How can HR reintegrate staff post-furlough?

An estimated one million people were still on furlough as the scheme ended today (1 October).

In a LinkedIn poll of 215 HR magazine readers yesterday, 39% of respondents said they were planning to fully bring staff back after furlough.

A majority (44%) said it would be a mix of redundancies, part-time work and bringing staff back full-time in the months ahead.

One of the chief concerns is how to reintegrate furloughed staff members with those who have been at work.


A warm welcome

Jeya Thiruchelvam, managing editor at XpertHR, warned people teams to be aware of potential negative emotions when people return.

“Employers shouldn’t just take care of the legal and contractual issues,” she said.  

“They should take an emotionally intelligent approach to any redundancy process and be transparent with staff about the impact of the pandemic on their business.

"Employers must also be mindful of the potential for resentment between that group [returning from furlough] and employees who’ve worked throughout the pandemic."

Laura Kearsley, employment law partner and solicitor at Nelsons, also suggested employers re-induct their returning employees to get them used to any changes in their workplace, due to social distancing or other safety rules for example.

“After a significant amount of time away from their role, this is vital to ensuring a smooth return and that they feel welcome,” Kearsley said.

“First and foremost, it’ll give the opportunity to remind them about how important they are to the business and that they’ve been missed.”

More advice on welcoming people post-furlough:

Back to life, back to (a new) reality: the workplace after furlough

Long-term furlough will take its toll on employees

Echo mental health pandemic calls for wellbeing change

Location, location, location

Managing the return of staff may vary depending on their place of work.

A lot of advice so far has centred on office-based workers, however those in operational, 'deskless' or frontline roles may be facing different challenges.

Steve Tonks, senior vice-president EMEA at WorkForce Software said: “As government furlough comes to an end, employers of the deskless majority, who have been most reliant on the scheme, will need to think carefully about their next move.”

Tonks said that the deskless group can often be overlooked in an organisation’s communications and collaboration practice, so they should pay special attention to their experience when considering their plans.

“Furloughed staff will likely be reassessing the kind of working life they’re willing to return to, after experiencing the flexibility that is almost unheard of in frontline, deskless roles,” Tonks added.

“With the possibility of remote working now commonplace, companies need to pay special attention to how they welcome back their furloughed staff. Closing the employee experience gap that currently exists will be essential to limiting talent churn.”

Getting internal comms right:

Lessons on effective communication from air traffic control

2020’s best internal communications strategy: NatWest Group

Speaking plainly: inclusivity and accessibility starts with the written word

Flexible working

On LinkedIn yesterday, 10% of respondents to HR magazine's poll said they would be bringing staff back on part-time hours to help with the transition.

To help protect more jobs and support struggling employers through ongoing financial challenges post-pandemic, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called on government to establish a permanent short-time working scheme.

Combined with the planned cut to the uplift in Universal Credit payment, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady accused prime minister Boris Johnson of heading into winter without a plan to protect working people and rebuild the economy. 

“The cost of living is rising fast, but ministers are determined to cut vital Universal Credit support. They must cancel the cut to help keep families warm and fed through the winter ahead,” she said.

“Ministers should rethink the end of furlough. Many workers in hard-hit industries are still furloughed and need support for longer. Otherwise, we may see a rise in unemployment.”

Introducing more flexibility:

Short-time working model should be adopted for furlough scheme

Businesses should beware false flexibility as lockdown eases

Government confirms plans to improve flexible work and carers' rights

Ongoing health and safety concerns 

As most people in the UK have now had the opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the rules around unvaccinated employees remain contentious.

Morrisons recently made headlines for announcing it would be cutting sick pay for unvaccinated, isolating employees, and a survey published this week found that most HRDs would be asking staff to get the vaccine before coming to work.

The Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme for coronavirus has also ended, meaning SMEs will no longer be able to reclaim up to two weeks of SSP for employees unable to work due to testing positive for the virus or isolating due to exposure.

Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, said the change will inevitably put more pressure on businesses, yet she warned employers not to become complacent about the virus.

"Now is not the time to be complacent about the risks of COVID,” she said. “They still remain, as does the employer's obligation to ensure employees don't leave their house to work, which is still a criminal offence – and which comes with the risk of hefty fines.

"Realistically, nothing is changing in terms of when to be off work due to COVID, and so neither should anything change with an employer's advice to employees about this. It is going to cost an employer, of that there is no doubt, but the risk of COVID spreading through a workplace carries a greater cost.”

Safeguarding against COVID-19:

How to introduce coronavirus testing at work

Legalising ‘no jab, no job’ vaccine policy

Balancing safety guidance and privacy law in vaccination status