Practical tips, ideas and useful resources for keeping in touch and communicating with your furloughed employees. There’s something for leaders, managers, communicators and HR pros too, covering the why, who, how, where and what (not) to do.

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various employees who could be on furlough

Let’s start with the why

Of course you’re going to communicate all the statutory stuff to your employees on furlough (you are, aren’t you?), but there are many reasons for going further than that. Here’s a few:

  • to help your people feel connected and still part of their work community
  • to avoid a “them and us” situation between your employees on furlough and those still working
  • to keep messages clear and consistent
  • to provide reassurance and useful support and information
  • to avoid a rumour mill caused by a communication void
  • ‘cos you’re trying your damn-dest to get through this crap, you care, and want everyone who works for you to be ok …

So – plenty of good reasons 🙂 Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty of who should do the communication, and how.

Who should communicate with furloughed employees?

No matter if your team is three or 3,000, communications will be a lot easier if you can lay out a plan for who’s responsible for what and when, and get buy-in for it. Depending on the size of your organisation and who does what, different communications could originate from:

  • Employees’ own manager
  • Chief Executive or other members of the Leadership Team
  • HR
  • Communications
  • Business specialists
  • Furloughed employees themselves

We’re all new to this situation, so bear in mind you may need to provide additional training and support where it’s needed to help communication happen. Do your Managers need any additional skills or information to support their team members on furlough? Could your CEO do with a how-to-film-myself-on-my-phone tutorial? Are acting Managers in place where other Managers have been furloughed or are off sick, for example?

How can I communicate with employees on furlough?

Employees on furlough aren’t allowed to do any work for their employer, so sending loads of emails about day-to-day business work activities to employees’ work email that goes to their work mobile isn’t the way to go. Communications:

  • Will be opt in not opt out – ie the employee has made the choice and said they’re happy to receive them
  • Will be to employees’ personal email/mobile, not their work one
  • Won’t rely on one method – too many text-heavy emails will stop people scrolling; and too many non-subtitled videos can switch off colleagues without a laptop/headphones/a quiet space to listen.
  • Won’t all be super-professionally polished

Where can I communicate with furloughed employees and how do I get their feedback?

There are loads of virtual options out there for two-way communication (Zoom, Google Hangouts etc), plus of course you can “push” out information on externally-hosted websites that don’t need work logins, via email, text, Whatsapp, Facebook Groups etc. Just make sure employees have given their a-ok before you click “send”.

And let’s not forget old-school post 🙂

How to get employee feedback

You can also ask employees what types of communication they prefer. OK, so you might not have the capacity to accommodate communication preferences for 100 different furloughed employees straight away, but you can certainly use feedback to firm up and evolve your communications as time goes on.

Virtual options to help gather feedback quickly include:

  • I recently discovered Menti, and it’s genius. Use it to spice up presentations and online meetings with live polls, Q&As, quizzes and more. Free option available, though functionality and privacy is ramped up significantly with a paid plan (paid plans from £8.99 per month).
  • Survey Monkey. Long-established online provider of polls, surveys and more. Free option available, though I’d recommend a paid plan.
  • TinyPulse. Pulse surveys to understand employees’ response to a particular question over time. TinyPulse also offers “Cheers for Peers” colleague recognition. Free options available until 31 May.

For more personal one-to-one communication, Managers should understand their own employees’ circumstances and preferences: if Whatsapp is better than Zoom, if mornings are better than afternoons for example due to home-schooling, a partners’ shift pattern, or availability of a quiet space.

What should I communicate to furloughed employees?

Some communications will be applicable for both furloughed and non-furloughed employees, and it’s important to keep those still working in the loop too. They need to know if their colleagues will be off for the minimum three-week period or if furloughs are being extended, particularly if it impacts their own workload or shift patterns.

Here are some ideas:

Furlough practicalities – make sure these are covered off

First up, make sure you’ve covered off furlough practicalities, and that employees know who and how they’ll be contacted about coming back to work or if their furlough is being extended. Also make sure employees know who to contact with any furlough-related questions, especially if their usual Manager is also furloughed!

Reminders about your Employee Assistance Programme

If you have an Employee Assistance Programme, now’s a good time to remind all your employees about it. Make sure everyone knows the support available and how to access it.

Signpost health and wellbeing resources

It’s fairly straightforward to compile a list of existing services that furloughed and non-furloughed workers can access for free and which could be helpful:

  • For mental health support, there’s online advice from Mind, and anyone can call The Samaritans’ free listening service on 116 123.
  • Consider creating a bank of well-being resources for staff such as yoga videos, grounding techniques, guided meditations and journaling ideas.
  • Other useful resources could include links to information about coronavirus mortgage payment holidays, home schooling tips, tips for those who may have a loved one with dementia (this is one close to my heart – my mother-in-law has dementia and trying to help from a safe social distance is a challenge!)
  • And let’s not forget NHS coronavirus advice.

You can also ask employees what type of resources they would like to see.

Online support sessions

You could use the expertise of colleagues who aren’t on furlough to offer help address specifics needs or queries, particularly if you’re getting lots of questions about the same topic. A couple of starter-for-ten ideas include:

  • Offering 1-2-1 video or phone consultations with a company mental health first aider or occupational health specialist
  • Running a webinar to explain a furlough payslip and what’s different about it.

Depending on topics, some of these could be helpful for non-furloughed employees too!

Postal gifts

Isn’t it lovely to receive an unexpected gift in the post? A birthday card, emergency biscuit supplies, Yorkshire Tea … a little surprise – maybe coupled with a nice note from the CEO – is a fairly simple way to keep furloughed employees connected. Don’t forget to do the same or an equivalent for employees who are still working though 🙂

Leadership communications

A good leaders’ ability to provide hope and vision shouldn’t be put to one side because they’re likely working from home. Keeping leaders visible is the key, and their tone reassuring, relatable and empathetic. Communications ideas for leaders include:

  • Ask the CEO. The CEO doing a video/live video call to answer some of the common questions employees have asked. You may choose to run different events for furloughed/non-furloughed colleagues.
  • “Town Hall” presentation. You can make these virtual using – amongst others – Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

Manager check-ins

As well as communicating information clearly, Managers need to be open to listening too.

How people are managing will vary and employees could well begin to see the mental health impact of social distancing and/or self-isolation as the weeks go on. I found this article – aimed at Managers – on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five States of Grief Model particularly helpful.

More generally, managers should be prepared to engage in difficult conversations and not expect individuals to raise personal issues in a group setting. Make sure employees can easily arrange a 1-2-1 to talk through any personal concerns.

Managers can be hugely influential on how an employee is feeling about their workplace. If an employees’ manager has also been furloughed, make sure they know who else they can turn to.

Virtual team meetings

Instead of using email, if your team are up for it you can agree regular virtual team meetings to check in and deliver any important updates. Employees may well be juggling lots of responsibilities at home so make these short, regular, and not too often.

Some teams use temporary WhatsApp groups as well – but try and set some informal ground rules for it if you do – hundreds of WhatsApp messages might be a brilliant way of connecting for some, but unhelpful and unwanted for those who are trying to take care of their mental health during this very stressful period.

Remember, furloughed employees cannot continue to work for employers when they are furloughed, so any team communications are just to maintain contact and share any news.

Socials – which can be employee-led

Two companies I know organise virtual Zoom night out drinks. Other ideas include online bingo, quizzes or exercise classes. You can encourage employees to set up their own online socials – make it easy by providing access to a paid-for Zoom account or similar for better privacy and so they don’t have to limit events to 40 minutes. Lead by example and make sure that key managers attend some events too 🙂

Communicating with furloughed employees: a summary

 Get consent and use personal contact details

  • Don’t get into work specifics
  • Have a communication schedule, know who’s responsible for what, and stick to it
  • Mix it up
  • Involve employees and get their feedback
  • Don’t forget your non-furloughed employees
  • Cut folks some slack – we’re all new to this

What are your top tips for communicating with furloughed employees? Have you come across good examples? Or those where it went badly wrong? Share your feedback below, I’ve love to hear from you!