In a survey by the British Chamber of Commerce at the end of March, 44% of the 600 firms that responded said they were expected to furlough at least 50% of their staff in the next week. While the sample is far from representative, it’s clear that for many organisations faced with decreasing revenues the government-funded initiative is a lifeline.
Furlough can be defined simply as staff on a temporary leave of absence brought on by business circumstance. However, this definition fails to capture the ‘people’ challenges HR face when making this approach work for their own organisations.
Alongside the legal steps that need to be followed, HR also need to consider how to support furloughed staff, what rights they have while on leave, and how to welcome them back when the time is right.
Following are 5 tips and resources on furlough to help you when developing your own policies and approach.
The most important thing employers need to do is to keep up to date with the Government’s furlough measures. The ‘Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ outlines the key facts employers need to know about furlough. Thorough and up to date, it covers what you need to be aware of, straight from the Government itself. A lot of this information is being picked up and republished by other sources, but it’s best to read these essential facts first hand.
Other useful sites with key information:
Making sense of the legalese
Government and legal sites can be quite technical, and it’s easy to get lost in the legal jargon. Employers need clear advice that they can pass on to their line managers and wider workforce. Luckily, there are lots of supportive guides online that can help.
The CIPD has a range of materials in their Coronavirus hub, including a useful and very thorough furlough guide. The CIPD highlights essential knowledge for employers as well as offering webinars on the subject. The hub also has a dedicated FAQs page with a number of scenarios relating to furlough that HR should be aware of.
You might also find it useful to view HRZone’s Coronavirus hub. It shares resources relating to the issues HR currently face, including furloughing workers.
Keep mental health top of the agenda
Being furloughed can add to the mental strain that workers are already facing with COVID-19, and HR should not underestimate this. While some may welcome the opportunity to, for example, look after children or provide care for vulnerable relatives, many may find the insecurity of being furloughed unnerving.
In a recent BBC article, furloughed employees described their feelings as ‘unsettling’, ‘guilty’, ‘like being in limbo’… thoughts that might be in the minds of your own furloughed workers.
Businesses need to be prepared to support the mental wellbeing of their furloughed employees, and indeed all employees affected by the Coronavirus upheaval. Sites like Mental Health UK provide a wide range of initiatives that employers can consider when furloughing staff, such as EAPs (Employee Assistance Programmes) and virtual counselling.
Other useful pages include:
Managing holiday allowance
In the light of Government announcements on carry over, there is – understandably – some confusion over holiday allowances and when they need to be taken – for all staff, not just those that have been furloughed. It’s an area where HR teams will need to tread carefully to both manage the expectations of employees, and the needs of the business.
The Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (Acas) has an excellent summary of the current situation, covering topics such as previously booked holidays, and the issue of stipulating when holidays can and cannot be taken. It’s a handy reference point for all employers.
Engaging with employees doesn’t stop at the point an employee goes on furlough. It’s important to remember that while furloughed employees won’t be working, HR should take steps to help their businesses maintain lines of communication within and across teams. This will aid in ensuring employees aren’t isolated during furlough, and that they continue to feel valued and connected to the business up to the point they return to work.
As always, it’s essential for employers to get their internal comms right. This applies both to frequency and tone. For HR teams that don’t have an internal comms team to fall back on, creative writing agencies, like Writing Machine, provide helpful blogs that may help you find the right balance between making your written communications informative and supportive.