Is there anyone out there? – The importance of keeping in touch with your furloughed employees


Posted by Caroline Chapman
on 17th May 2020

Now that the furlough scheme has been extended until October 2020, in some form or other, I wanted to remind everyone about the importance of staying in touch with your furloughed employees.

I was speaking to some friends this week, one of them who had been furloughed straight away said she hadn’t heard from her boss at all, she was starting to think that perhaps they didn’t want her back. Another friend said but that’s because employers aren’t allowed to contact you when you are furloughed, as you are not allowed to work.

This is not true, employee communication is crucial at this time, especially when daily announcements mean that everything is in a constant state of flux and some days none of us know whether we are coming or going.

It’s true that furloughed employees are not allowed to ‘work’ whilst they are furloughed which the gov.uk guidance defines as  https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme#when-your-employees-are-on-furlough  ‘employees cannot do anything that makes any money’ or ‘provides a service for your organisation’, however they can take part in ‘volunteer work or training.’  But there is nothing stopping you keeping in touch.  We know when people have extended time away from work, such as long-term sickness or family leave, good communications make for a less stressful return and furlough is no different.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), state that the employer’s duty of care for employees continues during furlough, so employers must maintain non work-related contact with furloughed staff to discuss any personal matters, including their health and well-being, and to allow employees to ask any questions or raise concerns.   I suggest if you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) it is a good time to remind employees of that benefit.

The CIPD also add that contact also helps maintain furloughed employees’ loyalty and engagement so that they can return to work smoothly after the lockdown.

Speaking to Lisa Betsworth at Slice Solutions she states that people are “definitely looking at changing jobs at the moment and there is a lot of recruitment activity taking place’.  She also says that ‘initially things were quiet after everyone was furloughed but now things are picking up.”  You don’t want to lose your best talent to another employer.

As employees are not able to work, they shouldn’t be accessing their work email account or intranet, so employers need to be more creative about how they keep in touch.  Other more ‘informal’ methods of communication, that you perhaps wouldn’t normally use, may work effectively for group communications; WhatsApp groups, a closed Facebook page or Messenger group may work well.  Just ensure if you are using an employee’s personal phone numbers or accounts, that they are happy to be included.  Although, nothing can really beat a one to one phone call or video chat to check up on someone and see how they are coping, but with a large staff team this can be time consuming, so I would recommend a mix of methods.

Social activities such as a ‘pub’ quiz, a book or film club can work well to bring colleagues together.  This is especially important if you have a mix of furloughed and non-furloughed employees.

In summary, my five top tips for keeping in touch with furloughed employees are:

  1. Set time aside – block out some time every week, or every other week to make the calls and let employees know you care.
  2. Don’t just provide business updates – Don’t talk about work straight away, ask them about their health and wellbeing and their family and friends first.
  3. Offer reassurance – let them know how valuable they are and that you want to bring them back as soon as you can, but that you are following the government guidance.
  4. Make recommendations – suggest a good book, pod cast, film, training course or other resources that might be of interest.
  5. Email important information – use the employees’ personal email to send important company or regulator updates.

If you haven’t been in regular contact with your employees, don’t wait any longer, call them today.

You can get in touch with Caroline Chapman of Grounded HR here.

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