Since COVID-19 first arrived in the UK, some 9.6 million workers have experienced the furlough scheme. Despite many continuing to work from home, plenty of organizations are now transitioning back to the workplace. Decision-makers must carefully consider how they can best support staff through this experience.
Here, Will Akerman, Founder and MD at MyKindaFuture, the underrepresented talent specialist, explains how organizations can boost staff morale and encourage a productive workplace by investing in their staff’s wellbeing and sense of belonging.
It’s important not to underestimate the significance of being placed on furlough and how this may have had an impact on people’s mindsets.
The fact is that staff returning to work will have spent lots of time outside of their regular working patterns. This can have implications for mental health and might leave staff feeling out of touch with their organizations and colleagues; they might also resent being put on furlough in the first place. The point is that workplaces need to accommodate for complex emotions and grant staff a period of readjustment.
One way this can be achieved is through upping wellbeing support. Organizations should check-in with returning staff regularly, answering any questions or concerns they might have. As part of this, it’s wise for decision-makers to communicate the state of the business and its recovery plans. This will go a long way to assure employees they’re valued members of the team and will start to rebuild a culture of inclusion within a supportive environment, which is pivotal for wellbeing.
In fact, according to our recent research into belonging, being valued is the second most important workplace perk for UK office staff, coming in behind salary only, with 47% of people stating that being valued is vital in the workplace.
It’s also essential to give staff direction. Having been away from the workplace for so long, it’s understandable employees might be out of the swing of things when they first return. To combat this, work with staff to redefine what success looks like in their role and core objectives. It will give them the best chance to hit the ground running.
Reconsider Your Employee Value Proposition
A business’ employee value proposition (EVP) is crucial for attracting talent and retaining employees and should run through all aspects of a business’ internal and external communications.
However, things will have changed when furloughed employees return to work. With this in mind, employers must consider what their new EVP will look like and communicate this clearly and openly throughout all of their correspondence with furloughed staff. This will make their transition back into the company as smooth as possible when the time comes.
Sense of Belonging
For most organizations, the post-pandemic workplace will look and behave very differently to the one furloughed staff left behind. There will be both physical and operational changes that staff need to adapt to: different policies, structures, systems, technologies and so on. Therefore, it’s worth re-onboarding staff as if they’re new starters, providing them time to acclimate to the “new normal” and helping to foster a sense of belonging; this is absolutely critical if staff are to feel motivated and loyal.
Our data shows 57% of UK workers are more motivated in a workplace where they feel as though they belong. It is easy to see how valuable a sense of belonging can be to employers. In addition, almost half of workers feel more engaged with the business, more likely to work hard and more loyal towards a company when they feel valued.
Interestingly, 80% of those who don’t feel a sense of community within their workplace are considering leaving their jobs within the next 12 months. This is already happening, with almost one in 10 workers citing “not fitting in” as the reason for leaving their last job.
How can you foster a sense of belonging? Technology is one solution. MyKindaFuture’s Connectr, an online engagement platform, is currently used by countless businesses to maintain and enhance their relationships with furloughed employees. It can also be leveraged when employees have returned, easing them back to work, offering wellbeing tips, sharing revised policies, news, and company updates as well as helpful advice. The important thing is to keep a continued dialogue sustained with staff to boost their sense of belonging.
In this vein, plan ahead for the possibility of returning staff needing to transition to new roles and responsibilities. This might call for new training and professional development, which should be communicated as soon as possible. If done right, staff will feel valued for being invested in.
A Positive Return
When re-onboarding furloughed workers, it’s vital organizations get it right. It’s unrealistic to expect things to return overnight as they were before. By communicating with purpose, businesses can absolutely rebuild morale, a sense of belonging and a spirit of productivity within their staff. Ultimately, it’s the organizations that invest in their returning staff which will benefit from recultivating a happy and high-performing workplace.