Leadership considerations for employees not furloughed
Kiddy & Partners
To keep the economy moving and safeguard employment in the UK, the government introduced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme as part of a package of measures to alleviate the impact of Covid-19 on organisations.
It aims to help employers to avoid redundancies and alleviate the economic impact, as well as ensuring organisations have the workforce they require once the situation improves.
In our other article we already discussed the people management implications of the coronavirus situation, but with regards to the novel Job Retention Scheme, what are the crucial leadership considerations?
We’ve addressed this question in two articles. The first explored the leadership considerations for employees who are being furloughed. This article tackles the question: what do leaders need to consider with regards to employees who remain working during this period?
Much is said about the highly uncertain environment organisations are required to operate in today, but Covid-19 and furloughing creates further ambiguity at an organisational and employee level. This ambiguous operating context requires clear, transparent and ongoing communication from leadership, communication which should take place early on in a situation even if information is incomplete . From the beginning, it’s important that all employees have a shared understanding as to why and how furloughing decisions have been made.
While the immediate focus should be on communicating the decision to the employees who have been placed on furlough, in the case of employees who remain at work, clear communication from leadership with respect to work distribution and how their roles may be affected is critical. This will help to alleviate any concerns these individuals may have, ensure that they have a clear understanding of what’s being asked of them, as well as serve as an opportunity for leaders to inspire those still working by reminding them of the organisation’s purpose.
- Look to allay any fears, since isolation can exacerbate stress levels 
- Explain the current business strategy in response to the situation
- Invite questions and concerns – ensuring continued and frequent communication about the situation during the furlough period
- Go beyond work-related topics. Checking-in with people on their general well-being will help leaders to stay alert to any signs of stress, anxiety or burnout, and identify how best to keep staff engaged
A reduced workforce may be a good opportunity for those who remain at work to be involved in projects they may not be involved in otherwise, allowing them to use alternative skills and add value in different ways, and therefore increasing their engagement and motivation .
However, these employees are being asked to be highly flexible and to adapt to a new situation at pace. Therefore, careful consideration must be given by leaders to the redistribution of work from those who have been furloughed, and the additional demands being placed on the employees who remain at work. While short-term efficiency gains may be made as a result of furloughing, that may come at a cost to quality and safety, and more importantly, to the health and well-being of the employees who remain at work . An increased workload with additional new responsibilities, in what is already a challenging time professionally and personally for all employees, may increase the likelihood of work-related stress and ultimately lead to burnout, impacting negatively on employee engagement.
This situation requires leaders to:
- Constantly assess workstreams and monitor employees’ well-being
- Check-in frequently with employees on a 1:1 basis where possible
Doing so will minimise the risk of stress or other work-related health concerns among these employees, as well as enhance engagement and organisational performance.
Planning for after furloughing period
As individuals who remain at work will take on additional responsibilities while their colleagues are on furlough, leaders will need to be forward thinking to ensure that plans are in place for how work is re-distributed and handed over as effectively and seamlessly as possible once employees return from furlough.
While creating these plans, leaders may need to consider the following:
- Whether specific work is automatically reallocated to the individuals who had responsibility for the work before they were placed on furlough. Those who have remained at work and taken on this additional work/responsibility in the interim may understandably feel a sense of ownership and pride over what they’ve achieved. Consequently, reallocation of responsibilities should be done with due recognition of this. Otherwise, this may lead to a reduced sense of purpose for these individuals, as well as diminished engagement and commitment to the organisation
- Ensuring that the efforts of those who have remained at work and been flexible and supportive does not go unnoticed. This TedTalk provides powerful examples of why recognition is so important, highlighting how easy it could be to inadvertently demotivate employees who have remained working during this time
- Does this provide an opportunity to review the optimal allocation of responsibilities, in light of peoples’ strengths and the revised business priorities?
Additionally, those employees who have not been placed on furlough in the first instance may be concerned about whether they will be furloughed in the near future. As discussed previously, frequent and transparent communication is key here to ensure that these employees are clear on the next steps that the organisation must take in response to the current environment.
Remaining at work and keeping the ship afloat while colleagues are placed on furlough will be challenging for staff. Consequently, leaders face a critical challenge to maintain the engagement, motivation and commitment of these individuals, a task which is challenging ordinarily, and heightened given the current context.
You can access Gateley’s legal guidance on the topic by following the link.
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- Coombs, W. T. (2014). Ongoing crisis communication: Planning, managing, and responding. Sage Publications.
- Eurofound and the International Labour Office. (2017). Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, and the International Labour Office, Geneva.
- Sonnentag, S. (2017). A task-level perspective on work engagement: A new approach that helps to differentiate the concepts of engagement and burnout. Burnout Research, 5, 12-20.
- Sucher, S. J., & Gupta, S. (2018). Layoffs That Don’t Break Your Company. Harvard Business Review, May-June 2018 Issue. Accessed: https://hbr.org/2018/05/layoffs-that-dont-break-your-company.