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:
- I love having a career and I miss being able to contribute to the success of a business.
- I have reignited my love for my hobbies and have tried to commit a lot more time to them.
- 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!