The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant economic impact on UK businesses, with many employees being furloughed – according to Statista, as of 28 June 2020, approximately 9.3 million jobs, from 1.1 million different employers were furloughed in the UK as part of the government’s job retention scheme.
Those who are on furlough have had to adapt to a substantial change in their everyday lives. As a result, their wellbeing is likely to have been affected. As an employer, here’s what you need to know about how they may be feeling, how you can support them during this time and how you should handle your employee’s return to the workplace:
How furloughed employees might be feeling
How your employees are feeling will depend entirely on their personal circumstances. Those with caring responsibilities for children, the elderly or vulnerable people will have welcomed being furloughed, but there are those who will have found these circumstances challenging.
Some employees may feel that they are not valued by their employer and may have concerns about whether they will be made redundant. Other common feelings include a sense of guilt if they are aware that their colleagues are very busy and those who live alone are likely to feel isolated. Many will have experienced anxiety and challenges relating to the following:
- Fear of infection
- Social isolation
- Juggling childcare
- Caring for a vulnerable relative
- Financial worries
Continue to support furloughed employees based on their individual circumstances
Be clear and honest, explaining why you are making the decisions you are and what your intentions are for the future. Try to be sympathetic towards the feelings of your employees, which will be entirely different based on the individual.
If you haven’t already, plan your meetings by individual so that you can tailor it based on their situation. Things that you should consider include:
- Whether the employee lives alone
- Whether the employee has caring responsibilities
- If they have underlying health problems
- Whether their home circumstances are problematic
For those that live alone, you should be mindful of their mental wellbeing during this time. Some people may be experiencing increased relationship issues, family health problems, domestic violence or financial difficulties. It may be useful to provide details of local support groups, organisations and charities for those who need help.
If you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), many include counselling services and advice on family and financial issues and both furloughed and working employees should be encouraged to use this.
Keep encouraging furloughed employees to communicate and to develop
Continue to schedule frequent wellbeing calls with furloughed employees so that they can talk about how they are coping. This should help those who are feeling isolated. If you haven’t already, set up a group call with other furloughed employees where they can share tools and tips amongst one another. Ask about their mental wellbeing and encourage conversations around this.
Ensure that you are frequently revisiting and setting new goals with your employees, including:
- Training and development – it’s likely that they may have already gained some new skills whilst on furlough. Are there any additional skills that they would like to learn or develop?
- Volunteering – if you haven’t already, suggest that they help local charities and support groups as this can provide great advantages to a person’s mental wellbeing
To make sure that your employees continue to feel part of the larger team, encourage them to keep in regular contact with those who are on furloughed leave. Sending newsletters and employee updates to furloughed employees will also help.
Returning employees to the workplace
It is likely that many of your employees will have continued working and taken part in telephone and video meetings. Despite this, they will still need to adapt to working in an environment with their colleagues, with some taking more time than others through this period of readjustment. Some employees will have concerns about travelling on public transport and ensuring social distancing. They may still be adjusting to the substantial change which we have all encountered and the workplace that they were familiar with and accustomed to may now feel very different.
If you have an EAP at your organisation or access to Occupational Health advisors, ensure that your employees are made aware of the services that they have access to.
When returning employees to the workplace you should implement a re-induction process, encouraging and supporting managers to conduct one-to-one meetings with every employee upon their return. The focus of this should be on health, safety and wellbeing. Open and sensitive conversations should be had with each and every individual to ensure that you provide an effective return to the workplace. This is particularly important for those who have been furloughed. The points for discussion should include:
- Any changes to the company’s products, services or procedures
- Agreed changes to work duties or tasks
- Any changes in supply arrangements
- How specific customer enquiries or problems should be dealt with
Although you should not try to change previous terms and conditions, some employees will want to discuss new working arrangements or a phased return to work based on their individual domestic situations as a result of the pandemic.
Ensuring an inclusive culture
It is vital for every employer to ensure that every employee is returning to a caring and supportive environment. Individuals and groups of employees will have been impacted by the pandemic in varying ways, based on their role in the organisation and their own individual circumstances. For example, some people will have been furloughed on 80% or full pay, whilst others will have continued working and may have experienced increased workloads.
There is a possibility that there may be some negativity from some employees given the vast differences in the personal and work experiences of each individual and the challenging nature of the lockdown. Any underlying tensions should be dealt with sensitively and reduced where possible.
Be mindful that employees with health conditions, disabilities or caring responsibilities may not be able to return to ‘normal’ working as quickly. Also, there will be some individuals who may have experienced mental health challenges and will require support in overcoming any difficulties that have an impact on their role.
Communication with your employees is vitally important. Whether it’s good or bad news, keeping employees in the loop regarding plans for the business will allow them to make individual decisions and provide them with some reassurance during uncertain times. Feeling supported and valued by their employer and feeling that their health and safety is a priority to you, is key to their wellbeing.