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COVID-19: A worrying time for furloughed employees and apprentices

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As per our last article, 30% of candidates in the training sector who responded to our survey* conducted at the start of the month said that they have been furloughed.

With 140,000 companies applying for the government’s furlough scheme in its first day on 20th April, a total of around a million workers have been furloughed so far across a variety of industries.

Uncertain future

Worryingly (but also unsurprisingly), 53% of furloughed candidates who responded to our survey claimed to be concerned about the future of their jobs, in particular those working in sales administration positions within the training sector. 63% of both management and training delivery colleagues who are currently furloughed are worried about the future security of their roles.

These are of course turbulent times and we are all worried about what the future brings. That being said, there are steps that employers should still be taking to support their employees if they have been furloughed or if they are working differently (on reduced hours for example), and to ensure that they are making the most of this period. All of the below suggestions can be applied to furloughed employees as much as those that are still working, as it’s important that they are still valued and recognised as part of the company.

Time to train

Something which you may have been wanting to encourage your team to do for a while, or for employees, something which you may have been meaning to take up for a while – now we all have the time to undertake some training.

Lots of companies – Vision2Learn and Future Learn to name just two – are offering free online courses in a variety of subjects, covering everything from Business Administration to Forensic Psychology! For many, it’s normally a struggle to fit personal development activities into busy schedules, but for those that have been furloughed (or who just have more time due to working reduced hours or spending no time commuting), now could be the perfect opportunity to get stuck into some training.

One survey respondent told us that their employer has ‘let us sign up to online courses so that we have something different to do’, with others echoing the sentiment that undertaking some training in their newly acquired spare time is keeping them engaged and providing them with something productive to do.

Offering training internally

Due to the nature of the industry we work in, training providers are uniquely positioned to support their employees’ development during this period. With resources already at their disposal, training providers can use this opportunity to offer training to their own colleagues, and also to the wider training community.

An example cited by a survey respondent is an ‘online course to learn how to work from home’ that their employer has developed – a great instance of an employer offering specific guidance to colleagues on working in the current situation, whilst keeping them ‘engaged’.

With a fairly large proportion of those working in the training sector feeling worried about their jobs at the moment, now is the time for you to reach out to those that have been furloughed in particular to offer support in terms of professional development and training, in order to give employees some focus during this difficult time, whilst enabling them to be productive and work towards something that will benefit their own careers.

Supporting your team’s mental health

This of course ties into another big concern at the moment – the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on mental health. Experts have suggested the outbreak could have profound and potentially long-term impacts on mental health, which will likely be especially true for furloughed workers, who have lost an important level of structure and purpose to their day.

Again, offering training to employees could really help them to feel supported whilst on furlough, and as a consequence could help their mental health. There are also some more direct ways to support workers’ mental health, with some companies opening mental health helplines and issuing mental health guidance to colleagues.

Keeping spirits high

In addition to offering direct mental health support, some companies have taken other steps to keep team members engaged and motivated whilst at home, including ‘virtual quizzes etc at end of the day so [we] finish our working day on high spirits’ and setting up ‘new social media groups’ in order to keep colleagues connected, according to two survey respondents.

This period of quarantine and self-isolation can make all of us feel lonely and disconnected. With the physical office environment taken away, it’s important that employers ensure that colleagues feel included and connected, to keep morale and motivation levels high. Employers in the training sector appear to be doing well at keeping employees motivated, with 75% of survey respondents feeling just as motivated as they did before the pandemic.

Giving employees flexibility

Following a survey they have carried out, LinkedIn reported at the start of the week that ‘a quarter of employees said they have been offered the opportunity to work part-time or flexible hours’. Offering this kind of flexibility is another way for employers to support their team during this difficult period – with many people struggling to juggle homeschooling amongst other things with working from home, allowing them to work hours that suit them could be a lifeline that they will really appreciate.

There are many different ways to offer support to employees during this challenging period, ranging from offering free training to mental health support. It’s important to ensure that support is offered to all employees, whether they are working as normal, working reduced hours or furloughed, to maintain engagement and positive company morale across the board.

Whether you are an employer or employee, furloughed or still working, we would love to hear what support you have given or received during the coronavirus pandemic. In particular, it would be great to hear what employee training initiatives employers have put in place.

Sarah Burns, GPRS Recruitment

*The survey was conducted between 6th and 10th April 2020. The survey had 1,598 responses.

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