The furlough scheme has been a lifesaver for many businesses and their staff, but it did involve some difficult decisions and led to some unexpected reactions impacting on team dynamics and morale. While some businesses furloughed most of their employees, others were more selective.
Employees who were furloughed and are now returning may be conscious of this and feel that they are less valuable than their non-furloughed colleagues. They may also worry that they will be first in line should job cuts be necessary.
Conversely, employees who were not furloughed may have taken on extra work to cover the furloughed staff’s workload over the course of the summer. Some may have become aware of feelings of jealousy developing towards the furloughed staff. So non-furloughed staff may feel resentment towards their furloughed colleagues who were being paid to stay at home with no outgoings for travel. They could perceive that the furloughed employees have, in effect, had a paid holiday while they worked even harder – in many cases with no reward. In some instances, employers applied a pay cut across the board. Some non-furloughed staff were asked to take on entirely new duties such as cleaning, as well as arguably putting themselves at greater risk of exposure to Covid-19 by attending work.
Clearly this can create a divided workplace after furlough, causing tension and resentment. While it may not to result in outright hostility, it could have unseen effects on your staff’s happiness and productivity going forward. We know if colleagues do not get along, they are less likely to work well together. People who do not feel valued by the business are also likely to feel less motivated and take less care and pride in what they do.
What Can You Do?
A divided workplace after furlough is a multifaceted problem, and it’s likely that everyone involved will feel differently about their situation. As such, you may be inclined to avoid wholesale action, instead addressing problems as they emerge. This may require some additional training or support for managers, so that they can deal with these unique circumstances in the right way and avoid small problems becoming a bigger issue.
The critical thing going forward is your communication with all employees and doing your best to reassure them about their position and value. This may involve a detailed ‘reboarding’ strategy including a handover plan for each employee so that they know what their responsibilities will be on their return, and what their short and long-term goals are. This will make it clear that you see a future for them and give them something to focus on and work towards.
If you are in the unfortunate situation where redundancies may be necessary, then reassure the staff who were or are furloughed that they will all be treated fairly.
Interpersonal dynamics can be tough to manage in normal circumstances, let alone in the midst of a pandemic. With employees having been away from each other for some months, it may have added benefits to arrange some form of team-building exercise. While this may be more challenging to implement due to social distancing rules, it can be worth arranging something remotely to help reintegrate staff and get everyone back on the same page.
Finally, if you are able to do so, it’s worth considering rewarding the employees who have worked through the pandemic while others have been furloughed. This may take the form of a one-off ‘Covid bonus’ for working over and above their usual duties, by taking on extra tasks or simply from not benefitting from the same time off. This is unlikely to impact on the morale of furloughed employees as long as it is communicated properly and furloughed employees are made to feel secure in their positions.
How Loch Associates Group can help
Managing discontent among staff and a divided workplace after furlough can be difficult at the best of times and requires both a deft touch and a good appreciation of all the considerations. Given the difficulties of the current business climate, many business owners and managers may already feel overburdened and unable to dedicate the time or energy required to identify problems and provide solutions.
This is where Loch Associates can help. Our HR Consultants from HR Advise Me can step in and help you to effectively manage employee performance, identify any issues with furlough resentment and provide solutions, whether that’s arranging training for managers or managing grievances directly.
Our innovative flexi-retainer starts from £300 per month with tailored packages to allow you to access the services you need at a price affordable to your business. If you would prefer to outsource all your HR needs, then we can take that over for you from £1,000 per month.