Owing to the extended lockdown brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were forced to furlough their employees to survive the economic nightmare, a method not adopted on a large scale in the recent past.
According to a study by the data provider MyLogIQ, 65 out of the 87 firms in the S&P 500 that chose to reduce their staff from the beginning of March to June this year, chose to furlough their employees once the business started picking up.
Now, with the lockdown being gradually lifted, restaffing is a key objective for most businesses, and reboarding furloughed employees is a vital part of this process.
However, the process brings with it a fair share of challenges, making it imperative for companies to have a roadmap in place to streamline the process.
Reboarding Furloughed Employees? Here Are the Things To Note:
No matter who is in charge of delivering the welcome back message, HR should be armed with a set program to be covered whenever an employee returns from furlough. Depending on how long the employee(s) have been off work, your reboarding program should be designed keeping in mind the following essentials:
1. Give them a fresh start.
For one, employees should be made aware that their return to work is not an extension or continuation of their job profile prior to furlough. This can be achieved by giving them a fresh offer letter detailing their new designation, revised emolument, and responsibilities. Any changes in the terms of employment owing to the pandemic – however small – should be communicated clearly.
2. Avoid unintentional (and intentional) discrimination.It is vital for employers to be objective and non-discriminatory while deciding which employees should be recalled to the workplace. Click To Tweet
Most businesses are restarting in phases and will need time to be fully operational. Therefore, it is vital for employers to be objective and non-discriminatory while deciding which employees should be recalled to the workplace. This task should ideally be based on the employee’s performance history, rather than on parameters such as vulnerability to COVID-19, as this could give rise to animosity and resentment.
In an article recently published on a web portal, a hotel employee expressed discontent after a colleague was asked to return to work instead of him owing to certain changes in the business. “(When) the entire sales team was furloughed in March, I still thought I would be (among) the first to be called back. While it was never said, it was implied that the two group (corporate) sales managers and I were all in the same situation. However, I found out that they had brought back my less experienced, less tenured co-worker on July 1. I was quite upset.”
3. Be flexible and empathetic
Having an onboarding plan in place helps simplify and streamline the process of rehiring furloughed employees. At the same time, it is important that the employer adopts a flexible approach to help assimilate these workers back into the workplace.
It is important that the employer adopts a flexible approach to help assimilate these workers back into the workplace.
This is because returning to work after a prolonged break can come as a shock for many. Certain essentials have to be included in the plan such as helping them redefine their goals and acclimatise to a new team. The prevailing office culture should also be communicated by way of this plan. Also, having a clear, all-inclusive training programme in place would definitely help prepare employees for their role going forward.
4. Reintegrate furloughed and existing employees
From the mindset to expectations, barriers are expected to develop between furloughed employees and those who have worked all through the pandemic. It’s vital to have a plan in place to remove any friction. Focus on team-building exercises, and welcome dialogue and discussion to sort out any miscommunication and lubricate the journey ahead.
5. Provide support and reassurance
Dealing appropriately with the psychological impact of furlough on employees is necessary for the effective functioning of any business restarting operations. This is largely owing to the fact that there is a strong possibility that employees recalled after furlough may experience emotions like pain, anxiety, distrust and resentment.
A study conducted on more than 2,000 employees across countries like Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, and the US, found that furloughed workers were 37% more likely to report mental distress than those who were laid off during the lockdown.
The uncertainty around their employment status and the fear of catching the disease are two primary contributors to this distress situation. This calls for a more empathetic attitude on the part of the employer. Ideally, an open-door policy should be adopted by the firm to allow employees to approach the management freely in these times of high anxiety.
6. Provide training on new safety measures
With COVID-19 numbers high – and increasing- in most places, it is imperative to provide a safe and hygienic environment for employees to return to. Businesses need to restructure their office spaces so as to comply with public safety guidelines. These include minimising physical contact and implementing social distancing measures such as maintaining a certain distance between employees’ workplaces.
The onboarding plan should also include recommended measures such as facilities for frequent handwashing, staggered shifts, disinfection of common contact surfaces, etc.
7. Have a backup plan
Employees have the option of rejecting the offer made by the company. So, one of the main risks of furlough, from the employer’s perspective, is that of losing out on talented employees. It is thus vital to have standby candidates in place so that the pace or quality of work is not compromised.
The economic slowdown, owing to the pandemic, has prompted many employers to furlough their workers, which was not the case earlier. Take the example of the US during the Great Recession. Back then, companies decided to furlough merely 0.5% of the US workforce, while one in five workers were terminated.
As opposed to this, many companies have chosen to furlough employees in the current situation, hence keeping the option open for them to return. This method allows businesses to retain efficient employees and simultaneously lower costs. Also, employees have a job in hand to return to, which is an undoubtedly better option than being permanently laid off.
Now that you have decided to call back your furloughed employees (even if not all at once), these strategies will help you give a smooth experience to your team.