Covid-19 has changed not only how we work but also who is working. According to the British Chambers of Commerce, since the job-retention scheme was introduced on March 20, 71pc of companies have placed staff on furlough – a term virtually unused in British business before the coronavirus outbreak.

Now 30pc of companies have furloughed at least three-quarters of their staff. Suffolk-based brewing and hospitality giant Adnams is one of them. It employs some 550 people and has had to furlough about 90pc of them, across all areas of the business.

“We’d already begun closing shops, pubs and hotels, asking our people if they’d take unpaid leave,” says Sadie Lofthouse, Adnams’ director of culture and performance. “The furlough scheme meant we were able to go back to them with good news.”

For employers, the big challenge with furloughed staff is keeping them engaged and looking after their mental health – which is particularly tough in the hard-hit hospitality sector. “There is a lot of absolute fear,” admits Sadie. “When you have Michael Gove saying pubs may have to stay shut until Christmas... We can’t allay that fear but we can give our people positive messages and try to make life feel as normal as possible.”

Different people like to be reached in different ways, so employing a range of communications channels is vital with a large workforce. Adnams uses everything from posting physical letters to regular updates on Facebook and WhatsApp groups. “It’s important to deliver a mix of appreciation, information and reassurance,” says Sadie. “We don’t just want to churn out information. We have to keep it normal, with a mix of amusing stories, information and practical advice.”

Marketing agency StrategiQ has taken the ‘practical’ element a stage further, with a very different approach to furlough. “We’ve actually banned the use of the word ‘furlough’,” says founder and CEO Andy Smith. “We refer to it as ‘training leave’.” While the job-retention scheme clearly forbids furloughed staff from doing any work, it does allow for training. Having studied the impact of Covid-19 on workflow, StrategiQ put 15 of its 44 staff on furlough. “They’re taking advantage of a scheme where the government pays them to stay at home and train themselves to the maximum,” says Andy.

“We started with individual skills assessments, looking at the core skills needed for people’s current roles and those needed for further development. We expect them to do a minimum of two tracked hours of training a day, plus half an hour of exercise, plus half an hour of a wellbeing activity. At the end of each day, they report to their team leaders to update them on their progress,” Andy explains.

Each member of staff has an individual development plan and they’re even finding fresh training to do – everything from coding and SEO courses to Chartered Institute of Marketing courses. “We want them to return to the business physically and mentally stronger, with more skills,” says Andy. “I think our structured approach has saved a lot of people from anxiety and depression.”

At the end of April, after the first month of the scheme, both Adnams and StrategiQ were able to bring a number of staff back to work (the Adnams warehouse staff celebrated by coming in fancy dress). However, the challenge for both firms – and for every business – remains looking after the wellbeing of those that are still on furlough.

This focus on the employee is part of the culture at Adnams and StrategiQ, which are both accredited Best Employers. The biennial Best Employers Eastern Region programme, established by recruitment specialists Pure and psychometrics experts Eras. “The survey can give pointers on how to keep people motivated and engaged,” says Alex Pearce of Eras. “You can look at how people are and develop strategies to look after their wellbeing.”

To benefit from the free 2020 Best Employers Eastern Region survey, click here.

Advice on coping with the Covid-19 crisis is available on the Pure website - click here.

The Best Employers Eastern Region Partners


Pure supports the growth of organisations in the Eastern region through the recruitment and development of highly engaged employees, while also helping candidates at each stage of their career.

Pure is the professional recruitment company for the East of England, specialising in Accountancy, Human Resources, Technology, Marketing & Digital and Professional Office roles. We recruit across all levels from short term temporary cover to longer term contracts and permanent recruitment. Pure Executive is dedicated to board level appointments.

From four offices located across the Eastern region, we have a comprehensive understanding of local employment trends as well as within our specialist sectors. For more information, click here.


Eras ltd are a founder of The Best Employers Initiative and are the authors and owners of the online survey and psychometric platform. We have been at the cutting-edge of psychometric products and consultancy for over three decades. Our user-friendliness, affordability and commitment to our customers has seen organisations of all sizes right across the world benefit from the wealth of our expertise. Companies ranging from large multinationals to independent consultants (many household names among them), see Eras Ltd as their first choice for all their assessment needs. For more information, click here.


Birketts is a full service, top 100 UK law firm, based in the East of England, with offices in Cambridge, Chelmsford, Ipswich and Norwich. With a rich heritage spanning over 150 years we’ve built an enviable track record advising businesses, institutions and individuals in the UK and internationally.

We are large enough to provide specialist expertise in most areas of the law at a standard that is frequently compared with major City firms but not at the expense of maintaining a personal and tailored service. We are flexible about everything except our reputation for maintaining the highest professional and ethical standards. If you think that Birketts is the right choice for you, then get in touch, we’d love to hear from you. For more information, click here.


Archant is a privately-owned media company with market-leading media brands that inspire communities around geographical locations and specialist interests in the UK and internationally. It inspires communities by being the best media brand at informing, educating and entertaining target consumers in each community it serves.

It is the fifth largest regional newspaper publisher, with titles including the Eastern Daily Press and East Anglian Daily Times, and the largest publisher of regional and local lifestyle magazines and specialist magazine titles in the UK.

It also owns a broad portfolio of digital media assets and marketing services in Norwich and a variety of mobile apps. It also recently launched the pop-up national newspaper The New European.

The company, which was founded in 1845, has its roots in Norwich, and services advertisers by building powerful and successful commercial solutions to effectively engage with its communities. For more information, click here.