The further easing of restrictions is underway bringing many furloughed workers back to work. However, it isn’t back to normal for everyone as many sectors are still trading at below normal (pre-covid) levels and with their employees remaining furloughed.

The scheme, originally planned to last a mere three months has now been in operation for over and year, and will run for 18 months if it ends, when planned, in September 2021. This extended break from work and how you treat your furloughed employees will impact how they view your organisation.  For example, those that feel they have been badly treated may decide to leave if given the chance or could struggle to reintegrate when returning to work. If you want your employees to return feeling motivated, enthusiastic, and ready to get back to work, you need to be mindful of how you manage your furloughed staff.

1. Communication – it is vital to maintain regular communication with furloughed employees. The finer detail depends on how many staff are furloughed and your organisation’s specific situation. If most of your company/a team/department are furloughed, then group video calls for example would keep everyone updated and connected with each other. However, if it is only a few individuals from differing areas then 1-2-1 calls with members of their team would help to keep them in the loop.
The regularity of these calls depends on your situation, if nothing changes from week to week then scheduling a weekly call could be unnecessarily frequent. On the inverse, if 5 days makes a big difference and information needs to be shared for employees to be back up to speed when they return, then set aside time each week to update them.

2. Include – don’t forget to include them in simple things such as internal updates, to stay engaged they need to know what is going on. If a new role has been created make sure they are aware and able to apply just as a non-furloughed employee could. If you’re making changes that will impact them when they return, whether an individual employee or a team, make sure they are consulted just as they would be if they were working.  Remember, don’t automatically send all information to employees work emails or phones. If they are fully furloughed they should not be checking work emails or may not have access to them.  If you need to contact staff make sure you know the best way to do this outside of normal work-related channels.

3. Interaction – the social side of work is just as important. We recently asked our network what they missed most about not being in the office, and their colleagues was the resounding winner. While we can’t yet recreate the Friday night after-work drinks and might all be zoom quizzed out. Try to include some social interaction with all employees whether they are furloughed on not will help to maintain relationships and reduce any feelings of resentment or a ‘them and us’ type scenario.

4. Training – while furloughed, employees can undertake training sessions. Make the most of this, it a great opportunity to help your staff keep their skills updated or learn new ones without the stress or interruptions of their normal work.

5. Consider individual circumstances – as we discussed in our recent article on furlough envy, there are many reasons why employees will be worried or anxious about being furloughed. Concerns about the impact time away might have on their career, whether they’ll have a job to go back to, will people change how things are done while they’re away, or is it just a way of making them redundant? Don’t ignore these, if someone was working on a big project that has now been handed over, keep them updated on its progress and reassure them of their place once they’re back at work. If a manager or leader is furloughed and their work is now being carried out by members of their team, ensure that they are made aware of any changes. Give them reassurance that they will return and be open about how their role may have to change.

It’s not just work-related concerns, people’s personal circumstances will impact how they feel and deal with being furloughed. A full-time job takes up around 40% of your waking hours (assuming you are awake for 15 hours a day). That is a lot of time to now have to yourself. Regardless of whether you live in a full house or alone after a while people will miss the structure, social interaction, and mental challenge of work. Be aware of this and don’t always focus on having a professional, business-related catch-up, spend time to simply check they’re ok.

6. Be open and honest –while it is important to reassure employees and give them a level of certainty, don’t make promises you may not be able to keep. If redundancies, restructuring, or significant changes to roles will happen, then be as open about this as you can. Give people the chance and time to assess their options and if necessary, look for a new role.

Finally, remember those still working.  All the points above can also be applied to those not on furlough.  If people are still based at home then keep communication lines open so they know what is going on, encourage interaction between colleagues and teams in both work and a social context. Consider their personal circumstances, do they need any equipment to help them work, do they need to have more flexible hours to manage childcare or other care responsibilities.  If they’ve taken on more responsibility or a more senior role keep them informed of their options and your plans for them when furloughed team members return.  Focus on wellbeing, as we covered in a recent article there are steps you can take to help staff.

As restrictions ease further and furlough comes to an end in the autumn, the next challenge and focus of the final blog in our furlough series will be bringing people back from furlough and into the workplace.