Furloughing and wellbeing



With many IPG members furloughing staff over the last few months, we know that it has been a difficult time for a lot of people. Nationwide, HMRC says nine million people have so far been furloughed by around 1.1 million companies, and the process has caused a huge amount of upheaval.

For some of those on furlough, the biggest concern is that the furloughing process reflects negatively on their ability. People inevitably lose some of their identity and direction when they are not working, and it can lead to professional disconnection and social isolation. That’s exacerbated by the need to stay away from family and non-work friends too.

Some people might feel that being placed on furlough means they have done something wrong, or haven’t achieved enough. They might also be feeling under pressure to do something significant with the extra time they have to themselves during furlough. It’s been tough on employers too, who have had to make difficult business decisions since March. Some might be feeling guilty for furloughing staff, or worried about how and when to bring them back. They may be uncomfortable about having to select some staff to carry on working while others do not.

All this can have a major impact on people’s self-worth and general mental wellbeing. But of course, all these feelings are unjustified. The pandemic has forced furloughing on businesses, and the decisions that leaders are taking do not reflect people’s skills or achievements. Instead it’s a practical, necessary and hopefully short-term process to protect jobs and businesses. In fact, it’s because they value their employees that they are furloughing them, so that they can return at a later date, rather than making them redundant.

At a stressful time for everyone, we were keen to give wellbeing issues plenty of airtime at our recent Virtual Spring Conference. One of our speakers, leadership expert Mark Leruste, made the excellent point that whatever people feel at the moment is valid. Some will be anxious about what lies ahead, or have financial concerns, while others will be enjoying an unexpected chance to pause their working lives. These and many more responses to the pandemic are perfectly logical, and whether you’re working or not it’s definitely OK to be feeling less motivated and productive than usual.

Another of our Conference speakers, Melissa Doman, M.A., talked about the importance of discussing work-related mental health at this point. These conversations are not just nice-to-have any more, but an essential part of day-to-day activities, whether in the office or at home. They will be crucial when furloughed employees return to work.

In a very good LinkedIn post on this subject, psychologist Kathryn O’Shea suggested that the way to start tackling what she calls ‘furlough shame’ is to acknowledge it, understand where it’s coming from, share your feelings with someone, and above all be kind to yourself. For more practical advice, MIND has some very good resources to support wellbeing, including connecting with people and staying relaxed and stimulated. The IPG Skills Hub also has a detailed resource to help with general work-related stress.