Furloughed employees returning to work could present a ‘hidden’ challenge for employers, according to the managing director of a PR agency.

With the lockdown looking set to ease in the coming weeks, organisations which sought support from the government to temporarily pay staff wages could start to welcome back all or part of their workforce.

And Anthony Bullick of North Wales-based Outwrite PR is urging business leaders to ensure communication is at the heart of their plans to avoid repeating mistakes made during the initial coronavirus crisis response.

He said: “There is a danger that companies will focus purely on attempting to get back to some sort of operational normality as furloughed workers return.

“However, the first few weeks of COVID-19 illustrated the power and importance of communication. Silence or unconvincing messages were replaced with rumour, misinformation and an uphill struggle for brands to correct perceptions.

“Throughout the crisis, firms that reassured their stakeholders are in a stronger position.

“The challenge, which may not be immediately obvious, is strengthening relationships as staff members are brought back into the fold. They will have many questions, queries and concerns and it’s vital they are answered at the outset to head off unrest and a decrease in morale.”

Anthony, a chartered PR practitioner who is also chair of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) in the North West, is advising managers to create a document with different scenarios and conversations they may face.

He added: “The first step is to listen. The most important thing to many people is health and wellbeing and this is where many of their worries will be. Share with them the steps you have taken to adhere to government guidelines and minimise risks.

“Honesty and transparency are also key traits and will go a long way to connecting with the workforce. It’s fine to admit the present situation is challenging but that you are doing everything in your power to keep them safe.

“One common scenario will be only a part of the team returning to work. Questions may be asked about the decision-making process for who was brought back off furlough.

“Having communications prepared in advance for all scenarios will play a vital role in reassuring those affected.”

Founded in 1994, Outwrite PR has grown into one of the most respected modern-day PR agencies in North Wales and Cheshire.

The award-winning agency specialises in integrated PR, online reputation management and crisis PR.