Are you prepared enough for bringing colleagues back from furlough leave?

By Holly L

April 19, 2021


Some employees have been on furlough longer than the average maternity/ paternity leave.  How much thought and consideration have you given to return to work for employees on extended leave due to Covid?

It is just over a year since the PM asked us all to stay home.  At that time not many would have heard of the term ‘furlough leave’.  To date it is estimated that 11.2 million people have received furlough pay.

How might employees be feeling about their return to work?

Some will be eager and excited to return and may well pick up exactly where they left off.  Others, whilst equally eager and excited may be experiencing some anxiety about returning.  Perhaps they have experienced a loss of confidence having been away for so long, especially if there have been changes.  Is the work environment fast paced?  If so, some may find that pace initially challenging.  This might need managing delicately to ensure it isn’t interpreted for laziness by those that have continued to work throughout. Don’t be surprised if this experience has changed people’s values. Those that might once have been very work centred might have discovered benefits of work-life balance, spending more time at home allowing them to spend time with family and focus on interests outside of work.  Managers need to be prepared for conversations around work-life balance and flexible working.

Some of the questions these people might be asking themselves are:

  • Will I remember how to do my job once I return?
  • How much do I have to learn to get back up to speed with work?
  • What changes have happened since I have been away from the business?
  • How are my colleagues going to treat me once I return?
  • How will I be able to adapt back into full-time working after having months off?
  • Will it be safe for me to go back to work?

Many of my clients are faced with these challenges right now.  Here are some of the approaches they have adopted.


This is key with many anxious to return to work, it is important for the HR department and respective line managers keep in touch. Many of the clients we speak to say that they keep in contact with furloughed employees on a weekly basis, updating them on what is happening within the business and the changes that have happened that might impact their job when they return.

With increasing concerns around mental health, communication can really help those off work still feel part of the organisation. It also provides an opportunity to understand any anxieties or worries they are feeling.  Line managers need to have the skills to listen empathetically to these concerns and be able to offer solutions to minimise the impact and support a smooth transition back into working life.

Risk Assessment

Despite the fact people are returning to work, the pandemic still exists, employees who can’t work from home might be worried about going back into their work environment. Some clients have created a risk assessment form, explaining all the PPE equipment and procedures in place to protect the workforces’ safety. From an employer perspective, not only does it help employees stop worrying about their return, but also helps establish if there are any further changes needed.

Encourage non-furloughed employees to support

As mentioned previously, employees returning to work might find the social aspect of their job overbearing. Whether its team meetings in the office, or multiple video calls throughout the day, it might take some time to settle back in and build relationships again. Before your furloughed staff come back, it’s important to make non-furloughed colleagues aware that for some, it could be a difficult transition, and that they will need their support. This includes, encouraging colleagues to help re-train furlough colleagues, being supportive and readily available to answer or solve issues the returning employees might have.

Re-introduction Day

A re-introduction back into the business might be the perfect way for them to settle back in. Not only does it show the employee that you empathise with their need for time to reintegrate, but it also gives them a chance to re-learn how the business works and what changes have been made. This could include a meeting with them to discuss their new goals and any changes to their job specification.

It’s also a good idea to arrange meetings with team members, and colleagues from other departments so that they get more of an understanding of what is expected of them and how the pandemic has impacted other areas of the organisation.

Moving forward

It is possible that the working environment has changed for the long term and health and wellbeing of your workforce has never been so important.  With that in mind it might be time for a new approach. Not sure where to start? I can help.

With a Masters in executive coaching, qualifications in psychology, fitness, nutrition coaching and a lifetime of experience in senior HR positions for large organisations; I work alongside other professionals in the health industry with specialisms in strength and conditioning, Pilates, sports massage, remedial work and back health.

We can offer anything from one-to-one coaching to full programme design and delivery.  Contact us for a chat and more information.

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