Furlough is set to end in September 2021. There will be some employees who could have been away from the workplace for a whopping 18 months.
In other situations when people are away from the workplace for an extended period of time (e.g. long-term sickness absence, maternity leave), it is important for them to remain in touch with their employer and feel connected to the workplace. It shouldn’t be any different for furloughed employees.
So, what can you be doing to improve the wellbeing and mental health of your employees on furlough especially as its anticipated end is drawing closer?
Focus on engagement through active and open communication.
It is important to keep in regular contact with employees and also encourage them to keep in touch with each other.
Consider setting up one-to one meetings with your team as well as full team catch-ups to start to get everyone talking again. This will help prevent people feeling isolated or out of the loop and will also be a great comfort to some who are particularly worried about reintegrating.
Keep everyone updated
Share news, signpost to internal or external sources of support, and give employees an opportunity to ask questions. This will help to foster the employees’ relationship with work and again help alleviate any anxiety over the unknown.
It will also undoubtedly create a more positive employee-employer relationship based on trust and commitment which everyone will benefit from.
Get furloughed employees involved in training
If feasible for your organisation, this could be new training for everyone in the business, training to get up to speed with the changing use of technology in the business or refresher training in particular skills or responsibilities.
Dealing with uncertainty
All that said, we appreciate there is still a lot of uncertainty.
You can help to reduce anxieties as far as you can by taking the time to reach out to employees whom you know have a vulnerability on a one-to-one basis rather than a group call. Encourage video calling for an increased feeling of engagement – you will be able to respond to one another and look for cues as to how the employee may be feeling. Emails or texts can easily be misinterpreted so try to replicate a face-to-face meeting as far as possible.
Creating an action plan could also help with feelings of uncertainty so that the employee has something to focus on and work towards. The plan should encourage the employee to identify any personal or professional goals so that the employee can see they still have a purpose and a part to play in the business.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Being available to discuss any work-related concerns the employee may have about the current situation and the future. Encourage employees not to be afraid to ask for help.
Take a flexible approach, and, where possible, have an open conversation with each employee about their situation and what a practicable return to work could look like.
Be mindful of any personal circumstances which may be proving challenging for them such a childcare issue, family health issues or financial concerns. This may include a discussion of redeployment opportunities and any training needs.
Let’s get everyone talking again –although the employee may remain away from the workplace for the time being, they should very much still feel like a key part of it.