Doing the Furloughing and Being Furloughed.

On the 20th March 2020, the UK government announced the measures they would be taking to help support employees and employers across the nation in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic.  One of the measures announced was the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which for a company to gain eligibility to claim, would involve ‘furloughing’ your staff, a term that only those involved with the armed forces were most likely familiar with.  

In basic terms furloughing meant that the individual remained employed with the company and would continue to accrue things such as holiday leave and ‘continuous service’, however, the employee would be unable to do any work for the company whilst being classified as ‘furloughed’.  The government would then reimburse 80% of the employees’ wages to the company, who would then have no obligation to top up the additional 20% of the employees’ wages.  The scheme, though not hugely appealing to either the employee or the employer, allowed many companies to avoid redundancies during the economically straining times.

My employer is based within the Travel sector, an industry that was hit hardest by the UK’s decision to initiate ‘lock-down’, creating a temporary ban on all international and domestic travel.  I and other stakeholders within the business had already been having discussions regarding how to heavily reduce our outgoings, including staffing costs, to ensure that we were able to keep the company running through this unprecedented ‘dry period’.  The word redundancy had been thrown around and the staffing plan had been gutted, restructured, and adjusted more times then we could count.  So when the scheme was announced it was a blessing for our company.

When working in a small company you get to know all of your colleagues.  Their likes, dislikes, names of partners, children, parents, siblings.  You spend eight hours a day, for five days a week with them and those work relationships, more often than not, evolve into friendships.  So you can imagine just how hard it is to take all of the emotional ties away to come up with a fair, unbiased, and justified selection of which team members would be deemed as essential and non-essential for the coming months.  Part of this involved naming myself as an individual who could be classed as non-essential during this period.

Although I was in a slightly different situation to most, having been involved with the selection process, and although I myself had stated that due to the current circumstances and the subsequent day to day reduced team size I would be an unnecessary overhead, it was still disappointing to hear my manager and colleagues agree.

On the 25th March 2020, I spent the day writing up letters, having calls with the everyone within the company to notify them of their furloughed status, the reduction to their pay, the fact that we were unable to confirm when they would return to normal work nor confirm that their job was safe from redundancy. It was one of the longest and most draining working days of my career, despite the fact that the majority of our team members were understanding and grateful for our honesty and transparency surrounding the decision.  Knowing that I was sending people off into complete uncertainty into whether or not they had any job security was stressful and pained.  Finishing off the final call, having just received the backlash of one employee’s negative feelings of the situation, I logged off the day not knowing when I would next be logging back on, if ever.  

The first week was relatively chilled.  I slept in, binged TV, played video games, baked cakes, and generally treated the time as a well deserved ‘break’ from my hectic work life.  The second week was when the doubts began to sneak in.  My sleeping pattern had digressed and I was snoozing till noon, then I was unable to get to sleep until the early hours of the morning.  I was painfully bored, due to the lock-down I wasn’t able to go for a wander or pop to the shops.  I forced myself to add some productivity to my days and did a house clear out, tidy up, and deep clean.  By the third week, I was miserable.  I missed my colleagues, I missed my freedom, I missed the feeling of being able to contribute to the business and, although I knew in my heart that nothing major would be happening with such a reduced team, I was experiencing F.O.M.O.  I knew that I wouldn’t be able to continue this way and I also knew that it was likely that I would be furloughed for at least another month, so something had to change.

I have always loved learning and for six to nine months before the lockdown, I had been seriously considering obtaining my Level 5 CIPD Diploma in Human Resources Management.  The reason why I hadn’t pursued it?  I worked for a start-up which means I was constantly juggling a regularly changing workload, working late was the norm and with a one hour commute on top, I regularly wasn’t home until eight or nine in the evening.  As much as I had wanted to restart my education I knew that I didn’t have the time or energy to commit to it.  In the world of lockdown and furlough though I had nothing but time.  I knew of course that I would at some point be returning to the working grind and subsequently my commute, but I figured that if the commitment had already been made then I would be able to force myself to make time for completing my qualification.

I have now been furloughed for a full month and it has been confirmed that I will be furloughed throughout the month of May as well.  During this time I have learned the following:

  1. I love having a career and I miss being able to contribute to the success of a business.
  2. I have reignited my love for my hobbies and have tried to commit a lot more time to them.
  3. I had been overworking myself and need to focus more on my own work-life balance.

I urge anyone who is in a similar position to myself to try and learn a new skill, start a new hobby, or even begin a mini home/self-improvement project.  It has not been easy knowing that my job is at risk, not being able to go see my friends or team members and the situation has taken a considerable toll on my mental well-being BUT I know that this isn’t forever and am determined to use this time to build on myself so that as soon as those lock-down gates are lifted I will be racing out and raring to go!

Lock-down.

“To our dear nation, we applaud and thank you for your efforts over the last 18 months to contain and eradicate this virus.  The day has finally come where we can swing open our doors, visit our families and our friends and begin the rebuilding of what we once knew as ‘normality’.  This joyous news is tainted with a deep sorrow that humanity will never forget.  The many lives that have been lost over the past two years, lost in our battle against this incurable virus, too many to mourn and enough grief for a lifetime.  Let us remember that they did not die in vain and hope that on some level, be it divine or spiritual, that they can know that we have won the war against this ultimate foe.”

*********************

She couldn’t believe it.  The day was finally here.  She ran to her door, no longer caring about her straggly hair that she had been forced to cut herself for the past year, not thinking about her now rounded, vitamin D deficient body.  No thoughts of what her neighbours would think of her ragged joggers and worn slippers.  She swung open her front door and was hit by the blinding white light forcing her eyes shut, no longer accustomed to the bright sunshine.  The eerie silence was broken by a deafening bang, and though she could not see, she knew it to be the slamming of car doors in unison, as her neighbours desperately scrambled to get away, the destination was not important, they just needed to escape from the four walls that had held them prisoner for so long.

She took in a deep breath, the air was sweet and sharp and stung her nostrils and her lungs as she inhaled.  Her senses now unfamiliar with the varied palette that the outdoors offered.  She would happily take the pain if it meant no longer having to breathe in the stuffy artificially scented aroma of her home, the scent of sweat, despair and ‘cotton fresh’ air freshener.  Tipping her head back and stretching her arms, the hot weather warmed her extremities and seeped into her very core.  The warmth rose quickly into a blistering hot heat as she felt her melanin deprived skin begin to burn taking her back to holidays, beaches and days out in the park.  Pure bliss.

*********************

“I’m sure many of you would have heard about the 2020 Global Pandemic from your parents and your grandparents.  The virus that turned the world upside down and changed everything that the people of the day knew.  The virus rampaged for just over two years and the world went into lock-down with borders being shut, events being cancelled, restaurants and shops closed their doors and humanity was instructed to remain in their homes for the foreseeable future.  Many of you would have been born during this time and your parents will surely tell you of how they were separated at the hospital, unable to hold you for two weeks as they tested your resilience against the virus in an effort to build up global immunity.

Eventually the virus began to subside, immune systems had evolved now able to fight the infection, however unfortunately the most vulnerable had fallen to the effects of the virus; however the government’s were unable to reduce the pace of the infection in the world’s capital cities and the death rates were continuing to rise.  City hospitals were unable to cope with the demand and neighbouring towns were reluctant to accept patients for fear of the infection spreading further.  This left the world’s leaders in a difficult decision and so ‘project sacrifice’ was put into effect.  It was agreed that an atomic bomb would be dropped onto each of the world’s major cities, destroying the virus but also wiping out the inhabitants  The act is noted as one of the most traitorous actions of the world’s government’s and was hidden by the public for a mere six months after the drop until a group of teenagers snuck through the controlled perimeter surrounding what was once known as Central London and saw the devastating ruins.

The decision to hide the actions from the public was greatly criticised, however now in a ‘post lock-down’ society humanity understood the need for the forced sacrifice of their fellow humans.  Monuments were erected in each country in order to pay tribute to the lives that were lost due to these bombings.  

Now I know what you must all be thinking, ‘how could they do that?’, I too was shocked and appalled when I learnt about the events, but you need to understand that without ‘project sacrifice’ then humanity could have been lost forever.  Please can you all now bow your heads whilst we have 1 minute of silence as a way of thanking those individuals for giving their lives for the greater good.”

The children bowed their heads, the only sound was the faint whirr of the air conditioner and the gentle breath of each individual.  The teacher finally dismissed the children, her eyes were red and sparkling with tears.  The children were used to seeing adults weep when ‘the sacrifice’ was mentioned so were unphased by their teacher’s reaction to the retelling of history. 

Out in the playground a group of children gathered to discuss the lesson.

“I heard that the whole explosion would have taken seconds, they wouldn’t have been known it happened!” 

“Yeh well I heard that they would have seen a flash of light before they died, how confusing would that be!”  

“Not as confusing as the loud bang that they would have heard from the impact, like they must have known that was a bomb!” 

“My dad told me that the air would have been thick with the sickly sweet and acidic smell from the destruction.”  

“Yeh and you can’t tell me that they wouldn’t have felt their skin burn up before they basically disintegrated.”

“I wonder if they got to go outside one last time before they died…”

“Whether they saw it, heard it, felt it or even realised what was happening at all, I don’t care, without them we wouldn’t be standing here today!”

“Yeh true, oh well, you’re probably right anyway, I doubt they experienced anything at all.  Who wants to atomic tag?

Why I Chose HR?

So you’ve just graduated from University, shook the chancellor’s hand, taken pictures with your ‘diploma’ (spoiler alert, its actually just a plastic tube) and you’re hit with the sudden realisation that you have no idea what you want to do with your life – despite the extortionate amount of money that has just gone into obtaining a piece of paper and a couple of letters at the end of your name.

So you do what anyone else would do, move back home and scramble to get a job; any job.  You’re in a slightly luckier position than most as you spent your Summers working in an office, which for one reason or another is ‘appealing’ to recruiters.  You land yourself a nice cushy civil servant role, the pay is pretty damn comfortable because you’re classed as a ‘graduate’. You get along with your colleagues, the work is relatively interesting but, as you watch the friends that didn’t choose to go to University for the last three years slowly climbing up their career ladders, you know that you need that too.  You look at your university peers who are battling for the jobs that their degrees actually relate to, seeing them get rejection after rejection due to lack of experience. Maybe this civil servant role isn’t that bad? Then BAM your partner of three years, the one who procrastinated course assignments and binged fast food with you, lands the job.  The job that their degree relates too.  The one that they’ve spent half their life dreaming about.  The job that starts their career; but there’s a catch and a big one at that, it’s in a different country.

Three years is a long time and when you’ve invested that amount of time you don’t really want to let it go.  So you choose to move with your partner, after all, it’s not like you have a career to hold you down and just like that the job hunt starts again but this time it’s like you’ve moved the difficult level from ‘normal’ to ‘expert’.  Getting a job in London is a completely different game, there is no more ‘hire’ just because you have a degree and some ‘office’ experience, that degree has to be relevant and that ‘office’ experience might as well be ‘ice cream stall’ experience for what its worth in this battle.  You have to tweak and prime your CV for each and every application. It’s an exhausting process and after hundreds of rejections and even more non-responses, you settle for another careerless ‘9-5’.

This job is worse than your first.  The work is mind-numbingly dull, the pay is poor and your colleagues try to get through the day with as little interaction with each other as humanly possible.  You have spent too much time and money to give up on it all now though and you also have that pesky CV gap from your incredibly smart decision to relocate with no job secured.  So you are faced with a decision to make and little time to decide. You start taking career quizzes, hoping that some formula will tell you what you should be doing with your life.  You try to remember all the parts you like about your previous role from your coffee job when you were 16, the job at your dad’s office during the summers and that civil servant role that you very almost settled for.  There’s only one that stands out. The people.

That’s when it dawned on me, I started to look further into everyone around me who actually enjoy their jobs and those who did not and I realised the pattern.  It was never just the passion for the role that gave them drive but it was the atmosphere, their colleagues and the opportunities presented.  My partner’s work gave huge investment to their employees in the ways of generous benefits packages, transparent progression plans and a huge emphasis on socialising with each other.  I started to question why people move jobs in the first place, of course, sometimes relocation, headhunting and change of direction come into play, but more often than not they just didn’t enjoy their workplace.  They didn’t feel valued. They didn’t feel safe. They didn’t feel happy.

It is impossible for everyone to secure the career of their dreams and its foolish to think that everyone wants to work hard to achieve that role, regardless of this though everyone should at the very least be able to gain some kind of enjoyment from their job and for that to be achieved that responsibility belongs to the employer, specifically the HR (or People & Culture) team.  I wanted that responsibility. I wanted to be part of the team that makes the workplace safe, comfortable and welcoming. I wanted to be the person who fights for the ‘little’ guy. I wanted to be the person who makes someone’s job more than just a job.