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Healing the divide between furloughed and non-furloughed employees

There is now a divide between employees who have been furloughed and those who remained working throughout lockdown. When bringing these two groups back together, it’s essential that HR managers work through the issues they have and bring everyone together for the common cause.

2nd Sep 2020
Senior HR Consultant hr inspire
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Two businesswomen working at office wearing face mask maintaining social distance.
iStock/GeorgiNutsov

With one in four UK workers furloughed during the coronavirus crisis and the flexible furlough scheme having brought some workers back part-time in July, many organisations are now facing the tricky task of reuniting furloughed and non-furloughed employees together.  

HR professionals and employers need to remain adaptable to addressing this new way of life as we continue to live with the challenges of Covid-19. 

These two groups may now feel poles apart. Many employees who carried on working throughout lockdown feel overworked and under-rewarded and believe their furloughed colleagues have had fun in the sun while still getting paid. Meanwhile, large numbers of furloughed workers say they were far from having ‘fun’. Instead they’ve been struggling to live on less salary with many worried about the risk of redundancy. Some may also have been transferred to a different department, new teams or given different tasks, all of which can also be unsettling. So just how can you heal this divide?

While each sector and organisation will have their own differences about how they have been operating during the crisis and there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, there are a number of practical steps and tools that HRs can use to integrate both sets of employees back to work together and ease any tensions. The main channel throughout this process is good and regular communication.

When to start  

Ideally any re-integration should actually have begun during furlough, with both furloughed and non-furloughed workers kept informed with regular virtual ‘stay in touch’ meetings. That way, furloughed workers feel less isolated from the organisation and non-furloughed workers can see their colleagues online, hear their concerns and recognise its not all day trips and sunbathing.

If any meetings have been few and far between, start regular catch ups immediately to get this communication under way. Furloughed workers need to feel confident about going back to work, know that there is work to do and feel connected to the team. A short questionnaire for both sets of workers of eight to ten questions can also support this integration and prompt discussion about any concerns so everyone can understand individual circumstances – including checking employees’ mental health, any worries about returning to a physical working environment and workload.

Make sure that you communicate any new ways of working, including any additional health and safety measures that have been put in place, such as temperature checks, new office/desk lay-outs, hand washing and arrangements for staying safe in communal areas.

Culture Pioneers link

Working together – tools and techniques

Once both groups are back working together, support this re-induction into the organisation by buddying up furloughed and non-furloughed workers whether in the office or remotely. This is even more important if an employee has been assigned to a different department or role. This way, each worker can ask any questions as they arise, are supported and have the latest knowledge. A morning coffee chat is a great way to do this informally, whether remotely or in person.

During the first weeks especially, daily check-ins with managers will help ensure all employees feel supported during the working hours. These discussions can cover what they’ve got on today, whether they need anything, or asking if the employee has any concerns. These are just as useful for workers who haven’t been furloughed as well as those on flexible furlough to help boost morale during the working day and ensure that no-one feels isolated.

Sharing regular exercises or activities together can also be a fun and effective way to join everyone together again and share a bonding experience. This could involve a different wellbeing technique/activity each week, such as yoga, Tai Chi or meditation, which can help to break down any barriers.

If resentments appear to be deeply set and are proving hard to shift, mediation can be an effective way to head off any long-term divide. This way both sides can dive deeper into their concerns and separately with an independent mediator who can then help gradually support a working solution for both sides to prevent a breakdown between both parties.

Long term – sharing a future

After these first steps have been taken, use ‘pulse checks’ to review any progress made after a few weeks while ensuring communication continues in all forms, verbally, e-newsletters and visually. What has made someone’s day or week? What are they looking forward to? If any bubbles of disquiet do resurface, quickly identify what’s needed to release these issues.

Once both groups have re-joined and settled together it’s important to ensure that employees that have been working throughout also get some time out.  The pandemic has shone a light on our work/life balance and a need for flexible working, particularly so that parents can support their children and carers can fulfill their personal obligations alongside their working responsibilities.

HR professionals and employers need to remain adaptable to addressing this new way of life as we continue to live with the challenges of Covid-19. Get this balance of good communication and flexibility right and not only will any divides be truly healed, but employees will also have greater confidence in themselves and their employer.

Interested in this topic? Read Maintaining productivity whilst transitioning back to the workplace

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