How not to let furloughed team members feel left behind

22 May 2020 -

Person making a video call on a laptopSchedule meeting time with them – and don’t cut it short. Have regular check-ins – they don’t need to be one-to-one.

Guest blogger, Ama Afrifa-Tchie, MHFA England

It’s thought that more than nine million people across the UK have now been put on the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and thereby been furloughed. At an already unsettling and stressful time for everyone, being furloughed may have a detrimental effect on an individual’s mental health. Employers still have a vital role in supporting these individuals and this must be high up on all organisations’ agendas.

The majority of us are experiencing heightened stress with new statistics showing nearly half of Britons are suffering 'high level' anxiety at the moment. This increased stress may be for a range of reasons, from uncertainty about the future to financial security. At this time, furloughed employees may feel even more vulnerable, and despite the pause in their employment having no connection to their performance or value, many may feel undervalued and decreased self-worth.

It is important to be aware of how furloughed employees may be feeling at this time and City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA) provides useful information on the different ways individuals may respond.

You can read more from CMI’s conversation with Poppy Jaman from CMHA here.

As lockdown is extended and we all struggle with the social distancing rules, furloughed staff may experience a lack of purpose, a loss of day-to-day structure or feelings of isolation and abandonment that are magnified by not working their usual hours.

It is the responsibility of every organisation, senior leader and manager to ensure support is in place to help these employees. Not everyone will experience these feelings, but there are a number of steps managers should take to support those who are struggling.

Keeping connected with colleagues can help challenge negative thinking patterns, which can contribute to someone feeling unimportant and under-valued. Make sure you are communicating regularly with furloughed workers, keeping in mind that each person’s circumstances and experience will be different. Some may welcome the chance to spend more time with family, others will feel isolated – by keeping in touch you can identify those who may need extra communication and reassurance.

If you’re unsure of how to start a conversation with a furloughed employee, remember you don’t have to be an expert. Give people the opportunity to talk about how they’re feeling; arrange enough time so you don’t have to cut the conversation short; and have the call in a distraction-free space so the individual feels comfortable that the conversation is confidential and they are being taken seriously.

Equally, checking in on furloughed staff doesn’t always have to be one-to-one, it can be as simple as arranging a virtual social like a group team quiz or book club once a week, so furloughed employees feel involved and connected.

Communicating clearly and effectively with all employees, furloughed or not, is vital during this uncertain time. Managers should be clear that furlough isn’t because of mismanagement or underperformance. Furlough is a completely new concept to most of us, so outlining business priorities and if you can, the likely length of the furlough period will help all employees feel informed and reassured. Make sure all employees know that they can access further support and ask questions. It is especially important furloughed employees know what services are still available to them, for example, access to the organisation’s EAP, Mental Health First Aiders, and any other support networks in place. MHFA England has mobilised 500,000 Mental Health First Aiders to support people’s mental health remotely at this time and the NHS-endorsed Every Mind Matters app offers lots of online resources to help support people with their mental health at this time.

Why not check out the other excellent articles on our Leading Through Uncertainty hub?

Ama Afrifa-Tchie is the Head of Culture and Wellbeing at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England. You can find more information on self-care tips that can be shared with furloughed employees and guidance for supporting your wellbeing at home on MHFA England’s website.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re pleased to point you towards some useful CMI resources and articles: