How to ‘re-onboard’ furloughed staff


Sabby Gill, CEO at Thomas International spoke to Business Leader regarding the process of bringing staff back to the office following the end of the furlough scheme.

Nearly ten million people across the UK have been furloughed since March 2020. But after three extensions, furlough is expected to finally come to an end in April.

While we’ve always known this day would come, it does present business leaders with a multitude of challenges. Can and should they bring back all furloughed workers?  For the most affected sectors – retail, entertainment and hospitality – safeguarding measures must be in place. And leaders need to communicate their return to the workplace plans clearly and transparently with all staff.

But for those who work in offices, one thing is clear. The world of work has changed. Hybrid working is our new reality and will be here for the foreseeable future. As with all change, being able to best manage new procedures and ways of working requires time. And it’s not going to be an easy task.

Business leaders need a solid plan for how to make the transition back into work as simple as possible for everyone involved.

Here are three key reminders for business leaders to follow to successfully re-onboard their staff.

Furlough has not been a holiday

Before re-onboarding staff, leaders need to remember that furlough has not been a holiday. It has been a challenging time for many and returning employees need to be treated as if they are new members of the team.

As with any new employee, leaders need to make sure they are welcomed back warmly across teams and brought up to speed with any critical changes. One-to-one meetings are a great way to fill them in on what has changed, as well as catch up on any worries they may have.

Employing psychometric assessments can also be a great way to welcome back furloughed employees. Through analysing the data behind their behaviour, aptitude, personality and emotional intelligence, leaders can automatically generate bespoke onboarding guides to help them hit the ground running. They can also identify their strengths and areas requiring extra support, so they can build these into development plans from the offset.

Over-communication is a must

Communication is a fundamental part of any business. But when it comes to re-onboarding furloughed staff – especially remotely – it is critical for every function of a business, especially in helping to drive strong employee engagement. As such, it is vital that leaders over-communicate what is expected from returning employees, and offer genuine understanding and reassurance, as some people cope better with change than others.

Communication can be a minefield. But emotional intelligence assessments can provide a powerful insight into a person’s emotional view of the world, and how they might approach relationships and situations in the workplace. When re-onboarding furloughed staff, this insight can help leaders effectively communicate and ensure staff are comfortable returning to work both in the initial days and weeks and in the months to follow.

Retrain to avoid a talent drain

One of the biggest apprehensions business leaders may have when looking to reintroduce furloughed staff is that they will have lost crucial skills while not in the workplace.

Furlough does not spell the end of a talented workforce. If anything, the time away from work should have given leaders and HR managers the chance to help their furloughed workforce re-identify their existing skills, and discover new ones they never knew they had. Essentially fueling their current – and emerging – talent pool. Not creating a talent drain.

Harnessing insight from aptitude assessments can help leaders nurture re-onboarded staff’s talent. By measuring mental agility – including problem-solving and adaptability – business leaders can understand how quickly someone learns new information and adapts to change. And so use this insight to help build personal development programmes to fuel their current – and emerging – talent pool and avoid the risk of a talent drain.

What’s next for our workforce?

In this new working world, it’s difficult to see where and when the next obstacle will be. Whatever the sector. And for furloughed employees, re-entering the world of work will be no easy task.

Business leaders must show their support and treat their returning staff as if they are new to the team. Delivering clear communication and developing an onboarding strategy that helps keep them engaged and motivated will help any businesses successfully re-onboard their furloughed staff so they can succeed in a post-pandemic world.