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Question: The city I work for just furloughed 450 people, 12 of which I manage. We hope to bring them back on board by the fall, but may not be able to do so. What can I do to help make this experience as positive as possible for my furloughed employees without knowing when or if the furloughs will end?


Answer: While employees typically don’t work during a furlough, that doesn’t mean they stop existing. As their manager, you should be actively thinking about how to treat them with dignity and provide as much support as you can.

First, if your employees are not getting paid, there should be absolutely no pressure for them to work. Second, a frequent and transparent communication strategy is the key for boosting morale. Even if you don’t have all of the answers, that’s more reassuring to your furloughed staff than not hearing from you at all.

If your employees aren’t allowed to use company email during their furlough, make sure you’re sending to an alternate email account or posting on an accessible webpage. Additionally, create a process where your employees can communicate questions and concerns and receive answers from you or someone with authority and knowledge.

Third, in less than a page, offer guidance on Covid-19 policies, employment benefit guidelines, filing for unemployment, or even job postings for temporary work, updates on furlough decision-making, and communication links for employees to submit and receive answers to their questions.

Finally, it can be tempting to make promises that you can’t keep and show favoritism to employees with whom you were closest to. Consider how you would feel if you were the one on furlough and found out that one of your former co-workers was getting more information than everyone else. Fairness is key to maintaining trust. And trust is the currency that your furloughed employees are banking on.

Nothing is more degrading to someone who’s worked hard for your organization than simply being given some paperwork and shown the door. Make the time to stay in touch, relay answers to their questions, and offer any resources that might make the transition easier.

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