Furlough: chances are you hadn’t heard of the term until 19th March. It’s actually far more common in the States and essentially means to temporarily lay someone off, and while companies want to keep their employees and get things back to normal as quickly as possible, it’s no less stressful if you’re the one in the furlough seat.

Which is why it’s so important to remember you are not alone. Almost 140,000 UK companies have applied for the coronavirus furlough scheme and it is estimated one in four (that’s 9 million of us) will be furloughed at some point during the crisis.

So we spoke to two careers experts, Anaïs Poulain a Career Transition Specialist and Founder of Your Career & Business Coach, as well as Tania Adir, Founder of London’s leading co-working spaces, Uncommon, who’s spent a decade researching wellness in the workplace, to find out what you need to know if you’ve just been furloughed.

Don’t panic

It is completely normal to feel stressed and anxious in these unprecedented times but remember this isn’t forever and there are procedures put in place to help.

“As we navigate through these strange times, it can very easily effect our mental state of mind, especially when our daily routines have been totally turned upside down,” says Tania Adir, Founder of London’s co-working space, Uncommon. “For those who have been furloughed, the initial reaction may be panic, what will you do with your day, what will you achieve and when will there be light at the end of the tunnel.”

It’s natural to feel upset and anxious but it’s important to know that this period is temporary. Career Transition Specialist Anaïs Poulain explains, “take some time to process the situation first. If you have been put on furlough and are feeling stressed or anxious, I would encourage you to write down the reasons why you feel anxious about the situation and identify the source of it.”

Know your rights inside and out

Make sure you know exactly why you’ve been furloughed and what it means. In short, the Government scheme that will run for at least three months, allows companies to furlough employees to protect them from having to fire them – so try to think of it as a good thing.

The government will pay up to 80 percent of your wages, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month and it’s available to anyone working in a full time job as of March 19. This includes those on zero hour contracts, too.

It’s a bit like gardening leave in that you are still being paid by your employer – albeit at a reduced rate – but you are still legally employed by the company and your taxes and pension will still be paid from your wages.

If you’re worried about what this means for you, visit the Citizens Advice website at citizensadvice.org.uk or call your local department – numbers can be found here. 

It’s also worth talking to your manager or HR department. Anaïs stresses that, “during this crisis, my recommendation for businesses (and therefore individuals) is to have a rhythm of communication in place – even if it is just a 15-minutes check-in on a weekly basis with your HR contact to monitor the situation, I would highly encourage setting sometime in the diary to do so.”

Remember this is a stressful time for all and you are well within your rights to ask questions and seek advice.

Go through your incomings and outgoings thoroughly

First of all, check you are being paid correctly and speak to your boss or HR manager about pensions, student loans and anything else you might be worried about. Make a list of all your outgoings, from rent and bills to the weekly shop. Chances are you’ll be spending more on food right now but you might be able to save in other areas if you’re not eating out, getting your hair done, heading to the pub or buying clothes. Be mindful of what you really need during lockdown – a kitchen gadget might make mealtimes more fun but do you really need to put in that Zara order?

Then make a weekly budget and stick to it.

Stick to a routine

There are two key points to focus on, you need to maintain some form or routine in your day to stay sane and secondly, you need to reassure yourself that you don’t have to achieve something in order to feel good about yourself. The world is not going to end if you don’t come out of lockdown without Joe Wicks’ abs or a newfound guitar talent.

But there is something to be said for routine and it can help you get through these uncertain times.

Anaïs says, “Make sure that you’ve got an alarm set up for the “working days” – keeping a healthy rhythm in terms of sleeping is a key component to maintain a routine.”

“Try to continue waking up at a reasonable time and performing your usual morning rituals – shower, coffee, breakfast,” says Tania, “If you are someone that likes structure, try writing a daily to-do list and compartmentalising your day into segments.

Morning: get active… this could be light exercise, walking the dog, doing the housework, rearranging and tidying the cupboards.

Afternoon: take time for yourself… this could include meditation, baking, at-home beauty regimes, reading those books you’ve always wanted to, getting creative or learning something.

Anaïs suggests doing the things you never normally have time to do like “sorting out some old photos, trying out a new cooking recipe or meditating even if it is just 10 minutes per day.”

Tania explains that “by keeping a routine and the mind active, you are keeping any negative thoughts at bay. You are also getting a sense of achievement, by reading those books you’ve always wanted to or learning a new skill (no matter how big or small).”

But if you need a day of Netflix, have a day of Netflix

If you need a day or a few days to relax or simply take your mind of the situation, take them. Binging a Netflix series isn’t going to change the situation or harm anyone, but it might chill you out and give you some head space. And let’s not forget, pre-lockdown, we were more than happy to “waste” away an afternoon on the sofa watching the latest Netflix series.

To make things feel a little more in place Tania recommends “writing things down – both – positive and negative thoughts,” she explains, “I find that by writing it down I get it out of my brain. Start a daily journal, write down what you did and how you felt.” Whether that was sorting your CV, chatting to a friend or simply embracing the binge.

Don’t entertain guilt

If you’re feeling guilty or like you could have done more to avoid being furloughed, nip that in the bud. These decisions are business decisions, not personal ones and it’s highly likely your employer will be just as stressed and upset by the whole thing as you are.

Anaïs advises taking a piece of paper and breaking it down into two columns. On the first one list all the reasons why you are feeling guilty and next to it identify what can you do about it. If you have identified some areas where you can take action, do so. If you have not identified areas to take action and most of them are “Covid-19 dependent” then make sure that you are truly acknowledging that there is nothing to feel guilty about.

Add to your skillset

Now or never is the time to really think about what matters to you, including new skills that you’d like to gain.

“Take some time to think about what are the top two to three skills that you’d like to gain or develop are, says Anaïs, “If you like reading, I would encourage you to keep to a reading rhythm with books that will teach you the knowledge you’d like to develop. If you are not into reading, video tutorials are also great ways to learn new skills: cooking,  gardening, photography, anything!”

Talk to others

As we enter this era of Zoom, Houseparty, Google Hangouts and the likes, it’s easier than ever to catch up with friends and family.

“Connect with people who are sharing the positive vibes – make sure that you are keeping in touch with people who are cheering you up,” says Anaïs, “Set up some family conference calls or a quiz with friends that will help you to stay positive.”

Tania reminds us that “whilst exercise is keeping the body active, talking to others will keep the brain active.”

Get your CV & LinkedIn in order

Even if you’re not looking for a job it’s good to keep your CV and LinkedIn up to date so that when the time does come, you don’t forget anything important that you might have done in your role. Use this free time to get yours in order.

“Reach out to experts in your network: any friend working in HR and/or any recruiters that you might have wanted to speak to for a long time but never had the chance to until this all happened. Additionally, make sure that both your CV and LinkedIn profile really emphasise your latest/preferred skills/responsibilities with specific examples where you can, “ says Anaïs

Apply for another job – if you want to

“There is never a good or a bad time to look for another job: just the willingness to do it,” adds Anaïs, “I would encourage you to use the time you have to list all of the skills you acquired

Since you started working: maybe you will identify some skills that you haven’t used for a long time and that you actually really enjoyed back in the day. It’s a great opportunity to take the time to think about what really matters to you and what you want to gain from your career so that you can move on to your next role feeling confident about your career move.”

Finally, embrace your time off

Lastly, try to enjoy this time, whilst it can initially feel daunting, this is a time to really take a step back from your hectic work and social life and to really take stock of the things that matter – your health, wellbeing and mental state – and when have you ever really been able to do that?

“This is a time to do all those things you never had time for and enjoy that feeling of accomplishment,” says Tania, “because before you know it, the world will return to some form of normality and the daily grind will start again, and you will be mentally and physically ready to hit the ground running!”

For more information on Anaïs Poulain visit yourcareerandbusiness.coach

For more information on Tania Adir and Uncommon, visit uncommon.co.uk

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