by Paul Ford
The current pandemic has already meant people taking decisions that they never thought they would have to. It’s new territory, filled with uncertainty. And if you’ve had to make the call to furlough part, or even all of your workforce, just to try to ensure the business can survive the present crisis, that’s tough. On you, having to make the decision, and not least, on the people affected.
But it’s down to you as an employer to reassure your workers, see that they understand the situation fully, and be supportive when they need it. Be compassionate. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment and think how you’d react, what you’d need.
Chances are that your workforce is working remotely, and this has already created challenges in keeping people engaged. Whether you speak to your employee over the phone or by video conferencing, make sure you know what you want to say and how you intend to say it. Prepare. Remember, they may be nervous, even anxious about what you’re about to discuss. Be understanding, but confident. Speak to HR first and make sure you have the answers to all the most likely questions ready, and if you don’t know the answer, acknowledge it and confirm you’ll get back to them. And do.
The key points to get across are:
The decision to furlough them isn’t being made because of performance issues. It’s down to the impact on the business and the wider economy resulting from the pandemic and the actions the government feels it has been forced to take to prevent its spread.
The government’s furlough scheme has been put in place to help people keep their jobs. The grant, provided by the government, will cover 80% of their wages (up to a limit of £2,500), which will help to provide a degree of financial security.
This is a temporary measure. The purpose of the furlough scheme is to make sure that when the crisis has abated and the business can start to return to normal, there is still a job for them.
Furloughed employees are still your employees and as far as possible you should treat them in the same way as any active members of your workforce. Regular contact by phone or video conferencing to see how things are going, inclusion in business and team updates, help them to remain part of the office culture and maintain good working relationships. You can suggest that they check over their work emails from time to time, even take part in meetings online, so that when they re-join the team properly they’ll be up to speed from day one. All this helps to provide a positive aspect to the situation and gives the employee connection and confidence.
Have a look at your employee benefits package. Are there elements that could be used to provide additional help during this period? Healthcare often covers whole families, mental health care, and sick leave may cover long-term recovery from COVID 19 should someone be unlucky enough to fall victim. Are there online shopping incentives, access to legal advice? Any aspect that might support furloughed employees should be highlighted and communicated. And suggest that now might provide the perfect opportunity for upskilling. Online training on a vast range of subjects from learning a foreign language and playing a musical instrument through to more career development focused courses such as data analysis, mastering Microsoft Excel or Adobe Photoshop and learning a coding language such as SQL or HTML are available, many for free.
Above all, be positive and be there. People remember how others acted in a crisis, even when the memory of the crisis itself has faded. Now is a very good time to prove yourself a role model.