Engaging furloughed employees so they're ready to return to work
Furlough is the latest hot topic of the moment, as businesses around the world are beginning to feel the squeeze the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on the global economy.
Furloughed employees are those that are asked to take an involuntary leave of absence to mitigate the economic impact caused by emergency pandemic measures introduced the world over.
In recent weeks millions around the world have been asked to step down from their positions and go on leave until further notice. Staff are not permitted to undertake any work while under furlough, even voluntarily. So while furloughed employees are under strict instruction not to undertake any working duties, employers remain responsible for providing a duty of care. In addition, savvy businesses will be thinking about how they can ensure that furloughed employees remain engaged to the extent that when normal work resumes, they will be able to 'pick up where they left off'.
Why keeping furloughed employees engaged is a business priority
Preventing staff from working presents a quandary for businesses affected by this crisis. Employers will need to keep staff in the loop to ensure a smooth and successful return, but how do you engage employees prevented from undertaking any work?
Though it may seem unclear exactly when, employees will be asked to come back to work in the near future. If months have gone by and those on furlough have disengaged, employers will face the arduous task of bringing their returning workforce up to speed. This may lead to significant losses in productivity that further impact your bottom line, as disengagement costs enterprises $450-500 billion annually.
Difficult times such as these are when corporate culture becomes a stanchion for employees affected by a crisis. A strong, positive culture can prove to be an invaluable lifeline for keeping furloughed employees switched on and connected to your organization. As the glue that keeps your company together, taking steps to establish an inclusive culture that supports furloughed employees is key for businesses at this time.
How to fuel a positive culture for remote workers
Even under normal working conditions, cultivating a positive culture is both a challenge and a priority. Remote work can add an additional layer of complexity because it’s more difficult for dispersed workforces to unite under one vision. Paired with proper strategy and open lines of communication, the right set of digital tools can fuel a positive culture that boosts employee satisfaction and encourages every user to reach peak performance.
Top tips for engaging furloughed employees
#1. Build dedicated support sites
As the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic worsened, your business may have already elected to host a dedicated coronavirus crisis portal on your intranet software where employees can access all the information and support they need during this time. A dedicated site for furloughed employees can also be a vital pillar of support for keeping people informed and aware of how furlough affects them. This support ensures that those placed on furlough don't feel as though they have been forgotten by your organization, making them aware of your efforts to keep them in the loop. HR resources, legal documents, content targeted towards furloughed employees, and guidelines should all be made available from your furlough support site.
#2. Keep social abuzz
People that have taken a step away from work don't have to lose touch with their colleagues and your business. A lively social platform will keep furloughed employees connected with each other and to your enterprise. Social channels, especially those dedicated to talking about things outside of work, can become a vital communications tool for furloughed employees. Open discussions and forums where staff can support each other, ask for advice, or simply keep in touch will go a long way to replacing water cooler chat, while polls and surveys can help your business gather feedback at this critical time.
#3. Tailor your internal communications
Internal communications are an organization's bread and butter during a crisis, but adding in the wrinkle of furloughed employees can complicate the matter. Content and communications will need to take advantage of every channel at their disposal to reach your furloughed workforce. Email broadcasts and mandatory read functionality will play a part in distributing crucial updates, but keeping employees engaged with your culture will require a softer touch. Most furloughed employees will likely access your intranet on mobile devices, so podcasts, video content, and other rich media will prove more effective than traditional communications.
#4. Mobile steps up
Furloughed employees aren't likely to use work devices during their time away, so employers need to ensure they're able to reach and engage people on any device. A mobile-first intranet is a crucial aspect of any engagement strategy, but during a crisis like this, it takes on even more significance. Optimizing your digital workplace for mobile users, using push notifications, and creating content specifically for mobile means that furloughed employees have the tools to stay engaged at their fingertips.
#5. Target content towards furloughed employees
Communicating with furloughed and non-furloughed employees will require distinct approaches. To ensure your comms efforts don't alienate either audience, content specifically created for those on leave should be a key aspect of any engagement strategy. Create an audience within your CMS of all those employees currently placed on furlough, and use this to target content towards them. This ensures that when people receive notifications or log in to your intranet for updates, they see content that is relevant and engaging to them and their unique situation.
#6. Continue to offer support
Employers still have a duty of care to their furloughed employees. This means continuing to support the health and wellbeing of employees, even when they're on enforced leave. In fact, in such uncertain times, the need to provide robust mental health support is amplified. Ensuring furloughed employees still have access to wellbeing resources is critical to supporting employees in challenging times. Consider ways of stepping up mental health support, either by concentrating communications efforts in this area or by launching peer-to-peer support initiatives that encourage employees to support each other.
#7. Spotlight ambassadors
As employees are asked to take a step away from work, your enterprise can only offer so much support. Those that use this time as a break from the workplace, even digitally, maybe unreceptive to efforts to keep them engaged. This is where your people can become a valuable asset for maintaining a sense of community and reaching those placed on furlough. Internal ambassadors within your business should be made findable on your intranet's people directory with profile badges. Furloughed employees can then search your intranet for these ambassadors and reach out for advice, guidance, or just an informal chat. After all, humans are social creatures. The steps you take to engage furloughed employees will prove essential when the time comes to return to work, but there is no substitute for social interaction to maintaining culture and keeping people connected.