Lawrence Stephens

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How to support your colleagues through furlough

May 2020

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt everywhere. Businesses across the country are feeling the strain, and many of us will have friends, family members and colleagues who have been furloughed through the Government’s Job Retention Scheme. The scheme ensures that these individuals remain employed, despite no longer being able to carry out any work. Because of this, it remains a top priority for workplaces to ensure that their furloughed staff continue to receive support and updates from their colleagues and stay engaged. Below, we outline some of the key ways this can be achieved. 

Keep everyone in the loop 

New social distancing measures to help curb the spread of the virus mean that for many, the regular opportunities to contact and socialise with others have been drastically reduced. For furloughed workers, this also means losing out on the many hours they would normally have spent working. Adjusting to a life largely confined to being indoors and without your usual working duties is undoubtedly difficult, and could result in furloughed staff feeling disengaged and out of the loop. 

To address this, employers should ensure that all members of staff, including those on furlough, are kept up to date with key information throughout this period. This could involve ensuring that all members of staff are subscribed to company newsletters and are involved in relevant team meetings, socials, calls, and other forms of correspondence, but should also include formal contact to provide an update on the current status of the business, whether (and what) further measures are being considered, any decisions made and next steps.

Staff should also continue to reach out to their furloughed colleagues to nurture friendships and share any team wins or personal and professional milestones. Doing so ensures that everyone remains just as much a part of the company’s success as before, and is aware that they are, and continue to be a valued member of the team. 

Support your colleagues in pursuing training and personal development 

As mentioned above, furloughed staff are no longer able to carry out any work for their employers, and as a result, a number of organisations have made their online courses and training programmes available for free online. These courses span across industries and are designed to fit around schedules. 

Many employers will be looking to demonstrate their continued commitment to personal and professional development, and supporting furloughed staff in pursuing new or existing interests can help achieve this. Likewise, being furloughed certainly does not mean that careers need to be put on hold, particularly as during this time, furloughed employees may be suffering with days that have no structure. Instead, furloughed workers should be supported in their pursuits throughout this period, and encouraged to put themselves and their personal development first. 

Keep on track of Wellbeing and Mental Health 

Monitoring workplace wellbeing during a global pandemic is undoubtedly extremely challenging.  

To ensure your team’s mental health remains a top priority, keep in regular contact with people – furloughed or otherwise – to discuss their development and job satisfaction. Staying transparent, igniting discussion and checking in regularly on a one-to-one basis, as well as in usual groups will ensure that employees feel supported.  

Whilst physical meetings are not currently possible, employers and colleagues should continue to schedule regular catch ups using video conferencing tools such as Skype or Zoom. The frequency of these meetings remains up the parties involved, but a recurring date and time ensures the commitment is upheld and gives time to consider the messages they wish to deliver.  Be pro-active – what will you do as a leader, manager or business where you sense that staff are struggling?  How would you want and expect to be treated?  It is actions that will make all the difference at this time.

If your business operates a pathway of support for employees struggling with mental health issues, review it and consider if there are any further steps required to be taken in light of the current (and as we have heard so many times before, unprecedented) situation.  For example, can you reach out and provide resources for employees who need additional support, arrange virtual exercise classes or social gatherings? Take some time to think about how this can be tackled as an organisation and team, as well as consider each individual.

Create time to do some team bonding 

At the moment, a considerable proportion of the working day is being spent considering Covid-19 related work issues and mitigation.  It is no wonder that despite being in the comfort and safety of our own homes, people are feeling exhausted and despondent at the constant negative news streams.  

Making time to connect outside of the professional sphere reminds staff that their colleagues are still there, as well as providing some light relief.

Allow for space and time too

Allowing staff some time to adapt to their new situation.  The pursuit of personal hobbies and interests should also be encouraged.  Whilst individuals are not working, it allows time for personal reflection and creativity.  This could be the difference between returning to “normality” and the next great idea to propel your business forward.

In conclusion 

Addressing mental health and wellbeing should be a priority at all times, but even more so now in the age of Covid-19 as the lines between work and home become increasingly blurred.  Whether your people are continuing to work or you have been forced into furloughing some or all of your staff, workplace wellbeing will be high on the agendas of businesses coming out of the crisis flourishing rather than floundering.

Jeff Rubenstein, Corporate Partner at Lawrence Stephens adds “At Lawrence Stephens, we see the health and wellbeing of our staff as a priority.  We encourage our people to be open, honest and to communicate with us.  This means that staff wellbeing, whether connected to work or otherwise, is nurtured.  We understand the importance of this in ensuring a positive and engaged workforce, as well as guaranteeing the best possible outcomes for our clients”. 

Gregory Palos, Real Estate, Secured Lending and Banking Partner also said “Our commitment to the wellbeing of our staff is paramount, now more than ever.  Those in leadership roles within the firm have been encouraged to reach out to colleagues and we have ensured that departmental calls take place weekly, as well as regular one-to-one meetings.  We also make time for social activities within the constraints of social distancing, such as remote team drinks, quizzes and interactive games nights”.