I don’t know about you, but six weeks ago, I hadn’t even heard of the word furlough. If I had been asked to make a guess, I’d have probably said it was something farmers did to fields!

Now it is such a part of the mainstream business language I don’t even feel the need to explain it. 

Checking in with my clients this week, I have found that most employees find themselves in one of three positions:

  • Furloughed and not involved in the business.
  • Working in the business (either from home or at premises) but not particularly busy.
  • Frantically busy trying to manage the logistics and people challenges being presented by the situation.

I’m genuinely worried for employees who have been furloughed, and I am even more concerned about the consequences for any company when they return to work.

From one perspective, furloughing seems like a dream come true.

Employees get to stay at home, they get paid, and life is sweet, right? I’m not so sure. Furloughing is accompanied by uncertainty. Being cut off from your daily routine, the flow of information (including the gossip), and your work colleagues can be a disorientating thing.

In addition, people furloughed will be creating all kinds of stories about what’s happening and what the future holds for them. This is why at the very least, it is crucial to relay regular information to them, so they feel like they know what is going on. 

Listen to this interview from a recent short news piece and notice the anxiety and uncertainty present in the body language and words of the individuals.

The challenge I am concerned about more than any other is getting employees back into their routines when this is all over. 

High performers may lose their mojo; average performers will slip backwards, and let’s not even start on low performers.

Of course, the one time you will really need your Sales, Service and Operations people ‘on it’ will be when lock-down eases, and your markets start to hum with life again. 

Outbound engagement levels, quality of decision-making and accurate execution will be paramount.

Average is NOT going to cut in when the starting gun goes off. 

For those that get back ‘on the bus,’ there can be nothing less than exceptional performance, both in terms of activity levels and quality of work done. However, there is the possibility to use this furlough / low activity to up-skill and elevate the personal performance of everyone in the team. The one thing people can continue to do while on furlough is training and development.