Coronavirus: 7 Ways HR Can Support Furloughed Employees
For many furloughed employees, the coronavirus pandemic will be causing a lot of anxiety and worry about the future.
It’s at times like these that Human Resources departments can really prove their worth.
HR professionals can provide vital support to their company’s employees – from providing clear information and updates, through to fostering a sense of community and looking out for the mental health needs of their teams.
With that in mind, we’ve gathered 7 of the best ways that HR can support furloughed employees during the current crisis.
1. Communicate clearly
Clear communication with employees is important at the best of times. During a global pandemic, when an employee has been furloughed and is likely to be worried about everything from their job security to their health and family, it’s absolutely essential.
If you’re asking an employee to go on furlough, then basic politeness means you should be honest with them about what you know about the situation. Share information quickly and transparently. Above all else, be clear whenever you’re communicating something.
Some simple ways to improve the clarity of your writing include:
- Avoid jargon
- Use simple language instead of complicated language
- Use the active voice rather than passive voice
2. Educate yourself on furlough
Furloughed employees are likely to have a lot of questions. Given that furlough is a relatively new concept that’s been introduced to UK employment law, that’s hardly surprising. Many HR professionals have the same questions too!
In order to deliver the best support possible to your employees, you’re going to need to do some detailed research into what furlough is and how it works.
To really understand it, you’ll need to read the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme advice in full. It’s not too long and it’s not too difficult to understand.
3. Provide regular updates on the furlough situation
The situation is very fluid at the moment and is changing from week to week. Nobody really knows what is likely to happen in the future, but your employees will still expect you to have at least some idea of what the possibilities are for your business.
The furlough period in the government furlough scheme initially runs for three months from 28th February. The government has hinted that it’s likely to be extended, particularly if the lockdown persists. That means everything is really up in the air for the next few months.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t provide regular, accurate information to employees though. Providing occasional updates on what you know is important for keeping employees informed and feeling like they’re supported.
If you’re stuck for what to write about when you’re updating, employees will probably want to hear about:
- Any updates on when they can return to work
- Any news on the security of their job
- Updating employees on any relevant company news can be a great way to keep people in the loop and feel connected to a wider community, too.
4. Share mental health and wellbeing resources
These will be testing times for many people. A recent poll carried out by YouGov found that six in 10 people have felt worried or anxious since the coronavirus pandemic started to affect day-to-day life.
Sharing mental health resources with your employees can be a useful way to help them feel supported through the current crisis. If your company can afford it, offering counselling services for anyone who needs it is a practical measure that really shows the employer cares about their staff.
Useful mental health and wellbeing resources include:
If any of your employees feel suicidal or in danger of harm, advise them to urgently contact:
- Their local GP
5. Promote online social activities
Just because you aren't in the office, it doesn’t mean that you can’t socialise. Setting up and promoting online social activities for your employees is a practical way of developing and maintaining that all-important social bond between people in your workplace whilst the lockdown continues.
The types of activities that you choose to host will depend largely on the unique personality of your workplace. It can be useful to come up with a few suggestions for possible activities and then survey employees to find out which ones are the most popular.
Possible ideas for online social activities could include things like:
- A weekly quiz
- A virtual games night
- An online film screening
- An online concert
Your imagination is really the limit when it comes to thinking of creative social activities you could offer – all you really need is a video-conferencing app and a stable internet connection!
6. Don’t make false promises
One of the worst things you can do to support employees is to make promises that you can’t keep.
If you know that the furlough period is likely to go on for an extended period of time, or that the company won’t be able to make up the addition 20% of the employee’s wages, tell them directly. Don’t say nothing at all and don’t make false promises – these can come back to really damage your credibility as a HR professional in the future.
Honesty, and following through on what you promise, is one of the most important traits when it comes to building trust and effective working relationships with employees.
If an employee knows that you’ve promised things you couldn’t deliver on in the past, why should they trust what you say about something in the future?
7. Understand the effects of stress that employees might be feeling
Stress affects us all in different ways, causing everything from emotional and behavioural changes through to physical symptoms. The exact manifestation of stress that someone shows will not be the same from person to person – it presents in unique ways.
Understanding how stress affects the behaviour and health of your employees will help you to develop a better sense of empathy. This in turn can improve the quality of support that you can offer employees.
The logic is that if you can understand the situation that the employee is in and can identify the specific things that they might be experiencing, you’ll be able to better tailor your approach to each of them and provide much more useful support.
There are a lot of online resources dedicated to stress and mental health. Here are some of our favourites:
We hope that you've found this blog useful and that you’ve gained some practical ideas about how you can better support your employees through these testing times.
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