Learning as we go… Furlough tips for Leaders and HR Professionals

So I’ve been working in the HR profession for about 12 years now, and I’ve experienced a lot in this time, but in all my years I’ve experienced nothing quite like COVID-19…..

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Yes I’ve got all my stripes from handling change including; redundancies, lay-off’s, short time working and consultation, but Furlough, well this is new. In fact I don’t think it was ever really talked about outside of the US until recently.

What makes it interesting for me is that both Leaders and HR professionals are having to dynamically make decisions about Furlough at the same time as learning about it, and knowing there will be questions they can’t answer until after they’ve implemented it. It’s a totally different feeling than normal, usually you’re implementing something you’ve done countless times before, you know the questions you’re going to get, you know how to reassure employees and tell them everything they need to know.

With many of our clients I’ve been working with, they’ve had to implement Furlough and consult with employees without being sure on;

  • what they can or cannot claim for (exactly)
  • what happens with holidays
  • what will the impact on an ongoing TUPE process be
  • what happens with salary sacrifice (e.g. pensions and childcare vouchers) and so on….

and of course we’re all still fascinated to see how this HMRC portal will work!

Helpfully the government, and our lawyers Crosslands have been regularly keeping us up to date, and we’re doing the same for our clients. But given this situation, I have some reflections, which I thought would be useful to share as Tips for both Leaders and HR Professionals. These are as follows:

1. Don’t assume the last information you read is the most up to date.

Many times we rely on our memory when we’re implementing HR change. Don’t! The situation is evolving and changing all the time, and you could easily fall foul of giving the right information. For example, it’s only recently become clear that employers will be able to claim the employers NI on top of the 80%...so, if you’re looking to implement always call for advice, and or check the relevant gov.uk websites for the latest information. Here are a couple of helpful links: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme, https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus/using-holiday.

2. Do – leave the door open with your employees to change things.

A lot of advice and information/ clarity has come out now. But, there will likely be more to come, and this may make you want to change your approach, or correct a stance you’ve already taken. If you’ve given the wrong advice, if you’ve read something which means you want to do something different, for example we had 1 client that reduced Furlough from 2 months to 3 weeks, that’s OK. It can be fixed, it can be changed, and you should set the expectation with your people that this can happen, and that you may need to take a change to your approach as the situation unfolds. This will feel unusual, but it’s better to put things right and stay dynamic.

3. Do – Benchmark and find out what other businesses are doing.

It’s important to remember, how an employer reacts to COVID-19 will have a significant impact on it’s reputation and brand. Employees talk and social media is powerful….and it’s a really good way of understanding which employers are topping up the 20%, who is paying normal pay, who is asking their people to take holiday (at 100% pay) and who is carrying out training for people on Furlough. This market intel should enable you to consciously choose whether or not you will, or can do anything different for your employees, and where you can share good practice.

4. Do - Connect with employees whilst on Furlough.

For some people they are wondering, will I ever return to the organisation? Will I be made redundant? Do I want to return? And the impact of being disconnected is not unsubstantial. We’ve found that setting up a WhatsApp group, dropping the odd text or sharing the odd non-work related meme is a great way of keeping sprits up but also starting important conversations with your people on Furlough, and it’s a big part of employee engagement and retention.

5. Do – debrief on what you’ve learned during and post a COVID-19 world.

For me, the most fascinating part of COVID is what life will be like after. How will this affect attitudes to flexible working and home working? How did this/ is this affecting productivity? How did we do as an employer at staying connected and keeping people engaged? Will we lose talent when the job market picks up or will they stick with us for how we treated them? These learnings can make or break businesses. So, at every relevant opportunity, share your learning, take notes, and pull it together. I think the results will be TRULY fascinating…..

How can Connor help?

Connor can provide HR support to organisations of all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s support with a large project, our outsourced HR advice….we can help.  Also, and in response to the COVID-19 crisis we are in the process of creating an online database called ‘Connor Community Matters’ for new and existing customers where you can access tools, templates and useful guides. We’re also offering free COVID-19 advice calls during the month of May for all new and existing customers for any 5 minute query from 2-4pm each day.

For more information on our products and services send me a message on Linkedin or via email: TomHG@connor.co.uk if you’d like to arrange a conversation to find out more.

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