Ama Afrifa-Tchie: Recognition strategies for furloughed employees

All organisations affected by the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic have a responsibility to ensure a recognition strategy is in place to help furloughed employers with their mental health during this uncertain time.

This is a new concept to many of us, and for those impacted, there is a risk it will have a detrimental impact on their mental health. As outlined by City Mental Health Alliance, being furloughed can contribute to an employee feeling undervalued and unimportant. This could potentially damage their self-confidence and lead to feelings such as loss of purpose and importance. Not everyone will experience these feelings, but it is important we stay connected with furloughed employees so we can spot those who may need more support or recognition.

Keeping furloughed employees feeling part of the team is important at this time. A great way to do this is to arrange a social for the whole team. Employers could arrange a weekly check-in time, a pub quiz night once a week, or a book club to boost everyone’s mental health.

Employers need to keep in mind that some employees may welcome the chance to spend more time with their family or on other projects, whereas others will feel isolated by the situation. It may be difficult to tell, so starting a conversation with a furloughed employee about how they are managing their situation is key.

An employer does not have to be an expert to start a difficult conversation. It just needs to remember to arrange enough time so it does not feel rushed, give the person enough time to open up about how they are feeling and have the conversation in a distraction-free zone. It needs to feel like a safe space so the individual knows they have their employer’s full attention and are being taken seriously.

For a furloughed employee, knowing that they have a support system can make a big difference to their motivation. Employers should be clear with furloughed employees on what provisions, for example, mental health first aiders, employee assistance programmes (EAPs), are available to them. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England is calling on its almost 500,000 mental health first aiders to reach out to employees and offer mental health first aid support remotely, so reaching out should always be encouraged.

Managing your own mental health is an important life skill for everyone to develop and is particularly important for furloughed employees at this time. Organisations can recognise employees and protect their own mental health by suggesting helpful activities, for example, regular exercise, volunteering, or creative projects.

Ama Afrifa-Tchie is the head of culture and wellbeing at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England.

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