Have you been furloughed during the coronavirus crisis? Many people have. Here’s a searingly honest account of what it feels like.
Matt* was suddenly and unexpectedly furloughed from his job as a sourcing consulting director at one of the US’s most recognisable businesses. He has shared his story here on the condition of anonymity.
Life has a funny way of throwing us curveballs, hey? Just last weekend, I found a list of goals I’d made, sometime after the new year when the enthusiasm of resolutions had yet to wane. I’d included the good old standard goals, something like ‘get fitter,’ ‘scroll less!’ ‘don’t get hung up on things you can’t change!’ but there was also a solid few career ones in there. None of them, I might add, included being sent home from work, suddenly and unexpectedly, with no return date and no certainty there would even be a job to return to. But then again, was a pandemic really in anyone’s plan? I’ve since heard that some people believed it possible, but to be honest I never really gave the idea much thought.
I’m a sourcing consulting director by trade, and I love – or, I loved – everything about my job. Helping clients transition and transform their businesses was my bread and butter, and I enjoyed the variety and challenges it afforded me. On a daily basis, I’d be confronted with new and different projects; no two clients were the same. As a natural people-person, I found the client contact invigorating and the problem solving even more so. I was often jet-setting around the country and seeing different cities while living out of a suitcase and it suited me just fine. It enabled me to get properly embedded in my work and give it my all.
Around January, I remember seeing eerie photos of Wuhan and thinking how strange it looked and seemed. I think I saw a photo of a door welded shut on an apartment block and I reflected on how grateful I was for American freedoms, and how I never thought something even resembling a lockdown could ever happen here. Boy, was I wrong. Our doors might not be welded shut but we sure are trapped in another way.
Have you seen the movie the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? If you haven’t, it’s where four English children go through their wardrobe into a land completely unrecognisable to them, called Narnia. ‘Virus life,’ to me, felt like Narnia, but not in a good sense. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it felt like we were safely in the wardrobe one day and then a place we truly didn’t want to be the next.
From a work perspective, when the pandemic did hit hard, I was immediately concerned about the travel side of my job, but not my actual job, interestingly. But as a business, we were shocked at how quickly things exploded and started having an impact. Somehow, stil, I wasn’t worried. But then.
When they told me, I didn’t really react much. I was shocked, I think, maybe a little numb. I’ve always been a risk-averse person, always doing the right thing, always trying to get a stable job and succeed at it. So when I heard I was being furloughed, I kind of got this sense of, but I’ve always done the right thing? I certainly wished it wasn’t me. In a rational sense, I got it, of course I did. I understood the dynamics, I knew that things were unstable now and changing fast. But still.
Since being stood down from my role, time has taken on a strangely elastic sense. Sometimes days go fast, especially when I get really engaged in playing games with my family or staying up late watching a movie. I know some people’s children have driven them crazy, but I’ve honestly enjoyed my family dynamics and our closeness so much. But when I do find a minute to myself, I can’t say my mind is completely clear. My business has told me, ‘as far as they know’ that I’ll be back, but I can’t help but wonder. A few of my colleagues have been laid off and I now see the fear and dread in their eyes as they confront America’s most challenging job market. Sure, in procurement we’re weathering the storm well but nothing is for sure. I try not to think about being fired. Now I’m not ‘present’ at work, I do feel genuinely worried.
Being furloughed has been a great time for personal reflection. Fortunately, I was in a relatively secure financial position prior to this and so far, money hasn’t been a real issue – but I know for so many people, that simply isn’t true. I’ve also paused and reflected on what is an ‘essential versus a ‘non-essential’ business – something I’d never really thought about before. All things being equal, if I was ever offered a job again, I’d definitely preference an ‘essential’ business as having a stable job is critical to me. Despite my relative financial stability, I’ll also be more conservative with cash. You truly never know what is around the corner. That’s what this pandemic has taught me.
In life, I’ve always been used to knowing what’s coming next. It’s such a strange feeling to wake up and not have to plan anything past my morning coffee. But at the same time, it’s nice to take a breath. The future is unclear, but I feel, in procurement at least, that there’s hope.
Editor’s note: As of 20 May 2020, Matt has been officially ‘stood up’ and will be imminently returning to his role. If you enjoyed this article then read the wildly popular article ‘You’ve been fired or made redundant. What to say to your next boss?
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