Two-fifths of furloughed tech workers are anxious about returning to work, according to a new report highlighting the relationship between post-furlough anxiety and HR practices.

A poll of almost 8,000 UK workers by recruiter Randstad found that employees returning to work after being furloughed were less anxious when HR took an active role in reintegrating them back into the workplace.

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Post-furlough onboarding was found to be particularly important for helping employees find their feet again after spending time out of work. Of those tech professionals who had returned to work and classified their onboarding experience as “good” or “very good”, only 28% felt anxious, compared to more than half (55%) who had “poor” or “very poor” post-furlough onboarding.

Adrian Smith, senior director of operations at Randstad UK, said that while the onboarding process was something typically reserved for newly hired employees, workers who had been furloughed over the past year would benefit from help integrating back into the wider organization.

“It might be arduous for some teams who are spread pretty thin at the moment, but while standard onboarding might be expected to last for a couple of weeks to be effective, post-furlough onboarding is much shorter,” said Smith.

“Done properly, it will help employees feel more confident and competent when they get back on the job. It’s about investing the time to protect wellbeing and to ensure a productive returning workforce.”

Some industries are doing better at re-onboarding furloughed staff than others, Randstad found. Just over a quarter (27%) of furloughed tech workers said they either received no or “very poor” onboarding on their return to work, compared to only 17% of employees in rail – the best-performing industry.

Smith said it was worrying that such a high proportion of tech employees weren’t getting appropriate onboarding. “I thought we’d kicked the days of sub-standard HR in the tech sector into the long grass,” Smith said.

Regular check-ins were found to be equally important in helping employees feel less apprehensive as they returned to work – with frequency being a key factor.

Only 38% of tech professionals who had weekly check-ins with their organizations said they were nervous about returning to work, compared to 50% who had bi-monthly check-ins and 61% who had no check-ins at all.

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Smith said: “The more that staff communicate, the better they work together – accomplishing goals, developing skills, and giving and receiving feedback. While furlough has changed the purpose of the check-in somewhat, the importance of keeping the lines of communication open remains undiminished.”

As the UK gradually emerges form its third COVID-19 lockdown, businesses across the country are tentatively beginning to lay out their plans for a return to the workplace.

Randstad found that 84% of UK tech professionals were concerned about COVID-19 in the workplace, with 41% worried about catching the virus in the workplace.

Randstad asked tech professionals what would improve their wellbeing. The most popular solution was mental health and resilience training, with 67% favouring this option. While stress-reduction workshops were also popular (58%), less popular were the appointment of a workplace wellbeing ‘champion’ (54%) and mindfulness training (53%).