How startups can keep furloughed employees engaged


Employers should not underestimate the significance of being furloughed and the impact it is likely to have on those affected. Here is how to keep employees engaged and supported, even if they’re not working.

The government’s furlough scheme, intended to save jobs and support businesses through the Covid-19 crisis, has a created raft of unexpected issues for startup founders and their teams.

Aside from legal and financial implications, it has left many team members in employment limbo, unsure whether they will have a job to return to when furlough ends, with the latest announcements suggesting it will wrap up in October.

Keeping your furloughed employees engaged and feeling like part of the team will be vital for their morale, company culture and productivity, if and when they are reintegrated back into the business.

What is allowed

First, it is important to be clear on what furloughed staff are legally allowed to do. They should not work for the company that is furloughing them. If they do any work and you claim from the HMRC scheme then you will be committing fraud.

The scheme is only to support those employees who have been asked to not work.

Training and voluntary work

They are, however, allowed to do voluntary work and undertake training, as long as they do not provide services to or generate revenue for, or on behalf of, the company. This might be a good way to keep your employees engaged while you take advantage of the scheme.

Communicate honestly and clearly

While there is a huge amount of uncertainty for the majority of startups at the moment, it’s important to manage the expectations of employees accordingly. If it is unlikely you will be able to return them to work after the scheme ends, communicate that.

Likewise, let them know if it is merely a temporary measure or if their role might have to change when they return.

Include them in the conversation

The use of company email is permitted for furloughed staff although not advised, but don’t let that isolate your furloughed employees. Include them in other third-party channels for non-work-specific communications.

If you have weekly team video calls, for a coffee or a catch up, make sure they are included.


Hopefully you will soon be, or are in the process of, reintegrating staff that have been furloughed. It could be that, despite your best efforts, these employees have disengaged and you face the tough task of getting them up to speed.

This is where culture and planning are vital in successfully reintegrating them without significant disruption.

Mental wellbeing

While some employees may have made the most of the unexpected period of leave, others may have found lockdown that much more difficult because they haven’t been able to work. A lack of purpose and regular interaction with colleagues may have left them feeling isolated or worried about the future.

Here are some achievable steps for founders to help ensure every team member’s mental wellbeing is supported, whether working remotely or on furlough.

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