POST WRITTEN BY John M. O’ConnorJohn M. O’Connor (Career Pro Inc.) is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.
Until recently, the word “furloughed” did not really come into our lexicon very much. How some things change. Today furlough means different things to different people. It seems more pleasant than the word “layoff,” but the baggage associated with the actual meaning carries emotional and now visceral weight.
For our purposes, Merriam-Webster defines furlough as “a temporary leave from work that is not paid and is often for a set period of time.” For this article, let’s focus on how workers ought to look at the meaning and perhaps how employers are using this seemingly new, old idea. As an employee, the meaning of furlough can give you hope when it feels that — or you know or think that — the pain of losing your job is only temporary. But can you afford to wait and see if the job you held and the furlough that you are enduring is temporary? That’s a question you need to think about and take action on if you can. What kind of action should you take if you think your “temporary leave” really is just buying time for the company before they make other decisions? I have some ideas, and they may hit you harder than you think if you are feeling helpless.
Assume You Are Going To Be Fired. If you can take the emotional burn of thinking this way and put that painful realization into action, it may be to your benefit. Here is why. If you take positive action based on knowing that you will lose your job instead of panic, you could come out ready to take on your next work assignment. If assuming you will be let go sends you into an emotional tizzy where you start calling, emailing, inmailing and connecting with new potential employers and contacts, then you could run into problems. Think quiet actions that you can take to plan, prepare and build a root system to grow new job opportunities.
Now, what should you do action-wise if you think you are going to be fired after the furlough?
Get Your Branding Materials Polished, And Play It Quiet. Remember I did not say to indiscriminately send them out or loudly proclaim you are looking for a job. You better get your resume updated and powerfully built for new jobs and new opportunities. Then you should refresh your LinkedIn profile and start connecting with people at your target companies or organization. But be careful, because as a furloughed employee, you don’t want to make so much splash online or through networking that you inadvertently let your current employer know. Why keep things quiet and do a stealthy kind of preparation? Because until you are permanently laid off, you are on “temporary leave,” and you don’t want to scream out your search.
What are you protecting by playing the job search game quietly?
Don’t Lose What You Are Being Offered. Quite simply, furloughed employees may be keeping their existing medical, dental, vision and other insurance benefits. Furloughed workers also often retain their employer-sponsored 401(k) accounts, though employees may not be able to contribute to them while they are not being paid. You are also helping protect your current employer’s brand perception in the marketplace. Remember they furloughed you and did not fire you yet, so your going onto Glassdoor, Facebook or LinkedIn and complaining or sounding negative in posts or comments could be damaging to your temporary leave and make it more permanent.
What can you learn from other industries as far as the meaning of furlough?
Treat Your Job Like A Commercial Construction Person Might. Many industries regularly furlough their workforces, and it doesn’t cause a panic because the work is seasonal. The commercial construction business is famous for furloughs, and so are mining companies, the steelworker industries and many others globally. In those professions, many employees, including some nonunion senior leaders, view their jobs as “work hard, then get a big break” kind of roles. A healthy way to view a furlough, even if it causes you stress, is to view it as a reality of the business and work world.
What is the difference today in 2020 versus before when it comes to furloughs?
Know Your Current Fiscal And Employment Status. Always check with your attorney or financial services provider, but in today’s work world, you will typically be eligible for unemployment as a furloughed worker while still receiving employer-sponsored benefits. Although finding and accepting new employment may affect your eligibility to receive unemployment benefits, I believe you can and should, at least quietly, begin building alternative career options during a furlough. Can you work part time? That is a question for your individual state to answer.
What else should you do if you are furloughed?
Build Career-Related Skills Now. Nothing is stopping you from furiously pursuing training and improving your work skills. You could also use this time to invest in your health. I know clients of mine who have called me recently with this same question when they started hearing the dreaded words “furlough” and “layoff.” In many cases, I directed them right back to their current employer, who was offering a sheer motherload of training tools online where they could pursue continuing education. In other cases, I asked my clients what gaps they felt they had in their career, and they told me. We then found them free or nearly free training to fill in those gaps. In every case, these nervous clients were spending too much time worrying versus taking productive, career-enhancing action.
What is the bottom line?
A furlough can spur you to grow your career skills, build a bridge to new opportunities and control what you can control — your actions and your attitude.
John M. O’Connor is a multi-year career coach, outplacement and career services leader based in North Carolina.