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Written by Anna Rasmussen on 29 September 2020 in Features
Features

Anna Rasmussen tells TJ how to merge furloughed employees back into your team.

How has furlough changed the dynamics of your team? Chances are, you won’t know until everyone is back at work – and it could get complicated.  

For furloughed and non-furloughed employees alike, the last few months have been tough, and each person will face very different challenges as they adjust to the ‘new normal’ after lockdown.  Here are some tips on using people-centric management to make the transition easier.

Managers face yet another unique challenge in handling this return. They’ll not only need to manage the practical process of ensuring that employees returning from furlough are brought up to speed quickly; they’ll need to consider the impact that the last six months has had on every employee, furloughed or not.  

In both parties, there could be underlying anxieties and resentments that need to be addressed before teams can fully reconnect. 

So what are the biggest challenges to merging teams back together after the furlough period, and how can managers overcome them quickly to get productivity and engagement back on track?   

Managers need to understand if employees feel burned out by their work from home experience, and work with them to take action to change this

While the exact situation will be different for every individual, here are a few of the biggest challenges we expect managers to encounter in the coming months, and what they can do about them: 

Countering a crisis of confidence  

“Why was I furloughed, and they weren’t? Am I not as good at my job?” 

In some instances, it will have been a cut and dry decision: one person had active work, the other did not. But in instances where reduced workloads were redistributed, furloughed employees could be doubting their role, their ability and their future at the company.  

Counter this by explaining (or reiterating) the full reasons behind the decision. Make sure that their purpose within the team is clear from the moment they come back, with a clear remit and expectations.  

If furloughed employees return to a workplace where they feel redundant, they will fear for the future of their job. And fear is never a good motivator.  

Tackling resentment – and promoting understanding  

Spending six months at home with reduced earnings and the threat (real or imagined) of job loss hanging over your head is not ‘a break’. For most, furlough was boring at best, and stressful at worst.  

It’s important that non-furloughed employees understand this as their colleagues return to work. Issues like annual leave accrual might cause frustration for those who feel they have been ‘holding the fort’ in their colleagues’ absence, but this is neither helpful nor fair to their furloughed teammates. 

 

These feelings and frustrations need to be acknowledged, addressed and dealt with before they can become significant problems. The only way managers can do this is by instigating honest, open conversations and getting to the root cause of the issue. Do employees feel that resentment out of pettiness? Or is it something more significant? Which bring us to our next point… 

Beware of burnout  

Just as furlough was not a holiday, working from home during lockdown was not a walk in the park. Research from The Mental Health foundation and LinkedIn this May estimated that people were working an extra 28 hours a month during lockdown. Fifty-six percent felt more anxious or stressed, and 24% struggled with their mental health.  

While furloughed employees will have missed the structure and distraction of work, active employees may have felt a great deal of pressure and could be feeling under-appreciated as some sense of normality resumes.  

Managers need to understand if employees feel burned out by their work from home experience, and work with them to take action to change this. It could be that a holiday is desperately needed, or that work needs to be redistributed now that more resource is available.

Again, this all comes down to communication: the more teams are able to be direct and honest with managers, the easier this will be to solve. 

Bringing teams back together  

A lot can change in seven months. For a seamless transition back, furloughed employees need to be brought up to speed with any process or account changes quickly and effectively to save frustration. But it’s not only the practical transition that’s important. Teams need to get back to feeling like a team after months apart. For managers, this means communicating shared goals and creating a shared experience to knit teams back together. 

For managers to deal with all of the above challenges, they’ll need to take a people-centric approach. That means maintaining open, honest conversations, that get to the heart of issues before they become problems.  

 

About the author

Anna Rasmussen is OpenBlend's chief executive officer & founder.

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