Many companies have taken the opportunity to furlough some or all of their staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. These employees would be in the scheme for a minimum of 3 weeks and during this time would not be allowed to work for their employer. But what are they allowed to do? And what contact could you have (and are allowed to have) with your employees during this time?
There will be many different reactions from employees on the scheme. Some will gladly take the opportunity to have some time off (even if at reduced pay) to spend time at home with their families. Some will take this opportunity to learn a new skill or fill their time with activities at home. Others will miss the routine and feel isolated and alone at home. It is important to make sure they have a way to contact you and make it clear they can call you with any concerns, questions, or just to chat. This can either be done by HR or a manager.
Where possible, give your team as much notice as possible about the likelihood of furlough. This will help them prepare themselves, so it doesn’t come as a shock. This may not be possible if you are having to react quickly to market changes, but keeping your staff informed will help build their trust.
It is natural that your staff will feel concerned about their job and what the future holds. There will be uncertainty from your end too, but it is important that you address bigger concerns and reassure your staff that they are valued and will be informed of the long term plans as they change.
How and when to keep in contact
During furlough, how often you contact your staff is up to you and will depend largely on what you feel each individual needs. There is no limit to the amount of contact you have, as long as you are following the rules about not asking staff to work. It is a good idea to agree methods of contact before employees are furloughed: Text message, phone calls or emails (to a personal email address).
Keeping employees connected
If you have furloughed just part of your team, you could encourage methods of communication that don’t involve work. For example WhatsApp groups or Zoom calls between all staff members, both furloughed and working. You could also continue other remote activities such as virtual lunch dates or video drinks. However, furloughed employees may want to just connect with others that are off, to help distance themselves from work, and keep their minds on other things, this is obviously fine too.
What employees can do
Furloughed employees are allowed to take part in unpaid voluntary work or training (which is permitted as long as it doesn’t involve them providing services to, or generating revenue for or on behalf of their organisation). So you may want to look at giving them some optional training courses that are relevant. Whether an employee wants to do this, will depend largely on their home situation and current head space, so some employees may take part and others may choose to spend the time focussing on hobbies or family life.
However you manage this process, it’s important to remember that the reason you are furloughing these employees, rather than making them redundant, is because you value them and their input to your business. So if you take care of them, it’s likely the loyalty you have from your staff will be stronger at the end of it.