Business experts

Expert opinion: Beyond Lockdown - bringing employees back from furlough

Written by Peter Jones.

Peter Jones

 

So you have furloughed part, or maybe even all, of your workforce. What happens next?

It is vital to start thinking about your ‘beyond lockdown’ people management now. This is because you may find that getting employees back to work as soon as you get the government’s go-ahead is not as straightforward as you might imagine. Some planning and preparation will be required.

There are important decisions that you will need to make. The sooner you can make these, the quicker you will be able to proceed when the time comes.

Before employees come back to work

What should be on your radar before bringing employees back to work? For starters, we would advise that you consider the following:

  • If your business is permitted a phased return, how will you manage this? Who will you bring back from furlough and when? Remember that a period of furlough must be for a minimum of three weeks in order to claim.
  • Have core business operations permanently changed because of coronavirus? Do job roles need to be updated?
  • Will there be enough work for everyone? If you need to consider a workforce restructure or make redundancies, there are important processes and timelines to think about.
  • Is your place of business safe? You should not be bringing employees back to work until you can confidently say yes with the help of a COVID-19 risk assessment.
  • If prolonged social distancing rules impact your workplace, can employees work remotely or on a staggered shift pattern?

Only after you have addressed these questions should you be thinking about bringing employees back to work.

How to bring employees back from furlough

You may be eager to reopen doors and get back to business. But after time in isolation, furloughed employees may be apprehensive about returning to work, especially surrounding health and safety.

The best thing you can do is communicate with employees in advance to let them know the results of your risk assessment and the steps you are taking to prepare the business for their return.

This should help to ease any day one concerns and allow a much-needed focus on the return to work. It is possible that some businesses will need to implement social distancing in the workplace with new temporary rules for the day-to-day. These should be put in writing and communicated to employees before they return.

Additionally, you should aim to give employees notice, in writing, regarding their return to work. This can help them to mentally prepare for their change in circumstance and allow them to bring any concerns to your attention.

For example, if schools have not fully reopened, the working parents of your workforce may need to request flexible working to balance childcare commitments. You will want to be aware of this in advance so that you can manage attendance effectively.

Aftercare is another important part of the agenda for bringing employees back from furlough. Through one-to-ones you can monitor how employees are coping post lockdown and provide support where necessary.

Peter Jones runs the HR Dept in Swindon and Wiltshire www.hrdept.co.uk/offices/south-west/swindon