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8 Ways to Keep Furloughed Employees Engaged

By Mike McKerns

Furloughs can give affected employees and their companies some peace of mind: furloughed employees know that their jobs still exist, and organizations have access to a suitably vetted and trained talent pool for those roles. But those employees aren't always willing or able to wait around long enough for their employers to call them back. In those cases, companies can take a significant financial hit, because they have to go through search, hire, and training processes all over again for those positions. (For example, one study found that the average cost of turnover for nonexecutive and nonphysician positions is just over 20 percent of annual salary.*) For that reason, it's prudent for a company to do everything it can to stay as connected as possible to its furloughed talent to avoid losing it completely.

1) Communicate early and often. The worst thing a company can do in times of crisis is to keep employees in the dark. From day one and at least once a week thereafter, organizations should provide clear and honest updates to their furloughed staff.

2) Keep furloughed employees connected. Encourage and facilitate networking with furloughed staff. Consider hosting departmental or company-wide Zoom meetings or happy hours to keep team members in touch with each other.

3) Help them increase their value. Provide furloughed employees with opportunities for optional, low-cost, high-value education that may not be directly related to the jobs they perform at the company.

4) Offer free personal financial management. Being furloughed can be a shock both emotionally and financially. When a company shows care for its employees, it can make great progress toward building their loyalty.

5) Celebrate the little things. Birthdays, anniversaries, and other significant life moments and milestones don't stop happening when employees are furloughed. Even when team members can't celebrate them together in person over cake in the breakroom, the company can still recognize and mark those moments with them.

6) Encourage health and wellness. Anything that supports the physical and mental well-being of team members will help improve their engagement. Consider funding a monthly gym membership for furloughed team members. The monthly cost of such payments will likely add up to only a fraction of what the company could save in turnover costs.

7) Connect on a personal level. In addition to early and often communication with their entire teams, managers should also place personal phone calls to their direct reports. These individualized check-ins can strengthen those relationships and give the company a better idea of furloughed employees' engagement levels.

8) Organize volunteer and social events. Keeping furlough employees actively engaged in nonwork activities with their colleagues can decrease the likelihood that those employees will seek work elsewhere. Such activities also have the added benefit of providing others way for furloughed workers to stay in touch with their teams.

Disruptive and unpleasant, furloughs are never wanted. But sometimes they are the only option companies have in order to remain financially viable and still have talent resources available for when things look up again. By taking care to cultivate goodwill--and strong connections--with their furloughed employees, organizations increase their odds of being able to draw on that valuable talent pool once their situations improve.