More than 1 million employees have been reported as furloughed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. But there are many thousands of workers still operating from home or – where appropriate – their place of work. How can employers support their employees who continue to work, asks Kimberly Cassady?
Furlough, redundancies, lay-offs. As more organisations consider measures that reduce the number of their workers, what does this also mean for those employees left behind? Certainly, this is not an easy work atmosphere for anyone to navigate and your remaining employees will be feeling the strain.
While companies are having to turn away employees due to the lack of business coming in, the ones being kept on will likely be having to pick up additional work, take on other colleague’s responsibilities and perform tasks far outside their usual remit, potentially covering multiple roles.
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With an increased tendency to not be able to switch off but be ‘always on’ working from home, this could all lead to employees burning themselves out. Not to mention, the added stress of employees worrying about whether they may be the next to go.
Faced with this situation, more than ever, it is vital for organisations, and HR in particular, to be authentic.
Don’t panic but don’t overdo it
There is a belief that the best approach to the current situation is simply to soldier on, inspiring staff with shows of calm and confidence. Of course, your employees want reassurance right now and this is not the time to be inconsistent or make unfounded decisions, but take this stance too far, and it may have the opposite effect.
It’s a hard balance to strike but you also don’t want to come across as cold or unempathetic.
Simply carrying on the day-to-day with no acknowledgement of the current situation and especially of those employees that have been furloughed or even made redundant, will most definitely give the impression that your employees are dispensable rather indispensable to you.
Even with the best intentions, an attitude of business as usual may give the impression of business above all else.
Instead, when it may already be hard for those employees left behind to stay motivated and productive, you need to be building them up. Show how important your employees are to you and your organisation and that you are there to support them.
Honesty is the best policy
Now, more than ever, authenticity is what is going to help get your employees through this time of stress and uncertainty. They’re not only dealing with the burden of an increased workload, but also the mental burden of second-guessing your company’s plans. So, tell them as much as you can without increasing panic or fear.
While it is difficult for anyone to currently predict what may happen next, be open about that. Outline possible scenarios or new measures that could come into play, and most importantly, provide set timelines for when you’ll be able to share more information or confirm any next steps.
Communication channels between all employees also need to be opened up, including with top leadership. As well as filtering down messages from the top, employees must be able to feed back their concerns and questions.
In the end, this is what will help both HR and the wider business to better understand employees’ specific worries and what they need and want to know. But if you don’t have the answers to all their questions, don’t worry but be upfront about it (it’s unlikely you will be expected to anyway). What’s most important is that your employees still feel heard.
Show your human side
The biggest impact of some employees being forced to go and others having to stay is on your company culture and morale.
You need to help rebuild relationships and trust. At this time, no employer can or should expect that employees won’t need to make adjustments, trying to juggle home schooling kids, looking after loved ones or helping vulnerable neighbours.
Be flexible and let your employees flex hours if they need. Show that you trust them to get the necessary work done.
Look outside of the daily workplace as well. Create a space for non-work topics like introducing company-wide yoga sessions, lunchtime learnings for baking tips or hobbies people have picked up during lockdown or, if your company used to have Thursday socials, pop in a Thursday evening Zoom call for people to just have a chat.
Social calls can also be an opportunity for employees on furlough to join in and still feel connected.
Most importantly, allow your employees to be themselves. Here, HR and leadership needs to lead by example and show that you’re human too.
So, on your next zoom call, turn up with your dog on camera, give a little tour of your home, or just laugh at your kids causing chaos in the background.
Far from weakness, showing vulnerability will make you far more relatable – employees will see that you are going through the same thing and you understand. Knowing that everyone is in this together is what will bring everyone closer.
While humans are having to physically distance from one another, that doesn’t mean distancing from our humanity.
Leadership and HR must show and act upon their understanding and empathy of how difficult this time must be for those employees left behind in the workplace.
We are all human and that’s what organisations need to remember whilst trying to navigate this difficult situation and getting used to a new kind of ‘normal’.
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I was on maternity leave for a year feb 2019- end of feb 2020
I went back to work in March and now I’m not being furloughed and the rest of the staff have. Because I was on maternity leeve before February
Working for a medium size company where furlough is going to affect 50% of staff, for those who are non-furloughed it is going to be difficult to find the correct points of contact for projects, without sifting through people’s Out of Office notifications (if they have been set!)
Is there a restriction on HR providing a list of staff who have been furloughed? Or even the opposite, provide a list of Departments with the names of who staff who remain? It would be very helpful but I imagine there may be some privacy rights preventing it.
If anyone knows the answer or can provide a link I’d be most grateful!
Jos – there are no restrictions on being able to share a list of furloughed employees. But you’ll want to wait until you’ve got agreement from all employees on furlough before you do so, and make sure it’s communicated with a sensitive tone 🙂
Being the only person not to be furloughed from a whole department of 10 and having to carry on regardless, for me, has started to take its toll.
I work in a 24/7 business and there genuinely is no downtime and I’ve just had to get in with it. I’ve had some ridiculous busy weeks, worked 12-14 hr days at least 6 days a week and went a 10-day period working 20 hrs a day to keep up.
It’s started to slow down now and I’m starting to catch breath but now worry about burn-out and the long-term effects. It is not easy to be shouldering this kind of burden…and then asked to take a 20% pay-cut to boot. You begin to question the fairness and whether you would have been better off being furloughed.
Speaking to others, you also start to think that there could be a split in the workforce looming. Furloughed staff will eventually return and feel refreshed whilst those who carried on will be frazzled.
I genuinely hadn’t thought about it before but people are starting to feel resentful that people who have been furloughed (whilst the majority may well have only received 80% of their salary, many other companies have topped-up the extra 20%) will have still been accruing holiday time too…
With the very real possibility of a huge bill facing the nation to cover the costs – most likely through tax hikes – the non-furloughed staff will be sucker-punched into paying higher taxes to prop-up those that were furloughed.
I worry for the workplace, staff moral and any HR Dept because it is going to be a very contentious place to be when we return to “normality”
Steve. I am in a similar situation. I am the only one left in the office while the remaining staff have all been furloughed.
I have spent months working long hours and multi tasking trying to help to keep the business ongoing.
The furloughed staff have been told that they can take their holiday after furlough has ended- while I have been told that if I take any break this will come off my annual entitlement.
So it seems to me that just who has come off worse in our business.
And I’m feeling exhausted.
The owner is talking about everyone coming back in September.
I am exhausted. My colleague is furloughed, I am doing her work too. She has booked an extra two weeks at the end of her furlough, the company have agreed that’s okay, unbelievable – I have not been able to go jogging and get super fit everyday like furloughed staff, no I will end up burned out like so many of us.
Wow !!! I have been waiting for the past 3 months to see these comments , to be able to know that there are other people who feel the same that Non furloughed staff like myself have been unfairly treated .
Steve, MIchelle and Chloe’s comments totally sum up my position .
You work hard to get the business going , take abuse from clients which furloughed staff have not done a good job with ; because you are the only face now for the company.
Work on job roles which you have never ever done before and have your performance judged on ; basically trying to setting up for failure. Constantly living in the fear of failure for an excuse to be laid off instead of being furloughed instead.
Zero , I mean zero appreciation ; instead when reminded the management , was told ” We know , it builds your character ” …
Just to add , now when the staff are back , was taunted that I got paid 20% extra to the furloughed staff . ( Meaning full salary ) ; therefore I should not feel bad that furloughed staff are getting to keep their annual leaves .
Besides the fact that now a benchmark created by management that this person can work as many hours , therefore burden him with more than normal ; again when you really try to work as normal you are still not good enough.
I have worked throughout and never been furloughed, the only one in our office to have consistently worked covering two other peoples jobs. Some staff have now returned from furlough and I have been told today that I am being made redundant ( the only one in the office to be made redundant. How does that work and loyalty gets you nowhere.
There’s got to be an unfair dismissal thing there as you were obviously indispensable before and the others weren’t.
Caroline the same has happened to me, i was the only one off furlough doing the other people’s work but now they’re back I’m being made redundant. Angela, any idea if we can fight this & who with? Soooooo frustrated
I work for a medium bus company where more than half the workforce has been furloughed. Resentment towards the furloughed employees is growing due to the unfairness of the whole scheme. We fully understand the employees who have health issues which will make them more vulnerable to severe symptoms of covid, but most are no more at risk than the ones who have worked though. Messages of how they are enjoying the time off and how better off they are financially is not helping moral either. We have also learned that they are receiving a percentage of wages which includes overtime worked over the last twelve months, but the ones left in work are only getting basic pay which have left them struggling, whereas the ones on furlough are doing up their houses and gardens. Why are we to be penalised again by paying higher taxes in the future to cover the cost of this unfair scheme? We can only hope that we will be appreciated in future, but I won’t hold my breath.
Caroline, what a kick in the face, your ex employer are heartless cretins
It’s been such a difficult time, most staff on furlough and those who are not have had a 20% pay cut which will be reviewed in October so unfair
I was on furlough and I must admit that it was not a nice feeling for me. Of course, I had a lot of free time, but instead of sunbathing and enjoying the sun, I was just worried about my position at work, whether I would ever come back there. Fortunately, I was off only for 5 weeks. After my return it turned out that no one was able to replace me, finish my tasks, replied to the customers ect. and all emails and obligations from 5 weeks were simply not completed.
I understand that those who stayed at work had a really hard time, but also many people who were on furlough tried to survived the whole situation, especially mentally.
I have not been furloughed since the beginning, while rest of the team including the manager has been furloughed. Now while govt announced the furlough scheme to be continued through November, I’m still asked to continue working. While i asked if I could go on furlough, manager said they would enforce my holidays which are due and then i get back to work.
This is so unfair, nor I can be furloughed and take some rest nor I get my proper paid holidays, while rest of them have been back to their countries being with families the whole 7 months and still continue.
So the non furloughed employees are the ones having no rights no gratitude no appreciation.
P.s. not to forget we were equally assessed for redundancy and not considering time worked during this pandemic.
It is same here, I have been working from day one and I approached our HR and requested for furlough in Oct but have been refused and when I mentioned I am feeling stress and anxious they have asked me to use my leave where as people sitting at home for last 9 months still have their leave. How is Equal opportunities?