The current lockdown is new territory for all of us, causing uncertainty and worry for many. For those on furlough leave this is often enhanced with a greater feeling of isolation and lack of clarity around the future. It is crucial to ensure that employees on furlough leave do not feel left behind or forgotten.
Whilst the financial support that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme offers will no doubt prove crucial to help businesses through this pandemic, certain elements of the scheme were still being clarified after employees had already been put on furlough leave, which caused a degree of uncertainty for all those involved.
I wanted to reflect on some of the employee engagement and wellbeing elements that we have kept in the forefront of our minds at ROQ as we furloughed some of our employees:
· First and foremost, it is imperative to remember that they are still our employees, colleagues and part of the team. As obvious as it might sound, they should still be included in communications and updates and given the opportunity to share their ideas and concerns. They are employees and their voices should continue to be heard.
· With that in mind, communication is key, but it needs to be understood as a conduit which can be applied in different ways. For example, simply keeping someone informed (passing on information), or routinely phoning them once a week is different to showing genuine care and interest and building a connection with them. It is the connection that makes the difference.
· Ensuring that furloughed employees also continue to feel connected to the company and their colleagues can help with their sense of belonging and ease the loneliness that can come from social distancing. At ROQ we encourage all our team to get involved in the social side of work with Beer Friday, regular quizzes, lunchtime PE sessions, and social chat to name a few. Using Microsoft Teams as our main communication platform enables those who are not logging onto a laptop to still check in with social chat and banter through the Teams app on their mobiles.
· Employee wellbeing is a real hot topic at the moment with the mental health concerns around social distancing and loneliness. Again, it is important that those on furlough leave are remembered and considered – it links back to the connection I mentioned earlier - reaching out and understanding employees individual circumstances, for example, do they have a support network in place? Are they ‘shielding’? We also regularly share the contact details of our Employee Assistance Programme and other support avenues that might be of help.
· Volunteering is a great way for furloughed employees to spend their time and there are so many ways they can get involved from supporting local charities to mentoring. At ROQ, our Community Ambassadors often promote ways for our employees to engage in fundraising or community events - often directly linked to wellbeing activities too.
· Encouraging employees to upskill whilst they are on furlough leave can benefit both the employee and the company. Upskilling can help to ensure that employees skills remain relevant and, in turn, support their return to work when the time comes. Which links in with my final point…
· Talk to furloughed employees about the future. Don’t leave them in the dark. Be realistic, open and transparent – even if you don’t have all the answers, share what you do know and show that you are in it together and will figure it out together.
Ultimately, all of the above is underpinned with the simple fact that furloughed employees are still employees within the company and should continue to be treated as such. The relationships that have been built with employees should be maintained during the furlough period. They might have been furloughed but they are just as important as ever and most certainly have not been forgotten.
Sarah Jane Riggott - Head of Employee Engagement and Wellbeing, ROQ