'All Reboard the Furlough'

As we enter a new phase of tackling the Covid19 pandemic the restrictions on movement and social distancing are starting to relax.  Alongside this return to a more mobile life, businesses are looking at the options regarding their staff and those many furloughed employees who are wondering what the future holds for them.

 

The current stats from the ONS suggest that up to 9 million employees have been furloughed from as many as 1.1 employers and they all now face something of a challenge to determine the most practical ways to re-introduce furloughed workers.

 

Perhaps you are one of these 1.1 million organisations and your task is to manage the process. 

 

Unsurprisingly another word, already established in our dictionaries is being re-purposed for this very situation. Reboard or Reboarding, traditionally used for someone who might have stepped off a train or ship and returned but now neatly fits the description of those who stepped out of the business and are now getting back to continue their working journey.

 

Interestingly, well interesting to me because I’m geeky like that, is the fact there’s an actual trademarked product called Reboard. Reboard© is a strong, versatile, rigid paperboard. Its engineered using a fluted core which enables it to be cut and folded into any shape.

 

Forgive the leap here but could that be a metaphor for the prospects for successful furloughers returning to work post Covid?  They’ll need to be mentally strong, flexible supportive of situations and colleagues and adaptable to the needs of the business as hopefully trading picks up.

 

The above is all very neat and tidy for the employer but that doesn’t absent them from taking appropriate measures to make the re-entry process as smooth, stress free and as safe as possible.

 

For many furloughed staff it will be months, perhaps as many as four or five before they finally return to work.  This is an unprecedented event and as yet we don’t know how successful this mass return will be but what we can do is plan to ensure it’s as good as it possibly can be.

 

Communication

Above everything in HR, we can never have enough effective communication with our workforce and the senior management team.  You’d hope that during this time away from work your organisation has taken the time and effort to keep employees aware of developments. The impact of Covid19 on the sector, the business specifically and measures taken to adapt. On a personal level you’ve appreciated that whilst they can’t undertake work, staff could receive training and certainly be kept updated.

Regardless of the levels of communication its time now to establish a connection with the furloughed employee, with a specific purpose of relaying the all-important information they need to re-acclimatise to life back at work.

 

Sharks and the Jets

The last thing you need when you’re trying to motivate and direct teams to achieve new targets is to find a destabilising force working against the best efforts of management and majority of staff.  One area to be mindful of is a resentment that can lead to “gang mentality”.  In one camp you have the furloughed staff looking to get back to work, in the other you have those who weren’t selected for furlough and have worked through the crisis.  Many organisations found they needed to reduce salaries but couldn’t operate without a level of resource, this presents somewhat difficult scenarios such as significant resentment against those who “enjoyed a holiday” whilst their colleagues “slaved away”.

 

As we know matters are not as clear cut as that and it would be wrong to discount the strength of feeling here especially as those working would’ve potentially been exposed to greater risk of contracting Coronavirus. By contrast those on furlough suffered with their own mental health issues, stresses over home schooling and fears of losing their jobs and as a consequence may react irrationally to any conflict in the workplace.

 

The key is to be proactive and calm the situation.  Brief managers to pick up on any disquiet and tackle any negativity from staff toward others.  One option could be to hold a meeting for all staff where the matter is openly discussed by the most senior managers in the organisation and a zero-tolerance approach applied to employees who are found to create upset based on a tribal resentment or reaction.

 

Health & Safety

At a practical level staff need to know the new protocols and what they can and can’t do.  Consider making the learning fun by turning it into a quiz and rewarding those who successfully complete the questions.

 

Kitted out

Ensure that staff have the appropriate levels of sanitisers, PPE (if required), safe spaces to work in and appropriate equipment to use.

 

Personal development

Many members of staff on furlough may feel they’ve been left behind with regards to the day to day matters of the business. They could’ve missed out on specific training for their role, essential updates or skills that will help them.  Non furloughed staff may also feel they have been too busy, or budgets were restricted so they haven’t had the opportunity to take training. Important not to overlook either group.

 

News

We’ve not seen as much news as that bombarding us during Covid19, but we still need to keep staff informed of developments.  Outbreaks or relaxation in measures should be relayed as and when they are announced along with what that will mean to their working arrangements if changes are required.

 

Productivity & KPI’s

If the business is to be successful it will need its employees to be productive. A happy and settled workforce aids productivity and therefore be clear with each member of staff what is expected of them and what success looks like for their role and how that fits with the overall plans.

 

Surveys

Keep a gauge on the mood of staff with regular face to face and anonymous online surveys.

 

Collaboration

If possible try and find ways in which mixed teams of furloughed and non-furloughed staff can work together on projects.  Be it straight, work related or a social, morale boosting event having the workforce collaborate will help bring them back together.

 

Back to work checklist

 

  1. What level of demand can you expect from customers? Have you surveyed customers to identify their expectations and needs?
  2. Has a thorough risk assessment of ALL sites earmarked for opening been conducted?
  3. Is there sufficient clarity and direction to staff in each location ensuring everyone adheres to social distancing guidelines?
  4. Is there sufficient PPE on site and suppliers available to replenish in a timely manner?
  5. Are there clear policies and guidelines in place if staff, a customer or visitors to a location present with symptoms?
  6. What, if any, alternatives to face to face communication can be provided to meet the customer’s needs?
  7. How aware of those alternatives are the customers and how best can the business communicate to ensure those online and offline can be accommodated.
  8. What back office functions can continue to be securely undertaken from home without business interruption?
  9. Is there a progression plan in place to match the down or upgrading of security measures due to Covid19?
  10. With the above in mind have you identified the staff who will be brought out of furlough and those who will remain, any part-time returners or those likely to be considered for redundancy?

Furlough Scheme Update

Here’s a summary of the Chancellors recent notification (29th May) highlighting revisions to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) aka “Furlough”.

From 1 July 2020, businesses will be given the flexibility to bring furloughed employees back part time. Individual organisations will need to decide the hours and shift patterns their employees will work. The employers will be responsible for paying their wages while in work.

From August 2020, the level of government grant provided through the job retention scheme will be slowly tapered to reflect an expectation of a steady return to work.

During June and July, the government will continue to pay 80% of the furloughed employees salaries but after this period businesses will be expected to make contributions. 

The following will apply for the period people are furloughed:

  • June and July: The government will pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 as well as employer National Insurance (ER NICS) and pension contributions. Employers are not required to pay anything.
  • August: The government will pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions – for the average claim, this represents 5% of the gross employment costs the employer would have incurred had the employee not been furloughed.
  • September: The government will pay 70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions and 10% of wages to make up 80% total up to a cap of £2,500. For the average claim, this represents 14% of the gross employment costs the employer would have incurred had the employee not been furloughed.
  • October: The government will pay 60% of wages up to a cap of £1,875. Employers will pay ER NICs and pension contributions and 20% of wages to make up 80% total up to a cap of £2,500. For the average claim, this represents 23% of the gross employment costs the employer would have incurred had the employee not been furloughed.

In addition to the CJRS announcement Chancellor Rishi Sunak, confirmed that those eligible under the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), which has so far seen 2.3 million claims worth £6.8 billion will be able to claim a second and final grant in August.

The grant will be worth 70% of their average monthly trading profits, paid out in a single instalment covering three months’ worth of profits, and capped at £6,570 in total