Hands up: who knew what “furlough” was before the coronavirus pandemic? A quick look at Google Trends tells us that virtually no one was searching for this term until March 2020, when all of a sudden it became a very hot topic.
Furlough means that a member of staff is still employed and on payroll, but doesn’t carry out any work for their organisation. Right now in the UK, those on furlough are paid by the government rather than their employer, in order to help businesses keep hold of their staff during these uncertain times. Other countries around the world have adopted similar employment retention schemes, such as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program in the US.
The decision to put an employee on furlough is a difficult one, for everyone involved. Some organisations may wish to keep all of their staff working, but don’t have the funds to pay them if they’ve been hit by financial instability. Whilst some staff may welcome a break from work, others put on furlough may question whether their role is important, and wonder if their job will still be there post-pandemic. People still working may also experience guilt for those who can’t.
An unknown situation such as this will generate different reactions from different people. Business leaders must empathise and support their furloughed staff before, during, and after their time away from work, and look out for signs that their wellbeing is taking a hit.
Here are a few ways you can support the wellbeing of your staff throughout the furlough process:
Communicate openly and honestly
The process of furlough is still relatively new, and employees will likely have lots of questions and concerns about how it will affect them.
Transparency and honest communication is key. Help employees understand why the company needs to put people on furlough by curating and promoting all furlough-related information on your company intranet. Allow people to add comments and feedback as well, so that they have the opportunity to ask questions. The more open and honest you are with delivering difficult news, the more staff will feel reassured and at ease with the decisions being made.
Keep your furloughed staff connected
Whilst they’re not working, it can be easy for staff to quickly feel out of the loop and that they’re not part of the company anymore. This will be especially difficult for those who live alone or are having to self-isolate.
It’s therefore really important that furloughed staff can still connect with their manager and coworkers, so that they feel a sense of belonging and can stay up-to-date with company developments.
Creating a dedicated community page for your furloughed staff will help bridge that gap. Include HR documents or knowledge base articles that explain essential furlough key-points, so that staff can reference them at any time. Keep social and professional ties alive by adding collaboration tools, where staff can share tips, ideas, and worries, or simply to shoot the breeze. By creating a culture of care and support, you can help staff feel less isolated whilst they’re on furlough.
Provide support and wellbeing resources
If you don’t have one already, now is a good time to create an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), and share this on your intranet community area. EAPs help businesses to support the mental health and wellbeing of their staff, and will be particularly helpful in guiding staff through furlough.
Furloughed staff may appreciate some virtual face time with their managers too. Regular video catch ups with a friendly face can help create a sense of routine whilst work is on hold, and also gives staff an arena to share any problems in a private and safe space.
However, be sure that your employees know that all of this is optional. Rather than pressuring staff to attend catch ups or access resources, the goal is to offer support and the chance to stay connected. Showing that you care about your staff during their time on furlough will help them transition back to work feeling valued and appreciated.