Furlough has been a lifeline to many during the pandemic. At its peak, two thirds of businesses and over 9 million employees relied on the scheme. 

With the recent confirmation that all Covid restrictions will be lifted on the 21st July, a return to the workplace will be imminent for the 2.4 million people who are still furloughed. 

And while you might expect your old employees to jump right back in and excel as they always did, you need to treat them with fairness and respect, welcoming them back into the team slowly. Part of this involves bringing them back into the company with a re-onboarding process

Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need to consider when bringing furloughed members back to the team. 

Preparation

During their time away, your employees could have had personal issues arise or problems you weren’t aware of. A personal call can go a long way and help you to understand anything that may have come up during their furlough. It can also be an excellent time to talk about any fears or worries they may have about coming back. 

If you’re not able to do one-to-one calls with everyone, make sure each employee has a point of contact to discuss any concerns. Send out a welcome back email to let them know they’ve been missed as well as your contact details and a plan for their first day back. 

In the office, get their workspace ready for them. It’s likely you’ll already know most of these employees, so use your pre-established connection to show them how valued they are. A cup of coffee or a packet of biscuits can be all it takes to show them they were missed. 

In a recent survey, 67% of people expressed their insecurities about returning to the workplace, so do what you can to prepare a welcoming environment. 

The first day back

They’re back! Get the important paperwork out the way so you can quickly reacquaint them with the team and let them settle into their workspace. 

If you’re able to, hold a welcome back event for your employees. It’s a great way to rebuild positive working relationships and let everyone catch up. 

Use this first day to re-orient staff with any changes they have missed. Make sure to consider changes to the following:

  • Software or technology
  • Management structure
  • Personnel 
  • Health and safety procedures/COVID procedures
  • Flexible working options
  • Responsibilities and duties

There are also likely to be issues concerning holidays, travel and salary. Consider creating a handbook with all the information they need, and encourage questions to be sent to a single point of contact.

It’s possible that while on furlough, an employee’s responsibilities were distributed to other staff members. Have an open, frank discussion about this and make sure everyone is clear about their duties moving forward. It’s important your furloughed employee feels valued when returning to work and that your existing employee is clear about any changes. 

At the end of the day, check in with your returning staff to see how their first day back was. Remind them where to go if they need support, and address any immediate concerns they may have.

The first month back

Regular meetings will need to be scheduled for the employee and their manager. Staying on track and settling back in could be challenging for them, so give them regular time to discuss and address any concerns. 

Over the first month, it’s essential to watch out for the mental well-being of your previously furloughed employees. Keep an eye out for signs of stress and anxiety.

Other health issues may have developed while away from work. Encourage open discussions about this with management so returning employees feel welcome and free from judgment regarding their well-being. 

You may also need to watch out for conflict. Don’t forget, a small amount of the workforce has been covering the duties of other employees for an extended period. So as the team settles back into shape, there may be conflict over responsibility and workload, on top of the usual workplace issues. 

Try to talk to existing employees about their feelings towards furloughed members and challenge any biases or misunderstandings before they become a problem. 

Beyond the first month, you’ll want to regularly check in with your employees and continue to support their transition back into the workplace. After all, a happy team is a productive team. 

Tips for furloughed employees

Excited. Anxious. Motivated. Overwhelmed. Returning to work will bring a whole host of emotions, so taking it one step at a time is crucial. Remember you are not alone. Anyone who has had a prolonged period away from the workplace will share your thoughts and feelings. 

Take a look at these tips to help you resettle into your workplace.

1. Take it slowly

Don’t expect to dive straight into your old role and give 100% straight away. It’s going to take time to get back into the swing of things, and putting unnecessary pressure on yourself won’t be productive. 

2. Ask for help

If you’re struggling to get to grips with a new system or change that’s been implemented, ask a team member for help. If you’re finding the workload too much, or the adjustment too sudden, speak to your manager to find a solution. 

3. Keep an eye on your mental health

Being at home for an extended period may have taken its toll. You must check in with yourself regularly and listen to how you are doing. If you develop signs of stress or anxiety, speak to your employer to let them know. 

4. Show your appreciation

Make sure to thank your colleagues for keeping things running smoothly. It might have been tough on furlough, but it’s also important to recognise the challenges your colleagues faced. Make sure they feel appreciated. 

5. Dive into social events

It’s easy to sit back and feel as though you’ve lost your old work relationships. Thankfully, it’s simple to turn them around by organising or attending social events. Suggest grabbing lunch with a colleague or meeting up after work. 

6. Refocus on your goals

Once you’re settled back in, start thinking about your professional goals. What were you striving to achieve before you were furloughed? Then, see if you can refocus on your ambitions and speak to your managers about how you can get there. 

The key is to remember that you were an integral part of the workforce before you left, and you are on your return. Once you find your place, settle in, and get in the swing of things, it may feel like you never left!

Interested in learning more about how to re-onboard your employees that are returning to the office? Our brand new return to work pathway has been created to support you with your teams' return and includes tips around handling reopening anxiety with some amazing new resources sthat help your learners transition back as if they've never been away. See it for yourself with a free demo of our entire microlearning catalogue.

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