Supporting furloughed employees – staying connected

April data from the ONS suggests that 66% of UK businesses have furloughed employees during the COVID-19 crisis so far; with that figure rising to 82% for businesses that have temporarily closed. This makes the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – in which PAYE staff can be laid off for the time being, remaining on the workforce with government salary support – its most popular pandemic support measure.

Okay, that’s the immediate issue addressed: impacted businesses have cut salary and other workforce overheads, furloughing some or all of their workforces, and the at-home employees still have jobs waiting for them when it’s over, and money coming in until they return. So far, so good, but only so far.

The key issue is, assuming the business survives (let’s assume that) sooner or later these employees are coming back to work. But only after a prolonged and stressful break in the employer/employee relationship, and they’ll probably return to find some significant changes to the world of work. What’s more, for the employees themselves, the furlough experience is hardly a holiday. Many may be worried about whether there’ll be a job to come back to; and if so, how it might be changed. Being furloughed may leave many feeling less than valued (however necessary the furlough might have been) or even guilty if they have colleagues still at work, struggling to keep the business going on a skeleton staff.

The post-furlough/crisis period is likely to be chaotic and the challenge for a company attempting to get back to business as normal (whatever that means!) will be to minimise the inevitable disruption and chaos. One way to do that is to stay connected with furloughed employees, minimise their uncertainty, keep them engaged with the business, and make it easier for them to pick up where they were forced to leave off. After all, furlough or no furlough, they’re still your workforce…

Stay in touch

It’s as essential as it is obvious. You need to keep furloughed in the loop. They need to know what’s going on at work, especially the decisions, changes in direction, and news that is affecting the company; i.e. their working environment.

If you have a company intranet or portal that can be accessed remotely, think about setting up a dedicated page for news and resources; it might include HR messaging, legal documents, FAQs, crisis-related staff and management guidance, and other furlough-relevant content.

Expand your internal comms palette

How do you usually communicate with your workforce? Intranet? Team briefings? Emails? Think about how furloughed employees at home will be accessing the information you send out – in most cases, probably using mobile devices. How mobile-friendly is your intranet? Could you commission an app for remote and furloughed workers? Do you use video content or podcasts for messaging? And if not, could you? Apart from being better suited to new modes of access, this kind of richer content is also more engaging.

Encourage social connections

Coming to work is about much more than just clocking in doing the contracted hours. Most employees are part of a team. Most employees have social interactions with colleagues on a daily basis. It’s often these informal, not-directly-connected-to-work conversations that create a strong sense of connection. So, how can you recreate these opportunities for furloughed staff? Social media groups? Discussion forums? Dedicated messaging channels? If you have a split workforce – some furloughed, some not – measures like this could be invaluable in maintaining unity. Apart from anything else, the two groups of employees are more likely to understand and appreciate each other’s issues and different experiences; which could be essential when they’re all back working together.

Remember that not everyone is in the same boat

And while we’re on the subject of distinguishing between furloughed and non-furloughed employees, remember to consider their different communications needs. For example, while those on furlough do need to be in the loop, they don’t need a lot of the routine daily detail stuff. In fact, an overload of (irrelevant) minutiae is more likely have a disengaging effect, rubbing their noses in the fact they’re not at work and forcing them to wade through the car park and phone rotas to get the information that’s actually relevant to their situation (again, consider a dedicated furlough page for other kind of information portal).

Support employee wellbeing

As an employer, you still have a duty of care re: the health and safety (including mental health) of furloughed workers. Perhaps more than ever, there’s a value in checking in regularly, making sure they’re coping with the situation and supporting their wellbeing in a new, stressful (non-working) environment.

It may be as simple as a regular ‘how are you doing’ chat or contact from the line manager, or you consider something more elaborate. One example is a scheme set up in Teesside: the OpiMe platform is geared to enable employers to survey employees about six aspects of wellbeing – physical, financial, social, professional, environmental, and mental and emotional – so as to be able tailor contact and communications, and offer tailored support.

Whatever you decide is an appropriate strategy to support furloughed employees, the important thing is to have one, and that its main goal is that this section of your workforce does not feel forgotten. After all, if employees feel they’re off your radar, then you won’t be on theirs; not in any positive way…


For more advice on supporting your furloughed employees give us a call on 01582 7463462. We’re here to help.

Categories: HR

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