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Lessons from Lockdown – Furlough isn’t necessarily fun!


Like many businesses when all the pandemic really started to bite, we furloughed our office staff.  In reality this was our MD and our Operations Manager, Fran, who is also our daughter!

With the training diary effectively wiped clear for the foreseeable, it made sense for her to be at home with her young son and that’s where she has been “employed for the last 11+ weeks”, and we put the paperwork in place and chose to top up her earnings so her salary didn’t alter.  Many businesses, with a larger employment contingent, have not been so lucky in being able to do this.

We have obviously kept in contact from a family perspective but with the relaxing of rules last week, they ventured into the garden for a socially distanced BBQ in the sunshine and I asked if she’d missed us at work.

They have been fortunate that as her husband works for himself as a soft landscape gardener, he has been able to continue working within the rules.  The upside is that she has had the joy of a period of unexpected 1:1 time with Connor day in, day out. The downside as any parent will recognise, is that she has missed playdates with his friends, playground visits, and even trips to the supermarket were out.  All that, and a lack of adult conversation.

From a work point of view though she has felt  rather adrift.  Not being involved in the day to day running of the business; keeping in touch with clients; liaising with trainers and suppliers about forthcoming projects have all left her feeling that she has somehow gone backwards in her participation of the company.

She started working here last July, and picked up the various strands of the business quickly and has been adept and instrumental in working with trainers and clients on new and existing projects.  Now however, she says she feels like she’s a new starter again.  When she does eventually return to work, she’s going to take time to “catch up” on all the correspondence and interactions with clients.

As her official “manager”, I had assumed that she would be revelling in the opportunity to be at home, without the pressures of work or getting Connor to nursery.  Days would be filled with playtime and fun and coming back to work would potentially be something of a chore or interruption to her new existence.

I was taken about by her passion for a return to work.  This is a great testament to the fact she has settled in well and enjoys her job….and of course her great working conditions and understanding bosses!

But I was struck by my own assumption that she wasn’t really missing work at all and would be thriving on family time.  It has undoubtedly been a great opportunity to concentrate on developing Connor as he explores his ever expanding world and she has taken great delight in that.

By from a business point of view, it would be wrong to think that those who have been furloughed have “enjoyed” the experience.  Many have had to manage on 80% of their income and this extended period of effective unemployment has therefore not been plain sailing for many.

It is important as managers that staff who have been, or are still furloughed, are engaged with regularly.  Whilst they may not be able to take any active part in their day to day work, they must be reassured that they are valued members of the team and their arrival back in the work environment is eagerly awaited.

The Lesson from Lockdown this week is therefore not to assume that your furloughed staff are all living it up and enjoying lie-ins and Box sets.  Check on them and remind them of how important they will be to your restart and resurgence from the pandemic lockdown.


A blog by Kate Merrin Athelbrae Limited