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The challenge of returning dealer staff to work after furlough

Nationally, 9.6 million jobs have been furloughed through the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme, which has begun tapering down ready to close at the end of October. 

Hundreds of thousands of these have been in the automotive industry. Among franchised dealer groups alone, 80% of dealerships still had up to 20% of their staff on furlough at the end of July, according to a JudgeService Yourpoll survey commissioned by AM.

From August 1, employers began contributing to National Insurance and pension contributions of furloughed staff. This month (September), they’ll also fund the first 10% of the 80% of current salary that furloughed staff are entitled to, increasing to the first 20% in October.

This, plus a job retention bonus for employers of £1,000 for each worker brought out of furlough and retained until January 31, is expected to prompt businesses to call most staff back to work – even on reduced hours if necessary – and ramp up output while making redundancies only where necessary.

A law change this month has clarified that furloughed workers made redundant will receive termination payments based on their normal wage, not the 80% paid during furlough. Unfair dismissal claims will also be based on the normal wage.

car salesmanYet, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, around two-in-five UK workers are anxious about the prospect of returning to their regular workplace, according to a poll by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). For many, it’s a concern about their health, and, for some, it’s a fear of getting used to how their job and workplace has changed. 

UK Council for Psychotherapy spokesman Ronen Stilman said those who’ve been on furlough for a while have likely “found some kind of rhythm and pace” and adjusted to their new situation. Returning to work puts them through that adjustment process all over again.

“Our mind and body is on alert when it recognises changes in circumstance, and we might feel out of balance, out of sorts,” he added.

The onus is on dealers to openly discuss in advance what safety measures and new processes have been put in place, to make furloughed staff aware of how routines have changed, and to ensure those who return feel able to discuss any anxieties and receive support within the workplace.

Some companies have developed ‘welcome back packs’, containing a personal message from the business leader, details of the support and advice available and some useful gifts such as hand sanitiser and face coverings.

Global recruitment firm BPS World suggests asking furloughed staff to reflect on their role prior to lockdown, to find out what they’ve missed in their time away and what tasks where deemed low priority during the pandemic.

“Re-onboarding is an opportunity for HR teams to reignite the passion of furloughed employees who may have felt a sense of disconnect from the business and their peers,” said Leanne Kelly, content marketing manager at BPS World.

“Remind your employees why they chose to work for you in the first place.”

Kelly also urged dealers to involve those staff already working, because they may already be up to speed with the new processes and there’s a risk of frustration and misunderstanding between them and those having to learn quickly.

“Give them the opportunity to share their feelings and take on board their feedback on how to make reconnecting the workforce more seamless,” she added.

This article first appeared in the September 2020 issue of AM magazine, available here for free in digital format.




BPS World has created a ‘Simple Guide To Re-Onboarding’ which is available to download


The CIPD has created a useful flow chart to help employers make a step-by-step assessment of whether, and how, they should ask a furloughed employee to return to the workplace.


The UK Government has a website full of guides for employers on making their workplaces safe for staff and customers during the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

The latest AM industry special issue

The complexity of running a modern dealership can be misunderstood easily by people looking in on our industry.

Any general manager has so many plates to spin, and they must foster a talented team that they can rely on to not just do the basics well, but to sprinkle some magic on top that customers can notice.

If the marketplace in 2023 is steadily returning to relative normality, this normality now includes the drive to find customers for an increasing supply of electric vehicles, and the need to source used cars from all channels and market them carefully. And of course there are the desires to delight consumers with an omnichannel experience and to hold on to decent margins after a couple of years of strong profitability.

The expectations of both the customer and the business’s stakeholder must be achieved to the optimum level.

In this special digital publication, industry experts, prominent suppliers and franchised dealers share their insights on the major aspects required in running a modern dealership well.

Read now

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