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Staying Connected with Out-of-Work Employees

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of the human condition, including how, when, and where we work; who we visit; how we worship; how we gather and celebrate. It has affected how we connect with each other as human beings -- and has amplified just how important connection is.

Organizations are grappling with how best to retain their workforce amid mandated store closings, travel restrictions, and shelter-in-place orders. Many leaders are faced with the unfortunate reality of furloughing (or even terminating) a portion of their workforce in response to declining revenues.

HR professionals have long understood the importance of ensuring that all individuals in the workforce feel connected. In our current situation, that connectedness must now be extended even to individuals who find themselves currently removed from the workforce. Following are some recommendations for staying connected with employees who are currently out of work.

Create a game plan:

As workforce reductions continue to take shape, organizations need to develop a plan for how best to communicate and support employees who have been critical to the success of their businesses and will be needed again when operations normalize.

Foster two-way dialogue:

With employees out of work, leaders must proactively communicate with their teams. This proactive communication will become critical as time passes and companies struggle to keep out-of-work employees motivated and connected to the organization.

Companies should look for creative ways to maintain two-way dialogue, such as regularly-scheduled conferences or video chats timed to accommodate the schedules of off-work associates. These discussions should be geared towards helping employees navigate evolving government stimulus programs, understanding potential changes to their benefit plans, or providing a forum to address employee concerns.

Given the anxiety and uncertainty that a furlough or layoff can cause, leaders should continue to show that they care about their teams and reassure their employees that they are not forgotten. This will not only help to build the trust needed to facilitate a successful return to work, but will also help employees see the “bigger picture” as it relates to their future with the organization.

Keep all work tasks away from furloughed or terminated employees:

While communicating with furloughed or laid-off employees is essential, organizations must take meaningful steps to ensure that these employees do not engage in any work-related tasks. These employees should not participate in regularly scheduled meetings, training sessions, or customer-facing interactions. This suspension of responsibilities will allow off-work employees to devote their time to commitments outside of work, and potentially give them the ability to refocus their efforts on finding alternate sources of income. This practice will also protect organizations from the potential liabilities associated with employees engaging in unpaid work.

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