It’s safe to say that coming back to work from several months of furlough is likely to be overwhelming. Even for those who are initially excited to return, the days leading up to their first day back may prompt feelings of anxiousness.
Fortunately, if you’re an HR professional, you’re in the right position to help alleviate feelings of worry and make this transition as successful as possible.
Discuss the transition with their line manager
As their line manager will be the one managing the returning employee’s workload on a daily basis, talk to them about how they can help make the transition as smooth as possible. One of these could be a part-time furlough arrangement. From July, the UK government has announced flexible furlough is possible, with employers given the freedom to bring furloughed workers back on a part-time basis. If feasible for your business, this scheme provides a great opportunity for returning workers to ease back into the eight-hour work day and re-familiarise themselves with the projects and objectives of the team.
In addition, encourage their manager to do whatever they can to minimise a returning worker’s tasks when they first come back, while also monitoring their wellbeing through regular catchups.
Send them the company’s risk assessment if returning to the office
If someone has been on furlough and they’re told they will start working in the office on their return, it’s likely they haven’t given much thought to how they will commute safely. To help them, send your company’s risk assessment, alongside a plan of action for returning. Whether this includes a cycle-to-work scheme, shifted start times, or providing PPE to staff, it’s essential a returning furloughed worker has the time to read and give feedback on these.
Remember, every worker’s individual circumstances will differ, so keeping the lines of communication open in the lead up to their return is critical. An employee feedback survey will enable you to work with them to come up with a plan that suits them.
Help them prepare for the social aspect of the office
After being out of the work bubble for any length of time, some workers may find the social aspect of interacting with colleagues challenging. Whether this involves back-to-back video calls or walking into a busy office, too many people reaching out may cause information overload. If you suspect this may happen, make sure to brief non-furloughed employees on what might be helpful to ease the transition for their returning team members. This may be anything from swapping out large meetings for 1:1 catch ups, through to asking employees to stagger the briefing of projects or tasks.
Some employees may also be harbouring some resentment towards their furloughed colleagues about having had time off, so communications will also need to be managed carefully.
Set up a re-induction
On their first day back, plan a mini-induction back into the company with the furloughed worker. Discuss any changes and give them an update on business activity for the time they’ve been away. Offer them the opportunity to ask any questions about new processes (whether this be with you or one of their team mates). Finally, ensure there is a solid plan in place for how they will take on the work they previously offloaded to their team.
Keep up the communication
Communication is absolutely key when supporting furloughed employees in their return to work. If you have both HR and communications teams within the business, work together to ensure messaging and tone is managed carefully. Regular communication, even there’s not much to update on, can make all the difference in helping working and furloughed employees feel included and supported.