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Re-onboarding furloughed staff: HR’s new challenge in the future of work

UK tech workers are worried about returning to work.

Allie Nawrat

Credit: Minesh Patel via Twenty20.

Unleash Your Workforce UK companies are starting to think about re-opening their offices and bring staff back from furlough.

  • Employers are considering re-opening offices and getting staff off furlough.
  • 40% of furloughed tech workers in the UK are concerned about returning to work, according to Randstad.
  • What can HR teams do to make the transition back to work easier for employees?

The UK is on its way out of lockdown. After three months of extreme restrictions, pubs, bars and restaurants are finally open – and from next week cinemas and other indoor-only venues will be able to open too.

This easing of restrictions coincides with the impressive roll-out and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines. As of this morning, more than 35 million people across the UK have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, and more than 17 million people have been fully vaccinated.

The vaccine roll-out success – and the impact this has had on the UK’s COVID-19 crisis – means companies are starting to figure out how and when to re-open their offices and to bring their employees back from furlough. The UK government has only guaranteed furlough payments until September 2021.

While some UK-based companies are keen to have their workers back in offices full time – most notably Goldman Sachs – UK employees are not quite so keen. This is particularly true for the country’s tech industry, according to research by HR services and recruitment company Randstad.

Tech workers concerns

Randstad’s survey of 8,000 UK tech workers found that 40% of those furloughed were anxious about returning to work.

This is linked to 84% having concerns about COVID-19 in the workplace. Their most common concern was around the possibility of catching the disease; with 41% worried about contracting the virus at work, and 34% worried about passing the disease on to their family.

In addition, 21% of tech workers were concerned about the impact the pandemic had had on their employer – and potentially what this might mean for their job security or career prospects.

re-onboarding: how to do it well

Randstad senior director of operations Adrian Smith said: “Clearly, there is nervousness up and down the country about COVID-19, and workers’ concerns are not limited to whether or not you might catch it.

“It’s important for employers to make their teams feel safe in their working environment.”

[Read more: COVID-19 vaccines: Should bosses force employees to get jabbed?]

To do this, Randstad suggests employers implement an re-onboarding process for returning employees.

This is something that tech can learn from other sectors, particularly rail, which has, according to Randstad research, already successfully implemented re-onboarding for returning employees.

“Normally the onboarding process would be reserved for introducing newly hired employees into an organization,” explained Smith.

“But these aren’t normal times and tech workers who have been furloughed for a year will benefit from some help integrating back into the wider organisation.”

Smith continued: “Done properly, it will help employees feel more confident and competent when they get back on the job.

“It’s about investing the time to protect well-being and to ensure a productive returning workforce.”

While Randstad acknowledges this may be burdensome, as these are returning employees, the company argues the re-onboarding process does not need to be as comprehensive or last as long as it would for new employees.

Randstad also recommends that in the run-up to the return to the office (and beyond) employers implement regular check-ins with their staff, particularly younger employees.

Of the tech staff who had had weekly check-ins with their companies, only 38% were concerned about returning to work. This rose to 50% of those who had bimonthly check-ins and 61% for those who had no check-ins at all with their employer while furloughed.

“While furlough has changed the purpose of the check-in somewhat, the importance of keeping the lines of communication open remains undiminished,” noted Smith.  

Finally, Randstad’s study found that tech professionals want their employers to focus more on mental wellbeing. The types of initiatives they are interested in include mediation and resilience training, as well as stress reduction workshops.

[Read more: 72% of UK companies increased mental health support to employees during COVID-19]

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