Business Management

Supporting Furloughed Employees – A Quick Guide

All over the world, coronavirus (COVID-19) has had huge impacts in every business and household. From an economical and financial point of view all the way to social lives, everything has either come to a standstill or is starting to go in the complete negative direction.

This is especially true for small businesses and self-employed individuals – for whom the government has recently put the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme together so that they don’t lose their jobs and businesses can maintain their workforce. The work-from-home option has also helped many a business and employees in this difficult time.

Finding a job in UK has become just as hard for employees as finding an employee has become for employers. Managing work from home employees is a whole another beast on its own, which may stack up against employers who also have furloughed employees.

Work from home is not the same as being on furlough – which can be defined as a temporary layoff, typically without pay. But just because they’re on furlough doesn’t mean that employers can rest easy and not have to worry about them.

Normally, the decision to furlough an employee came with the agreement of employers and the employee along with a letter that indicated the reason of furlough. However, the recent pandemic has forced us to take unprecedented action in for the wellbeing of not just employees but businesses themselves as well.

The graph above shows that both, essential and non-essential companies have put employees on a furlough leave to manage costs As more and more employees get furloughed, the pressure on HR managers and executives throughout UK is increasing.

Here, we’ve outlined some of the ways HR managers in UK can support furloughed staff – not only during the COVID-19 lockdown but also during the normal course of business – and make the best out of any situation.

Effect of Furlough on Your Staff

If work from home has taught us anything, it’s that not everyone welcomes furloughs, WFH, or sabbaticals. Everyone is different. Some people jump at the chance to look after their children while others find it difficult to adapt to work at home jobs in UK due to the distractions.

“The office chair is a blessing many fail to realize.”

At-home chairs may be comfortable and all, but they simply can’t compare to the perfect balance of comfort and discomfort office chairs offer. At home, employees are either too comfortable or not comfortable at all – both of which can lead to reduced productivity and morale.

If it’s a paid furlough where both, the employee and employer mutually agree that the employee will work from time to time, there might be less of an issue. The only problem here is that staff usually feels guilty for not ‘justifying their salary’ or if their colleagues and friends are working too hard.

But for unpaid furloughs, staff might get worried about job security, apart from feeling isolated. This is especially the case if they live alone. Furthermore, they also get lazier, which promotes a sedentary lifestyle (especially with the COVID-19 lockdowns in effect)

How HR in UK Can Support Staff During Furlough

Whether it’s work from home, paid or unpaid furlough, or a sabbatical leave (no matter how extensive), with the right approach you can not only retain a healthy employee-employer relation but also keep their morale high throughout.

Supporting your staff during furlough is not that hard but only requires a little effort from your end. And time. Take Howard Hamlin’s example from Better Call Saul and how he supports Chuck during his furlough – only, he calls it an ‘extended sabbatical’.

Hamlin is always honest, clear, and transparent with Chuck – something that I recommend you do too and start from the beginning. If you’re sending employees on an unpaid furlough, explain to them the what and why. Don’t make a false promises and while explaining the situation, make sure you dot all their “i”s and cross all their “t”s.

“Expect different emotions and different responses from every individual.”

Explain to those going on a paid furlough, such as the ones you might have sent during the COVID-19 lockdown, why you’re paying that specific percentage.

One of the biggest mistakes HRs in UK make is failing to keep in touch with furloughed employees. This is managing work from home employees one-o-one. Doing so can help you stay up to date with them in regards to work and their overall health; both mental and physical.

It also reminds them that there is a face behind the texts or emails you send them, along with the fact that they’re still a part of the company. Some factors to consider when scheduling a meeting include;

Does the Employee Live Alone?

People living alone are often workers who have travelled far and wide in order to make their career and are usually much more dedicated. However, since they spend so much time at the office, there are chances that this is where they are most socially active.

This break from socializing might impact their mental health.

A simple video call or a visit to their house to check up on them from time to time would go a long way. Although, visiting them might prove to be more difficult with the COVID-19 outbreak.

What is Their Home’s Situation?

From relationship difficulties, health problems, and family problems to an overall poor living environment; everything comes into play to determine the home’s “situation” for any individual. Employees usually don’t share such problems with the HRs, so it’s a better idea to have a friend check up on them.

Managing a poor home situation may be doable if it’s a short furlough, but in case of a long-term furlough, one problem could easily lead to another. This may also include financial problems, such as the ones resulting from the pandemic.

The government has released funds for that for now, but otherwise you could organize inter-company charities to support them. This could be a win-win for you, since you’d end up motivating not just furloughed employees but on-duty ones as well; that you “take care of your own.”

Don’t just look out for team leaders but the teams themselves as well.

Employee Assistance Programs

Set up Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and don’t just let people help furloughed staff, but allow furloughed staff to contribute too, if you have some sort of contribution policy.

What to Talk About During Calls?

Don’t make it just about work when calling furloughed employees. Instead, beat around the bush a little. Here are some things you can talk about to make them feel lighter;

  • Ask about their goals during the leave
  • Ask about any skills they are or want to learn
  • Ask about how they spend their day
  • Ask if they want to visit work for an hour someday (if company policies allow)
  • Ask about the newsletter (if they’re being sent one)

Remember, furloughing staff leads to more pressure on those working – especially during the coronavirus lockdown. Work from home is hard and it can get harder if everyone’s not pulling their weight. This leads directly to a reduction in staff morale.


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