“Putting our sales team on a furlough rota system has boosted wellbeing and productivity during lockdown”

As National Mental Health Awareness Week starts, ISL Recruitment, one of the UK’s Best Places to Work reports on how an innovative method of furloughing has helped people stay positive, reduce anxiety and increase productivity. ISL director Alan Furley explains more.

When you run a business, you get used to trusting your gut. Instinct and intuition tend to govern a lot of decision making and, like muscles, the more you use them the more effective they become.

Something I hope we’ve become pretty good at intuiting is the welfare and psychological health of our team and adapting to try and provide what they need to be happy at work.

This came into full effect straight from lockdown as, while many recruiters furloughed sales teams straight away, we didn’t. We were in a good enough position to not have to panic financially and we knew that we wanted to give people a chance to keep working and be productive.

But a month later the revenue picture deteriorated for everyone. There was no doubt we needed to reduce our spend to protect the long-term health of the business, and furloughing was the obvious choice.

On reflection, it was here that intuition took over. Instead of directly allocating a ‘Team A” and “Team B” scenario, where you may pick who you perceive to be most useful, we didn’t feel right to be making judgments in this way.

The B team, we considered, would feel unloved and the A team would be told to run twice as fast to keep the B team in the business. The A team might have felt happy to do this initially but over time then it would get to them, potentially causing resentment.

Another option was to ask for volunteers to stay or be furloughed. In theory, this lets our team choose what’s best for them, in reality, this quickly seemed a way of making everyone extremely anxious!

So, we decided to do a staggered furlough. All 18 sales staff to be furloughed for three weeks, without exception, over a seven-week period. It meant we could have continuity in our business for clients and candidates. No single consultant would be on the bench for too long – and we took away the pressure of making an individual call on who should stay and who should stop.

Two very welcome things have happened, with one hoped for and one that pleasantly surprised. This week (w/c May 18th) we’ve seen the first team return from their furlough in the best of spirits having had some quality ‘time off’, being able to relax and enjoy their downtime safe in the knowledge they will be returning to do their bit.

They’ve gone for long walks, watched Netflix, learned a programming language, bought a puppy – and all talked about the benefit of being able to just relax.

The pleasant surprise? We had also naturally feared a little that the teams on the ground would subconsciously ease off knowing that they faced a three-week break. But not at all – last week was our most productive in the last seven.

And on this good vibe, we’ve also decided to retain a shorter week target that worked wonders last year when things were ‘normal’. So, from now we will be finishing at lunchtime on Friday for the foreseeable, irrespective of results.

It proves that even though decisions have to made about the bottom line, acting intuitively as human beings with everyone’s best interests at heart pays massive dividends. I hope it also means that as we help create stronger individuals we also become stronger as a whole.