With the end of the national lockdown getting closer, the hospitality industry has a lot on its plate (quite literally) if businesses are going to be up and running in time for May 17 and the big ‘return to normal’ on June 21.

With that in mind, the question of how to successfully re-board the staff who are returning to work from furlough will probably be one of the biggest concerns most hospitality employers will face over the next few weeks.

That’s the topic I wanted to discuss today. Even though our focus will always be on finding you the best new long-or-short term staff for your business, we also want to help you foster a happier, more productive environment for everyone to work in. That means retaining the staff you’ve already got by making them feel as valued and supported as you can. Ensuring your furloughed team members have as smooth a transition back to work as possible is an excellent opportunity to do just that.

Communication is key.

A word that many people have used to describe the last thirteen months is ‘unprecedented’. In all honesty, ‘unprecedented’ doesn’t even cover it. Whether we’re employers or employees, furloughed or non-furloughed, or not even employed at all, this has been a period of extreme uncertainty, fear and anxiety for almost everybody. Those stressors aren’t going to instantly disappear now there’s a light at the end of the lockdown tunnel. In fact, they might even ramp up another notch.

When you think about it, some employees won’t have worked for a year, and now they’ll be coming back to a workplace that’s significantly changed. Naturally, they’ll be feeling a lot of apprehension about what to expect. In a very different way, even employees who weren’t furloughed will probably be feeling exhausted and no doubt wondering what comes next.

Before your furloughed employees return, talk to them about how they’re feeling. Listen to their concerns and give them as much reassurance and support as possible. Talk them through the new health and safety arrangements you’ve got in place, and be aware they might even need some refresher training before they feel comfortable resuming their role.

Give them a roadmap for their return, including phasing your team members slowly back in if that’s appropriate. Depending on your business’s size, you could even give each employee a hand-out that’s tailored to the job they’re doing and includes everything they’ll need to help them settle back in again or put together an app for them to refer to. However, please remember that hand-outs and apps etc., are only ‘supporting tools’ to make the transition process easier. They should never be used as substitutes for genuine one-on-one communication.

We’ve also heard of employers who are planning to make some of their staff mental health first-aiders so that their team members will have someone ‘on their own wavelength’ to talk to if they’re finding things difficult. Often, when a senior manager is the sole point of referral, a team member will be too hesitant or embarrassed to approach them. This alternative solution sounds like an ingenious way to reintegrate people and strengthen the bonds between them.

Don’t forget the team members who may not have been furloughed, because they’ll have their own concerns too. Ask them how they’re feeling about returning to normal and what this experience has taught them about themselves and the job. What challenges did they face? What did they achieve? What have they learned that might benefit themselves, their colleagues, and you, now you’re all finally moving forwards together? From the point of view of pre-boarding, what else could you do to make everyone’s return easier? Could you set up some video-chat meetings so that your team members can start to reconnect with each other, or hold a ‘group re-induction day’ in the workplace, so you can all talk through and walk through the reopening and everything that comes afterwards? Getting everyone together in an informal way isn’t just an excellent pre-boarding/teambuilding opportunity. It’s also a great way to build up energy and excitement for your reopening and dispel any last-minute reservations and apprehensions your team members might quietly still be holding onto. Just as importantly, it’s also one of the most effective ways to show how much you value your team and how delighted you are to have everybody back together.

Finally, and far more mundanely, it also gives everyone a chance to do a dry-run commute, so your team members can ease back into the travelling routine.

One last thing to think about…

A few years ago, a lot of people would have described a great work culture as putting a sofa and a ping-pong table in the break-out area, or remembering to give each employee a card and a cupcake on their birthday. Times have moved on a long way since then, and this pandemic has really highlighted what being a caring, responsible employer and offering a great work culture truly means. It’s not the fun little add-ons that build a happier team and a more efficient, committed workforce; it’s working for an employer who shows genuine concern for their employees and puts the policies and checks and balances in place to make their wellbeing a priority. Whether you’re welcoming back furloughed team members or looking to recruit new ones, the value you place on your employees’ welfare will always play a massive make-or-break part in your business’s future success.

Please don’t forget our friendly, expert team will always be here to help. Whenever you need us, give us a call on 020 7580 4398 or email info@primerec.co.uk.

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