Team Polarity. The burnt out and the furloughed – How the workforce experience has never been more polarised and what every HR leader needs to think about
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected our working lives more than most people can compute. For example, take the word ‘Furlough’….hands up anyone who knew what this word meant prior to March 2020………no takers? Hardly a surprise, but isn’t it amazing how quickly the term passed into common usage in just a few short weeks?
At the time of writing the Government’s furlough scheme has been extended to October, but companies lucky enough to have survived this first stage of the pandemic are otherwise still in the grip of uncertainty.
As CEOs reshape their teams into lean machines, the fortunate are furloughed, the less fortunate are untimely relieved of their roles and the survivors are working doubly hard, over-compensating for the lost input of their peers, whilst desperately holding onto their seats and coping with cuts to pay.
Organisations that have had to let some of their best people go, need support for those who have lost their jobs, a listening ear to those who are furloughed, and a helping hand to those who are trying to keep the plates spinning.
There is a huge need to support organisations that are managing tensions between those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out’.
Companies are essentially work families, as dysfunctional as their biological counterparts, but with similar needs for individual recognition, healthy competition, support and even love. When employees are made redundant, they have to be honoured, supported and communicated with.
Likewise, those ‘left behind’ will want to reach out and make sure their friends are coping, and support them however they can. Furloughed staff returning to the office will need to be kept updated with company developments so they can hit the ground running on their return. Those working, need free channels of communication to senior management to alleviate their anxiety and avoid burnout.
In short, a pandemic recovery programme involves all levels of the organisation, including people who will never return to the workplace. The only way to allow the wounds to heal is to allow everyone in your company to have a voice. Here are five tips for enabling this process:
- Clear communication. Uncertainty can lead to great stress and anxiety, especially with a recession looming. Check-in regularly with your staff – furloughed, non-furlough and those being made redundant – and ask about their concerns. Keep them up to date with the doings of the workplace. If you have to deliver bad news, do it with clarity and empathy.
- Encourage participation. Furloughed staff may not be able to work, technically speaking, but they can still play a big part in the day-to-day life of the business. Making sure you include furloughed and homeworking staff in meetings, brainstorms and other get-togethers will alleviate stress, uncertainty and anxiety. Make them feel ‘a part’ rather than ‘apart’. Trust your teams to manage their work/life balance while working at home.
- Focus on staff development. Furlough can be an excellent time to discuss with ‘resting’ staff the ways they may be able to improve their own performance, and that of the business. They may be keen to offer fresh perspectives and be open to the learning of new skills. This time of taking stock can be a highly creative one, so utilise talent.
- Emphasise wellbeing. During a period of great uncertainty, this is vital. Understanding and engaging with the health and well-being of all employees, furloughed or not, is showing responsibility. The months and even years to come could see an epidemic of burnout as employees are asked to do more with less, requiring greater resilience, up-to-date skills and energy. Offer professional support and training where necessary and encourage colleague-to-colleague chat groups or platforms which provide a safe space for conversations around good physical and mental health. Let people talk. They will need to express their anxiety, confusion and grief at losing peers.
- Keep up-to-date with Government advice. People on furlough will have a lot of questions, especially as this period comes to a closure. Make sure you’re 100 per cent on top of the latest position and are able to offer clear, informative and – above all – correct advice.
Being on furlough or working from home is no picnic. We know that work-related stress can lead to burnout; also becoming clear is the fact the stress and burnout are still prevalent when the employee is NOT at work. Redundancy is a huge cause for stress and needs to be managed with the maximum of care and consideration. The dramatic effect of this pandemic will create versions of post-traumatic trauma that nobody could have predicted. Bearing all this in mind, it is now vital that companies act with kindness, understanding and empathy, seeking professional help if necessary to work through unprecedented times.