9.5 Million Employees on Furlough. Are Bosses Ready to Bring Them Back?

The numbers are just staggering! 

According to HMRC, as of 26th July 2020, 9.5 million employees have been furloughed in the UK due to COVID-19.  On top of this, many more employees have been working away from the office. The UK’s Office for National Statistics showed that 49.2% of adults in employment have been working from home. 

Bringing people out of furlough and back to the place of work may turn out to be much harder than expected.  Thinking through some of the challenges now, may help to avoid a host of problems later on.

Employees have got used to being furloughed. 

This has been going on since March and many people may even have been better off financially; after allowing for travelling costs and other work-related expenses.  They may not be too keen to return.

It’s not just about getting people back to work. 

It’s about getting everyone re-engaged and actively participating. 

  • Reach out to employees and find out what has been happening for them during the furlough.  Are they and their family well?  Are they prepared for coming back to work? 
  • Make it clear how much you want them to return and why their contribution is so important.
  • Seek their advice, ideas and input on how to get back on track. Review the current business situation, what are going to be the priorities on their return and involve them in making important decisions.
  • Get them reconnected with your other employees.  Allow them time to catch up and celebrate coming back to work even if it is just a safely distanced catch up for coffee.
  • Share successes.  Catch people doing things right.  Encourage customer feedback and employee to employee compliments. A personal thank you from the boss is by far the best motivator.

People working from home may have discovered a better work life balance

People may prefer the convenience of working from home.  Many organisations have known for years that home working was more cost effective but have been slow to make the change.  Covid-19 has forced businesses into making the transition.

Here are some statistics that might surprise you:-

At this time, home working could continue to keep your people safe as well as giving them that work-life balance.  Start gently by seeing who would like to work from home, even if it is just for a few hours per week. 

The question is, ‘Is it is harder to keep home workers motivated than it is when they are in a common place of work?’ but that’s a topic for a future article!

Some people will have suffered illness themselves and/or in their families. 

Some will, sadly, have lost relatives in extremely difficult circumstances.  These people may be physically and or mentally weak and could still be grieving.

The golden rule is that you cannot skimp on compassion.  If you have a loyal employee, then be prepared to give a little extra at this difficult time.  You will probably find that if you are seen to handle this well, other employees will be willing to chip in and help out.

I always remember meeting a young man working for Richer Sounds who told me about the day of his father’s funeral.  On that day, he received a personal phone call from Julian Richer, the boss, offering sympathy and support.  The young man recalled it as one of the main reasons why he loved working for Richer Sounds.

This is going to be a stressful time for all involved. 

Stress causes sickness.

Be prepared for more sickness and absence of your employees.  Can you encourage healthier living?

  • Remind people about the Bike2Work scheme which could save them up to 42% on the price of a bike and help them with their travelling.
  • Encourage people to take up some exercise.  How about a combined effort to raise funds for a charity that is close to everyone’s heart?
  • Encourage some healthier eating.  A bowl of fresh fruit may be just enough to stop people snacking on sweets.
  • Encourage people to join healthy eating groups and share their ideas for recipes and exercise.

Furloughing has already cost the UK Government over £25 billion and another £43 billion has been provided as business loans.  The total cost to British economy is almost impossible to calculate. 

But there may be an additional cost to British businesses if the return to work does not go smoothly. Gallup calculate the cost of a disengaged employee as being 34% of payroll. 

The better we are prepared the sooner things will get better.  And, even in this crisis, there may be opportunity to do things improve for the future.

Derek Williams, Founder of The WOW! Awards