7th August 2020
the UK government’s furlough scheme was announced back in March, a huge proportion of employers have asked for this support. In fact, as of early June, more than 25% of UK workers had been furloughed – that’s around 8.9 million individuals.
As the spread of coronavirus in the UK slows, and lockdown restrictions are lifted, many such workers are being brought back to work. But, the government furlough scheme can be adopted until October, which means there are many workers who will not return to work for some months yet. Such a long time spent not working can cause problems for some employees, so we’re considering how those still on furlough can best be supported by employers.
What is Furlough Pay?
The reason for the introduction of the furlough scheme was to support businesses struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic. To stop employers needing to pay staff wages, furlough pay meant that the government would pay 80% of employees’ salaries, up to £2,500 a month, for as long as they were not working.
While this salary holiday is significantly helpful for businesses, it has meant that employees have seen a 20% cut in their monthly income. For some people, such a drop can cause personal financial problems.
If employers have staff members on furlough who are suffering due to the lower income, they are best supported through budgeting advice. There are a number of services out there that your employees may not be aware of, that can be hugely helpful when it comes to personal finances. Make sure your furloughed employees consider the following:
- Budgeting apps – there are various apps designed to make you aware of where you’re spending your money, and where you could make savings.
- Online grocery shopping – online food shopping is an excellent way to lower spend on groceries, because there is a much lower chance of making impulse purchases.
- Loan, overdraft and credit card holidays – most banks are offering repayment holidays for these services – inform your staff to get in touch with their banks and make the most of such an offer.
While it’s not possible to offer employee support financially while they are on furlough, every step should be taken to help them adjust to their new, lower, income.
Supporting Staff’s Mental Health on Furlough
While the first few weeks, or even month, of furlough leave may have been welcomed by staff, after this, the novelty probably wore off quite quickly. Without having work to do every day, many employees are likely to feel the effects of a lack of purpose.
Combined with the government social distancing rules and encouragement to stay at home where possible, this can be quite a harmful circumstance to some people, who may begin to suffer with their mental health. It’s said that 69% of adults in the UK have felt somewhat or very worried about the effects of coronavirus on their life, with 63% of these worrying about the future, 56% feeling stressed or anxious, and 49% feeling bored.
To support employees’ mental health at this time, it’s important to stay in regular communication. This could simply be an informal group chat on a messenger platform and regular calls from managers to check in with their staff. You should also distribute information for mental health charities, ensuring that staff have access to the right people to call should they be feeling low.
Employee Support to Tackle Boredom
As a common complaint among staff on furlough is boredom, another way employers can offer support is by encouraging and arranging various activities. It’s likely that there are more than just a few employees who have been furloughed, so consider setting various online events for all furloughed staff, to encourage socialising.
This could be anything from a quiz on a video call platform to a virtual party online. Some companies have arranged for regular social meetings, such as a virtual afternoon tea with colleagues on a weekday afternoon. Events like these help to make sure your furloughed teams have a regular event or social calendar to stick to, which is a great way to abate boredom and maintain camaraderie among staff.
Another easy-to-action way of trying to limit employee boredom is to send out regular emails directing furloughed staff to online activity ideas. With so many people at home, lots of websites are offering pastime ideas, from free online craft sessions to nationwide games. Make a point of making furloughed staff aware of any such activities you come across.
Challenging Home Circumstances
Sadly, during lockdown, there has been a significant spike in domestic abuse. It’s believed that cases have increased by around 20% since people have been confined to their homes. As an employer, it’s advisable to keep in touch with furloughed staff for a number of reasons – one of which should be keeping an eye out for signs of domestic abuse. These could include:
- Physical signs such as bruises or burn marks
- Being withdrawn and reserved during conversations
- Unwillingness to accept calls
- The constant presence of a partner during video calls
Take a look at the gov.uk website for further signs of domestic abuse, and for guidance on how to offer support should you believe that an employee is at risk.
Ensuring that furloughed staff feel supported and valued during this change in circumstances is vital. Employers have a responsibility for their teams’ wellbeing, even while they are not physically in the workplace. By staying in touch and offering various guidance about looking after finances, staying in a good headspace, avoiding boredom and staying safe, employers should be able to maintain a happy and healthy team.
Read the latest news on the furlough scheme, as well as the other schemes the government has put in place to support the economy and businesses at this time.