“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much”.

Helen Keller

Flexible furlough: Five tips for leaders

Are you about to open up your workplace for previously furloughed staff? Are you ready? Have you prepared your team?

From July, flexible furlough comes into play in the UK. This means that previously furloughed staff can be brought back into work, for hours to suit both parties. The employer will pay in full for the hours the employee works, and the remainder can be topped up by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) grant. Flexibility is on offer and hours can change week by week as agreed between you and your employees. Although the future remains uncertain, for some businesses this will be an opportunity to start to rebuild.

If you have been working non-stop throughout the pandemic, this may feel like welcome support when you may be feeling the weight of tiredness from the stresses and strains of the past few months. For those in hospitality in particular, with your business mothballed, there will be a lot of work to do to be ready for the new ‘normal’ which awaits your team and customers.

As an owner or a leader we must be prepared. For those employees able to return to work there will be a mix of emotions. The immediate relief on hearing that they can return after weeks of uncertainty may be plagued with feelings of low confidence and anxiety. Three months without a daily work routine, often in isolation and waiting for the next update from you, their employer, will have taken its toll on their mental and physical wellbeing. Carers juggling roles and home schooling, others who may have directly been affected health wise by the virus. One person I have spoken to said returning to work felt akin to returning from maternity leave; ‘my head feels fuzzy and my confidence is low”. As leaders, we cannot expect our team to pick up immediately where they left off and all businesses have had to rapidly adapt and change so the place they left behind will look and feel very different now.

Each business and work context will have its own needs and demands to think about but here are some general principles and practical tips to support your team members back into work.

1.     Getting up to speed: All businesses have had to adapt fast during this period and a lot of learning has taken place for those who have worked throughout. This can be destabilising for someone who has not been involved in that change. Take the time to bring them up to speed and where necessary train or re-train. Expect many questions.

2.    The return to work plan: Talk them through your thinking and even better build a plan together so they take ownership. The first few hours and days will be critical. Treat it like a mini induction and build on the learning for future use as other employees return. What worked in the past may not work in the present (or future).

3.    Create a ‘safe space’: Check in before they return and have regular check-ins when they are back. You cannot communicate enough. Build a culture in which it is safe to share concerns, to be vulnerable, to ask for help. How might you work with your returning employees to effectively support them and allow them to thrive with the inevitable uncertainty and change we all face?

4.   Set them up to win: Safety first. How will you keep your staff feeling safe as far as you are able? Physically and psychologically. In many businesses, e.g. service/hospitality this will be paramount. Any feelings your staff have will be transmitted to your customers; how do you ensure this is positive. Your staff may be working remotely for the first time so ensure they are set up well. You may have adapted to all the new technology but they might be new to it. Read our remote working tips here.

5.    Buddy: Allocate a buddy to each returner; preferably someone who has been working throughout lockdown.

And finally, don’t forget those who are staying on full time furlough. There will be many employees who will need to remain on furlough for business, health or childcare reasons. Keep close communication with them. The more you do this the easier it will be if and when their time to return to work arrives.

Jane Court, Business Director