Reports of furloughed employees returning to work grabbed headlines around the world last week as some cruise lines set sail again and Britain’s government-backed furlough program ended.
While this is great news for workers, it does pose challenges for employers who are welcoming furloughed employees back to a post-pandemic working environment. The workplace dynamic has changed, as have health and safety precautions and employee values.
Here are three ways employers can safely reboard furloughed employees while keeping existing workers safe and optimizing business operations.
The coronavirus began impacting countries around the world in the spring of 2020 and governments responded with tough regulations to try to contain its spread. Many businesses suffered and were left with no choice but to furlough workers to try to stay in business.
The idea, as with most furloughs, was to bring these employees back once the pandemic subsided. In recent weeks, we’ve begun to see some industries begin reboarding furloughed employees.
Holland America Line, which operates cruises all over the world, recalled thousands of furloughed workers and recently set sail from San Diego. And in Britain, the state-run Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme that helped pay the wages of 11.6 million workers, ended in September. It remains to be seen if people who depended on those furlough wages will have positions to return to, or if Britain will see a large-scale increase in unemployment.
What we do know is the workplace has changed forever and so have employees’ expectations. There may be a distinction and disconnect, though, between the experiences of an employee who was retained and moved to a remote position, an employee who remained in-office the entire time, and an employee who was furloughed and is now returning to work. It’s important for employers to recognize there may be a period of adjustment needed to ensure everyone is comfortable in this new workplace dynamic.
Re-examining your reboarding process is a critical step to ensure colleagues can work comfortably together again and business operations remain intact. Considering COVID-19 testing or vaccines are already a part of your reboarding process, here are three additional ways you can keep your workforce safe when reboarding furloughed employees.
1. Perform Background Checks
A background check is one of the most effective tools you can use to maintain a safe and compliant workforce. Conducting a background check should be part of any standard hiring procedure; the same rule applies for reboarding furloughed workers. It’s an important step to stay informed about the employees you’re re-introducing to the workplace – whether they were furloughed or remote.
Rescreening workers can help your business:
Rescreening demonstrates you take employees’ health and safety seriously. It shows compassion toward the workers who’ve remained on-site throughout the furlough and reminds furloughed employees they are still expected to uphold your company’s high standards.
2. Conduct Drug Tests
A drug test is one of the most effective tools you can use to maintain a safe and compliant workforce. Because the lines of acceptable behavior may have become blurred during a furlough, employers might want to consider revising their drug testing policy to include screening furloughed workers who are returning to the office.
Three industries that heavily relied on furloughing workers to survive the pandemic are the most at-risk for substance abuse among workers, and the results can be costly:
Throughout the pandemic, instant or rapid drug tests have become a more attractive alternative for employers who want to reboard workers quickly, safely, and inexpensively. An instant test provides you with results in minutes at the point of collection. Instant tests typically use urine or oral fluid (saliva). Rapid tests don’t have as many regulations attached to them but can deliver a “negative” or “non-negative” result quickly. If speed is the name of the game in your reboarding drug testing efforts for furloughed workers, and you’re not regulated by any government bodies, this may be a good fit for you.
3. Encourage Flexibility and Transparency
The pandemic has caused many workplace changes. However, one change in particular, is quite employee-centric and has a direct effect on the types of jobs employees are willing to take or return to. Many employees are fed up with inflexible working arrangements and crave something more family- and life-friendly.
The impact of COVID-19 brought feelings of despair, loss, and disruption to many people, but it also brought a drastic change in what employees find essential — balance. Furloughed employees may not be willing to settle into the old, unforgiving, and rigid work schedules they had before the pandemic. Employers may need to demonstrate to their furloughed employees they’re willing to explore alternative scheduling options to ensure a comfortable transition back to the workplace.
Employees also deserve career transparency, especially if they’ve patiently waited through the furlough to be reboarded. Career transparency basically means showing employees where their jobs can take them and developing plans to help them get there. One of the main reasons your furloughed employees (and all employees for that matter) deserve career transparency is that it motivates employees on their own terms and for their own reasons. With solid career transparency, employees quickly learn they are not confined to one path of pre-determined vertical success. Rather, they get a say in what success looks and feels like to them and feel ownership over their individualized growth plans. In turn, employers receive a loyal, happy, and devoted employee who excels at their defined niche.
We are committed to helping businesses of all sizes continue to rebound and recover from the pandemic. If you’re contemplating recalling all your employees to the workplace, we can help determine which safety measures are most important to your reboarding process.
Writer. Digital marketer. Storyteller. An award-winning writer and editor, Tricia O'Connor is the Marketing Content Manager at EBI. Tricia worked as a broadcast and print journalist for nearly two decades writing and producing programming for high-profile networks like ESPN Radio, History Channel, and Hallmark Channel, as well as contributing editorial work to publications nationwide. Tricia joined the EBI marketing team in 2019 and is responsible for content strategy, development, and engagement. Tricia earned a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is a proud undergraduate alumna of Wheaton College in Massachusetts.