With the end of the UK furlough scheme fast approaching and lockdown restrictions thankfully continuing to ease, it is vital for organisations and their HR departments to consider the struggles that furloughed employees have faced and subsequently create an action plan for how they will be re-integrated into businesses.
This is not to diminish the effort displayed by individuals who continued to work tirelessly during the lockdown period and kept organisations afloat during such economic uncertainty. However, it is still important to consider the impact that furlough had on the 9.6 million individuals who were placed on the scheme and the unprecedented challenges that came with it.
Having been on furlough for almost 4 months myself, there were certainly a number of challenges that I faced, both during my time on furlough, and in returning to work. The COVID-19 pandemic flicked a switch, with individuals transitioning from full-time roles, into a 0-hour working week. Although many savoured some time off to recharge and spend time with family, this wasn’t the case for everyone, and many struggled with a lack of purpose, a sense of anxiety or even feelings of resentment – watching Netflix, virtual quizzes and baking were okay for the first week but quickly became uninteresting.
Fortunately for me, my HR department and team took several steps to ensure that I was both occupied and well informed during my time on furlough. Firstly, my HR department offered both internal and external training webinars and online courses, which served to maintain and indeed develop my skillset, so that when I did eventually return to work, I wasn’t starting from scratch. I also had regular catch-ups with both my direct team and my HR department, which not only kept me informed with how the market continued to alter during the pandemic but was also crucial in maintaining a sense of team spirit and preserving mental wellbeing. It is also important to keep these conversations honest – the COVID-19 pandemic raised questions that often lacked a clear-cut answer, and understandably some employees felt frustrated or anxious about their future. The more information you share, the better, even if there isn’t 100% clarity or the news isn’t exactly what employees want to hear.
In returning to work, the aforementioned switch was flicked again, and whilst I was delighted to log back into outlook, it was important to get back up to speed as quickly as possible. I found that planning out my days was more important than ever – there is no doubt that returning to work after an extended period of leave presents challenges. This is especially prevalent given that for many, a large proportion of time is (and will continue to be) spent working from home. Again, regular check-ins with HR and managers have been extremely important, not only from a business perspective but also in maintaining a sense of camaraderie and togetherness.
What can businesses/HR departments do to help furloughed staff:
- Communication is key – regular check-ins from HR and managers whilst on furlough and in the first few weeks upon returning are vital in keeping employees engaged and up to speed.
- Offering both internal and external training opportunities for employees is vital in continuing to develop skill sets and helps to keep individuals occupied. This is prevalent across all levels of seniority across a business, whether it be junior employees enrolling in competency training or coaching managers to carry out their role remotely.
- Carrying out employee surveys is a great way to observe and analyse how different employees were impacted by the furlough scheme and assessing what their needs may look like upon returning to work.
- Keeping in touch on a social level is also essential for mental wellbeing.
- For employees, planning your days is extremely important to restore a sense of structure and purpose to your working day.
Have you also been furloughed and what are your experiences with it? How did your HR department help their furloughed staff? I would be very keen to hear your thoughts on this, please feel free to get in touch.