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Furlough Leave – An Employee Perspective

Furlough leave is one big holiday… right? Whilst many people who have found themselves working harder than ever in response to the challenges of the pandemic may have found the idea of furlough leave appealing, being on furlough leave can also be challenging, with worries such as impacts on finances and mental health.

In today’s blog, we explore furlough leave from the perspective of the furloughed employee. We have been fortunate to interview Sasha* who works in sales and marketing about her experiences.

When were you first put on furlough, and did you have any idea how it would be for long for?

I was put on furlough on the first day of lockdown on 16th March 2020. Initially, my heart sunk and I was full of fear and questions like many others as to how I was going to afford my mortgage along with other outgoings. Once the furlough scheme was made clear, along with support from mortgage lenders offering mortgage holidays, I felt a little reassured. Just like the rest of the UK, I had no idea how long this period of uncertainty was going to last; there was no end date from the Government nor any confirmation from my employer. It was a case of sitting tight, adapting quickly and staying at home.

Did your employer keep in regular contact with you to update you and check on your wellbeing?

I received very little communication from my employer, only to repeat Government announcements which came directly from the HR department. I did get one email regarding mental health that listed external contacts to reach out to if I required any support. I had no communication with my line manager to check in on me and to ask if I were doing ok, which I would have appreciated.

What were your experiences of being on furlough leave?

The first few weeks I felt scared. The media was doom and gloom 24/7 with constant updates of hospitalisations and deaths swirling around. The weekly food shop once a time to switch off and explore the wonders of the middle aisles of Lidl, became extremely stressful fighting though the packed aisles after queuing for miles around the car park to witness people who had stacked toilet rolls and canned food sky high in their trolleys, leaving nothing for anyone else. I made a point to not go on social media, nor watch the news. I threw myself into house DIY and chores. Painting rooms a different colour that had only been painted a year previously, clearing out cupboards and the garage were all part of this endless to-do list I tried to create to ensure I didn’t have too much time to sit and wallow in front of the television. As the months rolled on and the summer came into full swing, I made a point to spend time sitting in the garden, making a mental note each day for what I was grateful for, despite how little it may seem. There were some bad days of missing close contact with my friends and family.  I even missed some of my colleagues!

Were you worried about the possibility of redundancy?

Yes, I was, as I knew furlough leave couldn’t last forever, and I had heard little from my employer. The time also gave me the opportunity to evaluate my job and work-life balance.  I started thinking seriously about setting up freelance, and once I decided to try it I soon started to attract customers (I did check that this was allowed under my employment contract with my current employer).  I set myself up to work from home, and my experience has certainly shown that this can be a viable option.

What happened when your employer asked you to go back?

I received a call late Friday asking me to return to work the following Monday. I was instantly filled with dread. I had not undertaken my role in months; the question of could I still do my job (let alone remember my password for my emails) was overrun with the question of if I still wanted to do my job. Was this the best industry to be in? Did I feel valued? Could I return to an office 9-5 Monday – Friday? Did I want to step away from freelancing, and lovely new customers? So many questions ran through my mind.

Life before COVID seemed like a distant memory, one that I no longer wanted to return to. It wasn’t that I had become accustomed to ‘furlough life’ as I had been working hard on my new venture. It was the fact that my outlook had changed and I wanted new opportunities that fed into what I craved – to feel valued and appreciated in my work whilst maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

How have the events impacted on you?

I think COVID has affected all of us in one way or another. It has taught me to value the small things in life, from having the time to have a cuppa in bed in the morning rather than flying out the door in a rush, to seeing a friend and sitting on a park bench with a coffee in the glorious spring sun. When I feel myself feeling overwhelmed, I take a step back and remember those things that I am grateful for. My anxiety levels have certainly been impacted, but I think it has given me the opportunity to press restart as we take baby steps back into ‘normal’ life. I plan to not return to a constantly filled diary of work commitments and social activities, leaving little or no time to take a break for the ever so important ‘me-time’.

Sasha’s experiences help to highlight the importance of employers communicating with their employees during furlough leave, and planning carefully for their return (or replacement).  Not all employees will have decided to leave their employment, as Sasha did, and many will be anxious about returning. In a recent blog we explored the topic of good practice for reboarding, which we hope will be helpful for any employers currently planning for the return of employees as government restrictions lift. If you need support regarding bringing employees back from furlough, please contact a member of the ViewHR team today.

* Names have been changed.