Keeping staff and volunteers engaged during furlough

Posted on the 5th February 2021

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the furlough scheme has been a lifeline for charities to survive. Not only avoiding the loss of integral, experienced members of staff but also allowing management to be more flexible when the workload starts to ramp up. In the charity retail sector, this has been imperative to continuing the provision of essential support services such as providing affordable furniture and electrical appliances.

In such an uncertain time, going to work allows many to continue to have a purpose and avoiding the negativity that is so easy to find on the news, social media and even in the conversations we have with loved ones. Having a structure and clear objective for the day is motivating, so how does it feel when your standard working week is reduced or even taken away?

Increasing and maintaining the engagement of staff is one of the most important measures to look at when assessing staff retention. Are your team members responsive to delegation? Do they seek out more tasks from management? Are they demonstrating their value every day? These indicators are nearly impossible to track without seeing your team on a regular basis.

So how do we keep staff and volunteers engaged whilst on furlough?

We want to avoid a feeling of “them” and “us”, or in other words a feeling of separation and difference in worth between those members of the team that are working and those who have been put on furlough which can lead to a risk of a disconnect between the two.

Regular Contact

Whilst team members are on furlough, work-related communication should be avoided. However, setting up a weekly social get together not only gives them the chance to have something to look forward to but allows a more open question of “How has your week been?” Setting a time in the diary each week and sticking to it will make the team member feel valued and gives them the opportunity to share with their peers. If you find that the conversation is a little repetitive week on week, introduce weekly quizzes or show-and-tell.

Regardless of who is on furlough or not, why not create an organisation-wide WhatsApp or Facebook Workplace group? Team leaders, project managers and CEOs can provide regular updates on what the charity has been doing that week. These tools are less formal than an email and allow for a little more light-hearted news.

Uncertainty can really exacerbate anxieties, so make sure that you keep everyone regular updates to company news even if it just to say that there isn’t much new happening.

Keeping the Mind Active

The increase of downtime may give the team members the chance to take on training they had been looking at but never had a free evening. Maybe they have noticed a skills gap that they wish to fill before they return to work

With so many options online, giving guidance on the courses that offer qualifications would give our team members support and a clear objective to follow. It is worth investigating if there are funding opportunities available.

This can be incorporated into a personal development plan to help with the team members return to work.
You can also encourage your staff to volunteer with a different charity if they feel comfortable doing so. This can then be shared during the regular catch-ups and bring positive stories to the group.

Flexible Working and Flexible Furlough

Our team members have home lives that will be rocked by the extended lockdowns and school closures. Giving the team members a say in what happens to them whilst on furlough will help demonstrate that management supports them. For example, working around childcare commitments or prioritising those who are alone to come in to cover the workload. Each individual will be experiencing something different so listen to what they think they need as this way of working continues.

With the introduction of flexible furlough, consider rotating your team around if possible and appropriate. This can really support staff members to stay connected to the workplace.

This is not an exhaustive list but being consistent and flexible throughout the ever-changing world of work is even more important now.

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