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Returning From The Furlough Scheme – Experience, Insight & Advice For Employers From A Furloughed Employee

In April, the UK Government launched the Furlough Scheme and by the 10th of May, over 7.5 million people were placed on Furlough.

A few months ago, the term “Furlough” was a term that many people had not heard of before, but is now something that is regularly Googled and spoken about within businesses across the country.

With the ability to have the government pay 80% of the Furloughed employees salary, it seems a great scheme for businesses who need a helping hand whilst things slowed for a large portion of the business world. 

We were one such company that took advantage of the Furlough Scheme, ensuring we could keep our staff despite inevitable client drop-offs or capacity reduction.

So, beginning in April, we placed twenty members of the team on Furlough, taking a third of our workforce out of action. Fast forward to today, middle of May, and we’ve begun reintroducing Furloughed team members back into team giant.

UK's furlough scheme opens amid warning delays could be 'catastrophic'

At the beginning of May, we bought back two team members, and at the beginning of June, we’ll be bringing back five more. We’re extremely excited about this because we don’t like to be split up!

The toll that being placed on Furlough has on a person will only ever be understood by a Furloughed individual, and all on individual levels. But understanding these impacts on these people is what will help improve company culture, communication and understanding in the new world.

Equally, it’s important to understand the effect increased workload has had on members of the team that weren’t placed on Furlough, supporting the business without as much support as they were otherwise used to, working slightly longer hours, assisting on projects outside of their normal day-to-day, and coping with all the other pressures going on in the world around us.

At no point has this been an easy ride for anyone.

Weeks and weeks into this way of working now, we’re all starting to feel the burn a little. So the reintroduction of Furloughed team members is a welcome sight for many who could really do with a change of scenery as it were. 

Despite any and all efforts a business can give, burnout is inevitable and something all those not on Furlough can relate to. 

But we are yet to hear from others what Furloughed life is really like, especially returning to work. So, just like that, we’ve asked Alex Clark, our Marketing Creative Executive, to share his experiences. Alex was on Furlough for one month and has since returned to team giant.

In this piece, Alex speaks about his experience and feelings and shares advice that he personally would like to give. Everyone’s experience is different, so we implore you to consider this when reading.

Furlough and Back Again

When the Furlough scheme was first announced, It sounded like a great idea to help UK businesses. But when we were told that several members of Sleeping Giant Media would be put on the Furlough scheme, I suddenly didn’t know how to feel. 

It seemed like everything was changing by the hour, and I was dreading receiving the call that I’d been selected to be put on the scheme. At the same time, I was in the process of moving house, and the thought of having extra time to focus on that, as well as spend more time with my young daughter did seem appealing. 

Like I said, I didn’t know how to feel. 

Obviously, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably figured out that I got the call in the end.

Going on Furlough puts you through a spectrum of emotions. I wondered why I had been selected out of everyone. I felt relieved that I was going to have some time ‘not working’. And I felt guilty that I was leaving members of my company, and members of my team, to work harder without me during this uncertain time. But I was happy to do what was necessary for the good of the company.

Fast forward nearly a month and a half and I receive another call, but this time – it’s to bring me back into the business. 

Now, Sleeping Giant Media is the best place I’ve ever worked – I enjoy my work, love my colleagues, and the culture is incomparable, so you’d expect that this call would be good news right? Strangely, it wasn’t.

Being on Furlough had massively disconnected me from my work. This wasn’t the fault of my work – our MD and Head of People checked in, constantly made themselves available and provided frequent updates throughout the entire Furlough process. The disconnect had happened purely because of me. There’s no shame in me admitting that you turn off the little switch inside your head that connects you to a ‘work’ mindset. That can be anything even remotely connected to it – emails were turned off, I didn’t attend company stand up meetings or even video events outside of work hours. I neglected even lengthy conversations with my own teammates. 

The way I saw it, If I were to truly accept that I was on Furlough, I needed to draw a line in the sand.

Life on Furlough was nice, but nothing can prepare you for the mental and emotional strain. I was fortunate in that we managed to buy our first home during lockdown, and much of my day was spent juggling DIY projects and childcare. My wife stayed working from home throughout so it felt good to help out more with taking care of our daughter. 

I kept myself busy. But there wasn’t always jobs to do. Sometimes days went by where nothing had been done, which came with a crushing sense of guilt that I hadn’t accomplished anything in the day. 

When you work, you have a 9-5, projects to work on, deadlines to meet, and whilst that comes with its own considerable challenges, there’s a schedule of a time to work, and a time to relax.

On Furlough the days sort of blend together. Is it the week? Is it the weekend? Who knows. I knew that the time on Furlough was limited, so I put an unusual amount of pressure on myself to achieve goals for each day. Don’t get me wrong, I spent a fair amount of my time relaxing, but without routine, it just felt like something was wrong. Almost like you’d previously been given a square of chocolate a day, but now you’re swimming in a river of it. Strangely not working required just as much of a schedule as working did! I’d say this really hit home around 3 weeks in, where I started to write long lists of jobs to keep my brain active. 

So cue the aforementioned phone call bringing me back into the business. They had previously said they’d give up to one week of notice when they’d like people to return, but my manager said I could start sooner if I wanted, and asked when I would feel comfortable starting up again.

One week. I didn’t even hesitate.

I knew this was going to be another huge change, and I’d pushed everything to do with work so far to the back of my mind that I would need as much time as possible to even begin to start having a work mindset again.

Again, I felt guilty. I called the Head of People and felt like I had to explain why I wasn’t leaping out of my chair to take my job back. I had told myself that I had until the end of June to be on Furlough, and I parked that thought firmly in my mind. Receiving a call that I was actually coming back in early May was a huge shock – I had neglected thinking about work, and I didn’t feel ready.

Of course, everyone at my work and in my team was understanding, and I tried to spend the week leading up to my return as productively as possible. I returned to work on Monday 11th May 2020 with several tick boxes left unchecked on my list of things to do, (and even as I write this now, some of those things still aren’t done!)

I think a big part of the stress of returning to work after being on Furlough is thinking – what if I’m not as good at my job now? What if I’m rusty? What if the expectations will be the same as they were a few months ago? Do I still have the same value?

I was able to take my first day back at work pretty calmly. Of course, there was a mountain of emails to clear (looking at you Asana daily updates), and I had some supportive calls with my manager and the MD.

A month and a bit may not seem that long to be off work – but in the melting pot of Coronavirus & lockdown, it felt weird. I won’t sugarcoat it, when I came back, I still felt odd, like I didn’t belong. I’d spent so long almost being another person that now my new daily routine didn’t seem compatible with my old one.

Self-confirmation was a huge part of me feeling more like myself again. I worked on some projects at my own pace and reminded myself that I could still do my work, I could still make content, and I could still do it efficiently. Positive praise and acknowledgement also helped me know that I wasn’t disappointing anyone, or becoming a burden, which I was worried would be the case.

I know there are people out there that will have been on Furlough a lot longer than me. I hope I can offer some advice that may help you if you’re on Furlough right now, or if you’re a manager or business owner trying to understand the mindset of a team member currently on the scheme, or shortly returning.

Advice for people on Furlough from Alex

It’s tough, but it won’t be forever

Like I said, I won’t sugarcoat it – it’s difficult being on Furlough, it’s difficult coming off of Furlough, but once you get through that initial step, you begin to feel more like how you did before. Being honest, I still don’t feel my normal self after 1 and a half weeks back, but every day I feel a little bit more comfortable with work, and a little bit more confident in my abilities.

Watch that first weekend, it’s a doozie

Completely unexpected to me, I felt really down the Monday following my first weekend off. I had spent the weekend literally swept off my feet with chores, and before I knew it, Monday had rolled around again (insert Garfield picture). I was so used to doing what I wanted whenever I wanted that now being allocated two days to cram everything in definitely took some readjustment.

Look after your mental health

I’m obviously no health professional, and in many ways, I need to practice what I preach, but it’s so important that you keep a positive mental attitude to help you keep focused. Being on Furlough is a slippery slope for your mental health if you’re not careful. Remember these are really strange times, so there’s no shame in seeking help from friends, family, or even professionals if you need it.

Take your return slow

Of course to each their own, but try not to think about other people pressuring you to do your work, and maybe admit that you can be pressuring yourself to be your old regular, chipper happy self on day one of your return. It’s going to take time – remind yourself that you can still do your work, and ask for support.

 

Advice for managers from Alex

Empathy

If you’re reading this to try and understand the perspective of someone on Furlough, then good for you. Everyone’s experience will be different of course, but it’s key that you communicate openly and honestly with your Furloughed team member. They may have a lot that’s on their mind, and if you provide them with a safe space, they’ll probably feel much better venting how they’re feeling to you. Just be a listening ear.

Time

I can’t stress enough that I thought the expectation would be there to hit the ground running as soon as I returned. Thankfully I was supported and eased into my workload during the week of my return. Give your team members time to adjust, and this will probably be different for each person. Be present and provide support where it’s needed until they find their feet.

Your staff member also may not really seem themselves for a while, which could be for a whole host of reasons. Make sure that you’re patient and understanding that this process may have impacted them mentally and emotionally.

Praise

Praise has always been important, but it can really mean a lot to hear that you’re doing a good job, even when you’ve only been back a couple of days. That positive reinforcement can go a long way when it comes to recovery and your team member being back up to speed.

 

All in all, the experience is not one I will soon forget, and whilst I fully accept that there are those who’s experience of Furlough has been very different, for better or worse, I hope you were able to find even a small takeaway from what I’ve written.

 

—–

Also returning to work was Shaun Staunton, our Agency Partnerships manager who announced his return in style: 

We’re really glad to have some of our team back, with more returning, and hope to be one big GIANT team together again soon… in time for a big party at least to celebrate the absolute craziness we’ve all been going through at Sleeping Giant Media! When it’s safe to, of course!

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