Earlier today, Rishi Sunak confirmed that the UK’s furlough scheme will be extended until the end of October, a month longer than had been expected. This is something that will undoubtedly help to save thousands of businesses over this period, but it does raise a question of how this will affect employees and how engaged they are as well, so we wanted to outline in this blog a few ways you can keep your furloughed employees engaged:
Three months ago the term “furlough” was not something that a lot of employees were familiar with, yet according to reports from April 2020 almost one in four UK employees have been furloughed due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the businesses they work for. While Business Leaders and HR professionals may be familiar with the concept of furlough, many of these organisations will not have experienced this themselves prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and an inexperienced approach to furloughing employees on such a large scale can have a negative impact on both employee engagement and the future success of your organisation post COVID-19. If you have furloughed members of your workforce and are worried about the impact this could be happening on your company’s employee engagement levels, we have rounded up some simple tips and advice to help you navigate your way through this time, and come out the other side with highly engaged employees.
Ensure you have a full understanding of what furloughed means
If you didn’t really have a full grasp of what furlough was before the COVID-19 pandemic you are not alone, in fact the below graph shows how Google searches increased for the term “furlough” over the last two months. The important thing now is to ensure you fully understand what this means for your organisation and your employees, and ensure that this is communicated across all areas of your business to managers, employees still working and employees who are furloughed. This LinkedIn article helps to clarify some of the main points, the biggest one to stress being that employees who are furloughed should not be working in any capacity, but you may want to pull together some information for employees that is specifically tailored to your organisation and distribute this accordingly.
Remember your duty of care for employees
You have a duty of care to your employees whether they are working full time or furloughed, and part of this includes support for their mental well-being. While you might have ample provisions to do this when operating as normal from within your offices, the current situation brings about new challenges, which is why it is even more important that you have a conscious approach to your employees well-being. For some employees, being furloughed might not negatively impact their mental health and they may even see a positive side from a temporary break from employment, particularly if caring for children or vulnerable people. Others however may be isolating alone with no interaction from colleagues, or living in a toxic environment with no “safe place” of your offices, or even just have increased anxiety over uncertainty on when they will return to work, which can have a hugely negative impact on mental health. Whatever your preferred method of internal communications is (e.g. intranet, HR website, Microsoft Teams, Company emails etc.) ensure you share plenty of resources with advice to employees, and provide clear outlets for how employees can reach out to you if they are experiencing any signs that furlough is impacting their mental health. Read more on Mental Health UK here.
Stay in touch, ideally with personal interactions
Furloughed employees are more likely to experience feelings of anxiety due to the uncertainty of what is happening with their job, mostly because they are away from the business and not in regular contact with their colleagues or managers about what the future holds. While you might not have all of the answers right now, because lets face it this is a pretty unique situation that the world is in, you can help to ease some of these concerns by keeping in touch with employees on a regular basis and being as transparent as you can with information and updates. Depending on the size of your business you might need to tailor how this looks exactly for you, but wherever possible try to reach out personally with one to one catch ups from management to inform furloughed employees of the current business impact from COVID-19, any updates on returning to work, and of course to check in with employees around how they are feeling. The frequency on this again can vary between businesses, but we would advise you inform employees on each interaction when to expect the next update, and stick to this time-frame to avoid increased feelings of distance from the business and anxiety.
Remember that being furloughed impacts more than salary
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme currently offers to guarantee 80% of your employees’ salary (up to a maximum of £2,500 before tax, although this may alter as time progresses), but employees who are placed onto the scheme will often be missing much more than that 20% of their salary. For some it can have a negative impact on their pride and self-esteem, when left wondering why they were placed onto furlough and some of their colleagues weren’t for instance. Some might have been about to take on a new opportunity or promotion and are now left concerned about how being furloughed could impact their career journey. Some might find that going from working full-time in a fast-paced environment to not being able to do any work is just really boring! Everyone is different and you should be considering this when reaching out to individuals and offering reassurance and support where needed. If you don’t then these employees could easily become disengaged, and if feeling undervalued by you as an employer, may share these feelings with others which can impact your reputation, and also may begin to explore career opportunities outside of your organisation.
Offer optional training opportunities
While the coronavirus job retention scheme means that employees who are furloughed cannot work in any capacity, they are able to undergo training and development, so this could be a great opportunity to keep employees engaged. Many online courses are difficult to work into a busy work schedule, so if your employees have been considering furthering their knowledge or understanding around a certain topic (e.g. digital marketing), then you could suggest this as a time to do so while away from the business. You could create a library for resources, suggested courses and promote this to furloughed employees through places like your HR system and intranet. This can help employees to maintain a sense of engagement and normality, and you could even choose to celebrate this with a featured “Furlough achievement of the month” award amongst your employees. Tread carefully with this one however, as the aim is to show to your employees that you are open to helping them develop their skills while on furlough, but stress that you are in no way expecting employees to be extra productive during what is for many an extremely stressful and difficult time. This is especially true when social media is already spawning a need to compete with our peers for things such as running the fastest 5KM challenge, baking the best banana bread and being invited to the most Zoom parties. People are feeling the pressure to be productive on furlough, when the reality is that it’s perfectly OK for your people to take a well earned break during this time too.
Offer financial support or advice
The global pandemic is affecting each of us differently, and for furloughed employees who are taking a 20% drop in salary there is a strong chance that they will have some concerns or worries over their personal finances, especially considering how this may also be affecting other members of their household too. While as a business you may not be in a position to offer financial support in the literal sense (e.g. some larger organisations topping up employees’ salary with the additional 20%), you can offer guidance and advice to those employees who are concerned. This can range from posting information on payment holidays and mortgage breaks on your company HR system, to clarifying specific ways that employees can adjust things such as pension contributions and salary sacrificed benefits during the time that they are furloughed too.
Keep up team spirit
Keeping employees engaged whilst working together in a vibrant and fast-paced office is a lot easier than when you are faced with a team that is working remotely in isolation. This becomes even harder when some of those employees are also furloughed and may be suffering feelings of resentment, anxiety or confusion from the uncertainty of the future. One thing that has really burst out of this pandemic is how people and organisations are finding creative and innovative ways to work, so why not apply this to your culture as well? If the normal for you used to be beers on a Friday afternoon with the team, make it virtual and get everyone on a Zoom or Microsoft Teams call so you can chat, laugh and see everyone in one place. A virtual chat with 10+ people can become a little chaotic, so consider things such as a team pub quiz or bingo game to help make this interactive yet structured, and avoid having fifty people talking over each other too! You might even want to do something fun like a weekly challenge for employees, where you all present something together on a video call and have a vote for which employees’ entry was the best. This could be anything from recreating a famous scene from a film using props from inside your home (Castaway seems to be a pretty popular option here), creating a bake-off showstopper with lockdown cupboard supplies, or finding the most unique way to keep fit during the lockdown (e.g. squatting with your toaster instead of a weight!). It adds a little fun and it will help to bring your team together each week in a setting where there isn’t any divide between working employees and furloughed employees.
During the lockdown the JobHoller team are finding new and innovative ideas to support our clients and recruitment partners, and we would love to share some of these insights to help guide you through this “new normal” we are experiencing. If you’d like to have a chat about anything from tailoring your employer brand messaging to be more relevant, engaging remote teams and furloughed employees or how the coronavirus may have impacted your core EVP then please get in touch directly at 01244 567 968 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sophie Hopley - Founder of JobHoller
12th May 2020