With the introduction of vaccines, we are slowly witnessing an end to the Coronavirus pandemic, which has been an unwelcome addition to our daily lives over the past year.
The current Job Retention Scheme will end on September 30, 2021, but with retail opening up again in April, many employees will be needed back to full-time work to meet the increased business demands. For employers, it is time to start considering your plan for easing employees back from furlough. It will be a difficult time for many, and some may find it overwhelming. It is worth taking steps now to make this period as easy as possible for your employees.
The first step is to open up the lines of communication with your employees and find out how they feel about returning. Some may be feeling anxious and nervous, while others will be excited about the prospect of being able to get dressed for work and get away from an isolated and limiting routine for a while. Everyone has different experiences of being on furlough, and you should address any concerns employees may have. They may be raring to go or worried sick about returning, and it is up to the employer to ensure they are feeling secure about their return.
Many people have enjoyed being at home; not having a long commute to endure has been a welcome change. If your employees have been on furlough for a long time, they will have adjusted to their ‘new’ routine, and readjusting will be difficult. With many retailers closing for a period, fashion shows stalled, and a lack of theatre productions, the fashion industry has suffered in the past year. If possible, try and allow your staff to work flexibly to some degree, especially when they return from furlough. If some remote working is possible, this is worth considering.
It may be worth doing a phased return with employees, with essential workers back first and then slowly, the remaining employees. It is a tough time; taking it easy, with full consideration of the employees, is vital. Be mindful of those who are more vulnerable and allow them flexible options for as long as is viable.
Employees may not have seen each other for some time, and you can encourage integration with the team via video calls before returning. Team building exercises will promote integration. Create a safe space of dialogue to discuss expectations with each other and from management.
There will be employees who will be concerned about whether they even remember how to do their jobs, especially if they have been on furlough for the best part of a year. Offer training to those who are worried. Raise the understanding that this has been considered and you have processes in place to support their concerns. Reaffirm the guidelines on their day-to-day jobs to reengage them. Ensure they have open lines of dialogue with their line managers, so they are aware of their expectations as they start back.
Although we are coming to the end of the pandemic, COVID-19 is still prevalent, and on a return to work, employees will need to be COVID-19 safe, with precautions in place, as per the government guidelines. Ensure employees understand your expectations and the procedures if they feel unwell. Make it obvious that employees have a voice and health concerns must be raised and will be listened to with sensitivity.