Ian Hodson: What does the end of the furlough scheme mean for reward strategies?

The ending of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and the utilisation of furlough leave is going to present us with a whole new set of challenges to navigate around in respect of our broader reward and recognition plans, along with the wellbeing support that is required.

We are likely to see a more blended approach to remote working in respect of, for those returning to work, a need for both office and home-based activities. We are also going to need to revisit many of our established reward, recognition and benefit offerings to ask first if they are still relevant to the ‘new normal’ and, secondly, if the delivery model needs to be reviewed.

All of this against a backdrop of employees who may be apprehensive about returning to work, may need to be brought up to speed with changes to practices and who may also still be struggling with some of the realities that Covid-19 (Coronavirus) has had on our everyday lives. One key starting point will be ensuring that the employee assistance programme (EAP) is fit for purpose. Going forward, this may need to move much more towards being perceived as a benefit that delivers education and the tools to self-assess and own aspects of wellbeing, rather than the reactive support it has typically been viewed as. It really needs to reach out to a much wider audience and help educate on all matters whether these be financial, physical or mental health related and with a tone that is positive.

Those returning to work may notice that within the workspace the ability to put in place the social activities that we have relied on to create a fun and engaging setting may need to be revisited and the introduction of social clubs that can work equally as well virtually, such as mindfulness, yoga, running and book reading clubs, may feature in plans to network colleagues.

We also know that without the flexibilities that furlough leave offered we will need to support employees with balancing their work and personal commitments, noting that for many the ability to have more freedom over the delivery of tasks, the removal of commuting constraints and getting back valued time has proven a relative success from new practices. There will be an expectation that through a blended workspace the approach to work can continue and again this may form a key benefit and supportive approach for mental health.

Finally, a review of a benefit offering may see a need for reprioritisation as staple benefits such as commuting support through season ticket loans or car schemes, which may be of less relevance and instead initiatives that help make finances go further and encouraging saving habits may carry more impact. We may also see a return of engagement tools, such as suggestion schemes, so that everyone feels involved in shaping direction in the uncertain future.

As ever, we need to keep addressing the communication challenges and with less word of mouth and ability to promote and gather employees in the workplace, we will need to utilise social media and really explore communication channels and virtual promotions. So, in summary, the ending of furlough and a return to the workplace creates a blank space in respect of staff engagement and support for us all to find creative solutions.

Ian Hodson is head of reward at the University of Lincoln.