The government have recently announced details of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This is a temporary scheme open to all UK employers for at least three months starting from 1 March 2020. It is designed to support employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19).
What does ‘being furloughed’ mean’?
A furlough is a temporary suspension or layoff from work, where the employee usually gets to return to their job when the furlough has ended. The government scheme is in direct response to the coronavirus pandemic. You can read details of the government scheme on the Gov.uk website.
What effect may being furloughed have on my staff?
Firstly, all people are different. Some people may welcome being furloughed as it may help them to look after children or provide care to vulnerable people. But other people may find the process more difficult.
Staff may be worried about whether they will have a job to come back to. And they may feel that they are not valued enough. Some staff mention feeling guilty, especially if they hear that other colleagues are very busy. And some staff talk about the worry about being isolated, especially if they live on their own.
What can I do to support my staff during the furlough process?
Be clear and transparent with your staff. Explain why you are making the decision and don’t make false promises. Be understanding of the differing emotions people may be going through.
It can help to plan your meeting with each individual. This is where it can help if you know your staff and their situation. So, make sure you talk to their line manager and preferably have them take part in the meeting.
There are some things you could think about before the meeting:
Does the staff member live alone?
If so, how are they going to manage their mental wellbeing during this time? If they have underlying health problems do they have a way of getting food and medication? If not, you could make sure that you have details of support groups local to them. And of charities providing support.
Do they have a difficult situation at home?
This might be relationship difficulties, domestic violence, family health problems. How are they going to manage these when they are at home for a significant period? Are there financial problems as a result of the pandemic? You may need to signpost to local organisations and charities that can help.
How can I support staff who are on furlough leave?
If you have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) furloughed staff will still have access to this. Remind them of the details and encourage them to use it. Most EAP’s provide counselling services and advice on family and financial problems. So furloughed staff may find this useful.
Consider setting up regular wellbeing calls with furloughed staff. Whilst they can’t help you with work, you can talk to them about how they are coping. It may be useful to do this with a group of furloughed staff so they can share best practice with each other. This will also help with any feelings of social isolation.
Encourage staff to think about their mental wellbeing and how they can manage it during the crisis. For more information we have plenty of ideas on the Mental Health UK website.
Talk to staff about their goals during their leave. Have they thought about any skills they want to learn? This might be things that will help them when they get back to work. For example, training on Microsoft Office features.
Encourage staff to keep in contact with colleagues who are on furloughed leave if they want this. This will help all staff to still feel part of a larger team. If you send out staff newsletters make sure furloughed staff are included.
Talk to staff about volunteering. Furloughed staff can volunteer, as long as they can return to work when needed. Volunteering can really help our mental wellbeing. Many people have already signed up for the National Care Force. And there are many local charities and support groups who need volunteers to support vulnerable people.
What else do I need to think about?
Think about the support available to staff when they come back. If they have been off for some time, then they may find it difficult to readjust to being back at work. And their productivity may be reduced whilst they get ‘back up to speed’.
Be aware that furloughing staff can cause customer dissatisfaction. Customers may not receive the service that they are used to. If you have a website, consider explaining any temporary changes to customers.
Furloughing staff may lead to a decline in staff morale. Not just for the staff that are furloughed but for the remaining staff. Remaining staff may feel resentful of those who are furloughed. This is a difficult balance so keeping your staff engaged. Providing clear communication is key. Make sure that your working staff are aware of wellbeing support available such as Employee Assistance Programmes and encourage them to look after their mental wellbeing. Wellbeing should be an agenda item at your staff meetings.