Surviving Furlough

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So, “Furlough Shaming” is becoming a thing … such a pity because very few employees had any say in the matter, I certainly didn’t, and we are just trying to make the best in a completely unprecedented situation.

No-one saw this coming, Friday 13 March our company conducted a stress test to see how effectively we could all work from home and seven days later we were in lock down, supermarkets had empty shelves, online delivery companies shut down their apps, pubs, restaurants and gym dark, families were separated and we were all scared, very, very scared.

Logically I knew that we needed to act and when the government announced the furlough scheme (the Job Retention Scheme to give it it’s proper name) this seemed the perfect solution, and besides, it couldn’t happen to me …but it did.

When the news came that I was to be furloughed, I went through all the stages of grief including denial (it will be over before I leave), anger (Why me!) and bargaining (what about the inductions and management development programs I am working on) but eventually a level of acceptance settled in and I needed a plan – a plan that kept me busy, helped me to feel useful and ensured that I came out the other side without any long term effects. This is what worked for me.

  1. Have a routine – I could not fall into the trap of sitting in my PJ’s watching Netflix all day … this was a one-way street into a dark place that would just drain my already sapped self-belief and confidence. It  was easy to maintain a routine as my partner is still working from home so we needed to get out of bed early, had to have regular meal times and above all I needed to keep out from under her feet so she could do her job. I just needed to fill the other 12 hours of my furlough day.
  2. Exercise – In normal life I would be at gym 5-6 days a week, a solid routine of cardio, weight training and just lately boxing, I love the endorphin rush, so I had to keep physically busy so I walked (have you noticed the birdsong seems louder without the traffic noise and the Thames seems a little cleaner every day), I ran (still hate it) and I made use of the few cardio machines that are in the tiny gym in our complex until by Amazon order of resistance bands arrived – I do miss the clang of iron, smell of sweat and even the grunts of the posers in a real gym but this will have to do until they reopen. Some of these workouts I did with my partner and others I did alone … even in isolation you need some alone time. I have also now made use to the ‘Ride to Work’ scheme to buy a bike (ironic that my commute is now about 15 meters) and I certainly plan to ride into the city once we return to our offices in the mean time my new bike will get me into the fresh air and burn those calories.
  3. Flex the brain – In terms of the furlough scheme I could not work on anything related to the job from which I had been furloughed so I needed to find a alternative, LinkedIn was great keeping me in touch with my profession and I now had the time and the inclination to read and I have embraced that with a renewed passion – Tolkien, Martin and the Amazon best seller list and in every format available – paper, kindle and audible.
  4.  Be of Service – Initially I donned my super hero cape and jumped on my white horse and was ready to join the NHS, pick fruit and even stack shelves at supermarkets but at 56 years old these were easier said than done so I looked within my community – I live in a gated estate and our support team; facilities management, security, cleaning and other staff were under lock down and/or furloughed themselves so we needed to step up, keep the estate safe and working for our many vulnerable residents, whether it was ensuring the refuse collections took place or a night patrol to ensure all gates were locked or monitoring the numerous complaints that came from noise, kids blowing off steam or just lock down irritation we went into Blitz mode and made stuff happen and a pleasant side effect is that, I’m getting to know my neighbours and even made a few new friends.
  5. Manage stress – I studied art both at school and college and had over the years dabbled in water colours and such but life got busy and there never seemed to be any time for creativity … well I now had time and Amazon to the rescue I bought all the supplies I needed and I picked up a pencil and got creative, I’m not particularly good but research shows that a little creativity helps lower stress levels and it certainly helps pass the time. I am loving it, proudly posting my efforts of social media with absolutely no regards for the haters.
  6. Bake – whether its cup cakes or bread, biscuits or banana bread there is something strangely therapeutic about the smell of fresh baked goods made with your own hands and shared with people you love. The Isolation 15 will drop off once lock down eases.
  7. Keep in contact – The furloughed group from our company started a weekly TEAM’s coffee meeting, it’s not compulsory, many have not joined but its there if anyone does want to grab a cuppa and chat with others in the same situation.

Much has been said about the lack of support from companies for the people furloughed and if I was at work myself I probably would have done more but the truth of the matter is, we just don’t know what to do, this generation hasn’t experienced anything like this and we are making this up as we go along.

I am now about 55 days into lock down and a month into furlough and I am seeing this a positive experience, I’ve gone through a phase of personal growth, I have learnt a new level of tolerance and hopefully becoming a better person.

To those of you still working, we are not sitting with our feet up in our PJ’s, we are battling with our own demons, we are concerned about the future, many of us are making do with greatly reduced income and above all we are dealing with the mental health issues  relating to our self-worth and perceived expendability.

Bear in mind our sacrifice has saved jobs and hopefully it won’t be long before we are all productive, responsible members of a new ‘normal’society, and we will have a pint and laugh about the great lock-down of 2020 but right now we are just doing the best that we can for today.

P.S. The opinions expressed here are my own and Amazon did not sponsor this blog although I do believe that I have contributed to their growth and may be owed a special platinum prime membership.

By Dave Strydom (Chartered MCIPD)

Learning and Development Manager at Global Processing Services (GPS)
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