How to reintegrate furloughed employees in an inclusive way

Prioritise accessible communication, psychological safety and inclusive redesign, says industry thought leader Teresa Boughey.

Leaders and HR Practitioners are rapidly turning their attention towards business recovery as the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions imposed by the UK Government are eased. The look and feel of each organisation as we move into a post-COVID-19 world will be very different. The reintegration of people, as well as their customers, is unchartered territory but remains fundamentally important. 

So, here are three essential considerations when successfully reintegrating furloughed employees:

Accessible communication

The landscape is rapidly changing with each day as the Government continues to announce lockdown easing. This can result in organisations having to respond rapidly to new measures being imposed, and as a consequence, continuous communication is essential. Most organisations will have taken proactive steps to communicate with all furloughed employees and those who continue to work.  

Employees will need to understand and know what’s happening with the changes that are being made within the workplace to make them COVID-19 safe. These may include changes to working patterns, staggering start and finish times, the requirement to wear face coverings, social distancing measures, staggering rest breaks, new workplace layouts, one-way systems and closure of areas to name but a few. 

All communication should be accessible and consider the needs of those employees and customers who require reasonable adjustments, including those with Visual, Auditory, Physical, Speech, Cognitive, and Neurological Disabilities. Employees also need to have the opportunity to be listened to, heard and understood.

Many employees, both furloughed and still working, will, over the past several months, have had time for reflection.  Some may now be questioning how satisfied they are in life, as well as within their job – including how they previously spent their time and were able to achieve a positive work-life balance.

Organisations should put in place mechanisms that provide employees with an opportunity to ask to explore how they are feeling, ask questions or raise concerns.

Psychological safety

While organisations must observe government guidelines, restrictions and health advice on how to make their organisation COVID-19 safe, it’s also important that staff voice how they would like to reintegrate with each other and customers. Again, these answers are likely to be as unique as the individuals within your organisation, but you must take the time to learn rather than assume. 

The past few months have highlighted increased inequality within society. It has shone a critical light on the need for organisations to focus on inclusivity and shone an even brighter light on the lack of equality. The BAME community have been significantly affected by COVID-19, and regardless of your racial, political or other identities, the events that the world has seen are palpable and cannot be ignored. Millions of black people and their allies around the world are hurting. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has resulted in many leadership teams being called upon to use their voice, power, position and resources to make fundamental changes. 

Many employees are likely to be experiencing feelings they have never felt before; loss and grief are both unfortunately commonly suffered emotions during this time. Some will experience bereavement of loved ones and colleagues, grief through the loss of locked down restrictions or limitations, and some will be overwhelmed by the sheer uncertainty of what the future holds. Others may not be able to describe how they are feeling.

Employees have the right to both physical as well as psychological safety; therefore, it’s important leaders take the time to listen, learn and begin to understand their staff so they can support them.

Inclusive redesign for the future

It is, unfortunately, true that not all organisations will look and feel the same as we look to the future. Perhaps some organisations will need to pivot their services, but others will sadly have to reduce their workforce. When looking to the future, consideration should be given to the job architecture required. This is a golden opportunity for organisations to set out plans that will define their future success. Organisations have a choice to make; reinstate antiquated people practices or create a new reality where everyone can thrive. Whether you are integrating furloughed employees or making fundamental changes to your business, there is a key opportunity to raise your inclusivity.

The rapid use of technology solutions over the past few months has enabled many organisations to remove physical, as well a geographical, barriers. While this has not been possible for all organisations, for many, it has been a business imperative. As organisations look to consider whether the use of physical office spaces, buildings and units are viable going forward, many leaders such as Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook, are making public and long-term pledges to recruit roles on the basis of remote working pro-actively. Remote and flexible working is just one way to open the doors to increased talent attraction, as well as create opportunities for those in underrepresented groups and should be here to stay.  

Finally, as organisations look to redesign job roles, it also provides an opportunity for organisations to address disparities in pay.  This can result in an ability for organisations to tackle and close the gap when it comes to gender, ethnicity and disability pay disparities.

The time is now for authentic leadership where organisations are clear and bold about their organisational culture going forward. Demonstrate what they stand for by being innovative and integrating diversity and inclusion initiatives into all people practices.  Those organisations and their leaders who take the time needed to reshape and master this new norm will be the ones primed for success.

Teresa Boughey MA FCIPD is CEO of award-winning Jungle HR and founder of Inclusion 247. She is a TEDx speaker, a Non-Executive Director and author of Amazon bestseller Closing the Gap, designed to support business professionals at every stage of their inclusivity journey that was highly commended as an Exceptional Book that Promotes Diversity at the Business Book Awards 2020.

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