Tools for Helping Teams Reunite After a Furlough
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Tools for Helping Teams Reunite After a Furlough

Many in the media have likened the fight against COVID-19 to a war against an invisible enemy.  Team members in a wide variety of industries have had to step up and make personal sacrifices to best serve our community and the mission of their organization.  They have truly served on the frontlines of this battle.
With this metaphor in mind, we reached out to Lieutenant Colonel Scott Jeffress (Army – Retired), Director of the Roan Scholars Program at ETSU.  He shared his thoughts with Summit Leadership regarding the similarities between military deployment and the return of furloughed employees.
At Summit Leadership we believe there are parallels between the return of furloughed team members and what families and teams experience during the return of military personnel following a deployment. Those who were furloughed, played a role that required service and sacrifice to fulfill the mission of their organization.  Those who retained their job took on extra responsibilities and they too had to make sacrifices to best serve the mission of their company.  Their differing experiences may affect their perspective and how they engage the process of reuniting as a team.
Here are some key points to consider for developing best practices to help guide and support team members as they reunite after the furlough (deployment):

  • Frame conversations with clear common organizational values and define your desired outcomes.
  • Communication is key – be intentional about creating “Talk it Out” sessions (individuals and groups).  These should be scheduled on a weekly basis in the first month and then as needed.
  • There is a danger with people who won’t, or don’t know how to express their feelings and instead try to just “tough it out”.  It may seem like they are doing fine but as time passes they may act out several weeks or months later.
  • In the home/work dynamic, many will do well managing the tension at work, but may have negative attitudes and behavior come out at home.
  • In military deployments, change typically happens over an extended period (6+ months).  With COVID-19, significant change happened in a short period of time after people were furloughed.  They are returning to a much different workplace.  This can be very unsettling.
  • For team members who retained their job, the feelings of “survivor guilt” may occur leaving them feeling a sense of guilt or shame about staying employed while friends were furloughed.
  • Many may feel a sense of loss and experience grief, especially if some team members don’t return following the furlough.
  • Both those who leave and those who remain experience a variety of emotions regarding service and sacrifice from their perspective and experience.  It’s important for each person to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of the others on their team and throughout the organization.
  • When change happens in someone’s absence, they don’t have the opportunity to be part of the process and therefore can have difficulty with buy-in.  Going back and explaining why certain changes have been implemented can be helpful in building understanding and gaining buy-in.
  • While the furloughed people were away, their responsibilities had to be covered by others.  This often results in a change in processes or how things are organized.  The remaining person can feel like they improved things while the furloughed person can feel like their way of doing things is being criticized or needlessly changed or corrected.
  • Certain team members have had to pitch in and be involved in areas they don’t engage under normal practice.  As things “return to normal”, it may be difficult to reset healthy boundaries as those tasks are assigned to others.
  • As members of the leadership team share ideas and support each other in this process, they will discover other potential “landmines” that may be hidden just beneath the surface and plan how best to address them.

Here are some suggested questions to use as conversation starters for your “Talk it Out” sessions:

  1. As you reflect on your personal experiences navigating this crisis, what have you learned about yourself that is helping you grow personally and professionally?
  2. Which of the following emotions have you experienced going through this season?
    • Anger
    • Fear
    • Resentment
    • Peace
    • Hurt
    • Overwhelmed
    • Hope
    • Helplessness
    • Sadness
    • Confusion
    • Awkwardness
    • Anxiety
    • ________________(other)
  3. It is normal for people to have different responses to change or challenging experiences. Which one of these responses do you relate to the most?
    • Response One: I like change or a new challenge and see it as an opportunity to grow.
    • Response Two: It takes me time to adjust to change and understand what’s expected of me. I need more clarity and explanation for why certain decisions were made and clear direction and guidance for how to implement the new way of doing things.  
    • Response Three: I really struggle with change. I tend to get overwhelmed with uncertainty and prefer things to stay the same.  The way we were doing things worked fine.  If it isn’t broken, don’t try to “fix” it.
  4. How can your manager and other team members help you the most right now?
  5. How do you think you can best help your manager and other team members right now?
  6. What other questions come to mind that you feel would be healthy to discuss with your team?

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