How Furlough Will Divide Your Workplace – and How to Manage it
While the furlough scheme has saved many businesses and jobs, it’s also created divisions between the furloughed and the non-furloughed, which will make it awkward when everyone returns to work.
Workers who were furloughed while others were kept on may feel less valued and worry that they’re first in line for the chop if the company cuts jobs. Conversely, workers who stayed at work risking infection, often handling their furloughed colleagues’ work as well as their own, or taking on extra duties like cleaning, for no extra money – and that’s if their pay wasn’t cut – may be jealous of those who’ve enjoyed a free holiday.
As leaders who reopened offices between lockdowns 1 and 2 have discovered, this makes for a frosty mood in the office. Maybe not screaming rows, but certainly simmering resentment, low morale, and falling productivity. People who resent each other don’t work well together – and people who don’t feel valued don’t take pride in doing their best work.
So if you spot this dynamic in your team, how do you manage it?
First, remember everyone involved is an individual and probably has a different take on the situation, so rather than trying to implement a one-size-fits-all solution, be prepared to manage issues individually as they come up. That might mean giving your managers some extra support and training so they know how to spot emerging problems and nip them in the bud before they become crises.
Most importantly, make sure you keep communicating with all your people and reassuring them that they’re valued and wanted in your organisation. One way to back up reassurances that you’re not about to fire returning workers is to create a personal reboarding plan for them, complete with detailed short-term and long-term goals. This communicates clearly that you see a long-term future for them with your company.
Of course, it may be that you can’t honestly reassure everyone that their jobs are safe. In that case, do the next best thing – reassure them that they’ll be treated fairly and that “furloughed” doesn’t mean “first for the chop”.
Post-furlough awkwardness may be compounded by the awkwardness of being back in a socially-distanced office after months of isolation. You might want to consider setting up a team-building exercise, either after people return to work or virtually beforehand, to offset some of this discomfort and get people feeling like a team again.
Finally, if you’ve got the budget (i.e., if you’re not considering job cuts), it’s a good idea to give those who worked through the furlough period a bonus, especially if they also took on extra duties. Furloughed workers are unlikely to be upset by this as long as you communicate properly about it and reassure them that their jobs are secure.