Re-onboarding furloughed employees

If the rapid shift to remote working at the start of lockdown was testing, successfully re-onboarding furloughed employees could present an even bigger challenge…

Millions of people are preparing or beginning to return to their roles after a period of furlough. Meanwhile, their employers are working out the best way of re-onboarding furloughed employees.

While some employees will be looking forward to getting stuck into work again, others may be feeling anxious, isolated and unsure of themselves.

Those feelings can take time to work through and, as Mental Health UK points out, it’s important to acknowledge that individuals may need different types and degrees of help when readjusting, and employers should prepare for this when re-onboarding furloughed employees.

Pulse check

So how can businesses be ready for this, regardless of whether they’re re-onboarding furloughed employees into remote working or into a physical place of work? Glint recommends that the starting point is to pulse check employee feelings about safety and preparedness, and then regularly check in to gain the information you need to build a successful plan.

Creating a survey that’s designed to be primarily free form, rather than ‘tick box’, will help capture the nuance of respondents’ concerns. This can help to identify and address worries and expectations about a wide range of topics. Managers must then be made aware of those insights so that they can help address the issues raised by their team members.

Of course, pulse surveys aren’t solely for furloughed employees and we shouldn’t restrict our thinking to the team members who have been away from our businesses for the past few weeks. There is also a need to gauge and respond to the feelings of those who have continued to work throughout lockdown.

The reintegration of these two distinct groups of people poses an interesting challenge on an unprecedented scale. Just as furloughed employees will inevitably feel that time, projects, teams and whole operations have moved on and now potentially feel uncomfortably different, those who have remained working may well have formed tighter-knit relationships and adapted their roles and priorities in unexpected ways. And whereas furloughed staff have to adjust to not just working, but new ways of working, their operational colleagues will have to give them the space to ‘play catch up’, while broadening their own activities to incorporate returning colleagues.

If you’re in a position for employees to return to their usual places of work, you should also clearly communicate your strategy for return and the measures you’ve put in place to minimise the risk of infection and support effective social distancing.

Keep talking

Conversations are vital, whether they’re one-to-one or team-based, to build trust, ensure people are adapting effectively and identify any emerging issues.

In a similar vein, as you move through the return-to-work plan, re-onboarding furloughed employees will also mean considering how their goals and priorities may have to change. Everyone’s personal circumstances have been impacted by lockdown, so how do you ensure that you can make successful modifications to working patterns, priorities and operations that affect your employees?

As re-onboarding furloughed employees moves forward, you may encounter feelings of guilt from those who have been away and feel they left others ‘holding the fort’, while their counterparts could resent them for the same reason. It’s a challenge that communicators will be discussing for years to come, but in the here and now, it’s one that’s perhaps best handled by keeping the lines of communication open for everyone, and being frank in your business’ responses as you work through the issues.

Returning employees will probably need additional support in understanding how to focus their time and effort, so talk openly about their needs and the business’ goals so that you can find a clear path to make this period of transition work for everyone. states that wellbeing should be a key consideration, so be sure to highlight the support and resources, such as Employee Assistance Programmes, you have available.

Seeking out opportunities

Finally, re-onboarding furloughed employees can also mean helping them to look at fresh opportunities or take a different perspective on their role. Our adapted ways of working and the impact on current operations and future plans may actually lead to new areas of personal development.

Let us know if you’d like to talk in more detail about how we can help your plans for re-onboarding furloughed employees. We’d also be keen to hear about your experiences of working through your workforce re-onboarding and reintegration, so please get in touch.