What Should You Do When Employees Are Reluctant to Come Off Furlough?
Millions of workers have been on furlough for months now. Many will have had money worries, anxiety about health and the future, and some will have lost people they love to the virus.
Amid the pressures of working from home and the restrictions of the lockdown, many people will have felt stressed, anxious, and isolated.
Almost all of us at some point will have wished that we could have some sort of normality back, but as lockdown eases and businesses start to think about getting employees back to work, is a return to the workplace the kind of normality that people want?
Some workers will be understandably anxious and even reluctant to return to work for fear of catching the virus. In forums and in conversation with HR managers and employers, I’m coming across this even more. As the HR manager, what should you do when employees are reluctant to come off furlough?
What to do when employees are reluctant to come off furlough
Don’t assume how they feel
We have all lived through this incredibly stressful time and for many people, this anxiety will go on for a long time yet. You might have read the headlines and social media comments about people on furlough ‘spending their days at the beach’, suggesting that people are lazy and just don’t want to return to work.
While it’s true that some people may be enjoying the time off, there are a lot of reasons why some people will genuinely not want to return to work, like the fear of catching the virus and getting ill or worse, fearing that they might pass it on to a family member who is ill, uncertainty about exactly how safe they’ll be at work, dealing with mental ill-health; the list goes on.
As the HR manager, your job is to get to the root of the real reasons they don’t want to return to work. This will help you manage them and the situation a lot better.
Communicate openly and honestly
The earlier you can start the return to work conversation with people the better. When employees have been on furlough for months, they are naturally going to feel nervous coming back to work. They’ll worry about how safe they’ll be in the workplace, being able to get back into the swing of things, and a whole host of other things, so what they need from you is open, honest, and regular communication.
They need to know exactly what you know, what is being done to make the workplace and working practices safe for them to return to, and that their concerns will be listened to.
Consider their health status
If an employee has a health problem that puts them at particularly serious risk of becoming very ill from coronavirus, then there may be legal obligations to make reasonable adjustments for them and to treat them with fairness and consideration.
Remember that reassurance equals confidence
It’s not enough to tell employees that they are safe to come back to work and everything will be fine. But involving them in the processes you’re following to make things safe and allowing them to vent their concerns will go some way to making them feel more confident about returning to work. You should consider:
- Getting employees involved in the risk assessment process and other return to work preparations. Ask them ‘what will help you feel safe?’
- Explaining clearly what is happening to make the workplace and working practices safe for their return, and providing them with copies of all of the documentation.
- Giving employees the opportunity to voice their concerns and giving them an appropriate and empathetic response.
Work to reach an agreement
This is a fraught time, and employees need to be treated with empathy and consideration. Maintaining good relationships with employees is crucial because businesses will need motivated, engaged, and hardworking people more than ever when the rebuilding and recovery process begins. The more you can show that you do really care about the safety and wellbeing of employees and involve them in any decisions going forward, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to reach an agreement.
As the HR manager, you really have your work cut out right now. The path ahead may seem like it’s full of difficult conversations, policy changes, contract issues, and more, and you probably feel completely overwhelmed.
You know what’s needed to sort through the muddle, but you just don’t have time to do it all alone.
What you need is a safe and experienced pair of hands to come in and help you sort things out.
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If you want to feel supported, less overwhelmed, and you need help restoring harmony in the business during what is such a difficult time, this package is for you.
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