The impact that the Covid-19 crisis continues to have on the way we live our lives, manage our work, and how businesses are operating has seen Governments around the world provide additional support to both individuals and employers. In the UK, the furlough scheme was introduced in March 2020, in direct response to the global health emergency. It was created to allow businesses to place employees on a temporary leave of absence from work with pay, with the aim of bringing furloughed staff back into the business when able.

The ability to place staff on furloughed leave is providing much-needed financial relief for businesses right across the UK and is protecting thousands of jobs from redundancy, ensuring professionals continue to receive an income. When taking advantage of this scheme, however, there are many considerations that employers need to be mindful of when managing their furloughed staff.  

When managing your furloughed staff, here are our top tips for keeping employees engaged:

Ensure additional support is provided where needed

Naturally, there is a strong focus on the physical and mental wellbeing of employees, however, it is crucial to recognise that the needs of furloughed employees are likely to differ from their colleagues who remain working.

Of course, everyone is unique, and will be affected differently by the challenges that the Covid-19 health emergency presents, but employers must ensure the safety of all employees. This means additional support for managing mental health, signposting to help such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAP) if needed, keeping in touch with and aware of individuals’ personal circumstances, and ultimately ensuring employees remain engaged with the business to facilitate a smooth transition back into work when the time is right.

Recognise the longer-term impacts of this arrangement

How furloughed employees are treated and supported now will form the foundations for your reintegration strategy and may affect your future hiring campaigns. If employees have a bad experience with your company during furlough leave, then it may mean they choose to leave when the opportunity arises. Employees who are happy and proud of the way their organisation handles challenging situations will express this with those close to them and could be more likely to demonstrate high levels of loyalty to their employer.

Be empathic and understanding of personal circumstances

For managers, empathy is a crucial attribute more than ever. People experience stress at the best of times and are now also navigating concerns about their health, the safety of their friends and family, isolation, and in some cases, financial strains. For furloughed employees, they too navigate both their everyday life stresses and the added uncertainty of the Covid crisis, but they are also in a very different position to that of many of their colleagues. It is crucial that all emotions are acknowledged so that every employee knows they are valued. Feelings of anger, mistrust, isolation, and anxiety could all arise, so listen, empathise, and refer them to expert resources where appropriate.

Mental Health UK has more information on how to support staff through the process and key points to consider when having the conversation with an employee.

Facilitate clear and open communication channels to boost engagement

Furloughed individuals, while not allowed to perform any work for their employer, are still employees, which means they are still part of the team and it is important that they still feel they are. During this period of increased uncertainty, engaging with your furloughed employees should be a top priority to ensure they feel valued and not forgotten. If you are not investing in engagement, then you run the risk of losing your talent.

When the furlough scheme comes to an end (or indeed before), the aim is to get workers back into the business, and when they do, you want to ensure they are motivated in their role so they can hit the ground running – maintaining communication is key here.

Line managers should be leading the way when it comes to ensuring clear lines of communication are established and maintained. The relationship between employees and their manager plays an ever more important role. There needs to be a high level of trust for individuals to be open and honest with their feelings about their personal situation. If this is not the case, there may be a need to identify a mentor or manager in the business who would be more able to provide this support.

Create platforms for ongoing connections with the team

Line managers should be encouraged to keep in touch with and offer additional support to furloughed staff based on conversations. To facilitate this, we would advise the following points of contact:

  • Keep regular one-to-one catch ups in the diary. This should be as frequently as preferred by the employee, but it is a good opportunity for managers to simply catch up with their reports and check in on their mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Encourage furloughed staff to keep an eye on internal business comms. This should be facilitated by managers whereby they notify their teams whenever there are key updates available.
  • Invite all employees to join social team catch ups. These might be regularly scheduled with a group of employees to have an informal chat or impromptu calls; ensure furloughed employees are invited to join in.
  • Organise and encourage attendance to virtual activities such as quizzes, book clubs or other non-work-related activities.
  • Training is an activity that should be encouraged while on furlough. This might be a comprehensive development plan tailored to the individual, internal training modules to support processes, or online courses identified by the manager as key for future growth.

It is important to provide some certainty and security to furloughed employees wherever possible. While you should never make promises that may not be able to be kept, simply staying in touch and keeping individuals in the loop can make all the difference.

If you would like to discuss how we can help you, your team, or your business at this time, please do not hesitate to get in touch for a confidential non-obligatory discussion.

Find out more about the Government’s furlough scheme at GOV.UK here.

Sheri Hughes

UK Diversity and Inclusion Director, PageGroup

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