Keeping your furloughed staff happy, healthy and engaged

‘Furlough’ is a word very few of us had in our personal dictionaries last week, but many business leaders have been forced to make difficult decisions when it comes to their team structure and talent planning over the past couple of weeks. Just because your furloughed team members are temporarily not involved in the day-to-day running of the business, there are still ways to keep them engaged and to support them during, what is undeniably, a really tough time for all involved.

If you have, or are considering, furloughing some of your team, initially you can expect them to ask things like: What is going on? What are my rights? Why me? 

The honest answer for most of these questions will probably be ‘I don’t know’. That said, there are a number of ways you can help and support your furloughed team members right now, extending beyond transparency about the decision and what their rights are moving forward. 

I’ve furloughed some of my employees. What are their rights?

This is still a grey area as new information is released by the government regularly as the  policies defining the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme develop over time. At a glance, your employee’s rights are:

  • Up to 80%, or £2,500 (before tax), of their current salary – whichever is a smaller amount
  • Employees are not entitled to the other 20% without agreement from the employer
  • The furlough will last for a minimum of three weeks
  • Government support is pledged until 1st June 2020 currently; this may be extended
  • Furloughed employees cannot do any work which directly impacts the company revenue, however, they can be kept in the loop and you can still keep in contact
  • Furloughed employees cannot get another job without their employers written consent, however they can work on training and personal development and volunteer
  • For more information, head to the GOV UK website

 

What can I do to help and support my furloughed employees?

 

Communicate

While your furloughed employees can’t contribute directly to revenue and income, they are still a part of your team. Some of the ways to keep them involved is by providing regular business updates, having 1-2-1 phone calls and by inviting them to any socials your team are having over Zoom/another video chat software.

You can also ask your furloughed employees any small questions. This might be anything relating to your tech, services or products where there is a knowledge gap in the business without them.

Provide support

This is especially prevalent if you are planning to bring your furloughed employees back into the business when possible. Providing them with support can take many different shapes and forms.

It is worth taking a note of any of your team (furloughed or not) who have past or existing physical or mental conditions which may require them to seek extra support. Just simply asking ‘how are you?’ or ‘have you got everything you need?’ will open a line of communication relevant to specifically them, as opposed to re-writing your HR and employee benefits handbooks!

We are seeing employers and business leaders introduce support from external counsellors, train team members as mental health coaches, introducing mental health days and gamifying working from home to create a better sense of community.

If this is a totally new challenge to you or the business, the simplest way to approach the topic is simply by asking: Are you all okay? Can I do anything? Is there anything you feel you need right now? Give your team the time and space to come to you privately to begin the conversation.

Source development or volunteering opportunities 

This is absolutely not your obligation, however your furloughed employees can be working on soft skills or hobbies during the time they can’t work for you. Ultimately, the skills and insight they gain during this time will make them better, more capable team members in the future, which is a real win/win situation.

You can send opportunities and ideas to the people in your team who are currently on furlough. You’ll know your company culture and probably have a good idea of how best to communicate this, but if you’re unsure, you can always phrase the opportunities as ‘something we thought you’d enjoy’ or ‘something we know you’d be great at’ as opposed to something you want them to learn or to keep them busy.

Jo Geraghty
Jo is a Director and Co-Founder of Culture Consultancy, specialising in cultural change and employee experience. She is a regular speaker, author and guest lecturer, and a champion of women in business. 
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