In part two of a guide to engaging employees during furlough Julie Cameron looks at the practical aspects once people return to work.
Don’t underestimate the human connections that have been made during this time. We can all list out a number of occasions during lockdown when we have probably witnessed our colleague’s cat walking across the screen on a zoom call, a child running in asking for a snack or seeing a colleague wearing their gym kit.
Many will sadly have experienced first-hand the direct and very personal impact that COVID-19 has had on families and loved ones. The world pausing as it did has gone some way in levelling humanity where people have demonstrated a deeper level of care and openness about their fellow neighbour. This has, and will naturally, spill over into our working environments too.
Those who have been in work during the pandemic have therefore experienced a very different working pattern and they are also likely to have seen their colleagues in a new light. Whilst it is important to embrace this new way of working and not to be apologetic for it, the key here is that those in furlough will not yet have experienced this.
It is therefore the team leader’s responsibility to share these little anecdotes with furloughed team members and indeed to prepare them for what they may experience when they return. Likewise, they will need to work hard on bringing the team back together once everyone returns, ensuring that there are no divides between those who remained at work and those who were furloughed.
How your business resets is also a fantastic opportunity to incorporate plans to reaffirm your company values and work culture too.
And remember, whilst it’s important for team leaders to stay in touch with employees, there’s no harm in having everyone keep in touch across the team too to keep those bonds strong, again only with the individual’s permission.
It’s the little things
While a furloughed team member cannot work, there’s no reason they can’t keep their mind engaged or work towards self-improvement. Businesses who are able to supply their furloughed team with little goodwill gestures or resources to keep them engaged will really help those employees feel valued.
Ease them in
Employers must not underestimate the significance of being furloughed and the huge impact that this is likely to have had on those who have been affected. Stepping away from working life and all that it entails for several months is a major adjustment.
In many ways, the situation can be likened to that of those returning from a period of parental leave, only with added concerns around the long-term security of your company, heightened anxiety around safety and uncertainly around everything the ‘new normal’ has in store.
Team leaders will need to keep in mind that the working environment will have dramatically changed too (whether that be a shop floor, factory floor or office environment) and they will need to help those who have been furloughed get up to speed with the new ways of working, as well as safety and operations procedures.
In fact, this will be the first thing that you will need do upon their return. As well as a fundamental responsibility, it is important to reassure employees and provide a strong level of certainty that they will be working in a safe environment.
There will be some employees on furlough too due to personal reasons, such as the requirement to shield or indeed due to high anxiety around returning to the workplace. Some of these employees may not have been out for months or witnessed human contact outside of their family unit/bubble at all.
If indeed a company is welcoming back highly anxious team members from furlough, they will need to provide even more reassurance and help during this time. And certainly, everything from safety to mental health provisions and mentoring should be considered.
Reassuring these employees will be of paramount importance and getting this right now will ensure longer term engagement and employee loyalty down the line.
It’s important for employers and team leaders to recognise that integration and engagement of furloughed staff will not happen overnight. Instead, the process will be gradual and no doubt, many will learn as they go along given the enormity of the situation and how quickly it is developing.
However, with ongoing conversations, open and honest communication and a lot of support along the way, those who are furloughed will be able to come back into the business engaged and ready to commit long term to their organisations as we move into this ‘new normal’.
Indeed, now is the time for businesses to really consider how they would like their ‘new normal’ to look. Adapting the ways we work to encompass measures to help manage the spread of COVID-19 is just one aspect, as is allowing for more flexible working where feasible.
One thing these last few months has shown us, is that it is possible for some of our business operations and activities to be pursued effectively whilst remotely, with positive benefits not only in terms of efficiency and for the environment, but for employee well-being too.
How your business resets is also a fantastic opportunity to incorporate plans to reaffirm your company values and work culture too. These may inadvertently be impacted by some of the physical changes and social distancing measures you will have to make to business operations.
By providing an opportunity for your employees to get involved in an activity designed to reinforce your brand values and give fresh focus, will help reconnect teams and co-worker bonds, provide a little light relief from the inevitably more regimented way we’re all going to have to go about our daily roles and responsibilities and help to re-affirm your business culture and drive employee engagement longer term.
There really is no better time for leadership teams to champion and instigate a stronger engagement mindset initiative to truly drive the work culture forward.
About the author
Julie Cameron is managing director of DRIVE Engagement