Insight: Beyond furlough - how best to reintegrate your staff

It will take time to adjust to a post-furlough environment, writes Will Akerman 

Approximately 9.6m workers across the UK have experienced some form of furlough, but with the job retention scheme winding down, it’s time for organisations to start considering how they can best support employees returning to the workplace.

While the return to work is a welcome step forward for both employers and and their staff, the complex and sensitive nature of the furlough scheme means that the reintroduction of workers needs to be handled with considerable care.  

Organisations that invest in their returning staff’s wellbeing and sense of belonging will help to boost morale and encourage a productive workplace.

Wellbeing

It’s important not to underestimate the significance of being placed on furlough and how this may have had an impact on people’s mindsets. The fact is that staff returning to work will have spent a great deal of time outside of their regular working patterns. This can have implications for mental health and may leave employees feeling out of touch with their organisations and colleagues; they might also resent having been put on furlough in the first place.

The point is that workplaces need to accommodate complex emotions and grant staff a period of readjustment.

One way in which this can be achieved is through increasing wellbeing support. Organisations should check in with returning staff regularly, answering any questions or concerns they may have.

As part of this, it’s a good idea for decision-makers to communicate the state of the business and its recovery plans.

This will go a long way to assure employees that they are valued members of the team and will start to rebuild a culture of inclusion within a supportive environment, which is pivotal for wellbeing.

In fact, according to our recent research into belonging, being valued is the second most important reward for UK office staff, coming in after salary, with 47% of people stating that having a sense of worth is vital in the workplace.

It’s also essential to give staff direction. Having been away from the workplace for so long, it’s understandable that employees may be out of the swing of things when they first return. To combat this, work with staff to redefine what success looks like in their role and what their core objectives are. This will give them the best chance to hit the ground running.

Reconsider your employee value proposition

A business’s employee value proposition (EVP) is crucial for attracting talent and retaining staff. It should run through all aspects of an organisation’s internal and external communications.

However, things will have changed when furloughed employees return to work. With this in mind, employers must consider what their new EVPs will look like and communicate this clearly and openly throughout all of their correspondence with furloughed staff. This will make their transition back into the company as smooth as possible when the time comes.

Sense of belonging

For most organisations, the post-pandemic workplace will look and behave very differently to the one furloughed staff left behind. There will be both physical and operational changes that people will need to adapt to – different policies, structures, systems, technologies and so on. Therefore, it’s worth re-onboarding staff as if they are new starters, allowing them time to become used to the ‘new normal’ and helping to foster a new sense of belonging; this is absolutely critical if staff are to feel motivated and loyal.

With 57% of UK workers feeling more motivated in a workplace where they feel as though they belong, it is easy to see how valuable this can be to employers. In addition, almost half of workers feel more engaged with the business, are more likely to work hard and are more loyal towards a company when they feel valued.

Interestingly, 80% of those who do not feel a sense of community within their workplace are considering leaving their jobs within the next 12 months. What’s more, this is already happening, with almost one in 10 workers citing ‘not fitting in’ as the reason for leaving their previous job.

So, how can a sense of belonging be fostered? Technology is one solution. MyKindaFuture’s Connectr, an online engagement platform, is being used by countless businesses to maintain and enhance their relationships with furloughed employees. It can also be leveraged when workers have returned, easing them back to work, offering wellbeing tips, sharing revised policies, news and company updates, as well as helpful advice. The important thing is to sustain a dialogue with staff to boost their sense of belonging.

In this vein, plan ahead for the possibility of returning staff needing to transition to new roles and responsibilities. This may require new training and professional development, which should be communicated to the people involved as soon as possible. If done in the right way, knowing that they are being invested in will make staff will feel valued.

A final word

As organisations begin to think about re-onboarding their furloughed workers, it’s important that they invest time in getting it right – it will not happen overnight. Employees on furlough are likely to have been through a difficult period, which has the potential to affect their morale, sense of belonging and productivity.

The good news is that with the right preparation, this can absolutely be rebuilt in staff. Ultimately, it is the organisations that communicate with purpose and invest in their returning staff that will benefit from re-cultivating a happy and high-performing workplace.

Will Akerman is founder and MD at MyKindaFuture

For more information about supporting furloughed employees returning to the workplace, visit connectr.co.uk

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