The reality of furlough

Discombobulating – that’s what I call it. 

Last month, along with a few other colleagues, I was furloughed and found myself in a similar situation to many across the UK. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions, ranging from uncertainty and feeling I have lost my job, to be able to take a walk in the countryside each day, and doing things I’ve put off for ages and that I enjoy, as I don’t have work.

I am lucky to be without dependents or large overheads, but my main concern is not knowing what will happen at the end of furlough, especially now this has been extended to the end of June.

Some may think that this is the ideal situation: ‘What? You still get paid, but you don’t have to do any work?!’ but it comes with its demons. If you like what you do and are a social person who likes to be around people, it can be hard not to have daily contact with your team, and there is a worry about career progression.

Here are some things I have learnt from my experience in furlough, what I have been up to (or plan to get up to) and some tips for if you are feeling a little lost, like me.

  1. It’s not the end of the world

When I was first asked to be furloughed, I cried. I called my boyfriend and he reminded me of all the reasons why it will be fine. I cried because I felt like I was losing my job – I was told on a Monday, then I had the rest of Monday and Tuesday to hand all my work over to my colleagues. It happened quickly, so I could be furloughed from 1st April.

I was upset and scared because I didn’t fully understand what it meant (who knew what furlough meant before March 2020?) and that worried me. Now I understand it more and know what position I am in, it is not the end of the world. Take comfort in the fact that you still have a job and are getting paid some money, if not all of it.

I miss my colleagues and the work, and I do worry that I won’t have a job to go back to, but I am not my job. There are other things out there that will present themselves if I find myself in that position.

Some days are obviously harder than others – we are all at heightened anxiety right now – and we’re having to think more because we are not in our usual routines. Some days I feel full of energy and others I don’t, even if I haven’t done much. This is a strange time for everyone, you will not be at your ‘peak’ every day and you need to remember that. 

  1. Do things you enjoy

We may never get this time again, so don’t feel the need to bake up a storm or knit jumpers like all the celebs seem to be doing – focus on the things you enjoy.

Spend more time with your family or whoever you live with. If you live by yourself, take the opportunity to focus on yourself. Some people may struggle to be constantly on their own and all of our wellbeing may suffer, so try and use this time to learn about yourself and focus on your mental health. Put some time aside for things you enjoy or pick up new hobbies.

For instance, I have wanted to scrapbook my previous holidays for a couple of years and now I have the time to do it. I have and will be taking more time to declutter rooms ready to donate or recycle. I will be spending more time in the garden enjoying the sunshine and I will be cooking and baking more because I do enjoy it.

I will not rush any of these activities and I will not compare myself to other people on social media who look like they can ‘do it all’.

  1. Explore professionally developing yourself

Is there a course you have always wanted to do or something you have always wanted to learn more about? Furlough is a good opportunity to explore these courses. But remember – only do them if you have time AND inclination. It’s okay to not explore this, too.

I’m taking the opportunity to improve my writing skills for PR and marketing. I am also interested in learning more about other topics like SEO and photography.

  1. Volunteer, if you can

There will be many organisations who are struggling right now and not just food banks or shelters. If you would like to help the local community and are able to, I would highly recommend looking at your local area and contacting some charities to see if there is any way you can help.

Local councils have plenty of resources for those who can volunteer their time as well. You can donate food for food banks at supermarkets or you can donate money. For those that can donate their time and they are healthy, there will be something out there for you.

Knowing how much these organisations need help, one of the first things I did when furloughed was contact my local food bank to ask if they needed support, and they did. I help out when I can, monitoring their emails, social media and website. Every little helps. 

  1. Keep in touch

I enjoy what I do and who I work for, so being furloughed was upsetting because I wouldn’t have that daily contact with my team and colleagues.

I have found that I can just as easily keep in touch with everyone I want to via social media, messaging sites and online forums.

I’m joining virtual PR calls, like the CIPR East Anglia meetups that happen three times a month, so I can see and talk to other like minded people. I’m a very sociable person so I like to know how everyone is doing and just be with other people chatting and listening. I hope some others can relate to this.

Apps like Houseparty (other apps available) have been fun to play games with friends around the country.

  1. Have a Plan B

Even though there is every chance we’ll continue to keep our jobs by the time furlough ends, it is always a good idea to have your CV up to date and ready-to-go. This also ensures you take stock of what you have achieved and are ready if the undesirable happens.

This is a realistic and practical thing to do. Don’t see it as something to worry about; you are just being prepared.

  1. Get outside (once a day)

I ensure I get myself outside once a day for at least 30 minutes. I am lucky that I live in the countryside surrounded by fields and rivers and don’t see many people when I’m out. I also listen to my favourite podcasts whilst walking. 

Of course, this is harder for some, but trust me it helps. I have seen some great ways of making walks fun if you live in urban areas by enjoying the little things, the flowers in windows or growing up walls, the sky and the clouds, the way the birds sound, the cute or dramatic doorways, the walls, and the chimneys. Make use of this time, when you can.

Remember to be kind, to yourself and to others and we will get through this.

iProvision mental health hotline: https://newsroom.cipr.co.uk/iprovision-launches-mental-health-hotline-for-cipr-members/ 

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