An estimated quarter of the UK workforce are currently furloughed and whilst furloughed staff are unable to work for your business, it is vital to keep them connected, engaged and mentally fit during this period of leave.
It is during difficult times such as these that strong company culture becomes an invaluable lifeline for employees affected by the crisis. A positive, inclusive culture will help to keep furloughed employees switched on and connected to your business, as well as supporting their wellbeing at this key time.
We’ve put together some practical suggestions to engage and support furloughed employees.
Communicate openly and honestly
Employees will trust you and feel more loyalty towards the company when you’re open and transparent with them. Even if this means sharing less positive information when you need to.
The more you share the better. Help employees understand why the business needs support, how furloughing staff can contribute towards this and how these actions will help the company to be in a better position when things are back to normal. This will help employees to gain understanding and feel more at ease.
Furloughed employees aren’t likely to use work devices during their time away, so employers need to ensure they’re able to reach and engage people on any device.
Show them you care by periodically calling and checking in on them individually. Within these calls focus on their wellbeing and if they have any concerns. You can also use this time to talk about plans, goals and development ideas for the future. Encourage other team members and their colleagues to keep in touch too. Taking this time to catch-up shows employees that they’re still cared for and valued members of the team, but also stops any feeling of disconnect which could make coming back to work more difficult.
Be sure to always invite them to company update meetings and make sure regular emails go out about what is happening and how the company is doing.
Communication is always key, but this is a tool that you need to utilise now more than ever for the wellbeing of your employees.
For some people, being placed on furlough will be a welcome decision, allowing them to focus on other commitments such as childcare. For others, it may bring uncertainty over their financial position and job security and may cause them to question their value to their employer. Employers can pre-empt such concerns and help alleviate fears by providing appropriate reassurance that the measures are intended to be only temporary and reminding furloughed employees of their valued contribution to the business.
You can also mention that you value their response to this difficult situation, how much they are missed from the team, and how much you are looking forward to having them back.
This may seem like a simple step, but by letting your employees know that this isn’t a personal decision, you can give much-needed reassurance during an unusual time.
Encourage learning & development
You can’t ask employees to work during furlough, but you can help them to keep mentally active and encourage them to learn something new.
Learning and development helps to keep the brain active but also provides some focus in this unusual time, which may otherwise be unstructured. Losing structure and routine can affect mental health so anything that can bring this back into daily life will be very beneficial.
Time away from work can be a great opportunity to think about any skills that they would like to develop, whether these may be work-related or otherwise. Discuss and work with them to plan what may be beneficial for their progression.
You could task your furloughed employees with acquiring a new skill that will enrich the team and business when they come back. This is a great way to make someone feel like their contribution is valued and will be in the future.
If you offer a learning budget or provide access to any e-learning programmes, ensure furloughed employees are aware of these and encourage their use.
Alternatively, put together a list of free online resources that your employees can use. Anything you can offer here could not only help to improve wellbeing in this time, but can also build valuable skills for the future. Encourage this time to be used for growth – an opportunity that doesn’t come around often in our busy lives.
Some useful links include:
Keep team spirit alive
Be sure to invite furloughed staff to join in any social calls that teams are carrying out virtually. Set up weekly or daily calls so that anyone who wants to join for a chat can do so, or arrange regular virtual social events such as team lunches, drinks, games, quiz nights etc – just make sure it’s not work-related! Consider arranging a virtual team yoga or mindfulness session for all employees.
Don’t forget birthdays or other life events and be sure to celebrate them.
This helps to tackle feelings of loneliness and helps to keep your team feeling connected, even though some aren’t currently working.
Encourage the use of wellbeing resources
Employers still have a duty of care to their furloughed employees which means continuing to support their health and wellbeing. Ensuring they still have access to wellbeing resources is critical to supporting furloughed employees in these challenging times. Consider ways of stepping up mental health support, either by regular communications efforts in this area or by launching peer-to-peer support initiatives that encourage employees to support each other.
The government has produced guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of COVID-19 with links to useful resources. There are also a variety of apps available to aid relaxation as well as to discover and practice mindfulness.
Inform or remind employees of these resources and encourage their use:
Share information on volunteering opportunities
Remind employees that while on furlough they can volunteer for charity projects, to support the government, NHS etc. Volunteering not only has a hugely beneficial impact on the organisation an individual is volunteering for, but can also have a highly positive effect on their mental wellbeing.
Share any resources or initiatives you may know about which employees can follow up on if interested.
We are all facing challenges in the current climate, but for furloughed employees take a moment to think about how you are keeping them connected to your business and supporting their wellbeing. Your employees will remember how they were made to feel during this time and the above actions will go a long way to keeping them engaged and connected, as well as ensuring a smooth and successful return to work.
Please get in touch with the Purpose HR team if you would like any additional HR advice or support for your business during these challenging times.