As we look back over the last month, so much has changed in the world and not least in the world of employment and people management. The economic outlook is uncertain and such change and uncertainty is unsettling on both a personal and corporate level. People’s responses and behaviours will vary enormously.

It seems strange now to think that on Thursday, 19 March I knew nothing of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). But, on 20 March, the Government announced that if organisations could not maintain their current workforce because their operations had been severely affected by COVID-19, they could furlough employees and apply for a grant that would cover up to 80 per cent of their usual monthly wage costs. This would be capped at £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage.

Employers were told the scheme would be available for at least three months from 1 March. We could designate workers as furloughed’ and advise them that during their furlough they must not work or volunteer for us, their employer. We are then required to submit information to HMRC and agree to retrospective audit. The aim is to have money flowing to businesses as soon as possible to support workers who might otherwise be in danger of being laid off or who may already have been laid off.

Currently, employers understand this is a temporary scheme in place for three months from 1 March 2020, and we can use it at any time during this period. Staff can be furloughed at any point for a minimum period of three weeks. It is designed to help employers retain their employees and protect the UK economy. We await further government advice as to whether it will be extended beyond 1 June 2020.

Some organisations have no choice but to furlough’ all but one or two members staff; others are looking long and hard at essential services, income streams and what may be sustainable. The result for all is a huge communication exercise to staff. (See guidance for furloughing employees as part of the CJRS.)

The good news is that these team members remain employed and their benefits intact, but for the time being their role is furloughed and they must not undertake any further work” for their employer. Reactions from employees are likely to vary from absolute relief – I can get on with all those projects and hobbies I’ve had no time for in recent months, and I’ll still have an income and a job to return to” – to concern caused by the uncertainty: Oh no, what does this mean for my job in three months? Why me? That’s it for my career.”

Paul Seath, partner at lawyers Bates Wells, said the scheme was extremely welcome and will undoubtedly save many jobs”. But he said it was still unclear exactly how it would operate and went on to warn employers of some of the issues they may face with the scheme, including resentment from staff who are asked to continue working but who might have preferred to be among those given time off at a reduced rate of pay.

The priority, for many, right now is to survive, but we need also to lift our heads and look at the opportunity.

We each choose how we react to our circumstances and situations; whatever our reaction to this scheme, it is a huge provision from the Government, for which it is suggested the take up has been three times greater than expected. The current economic outlook is not good, and most organisations envisage that their financial resources will be significantly challenged. 

As a charity we recognise that we are not able to work productively in the usual ways, and our support for our beneficiaries will need to change. Through the CJRS we have an opportunity to access public funds and we need to maximise the use of these funds while they are available to us. We are required to be responsible stewards of our funds and should be spending money wisely to enhance our ability to support our beneficiaries. I expect this would apply to other third sector organisations.

The priority, for many, right now is to survive, but we need also to lift our heads and look at the opportunity. Every financial downturn creates a sea change in behaviour, and there are opportunities for agile organisations looking to move forward. The most important thing for each of us as individuals is not to get so bogged down in current problems that we cannot look ahead.

Jesus tells us quite clearly not to worry about our life, what we will eat or drink. He urges us to look at the birds of the air, reminding us that our heavenly Father feeds them. He then asks, Are you not much more valuable than them?”

An economic downturn has a number of effects on people’s lives, however, through decreased employment, reductions in income and wealth, and increased uncertainty about future jobs and income. The health effects caused by these adverse macroeconomic conditions will be complex, and will differ across generations, regions and socio-economic groups. Evidence is already emerging that the economic repercussions of the crisis are falling disproportionately on young workers, low-income families and women. 

So, we may have reason to be concerned for the future, but we need to pray into these inequalities, knowing that God is concerned even for the birds of the air and wants us to act justly. These times, whether working, furloughed or without employment, provide us so much opportunity to reflect, to see signs of spring all around and to recognise afresh that we are of great value to God. We have hope, because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassion never fail.

Perhaps for you, in your personal situation, it all feels overwhelming and unfathomable. I would encourage you whatever your situation to keep talking to your employer. Ask questions of your people manager, express your uncertainty, and ask for information. Remember this current pattern and government scheme is still evolving, so they may not have all the answers but I’m sure they would want to keep communicating what they do know. 

Then remember above all Paul’s encouragement to us: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

As you come to terms with change, pray for those in authority making difficult decisions. Pray they will understand and consider all the variables and factors before them. Pray for those impacted, for their mental and physical health, and pray that organisations that influence society for good will survive this current crisis.

Photo by Lisa Fotios