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FURLOUGH PHASE OUT

How to ease staff back into work

After the Government’s latest announcement that businesses will be expected to further increase their contributions to furlough funds in the coming months, many organisations have decided to welcome back the 1.6 million employees taking part in the scheme1.

With job vacancies at an all-time high2 and the fewest people on furlough since the pandemic started3, companies are beginning to welcome staff back to businesses and roles that have changed dramatically from what they used to be. Ahead of the scheme ending on 30th September, business owners and managers must now communicate these changes, new processes, job roles and expectations.

With furlough changes about to roll out and a sudden ‘return to work’ pending, organisations must ensure that they implement the best practice when it comes to dealing with these situations. Experts including Birgitte Pihl, Chief People Officer at the workplace management platform Planday, and Sarah Taylor, hospitality operations specialist at the online training provider, High Speed Training provide their tips on how to ease staff back into work after furlough:

1. Approach their return with sensitivity

Birgitte comments: “Discussing the return to work or potential changes to responsibilities with your people can be challenging, so approaching these conversations with sensitivity is vital. Allow people time to digest all the new changes and make sure that you are proactive as a manager and offer ongoing support whilst they adapt.

“Many UK businesses – especially those in hospitality and hotels – spent a lot of time closed during the past 18 months. As consumers return to hospitality venues and the all-important tourism sector roars back to life, some staff will return to vastly-different workplaces than before. Making sure your business conducts relevant retraining is a vital investment in making sure your people are set for a successful return.

“Ensure you put time aside for dialogue and close interaction to understand what people need to do their best work when they return.

“For those employees who are taking on increased responsibility, gradually implementing new changes over a month, which can then be mapped out on a timeline, will allow your staff to have full visibility of what you have in mind for them.”

Nikolas Opacic, owner of Manchester-based restaurant Seven 54, explains how transparency with a  team will be key when the furlough scheme ends. He shares how his team are currently handling the end of furlough:

“We have had both busy and quiet spells, just like any other business since opening back up, and now look at our outgoings with a lot more scrutiny. Saying that, we’ve worked hard to make sure that we’ve had zero redundancies.

“When it comes to approaching difficult conversations around the impact of the furlough scheme ending, we are very transparent with our team. Everyone knew the furlough scheme would come to an end eventually, so it’s about communicating with each other and sitting down to see how we can help.

“It’s to everyone’s understanding that we have had to take on small amounts of extra responsibility and so far our team has been very receptive. It’s wonderful to know that our employees enjoy working for us, and that they want the company to be successful, too”.

2. Ease staff back into the workplace

“If your staff have been out of the loop for a while on furlough, expecting them to return as good as new and ready to take on new business challenges may be unrealistic. It may take a while for furloughed staff to get back into the swing of things and adapt to how your business has changed over the past year or so. It’s best to ease staff back into the workplace through a phased approach, where possible, to avoid overwhelming them.

“For the first few weeks or even months, ensure that you or line managers are having regular meetings with returning staff members to ensure that things are going well and to also provide them with a chance to flag any concerns. Try to keep it as informal as possible to encourage honesty, which in turn will give you a realistic idea of how they’re really finding their work life.” comments Birgitte.

3. Training (and re-training)

Birgitte says: “Once staff have settled in, it is important to follow their tasks, motivation and how they are performing in their job, as this can highlight if your people’s skills and knowledge fit the needs of your organisation.

“I would suggest implementing some training – or refresher training – within the first few weeks of staff returning. This can help to minimise disruption to the business and make sure service-based businesses can create the experiences we all missed so much during lockdowns.

Sarah Taylor, hospitality operations specialist at online training provider, High Speed Training, adds: “Since the start of the pandemic, certain sectors have seen a much bigger shift when it comes to systems and processes. Hospitality venues, for example, have the added health and safety precautions that the virus has brought, from managing positive staff cases, to increased cleaning expectations. It’s really important to acknowledge these changes and provide the appropriate training to adhere to them, such as a COVID-19 essential training course where necessary.

“That being said, it’s also important to check yourself as a manager and ensure that before welcoming staff back, you have the correct tools to enable you to create the best working environment for them; you may want to take up some Interpersonal Conflict Training in order to do so.”

4. Track progress and development

Birgitte continues: “It’s also a good idea to track progress and development, which can easily be done via regular check-ins and reviews. These can help highlight potential issues early on; having an open conversation – where feedback is encouraged – will help to resolve any snagging challenges before they become bigger problems. One-to-one formats typically work best for this, but group settings can also be a great way to reflect on team achievements and successes.”

Sarah adds: “As an employer, it’s really important to make sure that any staff member returning to work has received a sufficient level of training to refresh their skill set, before taking on the day-to-day responsibilities. Providing the appropriate training for your employers will ultimately be a worthwhile investment for your business in the long run”.

For more information on how to communicate with staff effectively, visit: www.planday.com/uk/blog/the-most-common-barriers-to-communication-in-the-workplace/

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