Communication stories- from our furloughed colleagues

The furlough scheme has been extended until Oct 2020 Chancellor Rishi Sunak in an unprecedented move by the government to support UK firms through the Coronavirus outbreak. It means that employers can claim a grant covering 80% of an employees’ wages, subject to £2,500 a month. It also means that as an employer, manager or team leader, you are not meant to be communicating with your employees if they have been furloughed concerning any work matters. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. What really counts as a ‘work matter’ when it comes to communication. The line seems to me to be unclear. Does this refer to communication about individual tasks or to all company-wide information? If it’s latter- do the weekly ‘virtual drinks’, ‘manger checks’ or ‘virtual Town Halls’ count? 

From a brief look online to see what other internal communicators were saying, it seems to me there is still quite a debate on the matter. Almost more importantly though, it struck me that very little was being said from the furloughed employees perspectives. 

To try and find out what they were going through, and hear their stories/ thoughts I reached out to a few friends of mine who are and asked them what communication they are receiving to get a better picture of what their companies are doing to keep them informed and engaged. 

The first is a friend of mine who works for a well-known, global estate agent. She is lucky in the sense that unless her branch is forced to close down permanently, her job at the end of the outbreak will be secure. Since she has been on furlough, her communication includes a weekly email from her leadership team describing the steps they are taking to protect their company and any upcoming changes as a result. She has had communication, via email, with her HR team as she has been unable to submit her holiday period that she has been asked to take before the end of Q2. She is also receiving an invite to weekly catch-ups from her manager to check in and see how they are doing. This to me, seems like an awful lot of communication, and some of it arguably work-related. 

The second person I asked is someone who works for a well-established law firm. If anyone is going to be strict on obeying government guidance it’s his company- right? Well, according to him, he still receives invites to join the monthly virtual Town Halls and weekly manager check-ins. Do these count as ‘work matters’? Or are they just to be seen as an effort by the company to include the employees in the on-going conversations without asking them to contribute to or do any work. 

The last person I asked works for a luxury travel agent- not a great industry to be in right now. She was furloughed fairly early and has just been asked to extend until June. When it initially happened, she told me that her company just locked them out of all the systems and stopped all email communication. She then began to receive emails to her personal address which gave her a little more information on furlough and the company situation. Recently, and quite shockingly, she knows through a colleague that the company had a Town Hall on redundancies in the summer but did not invite furloughed employees to join nor inform them of this update via email. As you can imagine, this type of approach to communication has only increased her stress levels. 

These are only the stories I am hearing, but I wonder if these approaches are more common than not? Are most companies still actively checking in on furloughed employees to make sure that they are OK? Is your company including furloughed employees on company-wide comms or have you taken the decision to exclude them entirely, risking their engagement with your company purpose?

I would love to know what your company is doing. Please comment below with similar stories or how you are coping as an employee who has been furloughed. 

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Gihan Hyde
Gihan Hyde is an award winning corporate communication expert with a deep passion for internal communication. Her roles spanned different organisations including HSBC, Barclays, M&S, and Department for International Trade, and the Riyadh Metro Project.
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