The Government's scheme to pay 80% of salaries of employees put on "furlough" may help protect companies during the Coronavirus crisis. But there are three things a company can focus on to make sure it protects its ability to bounce back: Retention, Resilience and Respect.
Furloughed staff cannot work for the company during the period of furlough. Some might consider making career moves while away, particularly if they view the future at their current employer is uncertain (and who doesn’t feel uncertain right now?!) Some may even see being placed on furlough as saying they are not “core” to a company’s activity – expendable in a crisis and maybe not part of the inner circle. The costs of recruitment far outweigh those of retention, and these are staff you have invested in and who know your company well (and hopefully care, too). Therefore it makes sense to make sure your furloughed staff feel every bit as much part of the team as those still working.
Maintain regular contact both collectively and individually with your furloughers. Give them tools and encouragement to stay in touch with each other – WhatsApp and Facebook Groups are both good ways to keep them chatting as a community. Make your company communications personal and informal – between line managers and reports, peer to peer in departments, as well as regular missives from the top of the company to let them know what’s happening. Remind them they are part of the team, and have a stake in the future of the company every bit as much as those who are not on furlough. Remind them of the company’s purpose, why it exists and why that matters. Tell them why furlough is their contribution to its continuance, and thank them for playing their part.
The stress of the current situation is exacerbated by changing routines, including being cut off from the daily rhythm of work. Not many people enjoy the daily commute much, but it is very strange without it! Invest in some online training for your staff in emotional intelligence and personal resilience, particularly in the context of remote working. Encourage them to discuss their home worries, and build a new schedule for their daily lives. If they can, encourage and help them to volunteer during this period. This will help keep them positive, build optimism by taking control, and develop skills that may prove useful on return. Plus we all need to focus on what we can do to help each other if we are to help ourselves.
Government advice says “A furloughed employee can take part in volunteer work or training, as long as it does not provide services to or generate revenue for, or on behalf of your organisation.” Training gives you an opportunity to upskill your staff, letting them know you are still investing in them and thinking of their and the company’s future. It will pay dividends to have a newly refreshed and freshly skilled workforce raring to go. Think about so-called “soft” skills in particular – how to have a growth mindset and fulfill your potential, how to manage stress, building creative solutions and encouraging creativity in those you work with. Could your furloughed managers do with a refresher leadership course?
Finally, be transparent, open and honest with furloughed staff about what is happening. Regular updates are useful if truthful and written from a personal perspective. Respect the fact that they have devoted part of their lives to see the company thrive, so will be interested in developments. They are also interested in you, and your safety, and you have never been a more important role model. So remember to stay home as much as possible, to protect the NHS and to save lives. Stay safe.
Advice from Duncan Enright, our leadership expert.