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How to Manage Furloughs and the Return to Work

Furloughing employees wan’t unheard of, but until the COVID crisis, it had never been done at this scale across industries. Many leaders are in uncharted territory. We talk with the VP of Human Capital at Life Time and CEO of Executive Women’s Forums International about the playbook for bringing people back, ways to re-purpose talent that doesn’t fit exactly where it did before, and caring for employees’ emotional well-being while also staying attuned to diversity issues.

Watch the 3-min recap here: Top 2 Things to Think about as You Bring People Back to Work

Top takeaways from the webinar:

  1. People are grieving. Some are grieving for loved ones affected by coronavirus. Many are grieving for the way things used to be. People will continue grievingespecially as they return to work and don’t see all their co-workers there. Be sure you’re being empathetic to how people are feeling. (15:15) 
  2. Think of department managers as ER doctors. You need them to know how to stop the bleeding or reset a bone, but if somebody needs a specific surgery, call in the expert.” Make sure to provide that backup support, and your managers know they’re supported. (28:30) 
  3. When deciding who to bring back, use objective measures so that your diversity mix stays where it needs to be. Leaving these decisions up to whoever managers like best could adversely affect parents with children, for example, or other groups. (39:00) 
  4. Be quick, but don’t hurry. As you look to re-purpose talent (like in John’s example of using recruiters in the Care Center)be sure that people are trained in the new environment, comfortable, and know when to escalate issues they’re not ready to handle themselves. (45:30) 
  5. One of the most important qualities that’s going to be needed is learning agility. That’s going to take higher priority in the justification of who you bring back than technical expertise. Going forward, you’ll be evaluating people’s potential, as well as what they’ve done to date. (48:30) 
  6. Have a “high tolerance for repetition.” Being methodical will help things run smoothly, but remember to be human and extend empathy to every time you work the process, no matter how many times you work the process. (59:00) 


Webinar Transcription

Webinar Host: Briana Harper

Tanis Cornell, Chief Executive Officer, Executive Women’s Forums International
John Brennan, Vice President, Human Capital
Robin Stenzel, Chief Solutions Officer, OutMatch

BRIANA: Hello, everyone. Thank you for joining our session on “How to Manage Furloughs and the Return to Work.” You know, when I first started researching this topic, I found some Google search data on the term “furlough.” So based on how much search traffic a term gets, Google can track interest in anything over time. So, for everyone on the call today, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that over the past few weeks, the term “furlough” has hit peak popularity, which means in the history of Google, there has never been more interest in furloughs than there is right now.

In September 2013, interest in furloughs was about 35% what it is today, and then after that, the line pretty much flattens to zero with small pops of interest in January 2018 and January 2019. Fast forward to January 2020, and that’s when search volume for furlough hit an all-time high.

Just a few short months ago, furlough was not a part of everyday conversation. Maybe you’ve been in a certain type of business where furloughs were done, maybe they were more common, but the word itself was used so infrequently that millions of people had to go to Google and ask what it meant.

So, when it comes to ending furloughs and bringing people back to work, some of you have been here before, many of you haven’t. That’s why I brought on John Brennan from Life Time Fitness, Tanis Cornell from Executive Women’s Forums International, and our very own Robin Stenzel from OutMatch to talk about what the process of bringing people back might look like, how to repurpose talent that doesn’t fit exactly where it did before, and how to navigate all this while still looking out for employees’ emotional well-being and the impact on diversity.


So, again, I’d like to say thank you for being here. I don’t expect you to leave the session today feeling quite as Zen as the guy here on the slide, but I do hope that by coming together, voicing concerns, and sharing some insight, we can provide you with a place to pause, regroup, and prepare for whatever tomorrow brings.

My name is Brianna Harper and I’m your webinar host. I’m also your resource for any questions you have during the session, after the session, really any time. We planned about 45 minutes of content for you today. After that, we’ll open it up for a Q&A. So, I’d love to hear how you’re navigating and answer your questions, so please feel free to chat in that questions queue whenever something comes to mind.

After the session, I’ll send out today’s slide deck and the link to the recording. If you have any questions that we don’t get to today or you think of anything that you want to ask after the session, please reach out. You can find me at and @OutMatchHCM on social.


Really quick before we begin, I want to show you what’s coming up in our future of work series. So, two weeks from today, we’ll continue the conversation about bringing people back and rebuilding, this time with the focus on HR readiness and how to equip your teams to be more agile, more creative, more in line with business strategy than ever before.

Then on June 10th, we’ll talk with leaders in the service industry specifically those who rely on face-to-face interactions with customers about how they’re coming back and what’s changing in their businesses. And finally, on June 24th, we’ll look at how diversity and inclusion has been reshaped through crisis and what D&I efforts might look like going forward.

One last thing, today’s session is valid for one professional development credit for the SHRM-CP and the SHRM-SCP, so look for that activity ID from me at the end of the session today.


We have three excellent speakers and thought leaders on the call today. You can see their faces right there on webcam.

Tanis is the CEO of Executive Women’s Forums International. She is creative and is a part of many leadership forums across many different business communities, so she has an ear to the struggles that leaders are facing right now, and she’s specially tuned to the impact on women and diverse groups.

Tanis, would you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

TANIS: Good morning, I’m Tanis Cornell, the CEO of EWF International. And we are at heart a leadership development company. We work across all kinds of industries and job functions, but we do have a special focus and an expertise on programs to develop women leaders and willing to help companies build their pipeline of women leaders, so that then they look down for potential promotions, they have an equal number of qualified women and men to choose from.

BRIANA: Thank you, Tanis. We also have John Brennan who is the VP of Human Capture at Life Time. When I reached out to John about doing this webinar, he said that they were actually reopening their first club the very next day, so this is incredibly timely for him, and he’s going to have a lot of great advice and insight to share.

John, would you tell us a little bit more about you?

JOHN: Yeah, thank you very much, pleasure to be here. So, I’m the Vice President of Human Capital at Life Time. We’re best known for having just over 150 health clubs around the United States and three in Canada. We’ve also expanded into the co-working space in the last two years. And we also are now moving into the living space as well. We’ve got 40,000 team members, and as of about April 1st, 38,000 of them went on furlough. So, this has definitely been a large impact to us.

BRIANA: Yeah, thank you, John. And we also have Robin Stenzel who’s going to moderate the discussion today. Robin is the Chief Solutions Officer at OutMatch. But before Outmatch, her career was in HR leadership, so she’s been in your shoes and she has a ton of experience navigating through challenges like we’re facing today.
So, Robin, tell us a little about yourself.

ROBIN: Thanks. I’m excited to to have this discussion. So, as Briana mentioned, I’m the Chief Solutions Officer at OutMatch, so I work with our product or go to market teams. I also work with our human capital and what are we doing and how are we growing talents within the organization. And as you mentioned kind of early on, so the furlough is this term that we hadn’t used a lot. I came out of the airline industry where it was popular, but super interested to hear kind of Tanis’ and John’s perspective as we think about furlough and how it’s really kind of taken over a much broader industry perspective. So, thanks for having me.

BRIANA: Sure. Thank you, Robin. Thank you, John. Thank you, Tanis. I’m so excited to have all of you on the call today. Let’s get going.


The first thing I want to do is a quick poll. So, I will launch this for everybody if you’ll please put in your answer.

So, what we want to know is “Where you are in your return to work journey?” I know that everybody’s navigating this at a different pace and there’s different guidelines in different states and for different types of businesses. So, this is really going to help us understand where you’re at and bring the conversation for you.


So, I’ll leave this open for just a few more seconds. Looks like everybody’s voting now.


All right, still getting a couple last votes in, and then I will share the poll with everyone.


Okay, I’m going to share this with everyone. It looks like planning to bring furloughed employees back and also a split between didn’t do many furloughs but focused on reopening work spaces.

Robin, is any of that surprising for you to see?

ROBIN: No, I think, you know, as we look at just different states and being in different places, as you read, we were having this conversation earlier this morning and a lot of reading around, people actually pushing back bringing people to work in more positions where they’re able to work remotely, so as people kind of think about what does that look like. So, yeah, I think today, whether you’re in the process of — whether you furloughed someone or bringing people back or just thinking about bringing people back, I think the conversation should hopefully be helpful to you.

BRIANA: Yeah, absolutely. So, that’s a perfect segue into our conversation. Robin, I’ll hand it over to you.

ROBIN: Thanks so much. You know, so as we look at this poll, you know, I think as we think about this, people are in the process of thinking about bringing people back to work. Maybe they didn’t furlough, but they’ve got to rehire, refine workers that come back. But there’s a lot of things happening. And so, John, I’ll kind of push this to you as you think about the fact of reopening your Life Time facilities, different states, different regulations, different things going on as it hits to occupancy rates, social distancing, thinking about the health of your employees, how are you all managing all of this as you start to reopen clubs and bring people back to work?

JOHN: Yeah, so our prototypical club is about 120,000 square feet. It’s got about 300 team members, 65% of them are part-time, and there’s nine or 10 different departments within each facility. So, we’ve worked with our operations team and put together our guidelines with a low, moderate, and risk callback strategy. And it’s not as simple as just having those three different strategies, but it’s three strategies in nine or 10 different departments.

And so that’s where we’ve looked at social distancing. We’ve looked at how do we ensure that our team members are safe? How do we make sure that our members feel that things are clean and safe as well? So, that’s been more of the broad starting point. Then after that, we’ve got our legal team that we meet with four days a week, and they just give us updates on where every state and in some cases, where each county is at, so then it helps determine where are we going to green light or where we’re going to move forward. And as everybody knows, this stuff changes and it’s not day-to-day, it’s hour-to-hour, and sometimes minute-to-minute. So, we leverage our legal team for the latest updates with that.

Then, once we actually have a green light, then we have — within our human resource team, we have a care center that we reach out to our team members, first of all, just to check in to see how they’re doing and then also just to gauge their level of excitement or anxiety with coming back to work. While we’re doing that, our marketing team reaches out to our members to do the same. And as long as we have positive indicators in those areas, then we move forward with pulling the trigger and starting to reopen facilities.

ROBIN: So, you kind of mentioned a few — few groups here as this kind of become your task force, so you talked about your care center within HR, a legal kind of advising you from the hour-to-hour pieces that are going on, and then your marketing group, would you consider that your task force at Life Time or do you have others that are sort of involved as you make these decisions?

JOHN: Yeah, I would say that that’s — that’s a very broad way of saying it’s our task force. Now, there’s a lot of people involved in this, so it’s not as if everybody involved is in — are in these meetings, but we have representatives from those groups and if necessary, we pull in other departments as well, but those are largely the task force.

ROBIN: Great, thanks so much.

As you think about some of this, Tanis, you know, as we bring people back, you know, it’s not just, “Doors are open, come on in, let’s start work.” We’ve got all the things that we just mentioned with John, but there’s also kind of the physical space that we were talking about. There’s this emotional component. I was talking to someone earlier today who went to pick up something at our offices in Dallas and said, you know, as the elevator door opened, there was someone on the elevator and while it said four people could go in there, he thought, “You know what, I’m going to let this pass and go.” That’s for the physical side, but there’s an emotional side to that as well. Maybe you can talk a little bit about what that means for employees and how do we care for their emotional well-being. John mentioned it a bit from their care center calling and checking, marketing checking on customers, but what does that look like, and have you thought about that as you’ve helped coach and counsel different organizations?

TANIS: Obviously, our first concern is the physical safety of people coming back, our clients and customers that may be on our facility, but it’s really interesting, I’m going to preface my comments by a recent poll that one of the large mental health providers did a survey, and what was reported to them is that 2/3 of employees that they surveyed said that this time during COVID-19 was the most stressful time in their entire career, and 88% of employees said that they were experiencing moderate to severe stress. Now, that stress is caused by a lot of different things. It can be caused by having to suddenly work from home and they’ve never done that before and there’s children and pets underfoot. You’ve got spouses that are also trying to work from home. You have children that you’re trying to teach. There are a lot of things that are creating that stress, but there’s also a lot of fear and anxiety about people’s physical well-being that is causing that stress. And so, we have to understand that employees are experiencing things they’ve never experienced before. And it’s not just employees, it’s the leadership of our companies who are also experiencing things.

So, as you think — I think one thing companies have to consider is what resources they will make available to their employees from a mental health perspective, maybe even bringing in mindfulness coaches that really can work with their teams on managing their stress, but also think about equipping and training the management in your organization because they’re now having to deal with employee issues they probably never dealt with before, and most of them don’t have that experience on how to deal with the mental health and mental stress that a lot of these employees are going to be feeling. So, equipping them with some training and development to manage their employees and managing the stress of their employees is a great contribution that employers can make to their leadership in terms of how they’re dealing with people coming back.

You know, there’s a lot of grief that people are feeling. That grief could be over employees that have lost their job, their friends and colleagues. They may have had COVID-hit friends and family in some way. They may have experienced a family or a friend loss due to the virus. So, people are actually feeling grief as well as us. So, I think that we, as employers, have to be extremely empathetic to our employees as they’re coming back to work. And there are now a lot of privacy issues that are at play or some employees just aren’t going to feel comfortable coming back. You may have employees that have underlying conditions that makes them fearful about coming back into the workplace and they don’t necessarily want to share that with their co-workers, that’s a privacy issue, and so, companies are going to have to be very sensitive to that. And I think lastly, that if companies can really demonstrate gratitude to their employees and how thankful they are for the dedication, for the patience of their employees, that’s going to go a long way just in shoring up the emotions that people are feeling as they come back.

ROBIN: That’s great. You — you talked a bit about, you know, this is sort of the first time for a lot of us and we’ve got managers who need training, HR who needs training, there’s privacy. You know, as we go through this, sometimes we forget — you also mentioned executives — and sometimes we forget those people are at the top. There’s probably a lot of HR professionals on the call. How can we help and support those executives who may be worried about everybody else? How do we sort of support the top, you know, kind of that those at the top? Do you have any suggestions or thoughts on that?

TANIS: I do think we have to encompass the senior executives because they are facing all of the same things and sometimes more stress. They’re the ones making decisions on who to furlough, who to lay off, how to move the company forward. So, it really encompasses all employees including all the way to the executive level. And whether it’s private counseling help, whether it’s coming together as a group and having those discussions, whether it’s pulling in mindfulness coaches to help them manage their stress, I think there are a lot of things companies can do, but I do think that HR is on the forefront of helping their companies find the resources that their particular environment needs. And it really varies from industry to industry. You know, in John’s industry, people have to come — basically have to come back physically to an office. In other locations, you may be able to have people work from home for an extended period of time. So, this is going to have to be carefully thought out by each company and the specific circumstances they’re facing.

ROBIN: And just one more question for you, Tanis, on that is as you think about this, you mentioned sort of these companies that can extend that — that time at home, we’ve started to see companies like Google and others — Twitter, saying, “Hey, people may never have to come back.” What is that impact do you think to emotional well-being and how do we manage that? Because while there’s sort of this freedom of working at home, that connectivity, some of us when we did a quick survey within OutMatch, we thought people misses seeing their co-workers every day.

TANIS: They do miss seeing their co-workers, so I think you have to create experiences for people to come together, have discussions, and those experiences don’t always have to be about the business. I talk to a lot of people who are doing various kinds of virtual happy hours with their teams, and they’re just doing it even in groups of six or eight. You know, when you have 30 people on a call, it’s hard to really interact, so they’re breaking that down.

I was talking to a colleague that in California recently that they’ve done a lot of online training and they have really kind of flipped and what they are doing with companies is they are helping to create fun experiences and kind of some competition and contests virtually for their employees to help them have some fun, to help them build that kind of their — their feeling and working together as a team. So, those are things I think HR really has to think about too is how can we bring that collaboration aspect into a virtual team.

ROBIN: Okay, great. Thanks.

You know, John, I think that, you know, kind of mentioned not everybody has the luxury of sort of letting people work from home. And as you talked about, you know, your business and as we think about it, you know, really your employees are there on the frontlines and 38,000 of them being impacted, I think was the number that you shared with us out of 40,000. So now, it’s about bringing those people back into work, and we talked a bit about the safety of that and what that looks like. What’s been the process that you’ve used to start to think about, “How do I call people back to work?” And then how do you sort of incorporate this idea that Tanis talked about sort of this emotional well-being and what sort of the — the tone as you’ve been talking to people?

JOHN: Yeah. So, like I mentioned before, we have the low, the moderate, and the risk chart that we use for some general guidelines, and part of that includes what are the things that we’re doing to ensure that our team members feel as safe as possible. So, we use that as our starting point, and Tanis brought up a great point about, you know, the emotional well-being thing that we have to realize too specifically with our company. With our 150 locations, for the last month, we’ve only had two active team members. We’ve had a general manager and a facility operations manager in the building. We have another eight department managers that have been on furlough themselves. So, we’re asking those eight to come back and essentially lead the charge when the reality is they’ve been incredibly disconnected from what we’ve been doing as a company.

So, we have to make sure that when we bring them back — there’s good news and bad news with this. We have built a playbook that’s 430 pages of the process and procedures that we’re going to do. That’s great, but if I’m a manager that have been — I’ve been gone for a month, and here’s a 400-some page book, and oh, by the way, I have to start calling people to encourage them to come back. It’s — I mean, that’s a challenge right there.

So, we’re trying to make sure that we give them plenty of time to, number one, feel comfortable themselves about what we’re doing before we ask them to reach out to their team members to invite them back to work. And then as far as inviting our frontline team members back, the process, there’s been a couple parts. We anticipate lower traffic from our members when we reopen. And based on what we anticipate, we’ve modified the schedules for each one of our departments. So, we’ve put that together for our managers, so they don’t have to think about, “How should I plan for the workforce?”

The second thing that we’re giving to our department managers is a roster of their team, but we’ve gone through and force rank the roster because what we know is we can’t bring everybody back right away even though we would love to do it. If we bring everyone off of furlough, but don’t have hours for them, there is a chance we could jeopardize some of the benefits that they get, and we just do not want to run that risk. So, the strategy that we’re using is we have a forced rank roster for each department in each club, and we’ve looked at it as objectively as possible. Now, we want to be consistent with departments across our company, but not necessarily consistent within every department. And what I mean by that, some of the departments that criteria is based on the number of hours that somebody has worked or the tenure that they have with the company. In other areas that are revenue generating, they might be performance metrics.

So, we have actually given our department managers that have been gone for a month, here is the new schedule to follow, here is the roster that you have, and here is the process then to start at the top of the roster, here is a script for you. And based on the reaction from the team member, that then has the decision tree of, “Where do I go next?”

So, we’ve tried to be as methodical as possible, but the part that I’m going to go back to is what I started with when we have leaders that have been gone themselves, we’re going to make sure that they are comfortable, not only with what they’re feeling, but with what they’re then communicating to their team.

ROBIN: And so, John, what process have you put in place then? So, if I’m a manager and I’m coming back, and I start going through this process and everything’s going well, and then all of a sudden, I start to feel maybe some of this anxiety or some nervousness or uncomfortableness that the Tanis talks about, what do I do at that point?

JOHN: So, we’ve actually had a couple situations like that. The good news is — well, we opened up one club last week, and we have two more that’ll open up on Friday, and we have another 20 that are slated to open up on Monday. Of approximately 200 managers that we’ve called back to work, there have only been five that have declined or said that they don’t feel comfortable coming back right now.

We have had a couple situations of managers that said they were excited to come back. They’ve come back in and after a day or so — this is reality and reality sets in. So, with one specifically, we were able to just talk through the issues, we had our care center be able to connect with them. And we put any –any concerns that they had, we put those at ease and now they’re in a good spot. We have had a couple people that have then opted out, and we want to be as respectful as possible although this is the challenge, I think a lot of people are going to run into. You want to be very respectful. You want to be very empathetic. However, if it’s not for either the team member having the disease themself, caring for somebody with it, or childcare issues caused by the pandemic, it really puts you into a tough spot where if the manager themselves will not be coming back, we need somebody to step into that manager role. Well, the manager that stepped away, how long do you hold on to that spot? And for the person that stepped in, if they’ve done an incredible job, are they going to feel punished if we then remove them from that?

I’m not saying we have all the answers with it, but those are some of the challenges that we’re — we’re neck deep in right now.

ROBIN: Yeah, it’s a great point. Now, I like that you were talking about this. You talked about this playbook that you have, right? And a little daunting, 400-and-some pages, I’ve been away, I’ve got my playbook, I’m going to look at it. But then, you almost created a playbook within a playbook it sounds like by creating the rosters and the conversation to have, so that people didn’t have to just sort of come in blind. They’ve got the guidance, but it was a little bit more bite-sized chunks. As you kind of think about this and as you’ve been experiencing bringing people back, have you found that to be a little more helpful to have sort of these consumable pieces, maybe different than your normal standard operating procedures?

JOHN: Yeah. And — and, you know what, I’m not saying that I’ve embellished. It is over 400 pages [giggles], but the good news is if I’m a department manager in one area, I don’t have to read 400-some pages. There are probably 20 pages that are company-wide. There are probably 30 pages that are unique or specific to my area. And so, it’s a much smaller area that they really need to focus on.

But still, being able to have that specifically in this time, our managers, they remember what our standard operating procedures are. This right here is specifically not called an SOP because this is not standard. It might become the standard, but this is anything, but a standard operating procedures manual. This is really what has changed since you’ve been gone, and what is it that we need to do to operate and operate in the right way moving forward with everybody’s best interest in mind.

ROBIN: That’s great. Yeah, I mean, I think it kind of gets back to that — that first question we were talking about is how do you do this in a safe way, and what does that look like, and what are all the rules? We were — we were talking about that again and kind of this morning with a group and just saying, you know, there’s like six pages of how to kind of enter back into an office. So, it’s great for people to have that and be able to look into it and to your point, have those areas to reference.

JOHN: Yeah, and — and —


JOHN: — one other part with it. So, in the playbook, it has the script for when they call their team members back and anybody that has worked with a script, it’s nice to have it. The script works great until the first question is asked to you. [laughs] So, we’ve tried to make very clear that we have a back-up team and that’s essentially our care center, which is made up of a group of people that used to be in our talent acquisition group. We’ll talk probably a little bit more about that later. But we’ve partnered one of our recruiters with every department manager really to kind of ride shotgun while they’re building a schedule.

And so, our department managers, we almost look at them like an ER doctor, you need to know how to stop some bleeding, you need to know how to reset a bone, but if somebody needs a specific surgery, call in the expert. Managers, you’ve been gone for a while, you’re comfortable with most of this. If there’s something that you’re not comfortable with, don’t worry, we’ve got people to back you up with that.

ROBIN: That’s great. And I think kind of to that point, we talked about like easing people’s tensions, right? Just to know that you’ve got that extra support, somebody who’s an expert to help you is really great to have on hand and to sort of know where to go. And I think that also helps us. Tanis mentioned, you know, she talks about privacy, right? And your — your HR folks really helping kind of as your managers go through that piece as well because you can to your point, everything’s great, and then someone asks you a question that’s not on the list of things that I looked at, and now what happens? So, thanks for sharing that.

You know, Tanis, one of the things — and John mentioned this a little bit — as you know, kind of as they look at people coming back, you know, if you’re not caring for someone, you don’t have the illness yourself, or you don’t have some sort of child care that’s impacted, what does that mean? And so, as we look at this, we know that, you know, it’s now almost — if it’s not summertime, it’s going to be summertime very closely for your school and your schools are probably not opening. Daycares are coming back sort of having these same questions. Summer camps, if they’re going on, maybe in a limited fashion, but certainly not in the way that maybe you thought that they might.

This concern and sort of some of the research we’ve been seeing is now what starts to happen to the diversity that — that organizations have built? We spent the last years, you know, really focusing how do we bring people back, how do we have a diverse workforce. And now what we’re seeing is through this virus is women and people of color being most impacted. And so, as you’ve been talking to people, what have you seen and what are you hearing and kind of how are you thinking about coaching folks as they really think about their diversity initiatives and sort of bringing people back?

TANIS: Well, you’re right. I’ve been doing a lot of research and then listening to a lot of what, you know, clients are telling us as well. And I think what’s happening right now with most companies, they’re kind of in an either or. Companies are either in that area that they’re just trying to figure out how they’re going to survive and all of the focuses on how we’re going to survive. On the flip side of that, there are — there are companies that their workload has increased exponentially. Think about the banking industry with all of them are just desperately trying to process all of these PPP loans. And I talked to bankers who are working 16 to 20 hours a day literally trying to do this.

You know, when you have that kind of stress on the organization, and they’re very few in between, it’s kind of one or the other right now, when those kinds of stress around the organization, this is when diversity can easily get lost because there’s so many things that you’re focusing on that just goes on the back burner. And so unless that’s really built into the DNA of your organization, it’s very easy to get lost. And you know, there are a lot of companies that give lip service to it, but there isn’t necessarily any kind of metric tied to the performance around diversity. And so, those are the things that I think HR departments are going to have to help their organization to say. As we look at this, we’ve got to continue to be focused on the diversity aspect of bringing people back and giving people opportunities because it’s not going to be business as usual.

Companies are going to shift their priorities and their focus. People may not come back and do exactly the same job that they did before. They’re being retooled for new jobs, and how you become inclusive of people of color and women as a part of that process will be important to not lose the gains that we’ve made thus far. And so, it does need to be a part of the overall planning strategy for companies, you know, when — when they come back.


It is interesting around… and John mentioned the whole childcare issue, this is a huge issue because, today, even when we talk about gender equality and families, it’s still the brunt of the childcare, especially for young children typically falls to women. And there are single fathers certainly, but there are more single mothers than there are single fathers, and it will really impact, you know, single mothers and fathers. So, I do think we have to be sensitive around how are we going to accommodate those workers because that could really impact the whole diversity opportunity for women and people of color.

I think there’s a couple of paradigm shifts that COVID will bring to the forefront though. On the flip side of that is companies have now had first-hand experience to see how flexible work hours and working from home can actually work. I think companies have been pleasantly surprised in a lot of cases that, hey, we can actually have people working from home, we can actually have people working flex hours because now, our parents have had to become teachers as well.

So, I think that’s played into it, which will help companies think through this and have had some experience with this now and how it might work. And then I think we’ve had to see fathers really get involved in being primary caregivers during this time, and really experience what that means when you’re working from home and their children underfoot and you’ve got a spouse that’s working as well, and you’re also having to play tutor to your child. So, I think that it will be interesting to see long term if we see any kind of paradigm shifts and our collective thinking around, you know, childcare responsibilities for both men and women. But it is something that will fall I think more heavily on women, it’s something companies have to be concerned about.

ROBIN: You know, it’s interesting that you talked about the — the shift, I think kind of that, both the paradigm shift of who does what, what does that look like, but also just from a productivity standpoint, and kind of preparing for this, I was looking at some of the research and, you know, it showed just, I think, was 8% of people who, you know, worked at home periodically, maybe 2% full time, you know, not thinking of gig workers, but true someone who was employed onsite by an employer and what that looks like.

And there was always sort of this concern around connectivity, which we talked a little bit about, you know, human connectivity, certainly technical connectivity for some people, but then also productivity. And there have been a couple of different studies. One showed something that in the US, something like US workers working three hours more a week now that they’re working at home, kind of that connectivity, sort of as, you know, for many of us it’s right in front of us because our workspace, we kind of make shift into now it’s our dining room that we’re passing all the time or kitchen or what that looks like.

I found another side this morning that I thought was interesting is that even if we were 5% less productive, if we start working at home and we start to have real estate costs that could save up to 20%, we can still be profitable and productive as a business. I don’t know if that’s anything as you kind of looked at some of the research some of the conversations you’ve been having and sort of the shift and how leaders you’ve been talking to are thinking about their businesses.

TANIS: I think there is no doubt that the work-from-home movement that has really forced upon us is not going away and it will continue. I think companies will — because they had first-hand experience now and they are feeling more comfortable with it, that we will see more people working from home. And I have — I’ve also observed that level of work. You said people are working three hours more. You think about a supervisor that normally can pull their team that is together physically into a room and have a conversation in a room, you can do some of that on — on Zoom or other technical capabilities, but a lot of it is a lot more one-on-one, which is more time consuming for management, but there are obviously costs associated with this. And I do think it’s going to give companies a chance to evaluate that. And I think you’ll see a lot of jobs that may permanently they work from home jobs because they figured out that people can be just as productive doing that job remotely.

And it’s also, I think about all the new tech — I mean, you think about Zoom and what they’ve had to do to just keep up with the demand, but I’ve also seen a lot of new technology coming out. There’s someone we have on our advisory board that had launched actually an application prior to this for a virtual office space, and it literally is a physical, you see online what looks like a physical office, and you can knock on people’s door, it kind of runs in the background, and it’s a virtual office space. They literally have not been able to keep up with the workload. And so, companies are going to start using those technologies and realize that, hey, we can be efficient with these technologies. I think we’ll continue to see new technologies crop up that will help facilitate this work from home.

ROBIN: I think the interesting thing in kind of getting back to our diversity side is that, you know, as we start to think about working in different ways, it opens up our talent pool. So, again, we’re not just looking for the talent pool in certain geographies, we can look a little bit broader, but not — again, not all of us can do that, you know, as John and his club, it would be a little strange to show up and no one would be there to greet you. I’m a Life Time member and I always look forward to someone kind of welcoming me as I walk in.

So, if you guys think about this a little bit too, from a diversity perspective, you shared with us just some interesting stats on lifetime and diversity and bringing people back a little bit. Maybe you could share this with the — with the group on what your workforce looks like and sort of what the anticipated kind of bring back looks like as well.

JOHN: Yeah, and, you know, there’s — there’s so many different ways that you can look at diversity, you know, whether it’s gender, ethnicity, age, you know, and the list can go on. One of the areas that — that we’ve tracked very closely is around gender. And company-wide, we have about 1,500 managers, and those would either be general managers or department managers, and 51% of them are female.

And so, the good news with this, you know, the first 200 that we’ve called back, the handful that have said no, first of all, they’re not all female, and none of them have been because of childcare issues. And that was one of the concerns that we had because we definitely want to have these strong leaders come back. And so, so far granted 200 is a small sample size out of 1,500, hopefully, that’s an indicator of what we’re going to see.

The other thing, we want to make sure that we are as fair and as objective as possible with all the team members that we bring back. And that’s why we put in the objective measures within each department. I’m not saying that our leaders would ever do anything maliciously, I don’t want them to have to pick and choose who’s going to come back to work because then there is that favoritism. We have our objective measures and we have absolute confidence that — that right there keeps our diversity mix exactly where it needs to be versus leaving it up to our managers to decide who am I going to bring back since I can’t bring everybody back.

ROBIN: Yeah, I mean, if you think about that, it’s great. — You go ahead, Tanis. Sorry.

TANIS: I was just going to say that kind of validates the point that I was making about. It’s built into the DNA of how you operate. And that’s why it’s successful.

ROBIN: Yeah, but you’ve kind of helped pick out that unconscious bias. Also, that’s just assumptions, right? We sometimes just assume something about someone we know. We know you have kids at home, so therefore, I’m not going to call you because I don’t want to bother you. You take them out, but hey try it and see what happens, which I think is great, kind of as Tanis said, just part of the DNA and as you kind of move forward with that.

And you also talk a little bit about your care center and sort of like, you know, as again, and we all talked before this we found really interesting because kind of repurposing people and skills and roles during this time. Can you talk a little bit about the care center, what it is, kind of who you’ve got in there, and the strategy behind it?

JOHN: Yes, so we have always had a team of 12 to 14 people just to handle questions that our team members have. Well, right at the start of this, when we put such a huge number of people in furlough, there was — there was a large concern that the 38,000 people, they are just not — they’re not going to know exactly what’s next. And if, you know, if you think about the — the evolution of unemployment benefits, that changed so rapidly in just a couple week period.

States quickly waived the one-week waiting period. You didn’t have to prove that you’re out looking for other work. There’s now the federal grant and even the Cares Act, what companies does it apply to. We we’re just afraid that our team members would be off to find these answers on their own and we didn’t feel like it was the right thing.

So, within human capital, we’ve got a couple different areas. We have your traditional human resource. We also have a talent acquisition department, talent management, and then education, so it provides all the training and development. We took people in the talent acquisition, talent management, and our education department and started to cross-train them and built a larger care center.

So, what we wanted to make sure that we did was reach out to every person that was put on furlough. So, over the next three weeks, we called 38,000 team members. I can’t say we talked to every one of them, but it was just to make sure that they understood what the next steps are for them not involving when are you coming back to work because we didn’t know the answer to that. But are you aware of the unemployment benefits? Do you know how to go in and sign up for them? What about the other things in terms of mortgage relief, loan relief? We didn’t become financial planners, however, we at least wanted to make sure people were aware of the things that were out there for them.

So, we were able to take people from other departments outside of our traditional HR call center and really expand us, and the good news is we’ve been able to not just reach out one time, but we also have a program that’s called Life Time Lifts, and really what it does is it provides dollars for people that incur financial hardship. We’ve had over 7,000 team members that have applied for this and we’ve been able to give out just over 5 million dollars with it, and our care centers have been able to follow up with all of these team members to let them know how we’re able to help out.

Fast forward now, as we’re getting ready to open up cur facilities, our care centers is reaching back out not to ask them to do work right away, but first of all, it’s the care center we’ve talked to you before. How’s everything going, anything you need assistance with, and, oh by the way, in the near future there’s a good chance that the club is going to open. What’s your level of excitement or anxiety of coming back? So, we’ve able to get a gauge of how people are feeling. So, our care center has really expanded and in a strange way it’s helped to accelerate one of the things we’ve wanted to do for years, which is start to cross train people, to almost become more HR generalists. We’re not there yet, but now we’re further down that path.

ROBIN: So, many great things about that I think, you know, just imagine being a talent acquisition professional and all you see is outflux of employees, right? What does that do to sort of your mindset and what is your job look like and starting to worry about that? And so, it’s the ability to take that team as well as your talent management and learning teams, and put them in — and again have some semblance of HR, you now, exposure and maybe acumen, but really kind of bringing them in to be able to help with your workers. Someone has just heard this and said, “Gosh, that’s great, I do wish I had done that.” Do you think it’s too late to put a care center together?

JOHN: I don’t think it’s too late, I think it is — it is very — it’s very apparent to me. You just have to be careful. You want to know who you want to be. You don’t want to have too big of an appetite. Whatever it is that you want to do, I would say two things, one, start small and then second, you can be quick, but don’t hurry. Make sure that it is well thought out, so you don’t cause either more damage than good or there are unintended consequences.

What I mean by that is for — for some of our people in education or talent acquisition, when they start to make these calls, we made it very clear that here is where you can take the call. And if the questions are at a point where it needs to be escalated, great. We now have a smaller group of people that can handle that. So, we were very cautious not to put them in a position where they had to answer something and they were guessing or they just felt very uncomfortable. Because this is something to think about talent acquisition.

Everyday you’re talking to people that are excited because you’re usually talking to them about new opportunities. Well, now, that trait of empathy is so critical when you’re talking to somebody that isn’t looking for a new opportunity, they just found out that the job that they have isn’t there anymore. So, it’s just amazing how the calls, you can have a strategy, but that emotion really comes into play and you have to be careful especially if people aren’t — they haven’t either brought up in that arena or they’re just not that experienced with it.

ROBIN: I love how you kind of just came back to something you had talked to us earlier about with your managers. It’s just, again, you’re sort of your — your analogy of a hospital and sort of the ER doctors and then kind of to the specialists. It seems like you’ve got this in multiple places within your organization to really make sure that people get the right information at the right time and the right support that they need, which is really great.

JOHN: Yeah, and the last thing that I’m trying to do is tell everybody that this thing rolled out and it was perfect. You know, just about as — as frequent as the state and the counties change their guidelines with what’s happening and moving forward, we had to change about as many times within our care center to make sure that we’re doing the right things, avoiding the wrong things, and trying to stay up-to-date on what’s actually available and out there.

ROBIN: I think that’s a great point and really kind of leads to probably our — our last sort of formal question for the day and I’ll pass this to you, Tanis. You know, this idea I think John just talked about agility within the business, right? We — we put something in place and then we have to shift, and then we shifted it again and we we’re continuing to shift, and that’s shifting both what we’re doing, how we’re doing it in the skills that we need to do this.

As people are kind of coming back to work, they’re finding out that maybe, I — my work looks different, maybe I don’t need all the employees I had before or maybe I need them but I need them to do different things just as is John kind of mentioned, you know, retraining and retooling people along the way. What advice that you would give to people as they start to evaluate the work that needs to be done as well as the people that they need to do it?

TANIS: I think your senior leadership team has to really come together and evaluate what are the priorities for the company going forward. Knowing that it’s fluid, knowing it’s John — as John stated that it may change next week, based on changing circumstances, but to the best of their ability, really prioritize what — what are those activities and strategies for the company moving forward.

For some companies, there will be many, many changes. They just can’t operate, or services, or products that they have had are really not relevant and they need to put their focus on new services and new strategies. And so, that evaluation has to take place and then it has to be over communicated through the organization. So, as John talked about, you have a criteria that you’re working from when you look at who you need to bring back. And sometimes it might not being obvious people that you would think about. One of — we had mentioned this when we were preparing for this call that one of the strongest qualities is going to be needed for great employees moving forward is learning agility, the ability to quickly absorb changes when necessary, learn new things, move forward, and be adaptive. That’s going to be really critical to our environment and going forward.

So, that quality may take a much higher priority, and the justification of who we bring back, perhaps a technical expertise would be, “Hey, does someone have the capability to learn what they need to know?” You’ll be evaluating people’s potential as well as you know what they’ve done to date because the future may look different. So, I think it’s up to senior leadership to really quantify and communicate what the new priorities are and equip their people with the right — the right reasons and the right objectives in terms of how to look at who they’re bringing back.

ROBIN: That’s great. Yeah, I think as you can write as you think about that — that agility sort of seems to be a theme that has been woven throughout this conversation today.

Briana have we gotten any questions that maybe you’d want to throw to the — the group?

BRIANA: Yeah, we do have a question here — “By furloughed sales reps, am I prevented from hiring a new sales rep until I return my furloughed staff?”


TANIS: That’s an HR question that I would not want to venture into. [laughs]

JOHN: Yeah — I — I mean, I’ll take a run at it. I — I would want to — I would want to have a very compelling reason as to why our current staff is not being leveraged first. If it is a new role, if there are new duties, then you might be able to make a case for it, but of there is somebody on your existing team that has been put on furlough and they are even somewhat capable of doing that, you have to be very careful not just from a legal perspective, but even from a morale perspective of the — the team members or employees to have whether they’re on furlough or not.

ROBIN: I’m just going to add to that, if it’s a new territory or something like that could be the other piece of that, or is someone you had furloughed back to some of the things John mentioned earlier maybe was unable to come back to work or that emotional component that we’ve talked about. They’ve said, “Hey I don’t want to, so I’m going to bring somebody new in to sort of handle that time.”

But then I think, you know, John also talked about when you do that, what happens when the other person says, “Okay, now I’m ready and now I’m comfortable,” and so you really have to think about what that’s going to look like. And the — the last thing I’d say on that is, you know, if you furloughed people who you don’t want to bring back, I think maybe furlough was probably not the right thing, so now how do you think about, you know, what does a layoff look like but.

JOHN: Well, and I’ll jump in with that too. We’ve had several of our managers that when we’ve walked them through their rosters to call people back, they’ve asked, “Do I really have to bring this person back? I didn’t really like them. They didn’t perform very well and it’s been a great challenge.” Great. Let’s see what the file says because do not use this pandemic to be able to mask your deficiency leader with what you either have or have not done up until now.

So, we’ve tried to be careful — careful with a couple things. One, there had better be a true objective reason why you wouldn’t want to bring someone back, but then secondly if — if somebody doesn’t want to come back, we’re not going to pressure them; however, there’s no guarantee that the hours that they’re looking for will be available when they do choose to come back. And we’re not using it as a threat, we’re not trying to strong-arm anybody. The reality is we do have a business to operate. We’re not going to terminate them; however, if they decline the hours that we’re extending, there’s a good chance that when they call back, we might not have exactly what they want. If they do, great, but we’re not going to promise it.

TANIS: I think companies will have some opportunities to snap up some really great talent from some of their competitors. And so, once they’re going to have to weigh that carefully against what John talked about is what do you want your culture to be about and how is that going to impact overall the culture that you have in the way you’re treating your employees. So, there will be opportunities, but they have to be careful considered.

BRIANA: That’s a really good point —

ROBIN: I think, um —

BRIANA: Go ahead, Robin.

ROBIN: Yeah, I think just that the last kind of thing to add to that is, you know, one of the things we’re seeing companies as we talked about companies who are really busy and companies who are kind of surviving, there’s kind of in between, “My business is okay.” “It’s not great. I’m not taking off.”

We’ve seen a lot of those really focused on — on talent and getting to know, to Tanis’ point, talent in the market. So, I’m not hiring right now, but when I get the go-ahead to hire, I want to have a relationship with that person, so those people who are really kind of forward thinking about particularly hard to find roles kind of things like maybe like sales. Now, again, you’ve got to encompass that into what — what did you do with your workforce as this pandemic broke out.

BRIANA: I have another question here about — “Is there any contingency planning, to address a potential second COVID outbreak where you might have to reverse the coming back and then kind of start all over again?” How are you guys thinking from that?

TANIS: I think companies have got to be realistic that it is a possibility, so they need to be thinking about, you know, what that could potentially look like. I think succession planning is really important, so that you have backups for critical roles in your company whether it be through illness or whether it be because someone doesn’t want to come back. Whatever the reason, I think now more than ever, succession planning and how you fill those roles and have a plan in place to keep those critical roles filled, it’s going to be very important moving forward.

BRIANA: Yeah —

JOHN: Yeah, it is — as little as we really want to discuss a second wave, the conversations that we’ve had, it might just be a modified version of what we did towards the tail end of March, beginning of April. So, unfortunately, we have the play that we ran and we do something very similar to that.

BRIANA: Yeah —

ROBIN: I’ve seen, some businesses talk a little bit about. They were doing this kind of to end of February, beginning of March before things really kind of started to shut down, but this idea of, you know, as you bring people back, not bringing back whole departments to work on the same place. So, you know if your finance department is critical and they all kind of sat together even if you have them socially distance, really not even having them in the same area of a building. So, again, that contingency planning of how people work in various different places other than should keep them remote or again dispersed them through where you can have been one idea that I’ve heard from some folks since we’ve had conversations.

BRIANA: Yeah, I’ve got — let’s — let’s do one more question before we move on to some final thoughts and wrap up the webinar.

John, you mentioned that you’re getting a lot of positive feedback from employees and many employees seem excited to come back. The question I have here is kind of the flip side of that so — “We’re sensing a lot of resentment from employees who have been working throughout the difficult time and we’re expecting challenges with bringing building the team again”.

So, how would you address that, you know, if you were not getting a positive response that you’re getting now?

JOHN: Well, one of the first — one of the first markets that we look to reopen was in Georgia, and we actually — we stopped. We stopped what we were planning because of the reaction that we got from both our members and our team members.

Now, it’s tough because, you know, we rely a little bit on revenue and since April 1st, we haven’t had any revenue coming in, so when you first knew you have an opportunity to open up your first couple facilities, there’s a pretty big appetite for it. But based on the feedback, it just was not the right time and so we hit the pause button on that and then move to a different area that we had a much more positive reaction from our members and our employees.

So, that’s — I don’t know if that’s truly answering the question, you know, it’s interesting because when it comes to building a team back, you know, 38,000 of our team members are in our clubs and we only have two people that are active right now. So, I don’t — we haven’t had any pushback from our managers because I think they’re all just excited to be back to work now. We haven’t heard anything yet from a corporate perspective although I anticipate running into that. We might not — we might not be able to bring everybody back at our corporate office for a little while, and so just that thought of couple of things, one having to rebuild your team even if that means slowly bringing them off of furlough or we talked about the agility before. And if we have now team members that have to be more agile, it makes it more difficult for a leader sometimes to manage them. So, we haven’t run into those issues yet although I wouldn’t be surprised if — if they come up in the next week or so.

BRIANA: Yeah, thank you for sharing that.

Let’s move on, I’ve got two kind of wrap up questions here, but let’s just do one of them before we drop off the line today. So, what I want to know from both of you Tanis and John, obviously this is a massive undertaking what we’re dealing with right now in terms of bringing people back to work and re-opening offices and — and working through furlough challenges. So, not that this is ever going to be, you know, finally wrapped up with a bow on it, but what would you say after some of the dust has settled here, “What is the next big thing the business that should be focused on?”

John, let’s start with you.

JOHN: Yeah, so — it’s — I know that you’ve talked about with the dust settling, but I do want to be very careful with this because, you know, 38,000 people trying to bring them back off a furlough at the right time and again we won’t do it all at once. Even though we have a very defined process and it’s a logical process, I don’t want it to feel like a process. And that — that word empathy that’s come up a couple times, I’m reminded of a quote not that I’m trying to date myself, but from the Eagles that they was Don Henley, you know, they have a high tolerance for repetition. And I want our leaders to have a high tolerance for repetition and do it in an empathetic way because we have to do it 38,000 times. And if we don’t do it right, the next big thing that we’re going to have to think about is rebuilding our whole business.

If we do it in the right way, now I think we can get even more aggressive, because we’ve laid a really solid foundation with going from having almost nobody working to getting everybody back.

BRIANA:Yeah, it’s a really good point.

Tanis, what would you say?

TANIS: We’ll tag on to that by saying that, you know, purpose still matters. And so, I think it’s really about helping your employees grasp the purpose for which they’re there, the purpose of the company, the mission of the company, and how their individual role contributes to that overall purpose. Because that’s what keeps employees engaged pre-COVID and post-COVID. Is understanding, you know, where they fit in, where they contribute in the overall purpose and mission of the company. And so, that’s still got to be a focus, it’s not just on tasks, it’s also on the greater purpose and a greater culture of the organization. Without letting your culture get lost, the task of the moment.

BRIANA: Absolutely.

Thank you, Tanis, that was a great final thought. Thank you, John. A lot of good things to think about as we move forward here. Thank you again for joining the call, Tanis, John.

Robin, it was great to have you on the conversation and everybody in the audience. Thank you so much for sticking with us through the full hour. I’ll see you for the next one.

Bye, everyone.

TANIS: Bye, thanks.


JOHN: Have a great day.