Many companies in Australia are faced with the unprecedented challenge of full-time and part-time workers returning to their job to restart their duties, either remotely or in the office.
And with large numbers of the workforce having been away from the business for weeks/months, it could be a mistake to think this process will be as simple as allowing staff to pick up from where they left off.
When it comes to re-boarding employees, companies must recognise that workers emerging from furlough have already endured the upheaval of changing routines and the stress of uncertainty.
What’s more, they could be facing the challenge of adjusting to teams that have carried on without them and, in some cases, companies that have quickly evolved in their absence.
An international survey by Qualtrics found that furloughed workers are 37% more likely to experience a decline in mental health compared to people who have been made redundant. An increase in stress and anxiety were among the top reasons.
Additionally, a recent survey by Robert Half found that 86% of hiring managers are increasingly concerned about their company’s ability to retain valued employees after furloughs end, which in turn highlights why companies should implement effective re-boarding measures to help staff navigate their way back to productivity, cohesion and a positive state of mind.
Here are some tips for successfully re-boarding employees who haven’t worked for some time.
1. Re-boarding is about making people feel welcome and informed
Staff returning from furlough might experience a lower sense of morale compared to other employees. To mitigate this, it’s important to remind returning employees that their continued contribution is vital to overcoming the challenges and staying successful.
Don’t leave returning employees in the dark about things that have changed either. Whether this includes new strategies, restructuring, cultural shift, or new ways of working, getting everyone up-to-speed will be essential to minimise stress and help staff to readjust. An online town hall, followed by an initial one-on-one (virtual) meeting, could be an effective way for managers to re-induct furloughed staff in the office and at home.
2. Review IT
Companies have already invested time and effort into ensuring workers have the tools and information to perform their duties remotely. But with a potential influx of staff re-entering the workforce, IT teams should work with managers to ensure each incoming role function can be performed according to current working protocols.
For example, if some or all staff are working remotely, it’s important to check that current IT systems will be able to support your increased remote workforce to avoid disruption.
Alternatively, where staff have been furloughed by role type, this might involve a more ‘from the ground-up’ evaluation and implementation of new tools and security protocols to ensure that tasks can be performed remotely and securely.
3. Clarify responsibilities
Changes to role responsibilities have become more commonplace as companies aim to become more agile and resilient in the face of continued uncertainty. So, when re-boarding staff, it’s important to discuss any changes early and explain the reasons why.
By clarifying the bigger picture and how staff fit into it, including addressing the company’s situation and job changes within their wider team, companies are likely to be more successful at encouraging a sense of purpose and inclusion amongst returning employees as well as demonstrate a supportive and collaborative team culture.
4. Schedule training sessions
Returning staff whose job function has changed or who feel ill-equipped to perform their role are likely to suffer from de-motivation and increasingly poor morale.
Managers should audit amended job roles to identify any potential skills gaps that might prevent staff from working effectively or achieving expectations. Once this is known, a training program should be planned and clearly communicated to furloughed staff before their return, so they can effectively prepare.
5. Set up regular catch-ups from day-one
According to the international survey by Qualtrics, well over one-third of workers (38%) said their company hadn’t checked in with them during COVID-19, while less than half (47%) say their manager is attuned to their wellbeing.
As returning staff must adapt to so much change in a short space of time, regular chats, either in-person or via video call, could be an effective way to not only ensure employees are clear about their job functions, but also to check on people’s mental health throughout a challenging period.
There’s no doubt that supporting mental health will be key to staff retention and productivity. so establishing open lines of communications should be a top priority when re-boarding employees.
6. Be realistic with expectations and show flexibility
The re-boarding phase could be a stressful time that demands patience and perseverance among teams. And everyone will respond differently (and at different speeds).
Managers and their companies should take care not to immediately resume previous expectations of staff as they re-board. Showing flexibility regarding deadlines, working hours, or even ongoing working from home arrangements, could help give staff the breathing space they need to adjust and recalibrate in a way that works for them.
7. Focus on social connections
While furloughed staff have had their working relationships placed on pause over recent months, their colleagues have been able to continue to strengthen relationships and expand their networks. This can take a toll on people’s mental health and also make the return to work even more intimidating.
As part of your re-boarding strategy, there should be a renewed focus on building social connections across the board to boost morale, encourage cohesiveness and remind people what the corporate culture is all about. Regular small-scale social events and team building initiatives that encourage new interactions could play a crucial role in supporting renewed social connections and healthier states of mind whilst also assisting with engagement and productivity throughout.
Bringing back staff after furlough should never be viewed as part of the race to resuming ‘business as usual’. For the process to be effective and to support staff retention, companies must act with sensitivity and have a clear plan to help workers adjust to an alternative world of work.