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Joanna Reeves

Eidos Consulting Ltd


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Reboarding furloughed employees: how to do a return to work skills review

Why it’s important to do a return to work skills review.

With restrictions easing and businesses opening their doors again, a focus for many HR departments will be bringing employees back from furlough. How this is handled will have a huge impact on those employees and the environment that they are returning to.

A return to work development review is your opportunity to give furloughed employees a supportive and enthusiastic welcome back. 

At the last official count, on 31 March 2021, 4.2 million people were furloughed from employment, with the largest percentage of these being in the accommodation, food services, wholesale and retail sectors (1,886,400 individuals). With the next stage of the roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions on 17 May, it is expected that we will see a return of many furloughed workers in these industries.

The process of returning employees from furlough is going to be a primary concern for HR, who will need to manage safe return to work discussions, payroll, possible contract changes and potential redundancies. Very often, the focus of reboarding is on this type of procedure and paperwork. While this is, of course, an essential part of the process, you should also use this time to carry out a skills review with returning employees. In fact, we would argue that this is a critical activity for employee commitment and productivity. In this article, we’ll explore why the return to work development review is so important.

Recognising new skills

In many cases, employees returning from furlough will bring new skills back into the business with them. This could be through formal training that they have undertaken either under guidance from their employer or using their own initiative, or it could be skills that they have picked up through their experiences or personal reflections away from the workplace. This is a great opportunity to identify these skills and understand how they can be used by the employee to benefit both themselves and the business.

With this time away from the business, employees will have had the opportunity to reflect on what they want out of their career and may look to transfer their skills to a new role in the organisation. Use the reboarding as an opportunity to discuss this with the employee.

Identifying skills fade

Research published in February by the Resolution Foundation found that 500,000 workers had been fully furloughed (working no hours) for at least six months by January 2021. Some employees will have found themselves furloughed for a year or more if their employer has been using the government’s Job Retention Scheme since its introduction. For employees that have been furloughed for lengthy periods, skills fade will naturally occur.

These employees will need extra support to get back into the workplace, whether this is through retraining to carry out a job, or support in rebuilding confidence to perform their role. Undertaking individual return to work development reviews will explore those skills gaps and provide you with a mechanism for identifying and planning development activities to support that employee.

Upskilling for changes in the job role

The role that the employee is returning to may look very different to the one they left. The disruptive change to ways of working over the past year has increased the already growing need for digital upskilling across industries. As well as this, individual businesses may have made dramatic changes to their processes and market offering in order to meet changing demands.

Identifying these changes and any support that the employee needs to be able to be effective in their ‘new-look’ role is vital.

Getting the most from the skills review

A return to work development review is your opportunity to give furloughed employees a supportive and enthusiastic welcome back. It will set up the employee for a positive return to the workplace, building their confidence and effectiveness in their role. For this to work, you should:

  • Make sure that the discussion is supportive and developmental – this is not an interview process and the employee should not feel they are being assessed. It’s an opportunity for you to fully understand the skills that the employee has to offer the business, as well as any development needs that you can support them with over the coming months and year.
  • Encourage the employee to reflect on their own development over this time. Identifying learning is not always as easy as listing courses that have been attended. The employee will need to think about situations that they have been in and activities that they have completed during this time and how these have helped them to develop.
  • Use this as an opportunity for professional development planning: if you already carry out professional development reviews within your organisation then bring this into the reboarding process. Make sure that the employee receives actionable targets and ongoing support following the meeting.
  • As with all employee development reviews, give sufficient attention to the pre- and post-review activities. Give the employee sufficient time and guidance to prepare for the meeting, by reflecting on what they have learned during furlough and what support they require to return to work. The manager carrying out the review should come prepared with information on the employee’s job role and what support is available to reintegrate them into the business. Commit to actions that come out of the meeting and follow through with these.

At a time when organisations are having to facilitate the return of a large number of employees, it can be easy to just focus on the procedural requirement of returning to the workplace. Making sure that you include a skills review in this process, however, will have longer term benefits for your business and will help you to focus on the needs of the individual as they are welcomed back.

Find out more about carrying out a strategic skills review from Jo Reeves on her website.

One Response

  1. Furloughed employees can be a
    Furloughed employees can be a much better alternative to layoffs for both companies and employees. However, until COVID-19, they were not frequently used in the United States. During the Great Recession, only 0.5% of the US workforce participated in furloughs, while one in five workers experienced a layoff. Today, amid the pandemic, many companies have turned to furloughs, creating a path for employees to return.

    From the business perspective, it helps them survive an economic downturn but retain the talent the business needs to get back up and running when the time comes. From the employee perspective, the primary benefit of furloughs to employees is that they have a job to return to.

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Joanna Reeves


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