Though brands are contending with a lot of customer uncertainty at the current time, there’s another, equally important group with whom all organizations need to engage during this pandemic: furloughed employees.
Just like customers, employees are facing tremendous stress and anxiety in the era of COVID-19. Nearly 20 million of them will likely be furloughed by July. Whether it’s the prospect of becoming unemployed or the reality of being furloughed, employees have found themselves surrounded by very existential threats as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to rage worldwide. Meanwhile, many firms are facing considerable resource challenges and may be wondering how to engage furloughed employees despite those challenges.
Though concerns like these are formidable, there are still effective and cost-free ways for brands to stay engaged with their employees during any large-scale crisis. True engagement requires trust, authenticity, and are based on building relationships, all of which these strategies are aimed at helping brands achieve.
What follows is a discussion of five powerful methods that companies can use to stay connected to their furloughed employees.
Today’s conversation will cover:
- Employee Outreach
- HR Lifelines
- Internal Resources
- Social Media
- Charity Involvement
Whether it’s via video messages or company-wide emails, it is critical for brand executives and leaders to remain as connected with their furloughed employees as possible right now. For many companies, particularly large ones, this task is easier said than done, but receiving outreach from upper management can do wonders for employee morale. Of course, these messages need to be genuine—employees will feel that management is attempting to placate them if this outreach consists of, say, generic feel-good messages, which can end up stoking resentment instead of relief.
Companies can take that outreach a step further than just sending a general, company-wide video message. For example, a leading casino was forced to furlough 95% of its employees after various quarantine guidelines were enacted. Knowing that employee morale was essential to retention and brand advocacy, the casino’s executive team reached out to each and every furloughed employee via email, phone or text to check in one-on-one and let them know that they hadn’t been forgotten.
This strategy is essential for successful employee engagement for several reasons. First and foremost, it reminds furloughed employees that the brand they’re dedicating their careers to cares about their well-being. Similarly, it lets employees know that management cares about keeping them in the loop, which in turn keeps them invested in the company. Finally, this strategy helps employees stay passionate about their work. Multiple brands are utilizing this tactic to help ensure that their workforces will return to the office as brand advocates… not detractors.
Reaching out to furloughed employees is a great way to engage with them during the pandemic, but it’s also important to give them a means of starting a conversation on their own terms.
To that end, brands should open an email inbox that employees can access and that forwards messages directly to Human Resources, an internal crisis response team, or both. With a direct line like this in place, employees no longer have to wait for management outreach if they feel the need to approach them with a concern.
This tool is an effective means of employee engagement because, as we just mentioned, it allows employees to reach out to brands about any problems on their minds, which may not always be the same as the problems on management’s minds. Thus, a direct-to-HR inbox is both a useful communication tool and a great way for companies to build trust and a sense of authenticity with their employees.
Though furloughed employees may reach out with novel concerns, it’s likely that the answers to many of their questions can be found within existing resources. Companies should always dispense HR handbooks and related media as a matter of course, but it’s also a good idea to highlight those resources during this pandemic.
To do this, brands should set up a centralized communication channel if they haven’t already done so, and disperse media like newsletters and announcements to keep everyone informed. This strategy is especially useful for businesses that may temporarily suspend login privileges for internal resources during a furlough. Companies can also use these media as a go-to for additional employee outreach, but they’re also useful means of linking back to resources just like HR handbooks.
This strategy has several advantages. First, it gives furloughed employees even more means of getting their questions answered and concerns addressed on their own terms, which goes a long way toward helping them feel invested in a brand. Additionally, by opening the floor to multiple online resources, companies can help ensure that their aforementioned HR inbox doesn’t get overwhelmed, especially with concerns that HR materials may already address.
Social media can be an excellent platform for staying in touch with furloughed employees, especially if an organization doesn’t yet have an internal, centralized communication platform. Businesses can stabilize employee morale by building a central social media channel with which to post announcements and updates. They can also create hubs that employees can use to stay in touch, post positive stories, and ask questions. Facebook and its groups tool suit these purposes particularly well.
One business put social media to more uses than just creating company updates. In fact, the company went the extra mile by leadership posting their own positive Covid-19 stories and encouraging their Team Members to post their own positive stories for all to view. This strategy helped stabilize employee morale and ensured a positive impression of the brand. Some brands may find a combination of internal communication platforms and social media to be effective as well.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified, more brands have ramped up their contributions to and advocacy for charitable causes. Businesses should take any opportunities they can to get furloughed employees involved with causes like these.
Furloughed employees don’t have to be expected to contribute money, either. Whether it’s volunteering time or contributing any other available resources, donating to a common charitable cause can strengthen furloughed employees’ connection to their brand and each other, helping them retain their sense of connection, in a world that may feel isolated at times.
Plus, let it not be forgotten that assisting charitable and common causes whenever possible is more important than ever right now.
Keeping The Flame Alive
As we mention above, employees are facing uncertainty, anxiety and stress in these challenging times. But both these emotions and employees’ sense of connection to their organization can be managed by the tactics that we’ve talked about. Leadership can conquer uncertainty in their employees by reaching out directly. An HR inbox gives employees a place to express their own concerns and thus reduce anxiety. Constantly pointing these individuals toward resources and social media communication can further reduce stress.
All of these strategies can help organizations build healthy long-term relationships with their employees at little to no cost, and, as we discussed, help ensure that employees eventually return to the workplace with a positive impression of the brand they work for and greater passion for their work. These factors can help organizations regain their footing and beyond once this pandemic is behind us.
Knowing how to engage employees during this difficult time can be a challenge, so we distilled our employee experience expertise into a new webinar, “Revealing the Power of Experience Programs in a Time of Crisis,” that you can access for free here!