How to Prepare Stood-Down Employees To Return To Work

With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across the workforce, many businesses have faced tough decisions on whether they can hold on to staff or must let them go. However, the introduction of the Australian government’s JobKeeper initiative in March enabled many businesses to choose a ‘middle ground’ – standing employees down rather than laying them off.

Since JobKeeper was introduced on March 30th, Career365 has interviewed 112 HR directors and business owners to gauge how employers are feeling about this unusual situation. In this series of articles, we’re exploring the insights our survey uncovered, and taking a look at how employers can address their stand-down concerns and support employees during this time.

Part 3: How to Prepare Stood-Down Employees To Return To Work

In the course of our stand-down survey, it became apparent that a number of employers and HR Directors were concerned about employees being ill-prepared or ‘rusty’ when the time came for them to return to the workplace.

The Managing Partner of a suburban law practice who’d had to stand down 16 of their 20 employees was worried that staff “were not considering how they could add value to their roles and business relationships” once they were back to work. Similarly, the HR Director of an events business believed it would take at least 6 months to bring their staff back to any sense of pre-pandemic normalcy.

Yet with 60% of those surveyed stating they had not provided any framework or expectations to their stood-down employees for up-skilling, personal and professional development, or using the time productively, there is a clear need for a structured approach to help stood-down employees prepare for their eventual return to work.

Supporting employees to remain proactive and self-motivated during stand-down is a key focus of Career365’s Horizons program – an online support program for employees stood-down due to COVID-19. By providing structured training and guidance, the program helps employees avoid becoming ‘rusty’ at their jobs, as well as supporting them to not only be prepared for their return, but to go back to work as the best versions of themselves.

Here are some of the ways you can support your employees to ‘hit the ground running’ when they return to work:

Support stood-down employees to develop themselves professionally or personally

Whether it’s learning a brand new skill or improving an existing skill-set, the combination of being stood down from work and self-isolating at home due to COVID-19 provides an ideal opportunity for skills development. And in terms of mental wellbeing, keeping the mind active and productive makes this a beneficial activity for stood-down employees.

While it’s important that employees don’t feel pressured into upskilling for their role without an incentive, many will see the benefits of using this time to develop themselves on either a personal or professional level. Whatever the activity, learning a new skill can boost confidence and will help employees stay proactive during stand-down – both of which will be an advantage upon their return to the workplace.

Encourage employees to reflect on their role and performance

Having some distance from their typical day-to-day work routine can be a great chance for stood-down employees to look back on their job and reflect on how they’ve been performing. As a way of preparing to return to work, they may wish to spend some time really thinking about their role – what they want to focus on, how they can improve, and what they might do differently after this time away.

This type of reflection can be a very positive exercise when undertaken in a proactive, structured way, such as by supporting employees to develop a plan of action for when they return to their role so they can get the most out of their jobs.

Get employees thinking about ‘who they want to be’ when they return

Following on from the point above, the stand-down period can be a good time for employees to give some thought to the type of person they want to be from a broader perspective. Using this time for self-reflection can help to identify personal areas they’d like to work on, which can have a positive effect on their role and workplace interactions.

By guiding employees through exercises that help them focus on their personal development, you can equip them to return to work in a better frame of mind, with more focus, greater positivity, and a clearer vision for the future.

Show stood-down employees the value in proactively maintaining client relationships

While there should be no expectation for stood-down employees to spend time focusing on work-related areas, remaining in contact with clients and suppliers during stand-down should they wish will help employees maintain the valuable relationships they’d developed and could facilitate a quicker return to normal once business picks up again.

If your employees want to be proactive about maintaining these relationships, knowing they have the support of their employer will help them to stay connected and engaged – which could be as simple as reaching out via email or text message or calling a client to check in.

The Horizons program from Career365 is a 4-week or 8-week online support program specifically designed for employees who have been stood-down to COVID-19. By providing structured training and guidance via webinars and online resources, Horizons helps employers keep their stood-down employees engaged, productive, motivated and connected.

If you’re an HR director or business owner who would like to find out more about supporting your stood-down employees with our structured online program, please email horizons@career365.com.au

Greg Weiss has authored two books about career transitioning and is soon to release a third. He has deep expertise in outplacement and employee onboarding, and is the Founder of Career365 (formerly CareerSupport365) – a leading Australian employee transitioning firm, specialising in outplacement and employee onboarding.