Tips for Reintegrating Furloughed Employees
We may not have heard of it before Covid-19 but we certainly have now. Furlough has been upon us for several months, however it is important to remember it is a temporary measure and it will end. It is time for businesses to turn their mind to transitioning to a post-furlough business environment.
It is crucial to consider not only the needs of the business but also the relationships with your most important asset, your people. Some employees through no choice of their own have been asked to stay at home; to play their part in safeguarding an organisations future, take a reduction in their wages and sit tight and wait for more information to follow.
Being removed from any situation can feel isolating, particularly when you’re desperate to get going again, to make a difference and to reconnect with colleagues. It can also result in furloughed employees feeling frustrated and even guilty that they’re not doing enough. These heightened emotions can increase levels of anxiety particularly as the future is so unknown.
Equally, the disproportionate balance of work that has been thrust upon those employees who were identified as key workers, and who have kept the business moving over the past few months, has been immense. They are likely to feel exhausted. There may even be an element of resentment starting to creep in as they look across the growing divide between these employee groups. Managing the integration of both of these groups will be essential to an organisation’s survival.
To help you transition, Butler Ross has put together some tips that we hope will help with this reintegration process. To begin we suggest a three-stage approach of Reflection, Planning and Implementation to manage a positive re-integration of furloughed employees:
Following this period of change it is important to reflect on how you have managed the decisions taken around your employees; what have you learnt and what can you improve on?
- How did you/are you engaging with those on furlough?
- How may this communication have affected your employee’s perception of you and the company?
- How might the relationships have changed between those that have been on Furlough and those that have not?
- Are those that have been working throughout close to burnout?
- Are those who have been on furlough experiencing high levels of anxiety?
Consider lessons learned from similar processes whereby employees have returned from leave or a period away from the business, for example, long term sickness or returning from parental leave.
Based on your reflections, plans should include how to re-integrate your furloughed employees back into the organisation, ensuring commonalities with those that have stayed, this may depend on when the workload will return. Consideration needs to be given as to whether it is possible to re-allocate people to meet resource needs in other parts of the business or will a phased re-integration or even a redundancy programme be needed.
- What internal dynamics should be considered when re-integrating furloughed employees?
- Are their learnings from the enforced remote working and reduced headcount that can be adopted in the longer term?
- How do you plan to maintain motivation and a shared sense of purpose among your people?
- Are there opportunities to re-skill and re-deploy?
A very likely bi-product of the pandemic is a shift in values for employees as the importance of family and health, and the benefits of agile working have come to the fore. This also needs to be considered in your planning.
It will be critical to ensure that risk is being managed in terms of complying with ongoing government guidance and the duty of care to your employees, but, at the same time, this will need to be balanced against the needs of the business. Businesses will also need to consider timescales for implementation:
- How will you phase the return of your employees from furlough?
- What engagement plan will you have in place to promote the “new normal”?
- How will you ensure the real and perceived safety of your people when re-integrating furloughed employees?
- What communication strategy will suit your culture and your employees best
- Will you set up a feedback loop to monitor success of the return and engagement of your employees?
- How will you manage the wider repercussions on employee well-being that may have arisen?
Our 10 Top Tips
1. Set out clear criteria and timelines for returning employees
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 employees may still have children at home unable to go to school and need to arrange childcare.
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.
2. Communicate & Listen
Maintaining a positive dialogue with employees both in and out of active work will be critical as organisations transition to a post Covid-19 “new normal”. Ensure that whilst they are on furlough or working remotely, you have regular touch points with your team. Regular team socials (zoom team drinks!), 121s with their managers so they can keep updated with what’s happening in the business and weekly training including your non furloughed team are all a great way to keep everybody connected and camaraderie high.
Not only do all employees need to understand and know what’s happening with the changes that are being made within the workplace, they also need to have the opportunity to be listened to, heard and understood. Organisations should look to put in place mechanisms so that all employees are given an opportunity to ask questions or raise concerns.
Many employees (Furloughed or otherwise) will, over the past several months, had epiphany moments. They may have questioned the level of satisfaction in their life and in their job. They may have reflected upon how they were previously spending their time and whether they had been able to achieve a positive work life balance. Understanding this shift change is paramount. The level of changes in terms of new working practices is likely to change and evolve regularly. It’s important that you take the time to learn rather than assume to understand the needs of your people and to reshape your organisational structure going forward.
Prepare a summary of results, information and strategy at their level ready to present to them on their return, maybe 5 things of importance that have happened or that the business has achieved each month? Let them know what’s been happening, so they don’t feel they’ve missed out.
This is now the time for authentic leadership. For organisations to be clear and bold about their organisational culture going forward and to clearly state what they stand for.
3. Build on the engagement you’ve already had
The level of engagement you maintained with your employees while they were on furlough should be used as the base from which to initiate and build a plan for their return. Conversations should be able to steer your plan of action based on their changed circumstances.
- How might the process have changed your employees' perception of the company?
- Have relationships changed between those that have been furloughed and those that have not?
- Have feelings about returning to work changed, are they able to jump straight back into a full working week? Do they feel comfortable about their commute into the office?
There will likely be mixed thoughts about returning to work and eventually the office. It is important to clarify exactly how your people are feeling, an employee survey to take the pulse of the company could be very useful.
4. Assess your talent requirements and capacity
It is important to assess the requirements of your team and determine how you will want your people to operate moving forward. While longer-term objectives are likely to have shifted, this is an opportunity to realign team goals, culture and structure to best support the company vision.
- The roles and responsibilities of all your employees. Are there any gaps? Would the organisation benefit from different skill sets?
- Does the current team structure work? Could a change make processes and people more efficient?
- Is there a need for additional training and support to close knowledge gaps or to enable returning employees to perform their job more efficiently?
5. Determine your strategy for returning employees
What will the return look like for your furloughed employees? It might be an initial return on a part-time basis, utilising enforced holiday, focusing completely on a remote reintegration plan or adopting a phased approach back into the office. Longer-term, a blended approach of home working and office-based employees might be preferred, or it could be more viable to build processes to ensure home working can be sustained.
- How might the return to work and reintegration change the way teams work together and the team dynamics?
- What health & safety precautions have been put in place to protect people in the office?
- Are people equipped with the right tools for successful home working?
- Are internal processes structured to support teams effectively and ensure that motivation and drive are maintained?
- How will relationships between colleagues be rebuilt and developed?
- How will potential future lockdowns be managed, what are the contingency plans?
Once a clear strategy has been decided, be sure to have one-to-one catch ups with furloughed employees to discuss how the plan will impact them personally and the next steps they will need to take. It is important to reiterate that their safety and wellbeing are the priority and reassure them that all appropriate measures are in place to protect their health and safety if a return to the office is expected.
6. Welcome them back as you would a new employee
Consider writing 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.
7. 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, while others might have had increased workloads to make up for staff shortages. These discrepancies could result in some negative feelings creeping 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).
As organisations look to reintegrate their workforce, it’s really important that they take the time to consider the reconciliation that may be required between the two groups.
8. 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.
9. Offer reassurance, empathy 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 furlough, and there’s a chance your returning workers will have some extremely complicated feelings. 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.
As a result of new ways of working management styles will require an overhaul. Empathy is going to be a vital component of the leadership and managerial toolkit. Many employees will have suffered loss and grief during this period of time. Some will have experienced bereavement for loved ones and colleagues affected by Coronavirus. Some will experience anxiety as the lockdown restrictions change and some will be overwhelmed by the sheer uncertainty of what the future holds.
Being an authentic leader doesn’t require you to have the answers to everything but showing empathy, humility and even a level of vulnerability during this period is likely to move you closer towards authentic leadership.
10.Monitor and adapt your return to work plan if necessary
It is important to be aware that reintegrating furloughed employees and returning to work will be uncharted territory for all affected by the process. Monitoring the success of your approach is key.
- Is the health and wellbeing of your people being protected?
- Is the team set up supported by clear lines of communication and are there tools to facilitate peer to peer collaboration?
- Are your employees still engaged with the business and connected to the business goals?
- How will you gather feedback on the process from your employees?
- How prepared/capable is the businesses to make fast changes where necessary to better meet the needs of people and adapt to changing regulations?
This is a golden opportunity for organisations to set out plans that will define their future success. They have a choice to make – reinstate antiquated people practices or create a new reality where everyone can thrive.