Furloughed colleagues are first class citizens – treat them that way

Over the past few weeks the workers of the world have divided into two camps; those who’ve been furloughed and those who haven’t… at least not yet.

If you fall into the latter group and you’re responsible for internal communication, an obvious question arises: how should your organisation communicate with staff while they are on leave?

Government guidelines state that furloughed workers cannot to do anything that makes money or provides services for the organisation, although they can take part in volunteer work and training.

Some experts argue this means there can be no communication with furloughed staff at all, aside from pastoral care check-ins. This presents a dilemma for employers who want to abide by the rules while managing the flow of information.

Most employers are consciously over-communicating right now, sharing regular updates on their market, the performance of the business, and the steps being taken to navigate the crisis.

This has little to do with imparting information and much more to do with demonstrating leadership and maintaining a sense of common purpose. Can these bulletins be shared with furloughed staff?

The rules are unclear but the experts we’ve spoken to say colleagues who are about to be furloughed should be asked to opt in to company updates, all-staff briefings and virtual company socials. So long as they are not expected to perform any work-related tasks as a result of participating, it should be fine they say.

We’ll leave the interpretation of the rules to lawyers, but as communications advisors our natural inclination is to urge employers to treat furloughed colleagues as first class citizens, providing a regular flow of content about the company’s progress and responses to the challenges it faces.

Businesses are acutely aware of the reckoning that will come when the current crisis subsides. Who behaved well, who did not? The way that furloughed staff were treated will surely come into that calculation.