The challenges of bringing employees back to work

This pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty and stress for many employees. That's especially true for those who find themselves laid off and then rehired in a short period of time. How to rebuild trust?

Internal customer service

“Even in a crisis, employees are the most important part of an organization,” says Simon Prévost, VP, Desjardins Employer Solutions. “As challenging and stressful as this situation is, managers must put themselves in customer service mode with employees, including those who were laid off.”

Employers should maintain a positive relationship with employees, regardless of when they come back to work. Prévost says that means showing a sincere interest in what they’re experiencing, being truly transparent and sharing the right information all along the way.

Inquiring about the health and wellbeing of employees and their families is also an opportunity to humanize the relationship. Extending empathy and kindness will be mutually beneficial when managing the delicate process of bringing employees back to work. Being laid off comes with a lot of stress, from a personal, family or financial standpoint.

Here are some factors to help ensure a positive return to work:

  • Take the time to explain again the circumstances surrounding the layoffs and rehiring
  • Tell employees what their roles are, and whether or not they’ve changed
  • Ask for their opinion on how they should resume their job and the organization should restart operations
  • If possible, share the company’s financial results and how the organization might be transformed
  • Be transparent about issues, challenges and goals
  • Implement attraction and retention strategies: savings and group insurance plans, voluntary retirement savings plans and access to virtual healthcare

Transparency and empathy

Prévost believes that most organizations will have to reinvent themselves to varying degrees. This is a great opportunity for managers to rally the troops around new opportunities.

He warns that employees will also have to stretch themselves in new ways: “They’ll have to demonstrate a certain amount of autonomy and the ability to adapt to a market that may have changed drastically in a short period of time.”

And even though laying off employees is one of the hardest things an employer has to do, it must be done in the same spirit of transparency and empathy: “It’s important to do things right. That’s part of an organization’s social responsibility.”

Managing survivor guilt

One challenge managers have to deal with is how to effectively prioritize the work and sectors of activity. They’ll need to build a “culture of flexibility,” and also consider something that’s often overlooked: survivor guilt.

Many people will wonder why they were kept on while others were laid off and how those coworkers will treat them when they come back. It’s really important to offer them reassurance.


Prévost advises managers to plan for how they will rehire employees and to do so as soon as possible, because in the meantime, some may be tempted to look elsewhere for employment. Some sectors, including essential services, could really use the available labour; that’s why it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and maintain a positive relationship.

As Prévost says, given that businesses are trying to resolve their operational challenges, they’ll need to consider the cost that would be involved in hiring and training new staff.

Government support

Managers should look at all available options and programs to support them in bringing employees back to work. Government assistance and subsidized training will help them get back up and running, and—who knows—maybe even explore new possibilities.