4 execs: Here's my advice to systems bringing back 500+ furloughed workers

This spring, more than 260 hospitals furloughed workers in an effort to remain financially stable amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some hospitals have already brought back many of the workers they furloughed. Others are laying off staff permanently

There's no one path in this process. Becker's spoke with the CEOs and human resource chiefs of health systems that have brought back more than 500 furloughed workers and asked them what advice they have for their peers. 

Below are their thoughts, edited for length and clarity.

Aaron Gillingham, senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Beaumont Health in Southfield, Mich. In some cases, it was challenging to bring people back who were getting an extra $600 a week on unemployment. Another challenge was workers being harder to reach during the summer months, as some had planned time off. 

My biggest piece of advice is to provide flexibility to workers. Right now we're having some employees who are still on furlough looking at other jobs within the system, or at different shifts where demand is needed. We've had individual career conversations with more than 900 employees still on furlough around these opportunities. 

Lorraine Washington, senior vice president of human resources and volunteer services at Summa Health in Akron, Ohio. When furloughed workers started coming back, we looked at employees holistically. Not what job they had but their skill set. In some cases, we told them we had a job that needed to be done that may not be the hours they're used to, and asked if they'd be willing to do that. Throughout the furlough process, we prioritized transparency and communication with employees. Every day, we were letting employees know what was going on and what changes were going to be put in place. 

David Verinder, president and CEO of Sarasota (Fla.) Memorial Health Care System. If you're a big organization, furloughs have a material affect on your community. Your messages aren't just to employees, but the community at large. In these situations, you can't communicate too much and too frequently. You have to overcommunicate to your staff and your leaders about what is going on. It pays off in the end. People appreciate it. Open communication has helped reduce employee stress and anxiety as we continue to move through these uncertain times. 

Maintaining employee engagement was also critical during this time. Throughout the pandemic, we carved out the time to continue to recognize employees with videotaped work anniversary celebrations and service awards. We gave every employee that is director level and below an appreciation payment in their paychecks, with a letter of thanks from the executive team and hospital board. The $500 awards went to all staff employed during the pandemic, whether they were furloughed or on front line, to recognize their dedication and sacrifice.

Patrick Cawley, MD, CEO of MUSC Health in Charleston, S.C. Once we started bringing people back, one big thing we had to deal with was financials still being down. While business was starting to come back up, we had to take on a different mindset that it's OK to bring back employees even if numbers aren't perfect right now. You have to trust that improvement is coming. 

My advice for other executives is to plan a good communication strategy. If you think you've communicated enough, you probably haven't. Also, don't make the assumption that every position needs to come back automatically. Leaders need to assess which jobs are necessary. And it takes time; you can't do it all at once. We started bringing people back in May, and are slated to bring our last person back mid-September.

More articles on leadership and management:
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