How to Retain Furloughed Staff: Jonathan Bottomer

So what do we mean by a furloughed employee as this is not a concept we are perhaps familiar with in our normal everyday working lives. But we don’t live in normal times, do we? So to be clear – a furloughed employee is someone who rather than being dismissed for redundancy by their employer, is kept on the payroll during a period where the employer does not have any work for employees who are registered for PAYE purposes.

One of the challenges for employers at this difficult time is to retain staff and for them not look for other jobs. Here are some suggestions as to the sorts of things employers may want to consider doing to help their employees through this difficult time.

For some employees, this will be the first time they cannot work and this will be a really difficult time for them. Figuring out how what to do and how to stay on task in a new environment will be a real challenge for most people. Especially as they will most likely also be confined to their home. So first up is…

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate…

The key is to communicate with your team and know exactly what’s expected of them during the furlough period. It’s often difficult for leaders to gauge the mood of team members when not seeing them face to face on a daily basis, including recognising any health and safety issues.

Studies of remote workers show loneliness is a real challenge. This is also a risk for furloughed employees. Loneliness can make people feel less motivated and less productive. So set clear expectations for communications day-to-day and deliver on these without fail. Encourage employees to make a point of calling someone to talk to if they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. A quick conversation can often put us in a much better mood to carry on with the rest of the day.

If we don’t talk on a regular basis we are leaving the majority of our communication open to assuming someone is coping. Keep spirits up – these are stressful times for most if not all of us. Negative headlines, worrying about sick or elderly loved ones and fighting the urge to go panic buying toilet paper can all put thinking about the future on the back burner. But the more effort leaders put into communicating with colleagues, the better chance they have of avoiding feelings of isolation, which can lead to depression.

So it’s beneficial for team members to talk regularly to each other and not rely on email as the main form of communication. You could:

  • hold short daily or weekly teleconferences to have a catch-up
  • ask how everyone is and whether they need help with any part of being furloughed
  • share news, share progress, share difficulties, share experiences
  • use Skype for asking questions or seeing if someone is okay
  • consider setting up a team WhatsApp group so you can all communicate with each other at the same time. You can also use this for sending photos or messages to lighten the mood
  • use Skype meetings, these can help you judge peoples’ moods by allowing you to see someone’s body language and facial expressions.

 Supporting Your Team and Combating Isolation

As we have already said team members who not working may feel isolated or unsupported. There are a number of things you could do as a leader to combat this. For example:

  • the more regular the contact between a team leader and member of a dispersed team, the more engaged, respected and motivated that individual will feel;
  • don’t restrict check-ins to work activity. Ask how they are, about their weekend or what that have planned coming up;
  • regularly showcase the achievements of team members and the team. You could follow this up with an email to help increase that person’s enthusiasm and motivation. Don’t forget to think about their return to work – what are the challenges and opportunities ahead?

Encourage Employees to Look After Their Mental and Physical Wellbeing

As we have said keeping in touch with your employees is essential. If people are not working for long periods, and rarely see other members of their team, they may experience feelings of isolation, which is quite normal.

If people are feeling emotional, overwhelmed, or stressed, there will always be somebody who can help, the most important thing is knowing when they can ask for help, whether that’s from a colleague or someone else. Being self-aware, and able to recognise how employees are feeling is essential for us to know when to implement strategies to make them feel better.

Employees should be encouraged to keep their immune systems working well by eating healthily, sleeping well, keeping in good shape and exercising regularly. The internet offers a range of resources across all of these topics, including live exercise classes for people of all ability levels. Additionally, some home exercises guidance is available via the NHS. There are also a number of good home exercise Apps people can get for their tablet or phone.

If you liked reading this blog, you might also be interested in reading the other pieces by Marie Thake and Duncan Enright.

Advice from Jonathan Bottomer, one of our experts in management consultancy.

See how you could invest in people remotely on our courses page or speak to one of our team about In-House options for non-furloughed staff.