As furloughed workers return to their jobs, leadership and HR teams must be prepared to successfully reboard their staff. In the UK alone, 9.6 million jobs have been covered by the country’s Coronavirus furlough scheme (stats for 20 April – 2 Aug), so reboarding will be an important consideration for many organizations.
Although a recent poll by Cezanne HR revealed that, while working remotely, 65% of people have onboarded new hires, furloughed staff must remain front of mind, too. HR’s reboarding process for staff who have been out of the workforce is about being prepared, spending time welcoming people back, and giving people time to talk about their experiences.
1. Be prepared to welcome staff back from day one
When a furloughed staff member returns to work, they may be apprehensive about what to expect and perhaps also excited to be getting back to ‘normal’. Being organized for their return, and ready to explain changes and what’s expected of them, will be the best ways to calm nerves and help people to feel positive about being ‘back’.
Being back will feel different depending on whether the employee is going to be working on-site or working from home. If the employee is going to be on-site, make sure that HR and line managers have worked together in implementing safe working practices, so this can then be explained to the employee. Waiting until the employee turns up on their first day back to figure out how they’ll do their job safely is unacceptable – and will likely cause your employee a lot of unneeded stress.
If the employee is returning in a homeworking capacity, make sure everything they need to do their job is ready for them:
- If there have been new video-calling tools adopted by the company, check they’ll be able to access them when they log back in.
- If your employees have been conducting regular online social events, make sure they’re invited and feel like they’re part of the team.
- If someone else has been covering some or all of their work while they’ve been furloughed, make sure comprehensive handovers are prepared and ready for their first day back.
2. Scheduling briefing sessions to help employees navigate re-entering the workplace after being furloughed
Just as you would on a new employee’s first day – as part of their new employee orientation – make sure someone is available to ‘meet’ your returning furloughed workers on their first day back. How you organize this will depend on whether you’re welcoming a number of people back at once or just one or two employees, and if you’re/they’re working from home or back in the office.
If there are lots of people from different teams coming back on the same day, it may be best for HR to lead a ‘welcome-back’ call or meeting. If it’s one person or a few from across the business, it may be more appropriate for line managers to conduct the initial meet and greet.
No matter who is in charge of delivering the welcome back message, it’s wise for HR to create a set program to be covered whenever an employee returns from furlough. Depending on how long the employee/s have been off work, you’ll want to include:
- Health and safety policies employees need to follow
- Business operation changes – and any changes to how employee/s perform their duties
- Explaining new tools/systems, and making sure logins work
- Staff updates – if people have left or new people have joined
- General updates about how the business is performing and what’s next for the organisation
If briefing sessions are delivered to groups, it’s important for HR or line managers to also reach out to returning employees one-to-one to make sure everything has been understood and to answer any questions or concerns that the employee may not have wanted to raise in a group setting.
3. Listening to each employee’s experience and taking time to understand their personal challenges
Mental health concerns have been repeatedly flagged up during COVID-19. For employees who have been on furlough, without the opportunity to talk to their colleagues/work friends as regularly as they normally would, this may have exacerbated feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
Ideally, furloughed workers would have maintained social ties while away from work, but when they do return to work, it’s a good prompt for HR/line managers to check in with them. Each employee will be experiencing COVID-19 in their own way, and indeed, each furloughed employee will look at the furlough experience from a different perspective.
As you speak to returning employees, think about how the last 5 months have personally affected them, and what your organization can do to support them.
- If they are still juggling family commitments with work, what flexibility can you offer?
- Have they or someone they know had COVID-19, and if they need ongoing support what can you do?
- If their team has dramatically changed in terms of team members or how work is completed, can you facilitate introductions or training to make returning to work easier?
On a final note
Ultimately, by taking these essential steps in reboarding furloughed workers, HR professionals are better placed to maintain a healthy workforce and employee retention as we move through the next stages of COVID-19.
Subscribe and stay up-to-date.