How to engage employees through furlough pt1

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Written by Julie Cameron on 14 September 2020 in Features
Features

In part one of a two-part guide Julie Cameron looks at what employers can do to keep furloughed people engaged.

A great deal of time has been dedicated recently to the topic of ensuring your employees remain engaged during these “unprecedented times”. Certainly, whilst this is a worthy activity and something that needs to be front of all our minds, a topic that hasn’t been given quite so much airtime is that of engaging those employees who are currently on furlough.

Not only is there an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ issue here when it comes to furloughed employees, the legalities of furlough can appear complex and can make even the most highly skilled leaders feel a little unnerved about what they should and shouldn’t do.

So much so, that many have been left scratching their heads about acceptable levels of contact with furloughed employees and some have even gone so far as to cut ties completely for fear of making a mistake that later comes back to bite them legally.

Legalities aside however, what’s really going to come back and impact companies is what a temporary lack of engagement of these furloughed employees will do for longer term team motivation, employee engagement, productivity and overall staff retention. And on top of that, how all four of those aforementioned issues will impact the bottom-line.

Avoid the belief that when people are placed on furlough that time is simply frozen or that your team will return to the business exactly how they were when they left

It’s vitally important to maintain a level of communication with furloughed employees and ensure that the whole team (including those in work or working from home) feels valued and motivated at all times. It is also important to check with your organisation about what you can and can’t communicate.

With all of this in mind, we have written a short guide on how to engage furloughed employees in the right way, without breaking any rules, and offered some tips to help leaders support furloughed employees when they do indeed come back into the workplace too.

It’s the journey, not the destination; bring them along too

Avoid the belief that when people are placed on furlough that time is simply frozen or that your team will return to the business exactly how they were when they left. In reality, it’s inevitable that employees will feel different as a result of their time away from the business.

And let’s be frank, everything is changing on a weekly and even daily basis and will probably continue to do so for some time to come. Behaviours will be different, perceptions will be altered, what drives and motivates people will likely be very different too.

Likewise, an employee’s family situation, whether they care for others, whether they have been or are still dealing with home schooling and child care or indeed if they have sadly lost loved ones, will all have a dramatic impact on their life and how they show up to work.

 

Take note of this, discuss these changes, agree on what the challenges are likely to be and reassure team members. Then keep this in mind as you move forward, coming back to earlier discussions to clarify and reassure colleagues.

Understanding people’s motivations and adapting to this is important as a leader and can really make the difference between an engaged and a discontented team member in the long term. Bring them on this journey with you, rather than making them feel as if they are merely an onlooker.

Communication is key, but pick your channel carefully

Employers can, and indeed should, maintain contact with employees during furlough to keep them notified on any official business updates regarding how the business is operating, but should avoid any work-related content. We advocate going one step further by encouraging team leaders to contact furloughed team members regularly for a general health and wellbeing check too.

As a reminder, furloughed employees must not use their work mobile number or email address during their period of furlough.

While no work-related information should be shared, if you wish to provide wellbeing guidance, training opportunities and keep furloughed employees updated with official business updates then asking them to opt-in with their personal contact details to receive information from your organisation is a good idea.

Ultimately, you will need to respect the situation if a furloughed employee chooses not to opt in. It’s always best to check with your HR or legal team first.

While it is difficult to predict with certainty the future business and employment landscape, you can still use this time to reassure team members that they have not been forgotten about and that they are still very much valued by the business.

We recommend connecting in every few weeks over a phone call and then for team leaders to send a ‘check in’ text message weekly too. We would suggest avoiding any contact over social media, as this can sometimes blur the lines between work life and personal life.

Remember furloughed employees are not going to be able to check their company emails if they have them, so use other channels if you have permission, not least because they are more personal too.

Taking time to check in and make sure that furloughed employees are coping is a sure-fire way to let them know that you’re thinking of them and that their wellbeing matters, especially if this is done by their line manager.

Make them feel valued and needed

For the furloughed employee who has returned to work, knowing that the business has continued to run during their absence can lead to insecurities around their importance and value to the company.

Reassuring them about the value they bring to the business and what future plans you have in place increases certainty and reduces anxiety. 

Offer training to aid self-development

A furloughed employee can undertake training, for example to maintain their skill set or upskill themselves whilst furloughed, as long as the purpose of this is to improve the employee’s effectiveness in their employer’s business or the performance of their employer’s business.

It must also be noted that in undertaking the training the employee should not provide services to, or generate revenue for, or on behalf of their organisation. Offering training at this time not only gives a furloughed employee something to do during this time, but it also keeps their mind focused, ensuring they can pick back up when they do return to the business.

Most importantly though, it reminds the employee that you care for their development. Little things like this go a long way to give team members that extra layer of confidence and reassurance.

In part 2 of this article Julie Cameron will explore the challenges, and how to overcome them of getting your furloughed people back to work.

 

About the author

Julie Cameron is managing director of DRIVE Engagement

 

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