had increased workloads to make up for staff shortages.These discrepancies could result in some negative feelings creep- ing into employee relations, so it’s important to nip any potential conflict in the bud.
As an employer, you should look for opportunities to reintegrate employees into the team. For example, you could organise team-building exercises over a video call, virtual quiz nights or depending on the size of your team, arrange a socially distanced BBQ.You should also encourage all managers to have one-to-one meetings with every employee upon their return (even if it’s done virtually).
PROVIDE TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES
While on furlough, employees may have missed out on crucial training, so it’s important to get them back up to speed. Make sure you provide them with the tools and time they need to complete their training (this may have to be done online if they’re still working from home).
If remote working isn’t possible in your industry, it’s your responsibility as the employer to create a safe work environment and promote social distancing. Re-onboarding should include efforts to educate staff in the various guidelines available, which will vary country by country.
OFFER REASSURANCE AND SUPPORT WHEN NEEDED
This is a time of high anxiety, which has been hard on everyone’s mental wellbeing.Add to that the stress and uncertainty of being placed on fur- lough, and there’s a chance your returning workers will have some extremely complicated feelings. So, it’s essential to be aware of this and do what you can to reassure and support them.
You should offer frequent and transparent communication about the state of the business and recovery plans, as well as an open-door policy so that employees can reach out privately with any questions or concerns. Knowing they are valued and supported by you will be pivotal to their wellbeing.