Nic Redfern, Finance Director at KnowYourMoney.co.uk
After months of lockdown, the UK is slowly returning to normality. Now that businesses are re-opening, the Government’s furlough scheme is starting to wind down. Although this might sound like good news for the economy, for businesses, it marks the beginning of a new wave of challenges.
Throughout the worst of the lockdown when all inessential business came to a halt, the Government’s furlough scheme provided a safety net for businesses and protect millions of employees from instant redundancy; statistics have shown that more than one in four UK were relying on the Government to pay 80 per cent of their wages in June.
Now that guidance has changed, businesses are assessing their financial circumstances, and contemplating the possibility of bringing some employees of furlough and back to work. But after months under the scheme, employers are now faced with fresh problems: “furlough fever”.
Life after furlough
In essence, “furlough fever” is the reluctance of staff to return to working life. The idea of rejecting job security in such uncertain times may come as a surprise to employers, but it is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon. Indeed, a recent survey highlighted that one in five furloughed workers do not want to return to work.
Furlough fever can be triggered by numerous causes. For example, reports of a possible second wave of the virus may lead to staff concerns about health and safety in the workplace. Alternatively, a lack of childcare options may also factor into employee unease of returning from furlough.
For others, time away from the office provided some much-needed respite, with some staff enjoying what they consider to be “paid holiday”.
So the question is, how can employers overcome this new challenge?
Be flexible, and address health and safety concerns
With the virus still in circulation and social distancing measures relaxing throughout the UK, for some, the thought of travelling back into work might be a cause for concern. Indeed, a recent survey conducted by YouGov for the CIPD has uncovered that 31% were anxious about commuting to work under the current circumstances.
Further issues present themselves within the office space, where staff might be concerned about cleanliness and social distancing in the workplace. A survey of over 2,000 UK adults conducted by KnowYourMoney.co.uk discovered that 50% were anxious about the relaxing of social distancing measures. It is vital, therefore, that employers are flexible, and reassure their staff that adequate measures are in place for their return, such as social distancing practices, deep cleaning, and COVID-safe health and safety procedures.
That said, some employers may choose to allow their staff to continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. Whatever employers decide, they must clearly communicate their strategy with staff. Ensuring transparency will help to reassure staff anxieties and smooth the transition back into working life.
With significant changes to schooling and many grandparents shielding, for some workers, a lack of access to childcare options might hold them back to a full return to work. Businesses should therefore make themselves aware about best practices surrounding parental leave as a solution to this issue.
If an employee is eligible, businesses could encourage such members of staff to take unpaid parental leave for a solution. Each employee is entitled to up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child and adopted child until their 5th birthday (or their 18th, if a child is disabled). It should be noted however, that the amount of leave each employee can take per year is four weeks; and this time must be taken as whole weeks unless agreed otherwise with their employer.
For parents who have already used their maximum amount of parental leave, employers could offer paid or unpaid leave as a solution to staff struggling to find childcare. However, it is important that businesses assess whether they have adequate staff and resources to do so, as this could result leave them struggling and understaffed.
A ‘paid holiday’
After months spent relaxing with family and partners, some staff just might not want to return to work. According to the consultancy firm HR2Day, this is an increasingly common phenomenon amongst furloughed staff. If this is the case, then it is important that employers understand what action they can take.
Provided an employee has been furloughed for a minimum of three weeks, employers have the right to request that staff return to work at any time. If an employee refuses, then businesses must weigh up their options.
To slowly ease staff back into working life, reasonable solutions might be to offer additional annual leave or unpaid leave. If an employee is still unwilling, as a last resort, some employers might opt to begin disciplinary proceedings. However, this is a move that should be exercised with tact, and organisations should seek assistance from a HR or legal professional first.
Although the reversal of the furlough scheme poses some significant hurdles for employers and staff alike, overcoming “furlough fever” is not an insurmountable task. Whatever their decision, businesses would do well to have a clear plan in mind for the road ahead, and communicate this clearly to their employees, allowing staff to voice any concerns that they might have along the way.
Nic Redfern is Financial Director for Know Your Money. Know Your Money is an independent financial comparison website, launched in 2004. Run by a dedicated team, Know Your Money’s goal is to provide clear, accurate and transparent comparisons for a wide range of financial products, such as business loans, mortgages and car insurance.