“Furloughed” isn’t a term that many of us had heard prior to March 2020 – and many small business owners seemed initially to struggle to understand what it meant for their enterprise. Now, however, it’s a term we’re all too familiar with as almost half of businesses have, or will (according to the British Chamber of Commerce) furlough at least 50% of their staff. Government support means that businesses can furlough staff in return for 80% of their wages, up to a maximum of £2,500. While this creates an essential financial lifeline what does it mean for the mental wellbeing of employees and how can businesses ensure that this is protected?
Keep communication channels open
Even if what you have to say is not positive it’s important to be open and honest with staff. Don’t shy away from bad news until it’s too late – for example, not being upfront about payments that aren’t going to be made, or which are being reduced, will simply mean that employees don’t have time to try and cope with the impact of that financial loss (e.g. by requesting a mortgage holiday). Create a written plan that shows what 80% of salary looks like and give your staff support with the financial side of the changes. If you want to retain the trust and respect of your team then honesty has to be the priority.
Speak to people individually
Being furloughed is likely to mean different things to different people and individuals will have a lot of questions. Take the time to chat with each of the people affected and discuss how they’re going to cope with the impact. If you feel like there are signs of anxiety and depression setting in this might mean they need additional emotional support.
Emphasise their value
It’s important to show staff that they are valued and that the changes you’re making aren’t a reflection of what their ongoing efforts mean to the business. Perhaps the worst possible approach to an employee who feels aggrieved, for example, is to simply tell them if they don’t like it you’ll find someone else. Take the human, compassionate approach and take responsibility for the impact this is having on their lives if you want to keep their trust.
Regular check-ins are important
The COVID-19 crisis is constantly evolving and the impact on someone in one week might be different to how they feel the next. It can be helpful to schedule regular check-ins with furloughed staff to ensure that they are coping and to find out what has changed in their lives. Do they need help budgeting with the new salary, have they contracted the virus or are they dealing with a relative who is now in a hospital? All of this information will affect how they interact with your business and help to ensure that you can have a positive impact on their wellbeing at this time.
Being furloughed may be a financial lifesaver for many employees but can also have an emotional impact that any businesses needs to be aware of and ready to provide support for.