Categorised in: News
Across the last few weeks, a new ‘normal’ has swept the nation adapting to life in lockdown. For some, that involves remote working, and for others, it involves being asked to step down from their current positions and go on leave until further notice on furlough.
In line with government advice and regulations, ALL furloughed employees MUST NOT undertake any working duties for their current employer – even voluntarily. However, employers remain responsible for providing a duty of care to furloughed workers. It is also important for department heads and business owners/decision-makers to be considering how they can ensure that the employees placed on furlough remain engaged and cared for so that when it returns to business as usual and office work resumes, they will in effect be able to pick up where they left off.
Despite being a tough decision, for some businesses furloughing staff was the only way to survive during the crisis. The best thing employers can do is to keep their staff in the loop to ensure a smooth and successful return.
Although there is no confirmed date, it is certain that at some point in the near future employees will be asked to return to work. Lockdown has already been in place for around a month, and there is the possibility it won’t return to business as usual for some time. If furloughed employees have spent this period feeling disengaged, employers will find themselves facing the hard task of bringing their returning workers back to speed and attempting to re-engage them. This can lead to a significant loss in productivity which can impact your business.
In times of a crisis, the businesses that remain successful have really grasped the importance of becoming a support system for employees affected the most. A strong, positive and welcoming culture can become an invaluable lifeline for keeping those furloughed engaged and connected to the business while they are away.
While some employees may welcome being placed on furlough as it could help them to look after children or provide care to vulnerable people, there is no question that it may have a huge negative impact on the mental wellbeing of other employees. They may be worried about whether they will have a job to come back to, they aren’t valued enough and may now feel very isolated and alone if work was their only form of social communication.
A strong and inclusive work culture that still includes furloughed employees is hugely important at this time. Below, we have shared our top tips on how you can successfully engage those placed on the scheme, but always check with your HR or legal team to see what you can and can’t do first.
With lockdown having been in place for a month or so now, your business may have already chosen to have a dedicated coronavirus crisis support page on your company portal that will offer employees all the information and support they need during this pandemic. Many however, haven’t considered the importance of having a similar designated space for furloughed employees to use as a pillar of support. This can be to keep them informed and aware of how furlough affects them, as well as links to useful tools such as the furlough calculator. This allows employees to remain considered by the business rather than feeling forgotten, and it’s nice to show that you are taking steps to keep them engaged and in the loop. This portal could include anything from HR resources, legal documents, content targeted towards furloughed employees and also guidelines that are helpful to know.
Explain to your employees why you have made the decision to furlough them and avoid making false promises about the future of their job at all costs. Be mindful that some workers may have a difficult time coming to terms with your decision. Make sure employees are involved in a social platform where they can stay connected with colleagues in a non-work-related way. If you don’t already know about their living situation, if it is appropriate to do so - ask. There is a risk that furloughed workers who live alone are going to feel very isolated and lonely during lockdown, and it is important to consider this to see how you can assist them.
Think about setting up regular wellbeing calls with furloughed workers to check in on them and see how they are coping. It may also be useful to host a group call with employees so they can share tips with each other on how to cope while making them still feel part of the culture. Encourage staff to be mindful of their wellbeing and point them in the direction of any resources available for them to use and suggest they keep in contact with colleagues – furloughed or not, enabling them to still feel part of the team.
A must for all businesses right now is allowing your colleagues to stay connected with each other to keep the culture alive. For those furloughed, even though they can’t access any formal communication in regard to work, they can still be involved in a social platform. Keeping the chosen social platform lively will help to keep furloughed employees not only connect with each other, but also connect with workers that haven’t been put on leave. For some employees, work can be their only form of social communication – so be mindful that some furloughed workers may be feeling very isolated and lonely at this time. This space should avoid discussing work and should focus on being a space to support each other, ask for advice or simply keep in touch with each other.
Mastering internal communications is vital during a crisis to ensure business carries on flowing the best it can and employees remain in touch with each other. It becomes tricky when considering furloughed staff, though, as they aren’t allowed to undertake any work or access work emails. Email distribution to get news across the business is a proven and effective way of keeping employees engaged, however most furloughed workers now don’t have this opportunity. If you offer a portal though – they will still have access to this, and you can really utilise this space to stay connected with them.
It is important to consider how to approach separating the content targeted at furloughed and non-furloughed staff. Creating content targeted specifically to those on leave should be a key aspect of any current engagement strategy. This will help furloughed staff to feel as though they are being considered by seeing content that is relevant and engaging to them in the current situation they are in.
Normal lines of communication should stop once an employee has been furloughed, and they are not allowed to use any work equipment or software, including emails. It is important to ask if you can gain permission to contact them via personal email addresses and contact numbers for non-work-related discussions on their wellbeing and to keep them up to date with any vital information they need to know. Over-communication isn’t a bad thing, as it will help you build trust with your employees through transparency. Even if you don’t have any updates for them, communicating that is critical. In time, you will master your communication rhythm and begin to share relevant content in a more coordinated and organised way.
Despite being placed on furlough, employers still have a duty of care for their employees to consider. This includes continuing to support the health and wellbeing of employees in times when they may need it the most. Ensuring that furloughed workers still have access to benefits such as wellbeing resources is crucial in supporting them during what is a very difficult time. You can go one step further and ensure they also know where to look for financial advice and support if your benefits scheme doesn’t offer this. Wellbeing support doesn’t have to be exclusively to a benefits system or portal either, make sure you check in with them every now and then to make sure that they aren’t feeling isolated and lonely if they have given you permission to contact them on personal devices as this will help to boost their morale and keep them engaged.
With the above being said, there is only so much support you can offer to furloughed workers. Some may be unreceptive to any efforts being made to keep them engaged, but this is where your people can become a valuable asset for helping to maintain a sense of community by reaching those placed on furlough. Appoint internal ambassadors within your business who can be made easily findable on your internal portal who furloughed employees can reach out to for advice, guidance or just a chat. The steps you are taking to ensure furloughed employees feel included are key for when it is time to return to work successfully.