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How to re-integrate furloughed employees post-lockdown

Justin Rix Justin Rix

The introduction of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) by the government on 1 March was welcomed by many organisations as a way to support their business and people through the immediate situation. Yet, as the lockdown begins to ease, Justin Rix looks at how you can efficiently and sympathetically bring your furloughed employees back to the office.

The focus for most during lockdown has been the practicalities of accessing CJRS furlough scheme and making the appropriate claims to HMRC as the government has developed and clarified its guidance. However, the CJRS is a temporary measure and, although there is potential for it to be extended, it is likely that the government will seek to withdraw the scheme sooner rather than later, as measures to ease the lockdown are expected to be introduced. It is therefore time for businesses to turn their mind to transitioning to a post-furlough business environment. In doing so, it is crucial to consider not only your business need, but also your relationship with your people.

We anticipate a shift in values for employees as the importance of family and health, and the benefits of agile working come to the fore. Maintaining a positive dialogue with staff both in and out of active work will be critical as companies transition to a post-COVID-19 ‘new normal’ world. We recommend a three-stage approach of reflection, planning, and implementation to manage a positive re-integration of furloughed employees, and have set out some thoughts on these areas below:

1 Reflection on how you furloughed employees

Following this period of change to our home and working lives, it is important to reflect on how you have managed the decisions taken around your workforce and consider what learnings can be taken into your planning for the future. For example:

  • How did you engage with your furloughed workforce?
  • How might this have affected your employees' perception of the company?
  • How might the relationship have changed between those that have been furloughed and those that have not?

It may be that you have some employees who are close to burnout from increased workload and filling in for absent colleagues. Elsewhere, furloughed workers may be experiencing a level of anxiety at not feeling ‘needed’ by their organisation.

Consideration should also be given to the internal and external impact on your brand from decisions that have been taken. We have seen some high-profile examples of negative press for businesses that have furloughed workers or utilised government support.

2 Planning to return furloughed employees to work

Based on your reflections, plans should include how to re-integrate your furloughed employees into the organisation, ensuring commonalities with those that stayed. This will depend on whether the workload will return immediately. Is it possible to re-allocate people to meet resource needs in other parts of the organisation or will a phased re-integration or even a redundancy programme be needed. Consider:

  • What internal dynamics should be considered when re-integrating furloughed employees?
  • Are there 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?
  • How will you address or manage the risk of negative PR on your employer brand?

Advanced planning around the principles of your people returning will support a strong basis for communications and will prevent having to reverse decisions made, later down the line. It will also allow for scenario testing of your plan based on different advancements of the virus and the government’s response.

3 Implementation of your plan to return employees to work

Think about timescales for implementation, based on your planning:

  • 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 people on a regular basis?
  • How will you manage the wider impact on employee well-being that may have arisen?

It will be critical to ensure that risk is being managed in terms of complying with ongoing government guidance on social distancing and the duty of care to its employees. But, at the same time, this will need to be balanced against the needs of the business.

The re-integration of furloughed employees will require some careful reflection and planning. In addition, many commentators have suggested that the traditional working contract between employers and employees will see a fundamental shift as a result of the pandemic.

The traditional 9am to 5pm working week and office-space environment is being seriously challenged by the flexibility many businesses and people have demonstrated in adapting to the current circumstances. With the right combination of technology, property and people engagement, workforces can be much more agile than business leaders have previously assumed, with many positives for all parties. We'll explore this further in a future article.

If you would like to discuss further, please contact Justin Rix.