The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is a lifeline for many organisations struggling to keep the lights on. Under the scheme, the government will pay 80% of staff wages up to £2,5000 a month, plus employer National Insurance and pension contributions, for those who can’t work or whose organisations can’t afford to pay them.
But the choice to put staff on ice is never easy. Staff who are put on furlough, either permanently or on rotation, might react to the situation differently. While some might welcome the extra time, others might be finding it harder to adjust, feeling anxious or even questioning the importance of their role in your organisation.
It’s worth remembering that while it’s illegal for them to work for you under furlough, it’s perfectly within the rules for staff to look for other work. Charities must do everything in their power to retain the people they have and ensure they still feel valued while we all negotiate this uncertain time.
Furloughed staff may be worrying about how your charity is doing, and whether or not they will have a job to go back to. That’s why it’s important to keep up communication them and be as transparent as possible. Let them know how they can contact you, and provide other channels such as WhatsApp, Zoom or Skype if they won’t be using their work email or other systems.
Make it clear how much they will get paid, and provide links to where they can access further information like guidance on their rights under the furlough scheme – such as the Citizens Advice website.
Mental health is also an important consideration, as charity staff are often emotionally invested in their work and gain a sense of purpose from what they do. It’s a good idea to provide some support and guidance that lets them know you have their wellbeing and safety in mind, just as you should for non-furloughed employees now working remotely.
Mental health charity Mind has a clear and comprehensive checklist for staying healthy during lockdown. You might also want to provide suggested apps for download – the NHS provides a list of apps that can help people manage their mental health, such as popular mindfulness and meditation app Headspace.
Fuelling a positive culture for remote workers can be a challenge. It’s also just as important to keep furloughed staff feeling like they’re a valued part of your organisation and their team still. Not only will it keep them motivated and prevent feelings of social isolation, keeping furloughed staff in communication will save you time and productivity in the long run.
Encourage staff to keep in contact with colleagues who are on furloughed leave, and if you send out staff newsletters make sure furloughed staff are included. They aren’t allowed to work, but you can still involve them in any after-work social time without a specific agenda, such as Friday night ’pub’ sessions over Zoom. The video platform has loads of ideas for staff social activities over on its blog.
Consider setting up regular wellbeing catch-up video calls with furloughed staff, whether one on one or together with other furloughed colleagues, which can be a great opportunity to share not only the latest news and developments from your charity but also take a minute to share what everyone’s doing to keep well and simply to reconnect.
Just like adding structure to face to face meetings can help them flow more smoothly, bringing a little structure into video calls can help make people more comfortable and allow them to relax and connect in the moment. For example- going around the group and asking a specific question like ’What’s one thing you’ve done to be creative this week?’
While staff can’t carry out work under furlough, or risk being disqualified, training is allowed as long as it does not also provide services to or generate revenue for the organisation while they’re undertaking it. Carrying out an online training course could be a good way of using the time to upskill staff in areas that are valuable to your organisation
Everyone is different – while some people might welcome the opportunity to work on new skills while furloughed, others might need the time to look after children or vulnerable relatives, so it’s worth asking furloughed staff what their goals might be during leave.
The skills to make the most of digital are now an even more sought after commodity for everyone. It might be as simple as working on their Microsoft Excel skills or how to use Google Docs, which can be done through informal sessions over video.
It’s worth noting that if staff are required to complete online training courses while on furlough, they must be paid for the time spent training - at the National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage, even if this is more than the 80% of their wage that’s been subsided.