How To Maintain Relationships With Furloughed Employees

August 13, 2020 Stephanie Klemperer


Downsizing your team is never easy, and no business leader looks forward to making the call about employee furloughs. Unfortunately, these tough decisions are sometimes necessary for the financial health of the company.

In today’s uncertain times, furloughs are becoming a widely used strategy for companies of all sizes across various industries. Within the first five weeks of the Coronavirus, millions of employees, for perhaps the first time in this country’s history, found themselves furloughed.

Since furloughs are only temporary, they do pave the way for an easy transition for employers when business does return to “normal.” However, furloughs come with their own set of challenges. While they are only temporary, they can have long term effects on company morale and culture—especially as a return date may be uncertain.

As a result, the way you handle relationships with furloughed employees is critical. While they may not be currently working for the company, they still very much deserve your attention and respect. If furloughs are new territory for you, this might be an especially challenging situation to navigate. Continue reading to learn how to maintain relationships with furloughed employees:

Be transparent about the decision + the process

While you may not have all the answers, it’s important to be as transparent as possible when discussing furloughs with staff. Explain the financial position of the company, why the decision was necessary, and the timeline (if determined) for bringing them back. When breaking the news, show empathy and do your best to be as detailed as possible. Employees should walk away from the conversation knowing exactly what the furlough means for their benefits and what steps they need to take to collect unemployment.

Communicate regularly

Even if you do not have a major update, it’s important that you are proactively (and regularly) communicating with staff impacted by furloughs. Whether your communication is about some big company news or just a quick check-in to say hello, it can help these employees feel valued and not forgotten. In addition to these communications, there should be a designated contact at the company that furloughed staff can reach out to with any specific questions or concerns.

Don’t expect (or encourage) them to work

If employees aren’t getting paid, they shouldn’t be working. While your most dedicated employees might be willing to work on some special projects or help out to show their value, don’t take advantage of these offers. At the same time, don’t expect employees to be checking email or doing any work. Set and respect these boundaries.

Don’t delay inevitable layoffs

Many companies may choose to start with employee furloughs to delay making any tough decisions about layoffs. While your intentions might be in the right place, if the writing is already on the wall, it’s best to let these employees go so you can both move on. Stringing them along only to eventually lay them off may only hurt your company’s reputation in the long run.

Be supportive when welcoming employees back

Even though furloughs aren’t personal, you’ll have a lot of relationship building to do once you welcome employees back. While staff might be ready to get back to work, their faith in and loyalty to the company might be on shaky ground. To earn back their trust and commitment, leaders should hold meetings with these employees, be receptive to feedback, and make the effort to immediately address and resolve any major issues or concerns they are reporting.

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