furloughed worker at home

Re-engaging the UK’s 11.6 million furloughed workers.

The end of furlough for millions of people

As the Job Retention Scheme winds down, are workers ready to get back into the office? With various structures and extensions, the furlough arrangement announced to support employees during the Covid 19 pandemic, reached a staggering 11.6 million workers.

In addition, millions of employees adjusted to working away from the office. The UK’s Office for National Statistics showed that 49.2% of adults in employment worked from home during the pandemic.

After one of the biggest shake-ups in working routines this generation of workers has ever faced, as months went by the phrase “the new normal” became, well, normal.

Employers are approaching the emergence from government imposed restrictions in vastly different ways. What can businesses do to keep their people engaged and comfortable over the next shift?

Lessons for reintegrating furloughed team members

For those who have been furloughed for over a year, a return to work may come with a range of emotions. To ease the transition, taking a proactive and positive approach to re-introducing people into the workplace will be key.

We know that a structured and planned induction and good communication is the key to re-engaging people upon their return. There might also be an opportunity to learn from other examples close to home. Talk to colleagues who took a similar amount of time out for maternity or other long term leave. What helped them to return to work in a positive way? Most businesses can learn from just speaking to people about their concerns, questions or similar experiences.

Tips for achieving a positive return to work

We’ve compiled some general principles to bear in mind when re-integrating people into the workplace:

  • Reach out to people and find out what has been happening for them during the furlough period. 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 wider teams. 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. Encourage customer feedback and employee to employee compliments. A personal thank you from the boss is by far the best motivator.

It’s not just about getting people back to work. It’s about getting everyone re-engaged and actively participating.

A new, more flexible approach to management

Through the challenges of the pandemic and shifts in ways of working, many people have discovered some positives in their new routines. We’ve heard lots about money saved on expensive train tickets (that largely don’t come with a seat!), the ability to be flexible around other life factors, or simply the enjoyment of working in our slippers.

After the pandemic began, 71% of customer service leaders reported that 90% or more of their staff were working from home (source: Gartner). It’s a perk that is highly valued by many:

Two thirds of people want to work from home and 36% of people would choose it over a pay rise.

Global Workplace Analytics

Any employee initiatives should consider various locations, working environments and preferences. Clearly this is not a one size fits all experience. As the poem widely shared during lockdown beautifully expressed at the time:

We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.

Damien Barr

Experiences of the pandemic have varied wildly for people, so it would be naive to make assumptions about people’s attitudes about the past year or about the return to work. As ever, individual relationships are the key.

A time for compassion

Mental health should be high on the agenda for all employers now. The golden rule is that you cannot skimp on compassion. Showing empathy and generosity creates an excellent employer reputation internally and fosters an infectious sense of helping others. This is where teams can begin to thrive.

Showing appreciation for people’s efforts is an important aspect of making them feel seen and valued. Opening up the channels of communication and building personal relationships go a long way to building loyalty.

Employers can also play a valuable role in facilitating 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 from snacking on sweets.
  • Encourage people to join healthy eating groups and share their ideas for recipes and exercise.

Considering all of the advice above is a good starting point for reintegrated furloughed team members, or just those who have been working away from the office. Remember, this isn’t just about getting people physically back to work but fully engaged in your business. Gallup calculates the cost of disengaged employees being 34% of payroll. So there is a cost to overlooking this, but also huge gains when the time and attention is given in the right way.

The better we are prepared the sooner things will get better.