During a recent discussion about furloughed staff a client said to me, “in an ideal world, we would cryogenically freeze employees and bring them back in three months’ time”. What they meant by this was that they want to hold their furloughed employees still so that they return to the business exactly how they were when they left, without having lost any motivation or love for the company.
Whilst engaging with furloughed employees is difficult to get right, if a company has good intentions and is genuinely motivated by a desire to support their employees and ensure they are coping, this is a good starting point.
Of course, this is not actually possible, and it is inevitable that employees will feel different as a result of their time away from the business. After all, stepping away from your working life and all that it entails for several months is a major adjustment, the impact of which should not be underestimated. 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 and your role within it. The business has continued to run during your absence, and this can lead to insecurities around your importance and value to the company.
This presents a huge challenge for employers who have had to make the painful decision to furlough members of staff, and it is vital that they keep employees engaged now in order to prevent disastrous consequences later down the line. In the short term, this could be members of staff becoming so disengaged with the business that they seek opportunities elsewhere. For those who do return, the impact could be longer lasting, with employees becoming less motivated and less productive. So, how do you keep employees engaged during this time?
Use appropriate channels of communication
It is crucial that businesses keep employees engaged in order to prevent issues with staff retention and productivity when things do return to normal. This must be done in the right way, however. For example, whilst sending an email to a furloughed colleague’s work account to check-in may seem like the right thing to do, this could have unintended consequences. Whilst it is not illegal for a furloughed employee to use their work email address to catch up informally with colleagues, they could see other emails at the same time that cause them to worry about work or the state of the company. What was meant as a gesture of support could result in unnecessary distress or the infringement of furlough rules.
Employers must consider what the new EVP will look like when people come back and communicate this clearly and openly throughout all of their correspondence with furloughed employees.
The same applies for contacting furloughed employees via social media. Whilst the intention may be good, this mixes the employees’ work and personal narratives at what is already a confusing time, which could also have a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.
Whilst engaging with furloughed employees is difficult to get right, if a company has good intentions and is genuinely motivated by a desire to support their employees and ensure they are coping, this is a good starting point. For companies unsure of which channel to use to support their furloughed employees, third party technology that allows them to remotely connect with their team in a way that ensures they still feel valued and connected to the business offers an excellent solution.
Content is key
Encouraging employees to stay connected via a third-party online platform will allow them to engage with the content they want, at a time that suits them. The voluntary nature of the solution avoids furloughed members of staff feeling as though engaging with the platform is mandatory. The aim is, of course, to ensure that the content is so engaging that employees genuinely want to engage and find real value in doing so.
What’s more, the content can be tailored for each individual depending on their circumstances, including how long they have been furloughed for and how likely they are to return to the workplace.
Third party platforms can also be used to offer access to virtual one-on-one mentoring schemes, allowing employees to seek advice on any issues that might be troubling them, from legal advice to loyalty, helping to maintain a sense of belonging amongst all employees during furlough.
Consider your employee value proposition
Employee value propositions (EVPs) are vital. They should run through everything a business does and, if done well, they will be the reason that current employees stay with the business, and why new talent wants to join the business. Now more than ever, it is crucial that business’ EVPs are clear in order to motivate staff to want to stay when the furlough period has passed.
It is likely, however, that when these employees return, things will have changed. Employers must consider what the new EVP will look like when people come back and communicate this clearly and openly throughout all of their correspondence with furloughed employees. This will make their transition back into the company as smooth as possible when the time comes.
Prepare for reintegration
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.
Broadly speaking, furloughed employees can be divided into three categories, and it is important that employers recognise this and treat each group separately and sensitively. The first is ‘self-selected’ furloughed employees, who have opted into furlough in order to help to save the business. They are likely to be in a financially comfortable situation which has allowed them to make this decision but will be hyper-aware that they have ‘taken one for the team’ on this occasion, particularly if other employees remain in work.
The second group of people has not been furloughed by choice. As a result, they are likely to be struggling financially, but have secure jobs that they are looking forward to getting back to in due course. The third group is those who have had furloughing enforced upon them but are also facing the possibility of their company not faring well and therefore not having a job to return to after the pandemic passes.
Businesses must think carefully about how to support these employees who may not be coming back, due to the company’s situation or by their own choice, as well as preparing for those who will return in the coming months. For those who do return, it is important for employers to recognise that integration will not happen overnight. Instead, the process will be gradual, and businesses must prepare for this and accept that the enormity of what these employees have been through will mean that the road back to full motivation and productivity may take some time.
Interested in this topic? Read Employee trust: a valuable commodity in times of crisis.