Having tried to find a witty word to rhyme with furlough, I only found 'inferno' and 'Monte Carlo' I think some of us could relate to the inferno one and perhaps the weather at the time did feel more like Monte Carlo - other than that, no witty rhyming over here!
The purpose of this blog is to look at ways of bringing staff back from furlough. I remember writing to a client after sending a cohort of staff off on furlough, with words to the effect of 'putting them on furlough was the easy bit, bringing them back will be so much harder'! I said that in April 2020, I didn't know how right I was going to be.
I was told at the time that 'it was like maternity leave' - I couldn't disagree with this statement more, both at the time and now with so much hindsight. While on maternity leave you have very specific employment rights and a baby to look forward to, your annual leave is protected and paid out; whilst on furlough you are one foot inside redundancy and quite frankly it felt as if the goal posts were moving twice a day! Absolutely nothing like maternity leave, I think all of those who were on maternity during that time receiving statutory maternity pay would have loved to get 100% of their pay, but instead they are paid £151.97 per week, not exactly a fortune. If you are an employer and you are reading this blog for whether or not you can move someone from maternity pay onto furlough you need to consider very carefully why you are doing it. If it is because the 39 weeks have finished then this will be fine if the job is still no longer there, if it is because it is a request from an employee, then I would exercise extreme caution, especially if the 39 weeks are not up. I do not see how justified this would be, remember why the CJRS exists, to protect jobs...
The emotions people have felt over the last year have been palpable - 'rejection', this is a word which has come up frequently during this time, especially when there were colleagues who were left behind, 'why didn't they want me? Am I not good enough?' - this was coupled with the feelings of those who were left behind of being 'over-worked' whilst everyone else had a 'paid holiday'. This was always going to be difficult to manage, whichever side of the fence you sat on, there are good and bad parts to both, neither situation had an easy ride and neither of them were wrong. For some, the furlough experience was fantastic, it was time to re-evaluate life and see how to make life better, whether that was a final kick to chase a dream or how not working was quite nice and maybe the pay wasn't actually worth the stress or even discovering that you like home-schooling (if there is anyone out there who did in fact enjoy this, then I applaud you).
At the end of October 2020, when the Government dithered over whether or not they would provide further support for the furlough scheme, some were entered into a redundancy process which appeared to be impossible to stop, this meant there was no longer a job. I saw one particular person moved out a job deliberately, positions were renamed and reshuffled, some were even promoted in the absence of those on furlough, who weren't asked if they wanted to come back or even apply for a role. This was unforgivable and a redundancy for this person was the best route, why would you want to work for an organisation like that?!
So here is the dilemma - the UK is opening up again, cautious optimism while Europe deals with a third wave of cases. How do we bring people back to the workplace in a way that is people centric and good for business. How will the workforce cope with being thrown into a 5 day week having not worked for a whole year?
The answer to the problem lies with the individual, they will let you know what they can do, speak to them and make sure they aren't overwhelmed, a slow return to the workplace and increased flexibility are the only answer.
Everyone is different, there is no one size fits all, there may be some who, with a call on a Friday, will be back to a 40 hour week by Monday. There will be others who might need a week to digest the thought of going back to work and need lots of reassurance. Work with your employees, set out a plan, induct them back into the workplace, greet them on their first day back, stay with them, make sure they are OK.
Some businesses introduced new systems during this time, they innovated, the furloughed staff would not have been part of that, the changes would have seemed small at the time, but 20 small changes will be an enormous task to learn when you are back from furlough. Be careful with your language, terms like 'hit the ground running' 'there is so much to be done' 'this place is going to get crazy busy' will invoke anxiety - instead use phrases such as 'we've had a few enquiries since you've been off, we can work through those together when you're back'.
Introduce a traffic light system for your staff - how do they feel, if they are really nervous then encourage them to let everyone know, that way people will know to keep their distance, find a non-verbal cue, badges sounds a bit primary school, but this could work in practice. Review your COVID-19 Risk Assessment, do this regularly, live and breathe what it says, if you need your staff to do lateral flow tests, then make it happen. Mental health was high on any agenda before corona, now it is even more imperative to safeguard your workforce, if you look after them now you will reap dividends in the future. Listen to your people, gain their trust and DO NOT break it, remember, we are all in this together.
Below are some useful links to Government guidance, ACAS and mental health charities. if you are still struggling with this, then give us a call here at Create Balance, we are more than a Chartered Accountancy firm, our intention is to be a true business partner covering a myriad of issues.