Did the furlough scheme work?

In March, the country went in to “Lockdown” and the Furlough Scheme was born. Six months on did the scheme work? Here are some of the key observations:

Confusion: Cut-off dates, rates claimed, payment rights, details changing daily and on it went. Confusion ends on 31 October 2020 — the scheme ends.

Annual Leave: Holidays and annual leave were cancelled, employees left frustrated and holiday requests refused. There’s a long tail of pent up demand for leave. This is going to be a long-term issue.

Workplace Duties: Businesses had to rely on employee flexibility, while Unions were worried employees may be exploited. There’s likely to be a transition period with a clear understanding of “who does what”.

Whistleblowing, “Furlough Fraud”: Some unscrupulous businesses tried to “wangle” Furlough payments. This led to an increased whistleblowing. Other employers genuinely struggled to follow the rules.

Equality and Inclusion: Furlough has an impact on equality and inclusion. Some businesses may face discrimination complaints about decisions made under the scheme.

Health Issues: Furloughed employees suffering from health issues may have missed out on support from line managers and Occupational Health support. Many will return having lost confidence, others will suffer mental health problems. Health is a big issue for all businesses.

Flexible working and Home Working: We have become a nation of flexible and home workers. Mutual trust and keeping in touch with employees is key. Employers will need to balance the needs of the businesses, with the needs of employees.

Employee Training and Development: Employees returning from Furlough may have missed out on ongoing training and may be struggling to keep up with CPD requirements. Some may have even lost skills. Businesses need to be alert to these problems and provide adequate support.

Technology: Zoom, Teams and Skype meetings are the norm. Even Employment Tribunals and Courts are holding remote hearings. The increased use of technology means that Cybersecurity and GDPR will become very relevant again. Data protection policies and systems will be vital to enable businesses to take advantage of advances in Technology and Government plans to kick start the economy. Businesses without adequate systems and policies may struggle.

Redundancy: As Furlough ends thousands of businesses are having to get to grips with complex restructuring and collective redundancy consultation, with limited experience and limited or no guidance policies.

Conclusion: Furlough hasn’t prevented large scale redundancies, or stopped key sectors and industries collapsing. The full impact of the pandemic on trade and industry is only just becoming visible. So what can businesses do to survive?

The answer is clear. Plan ahead, identify key industries and business partners, put in place an infrastructure, a framework with support and policies and most of all adapt. Enthuse employees to buy into the business and help them think innovatively. Train them, help them, trust them and most of all encourage everyone. Now is the time for all businesses to regroup and like humans, become leaner and fitter to ensure survival in the future.