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Staying Connected: How to Engage and Communicate with Furloughed Employees

Posted by Alexandra Kane on May 25, 2020 7:21:00 AM
Alexandra Kane

The decision to furlough employees was, no doubt, one of the most difficult you’ve had to make as a business leader. No one builds and grows a company with plans to furlough. Just like no one expected the world to essentially stand still while we battled this virus. But here we are, and we’re all trying to make the best of it and come out on the other side.

While the decision to furlough employees was a difficult one, furloughed employees are still members of your team. In fact, the best practices of employee engagement and communication are magnified right now. Furloughed employees are stressed and scared for a myriad of reasons. 

The communications and decisions you make right now could make a massive difference on your productivity, retention and recruiting for years to come. Plus, engaging and communicating with furloughed employees during such an uneasy time is the right thing to do. 

Essentials for engaging and communicating with your furloughed employees

So, what DO you do to effectively engage and communicate with furloughed employees right now? Let’s break down the essentials:

Be sure you actually have consent to communicate with them

As part of accepting a furlough, your employees can’t engage in any work, or anything that is perceived as work. That means no logging into company emails or intranet. Makes communicating a bit of a challenge, I know! 

Since these methods are out, you’ll need consent from your furloughed employees to communicate with them using their personal email addresses, home addresses and cell phone numbers (for calls and/or texts). Yes, I know this may sound a little bit like the chicken and the egg scenario. You’ll have to send out at least one message in order to gain consent. Ideally, you’ll want something traceable and trackable (ie not a phone call), to document the consent. You may not have personal email addresses for all your employees, but it’s highly likely you have cell phone numbers. One of the simplest ways to reach out to everyone in a streamlined manner is to craft a consent-requesting text and send it to your entire team using your engagement platform. Here’s an example:

Hi [NAME], we want to keep you in the loop during this challenging time -- is it okay for us to call or text you at this number? Simply reply with a “yes” or “no” to let us know! You can also reply with your personal email address if that’s your preferred method of communication. Thank you!

Once you have this consent, you can put into motion your engagement and communication strategy. 

Arm them with important information about support/assistance

There is federal and state assistance available for a majority of Americans right now (and similar programs throughout the world), but your employees may not be aware of all the assistance that is available to them. 

Your HR department should have a resource ready (if not, make this a priority) with links and phone numbers for your furloughed employees to access this assistance. This can be sent as a text or email attachment to your team. Send this one out as soon as possible, since many areas are reporting delays in receiving their assistance. 

Here’s a sample text (or email, if requested) that could accompany this attachment (or link to download):

Hi [NAME], we know that it’s an especially difficult time right now, and we want to be sure you’re armed with information on the resources and assistance available to you right now. This file contains information, links and/or phone numbers for the programs available in your area. If you have any questions, please let us know. 

Empower them with upskill opportunities

When we’re under stress -- particularly when we’re stuck at home without much freedom to, well, do much of anything -- it can be easy to fall into a rut. It’s hard to imagine how stressed and scared furloughed employees are feeling right now. But, you can help them stay positive AND show them that your company is continuously invested in their future and success by sharing volunteer and upskill opportunities. 

From Coursera, Teachable and Lynda courses to local (and online) volunteer opportunities, to online certifications, there are SO many resources available in a variety of fields. Be careful not to send any company training materials, as that could be construed as “work,” which is verboten with furloughed employees. 

Not only will you be helping your furloughed team stay excited and engaged in their careers during a difficult time, you’ll be able to put those new skills to use when they come back to work! 

Tread carefully while communicating about this topic. You don’t want it to seem like you’re pressuring your team to “work” while they’re on furlough. Here’s a potential text or email you could send:

Hi [NAME], If you’re looking for some new ways to keep busy right now, we found some really excellent volunteer and online training opportunities that you may find interesting. Check them out here: [LINK or ⬇️ pointing to the attachment].

Check in to let them know they’re not forgotten

Using surveys to check in from time to time with your furloughed employees is a great way to demonstrate that you care about them, and that you -- of course -- haven’t forgotten about them. It’s also an excellent way to gain feedback that can help you communicate more effectively as long as their furlough lasts. 

Keep your survey simple and ask direct questions about how employees are feeling, what they may be struggling with, what they need help with and how you might be able to help them more (within legal boundaries) during this challenging time. It should be easy for them to complete on their phones, ideally in under 10 minutes. 

Here’s a short text (or email) that you could use to share the survey:

Hi [NAME], We want you to know that we’re thinking of you, and we want to help! We’ve prepared a short survey asking for feedback so that we can help you get through this time as best as possible. When you have 5 minutes, could you click through? [LINK}

Share wellness tips

Scan social media and you’ll see plenty of reports about the “quarantine 15.”  The Census Bureau has reported upticks in levels of depression and anxiety since the pandemic hit. And in general, many people simply aren’t practicing self care. 

That’s not good for anyone.

Whether it’s reminders to get out for a walk, sharing meditation tips from Headspace or Calm or sending a link to delicious healthy recipes, sharing wellness tips is a powerful engagement tool that can make a serious, positive impact on your furloughed employees. 

Like all communications, keep these short and sweet:

Hi [NAME] -- whether the sky is blue or cloudy, a little fresh air does the body and mind some good! Why not lace up and get out for a walk. Around the block or for a few miles -- every step counts! 

Communicate through changes

As this situation unfolds, some furloughed employees may eventually be laid off. At this point, it’s important to recognize them as members of your Alumni community. Nothing will remove the fear that comes with being laid off. But, stressing to these individuals that they are valued members of your Alumni community can help ease some of the pain once the initial shock has worn off. 

Avoid anything trite or too emotional right now. It could come off as condescending or even insulting to individuals whose lives have been turned upside down. But showing that you care and are there for them in the long run can go a long way. And continuing to communicate down the line can go even further -- once things turn around, sending these communications can significantly increase the chances that laid off employees would come back. 

Here’s a place to start with that initial Alumni communication (remember, keep it simple!): 

[NAME], we know this isn’t an easy time. But, we wanted to let you know that you are a valued member of our Alumni community. From time to time, we may touch base. If you don’t want to receive these communications, just let us know by replying to this message. 

Check in with clients whose direct hires were furloughed

No one has been left untouched by the current situation. Now’s a great time to check in with your clients as well. In many cases, they may have direct hires from your firm who have been furloughed. And they may not know how to communicate or maintain ties with these employees. Share these tips with them. Ask them how you can help. Look for ways to provide value without expectation. It may seem trite, but we truly are all in this together. And showing your value as a resource in times like this can go a long way, which could help your business in the long run for sure. 

These communications don’t have to be overwhelming

I know this might all seem like a LOT to do. So many communications to so many people! But with a strong engagement platform, your team can create and disseminate key messages without spending hours typing away. When a personal touch is needed, the transition is seamless. 

With so much on your plate right now, tight personnel resources and a heightened sense of stress, knowing that your people and relationships are being nurtured and engaged is a big deal. Here at Sense, we understand, and we’re here to help. To learn how our platform can help you communicate with furloughed employees, clients, prospects and more, contact us to schedule a demo.

Topics: automated communication, contractor care, candidate engagement, COVID-19

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