How to Lead Furloughed Staff Upon Their Return

furloughed staff

As a leader in the industry this past year, you’ve had to make some hard calls. This includes having furloughed staff. And there are lasting psychological impacts that need to be considered if so.

In the article, “The Psychological Impact of Being Furloughed,” the author Eileen Donnelly shared how employment is a key driver of well-being. “Those who have been furloughed may feel excluded, awakening feelings suggestive of threat and social pain, which when activated in the brain is akin to physical pain. Where once you were accepted and had an identity, you are now excluded and have lost status,” wrote Donnelly.

In fact, in “Furlough Fear: Understanding the Experience of Furloughed Staff,” a survey from May 2020, 79% disagreed with the statement, “Now I am furloughed, I feel OK and have no concerns.”

EXTRA CREDIT: Two campus recreation directors share how they supported staff well-being, as well as their own, throughout the pandemic.

Furthermore, the survey reveals these staff face numerous issues. These include:

  • A loss of purpose.
  • A loss of connection with the company.
  • Concern over finances.
  • A fear over future redundancy.

Based on the above, Donnelly writes those furloughed can find themselves with a damaged implicit psychological contract with their employer. “This can result in a loss of trust, creating feelings of uncertainty and anxiety that then turn into more worry, causing a vicious emotional cycle. We feel a lack of control, that we are powerless which again activates more worry and a sense of unfairness — why me?” wrote Donnelly.

How to Move Forward After a Furlough

As such, leaders who furlough employees need to first be aware of its affect on well-being.

After that, it’s having open and supportive conversation. “Leaders must also empathize with their employee’s potential feeling of rejection and, as far as possible, take positive steps to address that,” wrote Donnelly. “If employers are able to positively affect the psychological well-being of all employees, furloughed or not, evidence tells us not only does productivity increase, but employees perceive their workload as less stressful, resulting in less attrition.”

In the article, “3 Essentials to Keep Your Team’s Trust After a Layoff,” there are three tips given for leadership:

  1. Make communication a priority. Address your team’s uncertainty and answer their pressing questions.
  2. Take an honest look at delegating tasks and filling gaps.
  3. Allow time to find a new normal.

All in all, this isn’t easy. Work closely with your team, show empathy and communicate openly.

Additional Resources:

3 Ways to Successfully Reboard Your Furloughed Employees

How to Bring Back and Motivate Furloughed Employees

Heather Hartmann is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at

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