Making sure that furloughed staff feel included and involved is vital for morale and retention. TTG speaks to two HR experts for their advice
With many employees across the travel industry still on furlough after many weeks away from work, it’s more important than ever to keep them engaged with the business.
Even though most people are at home, whether they are still working or taking part in the government’s Job Retention Scheme, there is a big difference between simply being away from the office and being on furlough.
“This is a massive adjustment period for staff and employers, especially as we don’t really know how long this will go on for,” says Claire Steiner, HR and talent professional and UK director for the Global Travel and Tourism partnership (GTTP).
“It is a lot of time not to be doing whatever your day job is and there is a risk of some staff feeling disenchanted and questioning their place in the business and the industry in general.”
Although furloughed staff shouldn’t be asked to work, this doesn’t mean you can’t contact them about fun stuff that’s happening that can help them feel involved and engaged.
“Good employers will be investing a lot of time in those staff and helping to keep those employees engaged and in tune with company values and culture,” Steiner adds.
It’s vital to remember that employers still have a duty of care towards any furloughed staff and that exercising this can be part of making sure that these employees still feel included.
“Your furloughed staff are still employed so you still have a duty of care towards mental wellbeing and physical health,” advises Basia Kolosinska, director at C&M Recruitment.
“Anxiety and stress are going to be heightened despite not working, perhaps because they are not earning as much or they are living alone.”
This is why it’s really important for managers to still be checking in with them, adds Steiner. “Employers should be asking what furloughed staff need but also proactively giving them advice and letting them know what resources are available.”
Make sure furloughed team members are kept up to date on what’s happening on the business side, but bear in mind that the information they receive might need to be tailored to their situation. “It’s very easy for those still working to pick up on things that furloughed staff won’t know about,” says Steiner.
“Therefore it’s important to tailor the information not just for furloughed staff, but also for individual teams. In addition to Whatsapp groups and newsletters, pick up the phone and talk to them as individuals to show you’re invested in them.”
Written communications could include advice on how to cope with downtime, managing stress and what training courses are available, says Kolosinska, but don’t bombard them with updates.
“Keep communications around the business side upbeat but make sure you’re also being honest and realistic.”
Sticking to an established office social routine and recreating the businesses’ sense of fun will keep furloughed staff interested.
“Travel businesses care about their employees and like to have fun with them; this doesn’t need to stop now. If your company usually holds monthly quiz nights for example, you should still involve furloughed staff. This might be the only time they see other members of their team and that regular contact is very important,” says Steiner.
She also suggests using video chat apps such as HouseParty or Kahoot, both of which are free, which have in-built games, some of them educational.
Morale-boosting activities such as giving back and fundraising initiatives can help bring the team together in a shared goal while some staff are on furlough. “Our team has decided that in June we are going to do as much running as possible to raise money and donate the proceeds to charity,” says Kolosinska.
“These sorts of activities are really empowering for staff and make them feel like they are valuable to the business,” she adds.
Under the Job Retention Scheme, furloughed staff are allowed to complete training either at their employers request or their own. Associations such as Aito and Abta, in addition to tourist boards and tour operators, are all running courses on topics including product, marketing and destination knowledge.
“It is worthwhile looking at what furloughed staff will benefit from and also ask them what training they’d be interested in. There are even grants out there to help,” says Kolosinska.
It’s important to note however, that work-specific training may require the business to top up the employees wages or pay them at least national minimum wage, says Steiner.
Staff who are upskilling might also be thinking about what they want to do workwise in the future, so remind them why your workplace is great, she adds. “That way, once they return they will be able to put their new skills to good use for both themselves and the business.”
By keeping furloughed staff engaged and informed, they will know what they are coming back to and be able to reintegrate easily, says Kolosinska.
“Keep them as up to date as possible so they can slip back into their role easily once they’re back. After all, your business is nothing without your staff.”