Returning to work post-furlough in the United Kingdom

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With the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) due to end on 30 September 2021, questions and concerns about returning employees and dealing with those who are anxious about returning to work after being furloughed for health reasons are coming to the surface.

As offices across the country are now beginning to open, employers might want to consider adopting a phased return to work for those employees who have been on furlough. This allows employers to control the number of people going into the office and to better monitor the wellbeing of returning employees. When preparing a phased return to work plan, employers should ensure they are communicating with their employees. This might include providing easily accessible relevant information set out clearly and concisely, and providing opportunities for employees to feedback on what is and is not working. In addition, employers should look to make sure they are up to date with employees' individual circumstances as there are likely to have been developments during the time they have been on furlough. The role of line managers could be key here, and managers should be encouraged to hold one-to-one meetings with each of their reporting employees prior to a return to the office.

Some employees may be feeling anxious about going back to work and back into the office. Employers should be mindful that some may have been on furlough for the best part of a year, if not longer. In addressing employees' potential apprehension about returning to the workplace, employers should consider how they might create innovative coping mechanisms. An example of an innovative idea is coloured armbands, with different colours representing how comfortable the individual is with social interactions. Another example for employers to introduce is Zoom rooms i.e. meeting rooms with video capability to support virtual meetings within the office and ensure employees working from home do not feel left out in a hybrid working model.

Change can make anyone feel anxious and it has become apparent that the anxiety around the introduction of hot-desking has caused some employers to stop and change direction. There is comfort in returning to work and it being as similar as possible to what is was like before the pandemic and having a set working desk can be part of that. Therefore, employers should think carefully about the changes they make, weighing up the pros and cons and taking into account what employees want from their new working environment. They should pace any potential alterations and ensure they maintain communication with their employees to gauge the impact of such changes.

An important aspect of returning to work, and something many of us have missed since we have been working from home, is the social aspect. However, as many of us have been away from the office environment for the past year, the idea of jumping back into the deep end of office social life is daunting. Employers should embrace the social aspect of returning to work and office life by thinking of it as a celebration. They should put a positive spin on the potentially daunting experience of returning to work after being furloughed.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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