How to communicate well with your furloughed employees

Furlough, pre COVID-19, was not top of my list of challenges businesses face navigating but now, along with ‘unprecedented’, it might find itself as word of the year for 2020.

©GettyImages
©GettyImages

There’s been lots of PR industry discussion about the pros and cons of furloughing employees.

But not much about what happens next if you’ve decided to go ahead.

Listening to employees, understanding what and how they are feeling and responding to challenges is vital in an uncertain environment like now.

It’s important because your furloughed employees are still your employees - you hired them because they add value to your business, and you invested time and money into ensuring they felt valued.

We may not remember exactly what was said during this time, but we will remember how we were made to feel.

The key is keeping that connection while sticking to the rule that you cannot communicate anything work-related to furloughed employees or talk to them through existing work channels – phone or email.

So, what to do?

Firstly, set up an effective two-way communications channel – a specific WhatsApp or Messenger group for use with personal mobile number or email.

Think about other channels, like producing a specialist bulletin to bring together information in one place.

Make a plan that means you can check in on their health, listen to their concerns and help them with any challenges they are facing.

They can’t work on anything business related, but you can help them find volunteering opportunities if they want to keep busy.

Government guidance also suggests that training that is directly relevant to a furloughed employee’s job can take place.

Make sure all employees know who is joining the furlough scheme and the restrictions around contacting them.

This way everyone has the same, correct information and the rumour mill can’t kick into action.

And check your plan and your comms with your legal or HR team first.

We’re all facing challenges at speed, but if you’re furloughing employees take a moment to think about how you are keeping them connected to your business.

Engaged employees – whatever their role - are crucial for the long-term health of organisations and never more so than now.

Emma Nicol is head of employee engagement at Ogilvy

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