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Tackling the F-word – What we’ve done to support our furloughed staff

April 22, 2020

Tackling the F-word – What we’ve done to support our furloughed staff

HR has always had to adapt quickly to change, whether it be new guidelines, legal updates, contract changes, or just to keep on the pulse of innovative practices.

Yet despite the speed of change, there has always been guidance in place to demonstrate and implement best practices.

And then furloughing came along.

What is furloughing?

To give its official name – the “Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme” – is a welcome addition to the support available to employers during the unprecedented and challenging times caused by COVID-19. This is support that can protect jobs from what may otherwise be the threat of redundancy, lay-off or short-time working, which, prior to the Chancellor’s announcement was all we had to work with.

This new legislation meant I had to spend the following weeks unpicking the detail of every line in the guidance, attending countless webinars, reading a huge amount of reports and consulting various employment lawyers, which, unsurprisingly, all tended to contradict one another.

There was no ‘case law’ or ‘best practice’ to support us through something that we’ve never encountered before.

How we approached the furloughing decisions

With our revenues taking a big hit in the space of a few weeks, as many businesses, understandably, decided to protect their cash-flows, we had to make the difficult decision to furlough some of our employees.

When we had decided who would be asked to go on furlough (and it did need to be a mutual agreement), we went through the following process:

  • Explaining, very clearly, the impact that the business had seen, and why the decision needed to be taken
  • Detailing what would be required from them, including emphasising that no work that may generate revenue for the business could be completed at all while on furlough
  • Reiterating the importance of them personally to the business, and that furloughing meant that we wanted to make sure they could come back when we’d recovered
  • Giving them the opportunity to ask any questions, either during that chat, or later on in the day once they had time to process the news
  • We needed to gain consent from each employee being furloughed, and asked them to sign a letter stating so before the end of that day

What were the main concerns?

When we chatted to those on the team that we needed to furlough, we were generally met with 1) relief that they were not losing their jobs completely to redundancy, and 2) understanding of the current situation the company was in.

Some expressed concerns around isolation (for many work is their main social interaction) and how they might now fill their time, but all saw the bigger picture and supported the decisions.

As a business, we also decided that we would top up furloughed employees’ salaries beyond the 80% offered by the government, to their full 100% monthly salary. This meant that nobody was going to be financially impacted by the decision, and this was also, as you might expect, really gratefully received.

How we’ve kept communicating with our furloughed team members

Our new challenge came in the form of ensuring our furloughed employees did not feel isolated, to keep them embedded within their teams and immersed in the Blue Array culture. As I mentioned in my recent article about preparing the team to work from home, we believe it’s crucial to communicate now more than ever whilst the team is remote, and we extend this to our furloughed employees.

Whether it be staying updated with wider company issues, things going on their teams, celebrating successes or the social aspects of working life, there were a number of things we have put in place to ensure they all still feel part of the Blue Array family:

  • We’re now distributing a daily internal newsletter – this includes anything from messages from the management team, changes to our processes, new client wins, events we’ve put on, the launch of our Mastering In House SEO book or just wishing people Happy Birthday and celebrating work anniversaries.
  • We’ve compiled training plans for the next few months, including The Blue Array Academy amongst other SEO and digital marketing training.
  • We’ve encouraged everyone to seek out community and volunteering opportunities, as well as to offer their help and expertise to local businesses that may be struggling. For example, one of our SEO Executives Louise has volunteered some of her time to make scrubs for NHS workers – an amazing thing to do for those at the front-line of tackling this crisis.
  • We’ve compiled a wellness document containing various sources of support and guidance. We don’t want our teams to feel withdrawn or isolated, and if they start to feel that way, we encourage them to draw on the support available. We also have a couple of Mental Health First Aiders within the business, who we have made available for hangouts as and when needed.
  • We have encouraged furloughed staff to continue joining our “Blue Array Sessions” (regular knowledge-sharing sessions run by different members of the team, and sometimes external parties). Our most recent Blue Array Session was run by our Digital PR Manager, Amie, with a very timely focus on managing stress.
  • We ask our furloughed staff to continue being part of our weekly “All-Hands” meetings, as well as their individual team meetings, so they continue to monitor the progress of the business and clients. However, in keeping with the guidance set within the Employee Retention Scheme, they are not able to offer up ideas or feedback; their invitation is for a listen-in basis only.
  • They are also invited to company online socials, such as game and quiz nights, as well as our constantly open Kitchen Hangout. We hope that this maintains the social aspect of our culture and combats any feelings of isolation.

Why furloughing shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing

We’re hoping that by making these decisions, we’ll ultimately be protecting the jobs of those being put on furlough, but also of everyone that continues to work tirelessly to get us through these times. It hasn’t been easy, and not having all of our talented team working together is tough to take. At the same time, everyone has been so supportive and understanding of the decisions we’ve needed to make, and this certainly makes things easier.

We’re very lucky that the support has been made available to businesses as we go through a time that none of us ever expected or wanted. But the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has allowed us to keep hold of the very special staff that we have, make sure they’re not going to lose anything financially, and ultimately, be able to drive Blue Array forward into its next chapter in an even stronger position than before.

Vicky is Talent and Happiness Manager at Blue Array. She began her HR career in learning and development consultancy, and underpinned her experience with a Masters in Human Resources Management. Vicky has spent 10 years working in recruitment and HR and is a member of the CIPD.

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