Managing the furlough fallout

Human Resources 17th July 2020

How to ensure a smooth, happy and productive return to work.

What’s the story with your business and Covid-19? The government has eased the pandemic restrictions. We’re all being encouraged to ‘get back to work’. Is your business bringing your workforce back into the office?

Doubtless, you’ll be the first to agree that the process is far from easy. There are, of course, the physical, safety aspects to consider. But then, there’s also the psychological welfare of your staff. Don’t under-estimate the mental adjustments that they have to make. These may well be uncertain times for your business, but equally, there are challenges for your people.

Let’s look at what you can do to make your back-to-work transition as smooth and as positive as possible – both for your company and for its most valuable asset – your people.

Whether you’re bringing your staff straight back into full employment or you’re using the flexible furlough scheme and bringing them back part-time, the same applies. You have a responsibility for their physical and mental welfare. One approach is to consider the transition as an onboarding process.

1.  Anticipating apprehension, nervousness – even resentment

Don’t be complacent. It would be a mistake to imagine that your staff will be eagerly returning to their desks like excited schoolchildren on the first day back at school after the summer break.

Some may have endured personal difficulties at home during the crisis. Others might have switched away from work mode. Some will almost certainly be feeling deep-seated apprehension, even resentment at being called back to the workplace. It’s your job to anticipate, recognise and deal effectively and sensitively with these issues

2.  Communication and transparency

All being well, you’ll have kept in touch with your employees throughout the lockdown period. Keeping them abreast of your plans and checking up on their welfare. Now that you’re calling them back to the workplace, you need to step up the communication in a way that’s clear and transparent. You need to explain the steps you’re taking to ensure their safety – such as

  • social distancing measure
  • a one-way traffic system around the workplace
  • staggering start and finish times
  • carrying out a comprehensive risk assessment to ensure you abide by the Government guidelines.

For all these issues, there’s no substitute for a spirit of collaborations and communication. If at all possible, make sure that every employee has a 1-2-1 consultation with their line manager. Encourage your people to come up with their own proposals for safety measures and for amended work processes. There’s no better way to keep your people onside than to for them and their opinions to feel valued.

3.  Addressing mental health issues

There’s every chance that the return to work might result in mental health issues among your staff. Feelings of stress and anxiety are quite possible. You and your managers will need to anticipate and prepare for this eventuality. Your support for their difficulties will be critical in helping them to adapt and recover. COVID-19 seems to discriminate. It targets some groups more than others – age, race and background can all be factors. It’s vital that you remain especially aware of the needs of potentially vulnerable groups.

4.  Clearing the backlog

Before the lockdown, did you have any ongoing employee relations cases, which had to be put on hold? Were there any unresolved processes, such as grievances, disciplinary allegations, or bullying and harassment? Make sure you give priority to these cases. Clear the backlog. Regrettably, the stresses of returning to work could result in an upturn in new cases. You need to be sure that the decks are clear in anticipation of this eventuality.

A positive angle

The pandemic has taught us all many lessons. Businesses have been forced, almost overnight, to adapt, to become more agile, as they face the new challenges of a post-pandemic world. Learning to understand and deal effectively with the physical and mental health challenges that staff are facing could be the first of many new challenges. Accepting, understanding and responding to these challenges will be key to surviving and prospering in the weeks, months and years to come.

Here to help

We’re HR specialists. We keep right up to date daily with the latest Coronavirus guidelines. We’ll keep you up to date too if you’re unsure about your obligations towards your employees. We’ll do all we can to help.

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