Furlough scheme may cause workplace divisions

workers in office with masks
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A previously hidden workplace divide has emerged as furloughed employees return to work, according to new research.

Business psychology firm Pearn Kandola has found that furloughed employees have experienced significant reduction in wellbeing, personal confidence, job satisfaction and commitment to their employers.

The study, which was designed to explore the underlying psychological impact of furlough decisions, shows that overall wellbeing, job satisfaction and personal confidence among UK workers has significantly decreased since the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – now extended until the end of September – was introduced.

Among the more significant findings was that furloughed employees experienced a significant decrease in personal commitment towards their organisation. Furloughed employees were more inclined to agree that they felt very little loyalty to their organisation. They were less likely to agree that they were willing to put in the same amount of effort as their non-furloughed colleagues.

The research examined various aspects relating to overall job satisfaction including relationships with direct colleagues and supervisors, and scope for making decisions. It found that furloughed employees showed significantly lower job satisfaction compared with the working group.

Personal confidence among furloughed employees was also significantly impacted. Researchers found they were far less likely to believe that their employer and colleagues had faith in them and that they were able to make a difference. They were also less likely to feel like they were a part of their organisation’s future than their non-furloughed colleagues.

“It will take many years to fully understand the impact of the pandemic on organisations and employees,” said Stuart Duff, partner and head of development at Pearn Kandola, “but this research highlights a compelling and immediate leadership challenge: to address the significant decline in employee job satisfaction and mental health”.

He added that employers needed to be aware of a potential workplace divide within the workforce when furloughed employees returned to work, “and how this could impact productivity and wellbeing.”

Duff warned there was a “new, distinctive in-group and out-group. Those who were furloughed have experienced frustration and uncertainty, while those who continued to work have felt pressure to ensure their colleagues can return.”

This was likely to affect productivity and work to the detriment of organisational culture he said. “Job dissatisfaction and a diminished sense of belonging is a common precursor to poor performance, so it is likely to have an adverse impact on productivity and workplace culture.

“Leaders and HR teams need to talk to employees directly to understand what they can do to support job performance and take the appropriate steps to resolve any lingering concerns.”

Pearn Kandola surveyed more than 500 employees across the UK, 253 of whom had been furloughed. Respondents self-reported on a variety of factors at key points during the pandemic.

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