Engaging employees through furlough; a simple guide

10 minute read

A great deal of time has been dedicated recently to the topic of ensuring your employees remain engaged during these “unprecedented times”. Certainly, whilst this is a worthy activity and something that needs to be front of all our minds, a topic that hasn’t been given quite so much airtime is that of engaging those employees who are currently on furlough. 

Not only is there an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ issue here when it comes to furloughed employees, the legalities of furlough can appear complex and can make even the most highly skilled leaders feel a little unnerved about what they should and shouldn’t do. So much so, that many have been left scratching their heads about acceptable levels of contact with furloughed employees and some have even gone so far as to cut ties completely for fear of making a mistake that later comes back to bite them legally. 

Legalities aside however, what’s really going to come back and impact companies is what a temporary lack of engagement of these furloughed employees will do for longer term team motivation, employee engagement, productivity and overall staff retention. And on top of that, how all four of those aforementioned issues will impact the bottom-line. 

It’s vitally important to maintain a level of communication with furloughed employees and ensure that the whole team (including those in work or working from home) feels valued and motivated at all times. It is also important to check with your organisation about what you can and can’t communicate. With all of this in mind, we have written a short guide on how to engage furloughed employees in the right way, without breaking any rules, and offered some tips to help leaders support furloughed employees when they do indeed come back into the workplace too. 

It’s the journey, not the destination; bring them along too

Avoid the belief that when people are placed on furlough that time is simply frozen or that your team will return to the business exactly how they were when they left. In reality, it’s inevitable that employees will feel different as a result of their time away from the business. 

And let’s be frank, everything is changing on a weekly and even daily basis and will probably continue to do so for some time to come. Behaviours will be different, perceptions will be altered, what drives and motivates people will likely be very different too. Likewise, an employee’s family situation, whether they care for others, whether they have been or are still dealing with home schooling and child care or indeed if they have sadly lost loved ones, will all have a dramatic impact on their life and how they show up to work. 

Take note of this, discuss these changes, agree on what the challenges are likely to be and reassure team members. Then keep this in mind as you move forward, coming back to earlier discussions to clarify and reassure colleagues. Understanding people’s motivations and adapting to this is ever so important as a leader and can really make the difference between an engaged and a discontented team member long term. Bring them on this journey with you, rather than making them feel as if they are merely an onlooker. 

Communication is key, but pick your channel carefully 

Employers can, and indeed should, maintain contact with employees during furlough to keep them notified on any official business updates regarding how the business is operating, but should avoid any work-related content. We advocate going one step further by encouraging team leaders to contact furloughed team members regularly for a general health and wellbeing check too.