The C Word: Why being told to sit on your bum, do nowt + get paid isn’t the utopian dream – and how to deal with it

by Maddie
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Happy Wednesday! Usually, I’d call this one the hump day, but there isn’t really a hump to get over when you’ve been furloughed and can’t actually work. Your week kinda looks more like a constant straight line of nothingness, that somehow blends into the weekend without you even realising you’d passed Friyay…

But honestly, being furloughed really isn’t as bad as my first pessimistic thoughts. It’s unfortunately collateral damage of the C word outbreak, and it’s something that millions of us across the country are facing right now. And whilst it’s got its rubbish parts, which usually land on the mental wellbeing side of things, it’s also a big blessing that the Government is supporting employees financially at this scary time and making the scariness a lot easier to contend with.

Here’s me, post-furlough – attempting to make myself feel better about not working by wearing a work-smart blazer lol

On Sunday, I discussed how I wanted to start ‘The C Word’ series: a space for discussion around the new, alien phase our lifestyles have entered over this uncertain period; a space to rant about how we may feel without feeling like we need to apologise for ourselves or be judged for the rollercoaster ride we’ve all hopped on involuntarily; a space to work through such feelings to come out the (more positive) other side. And today, yes, I’m discussing the subject of furloughing – and why exactly being told to sit on your bum, do nothing and get paid isn’t perhaps the utopian dream we wanted to materialise, and how exactly to make this time as positive as possible for you.

Each C Word blog post will follow the same structure: I’ll begin with ‘The Rant’ (where we let loose on how said shite subject is making us feel, letting us process our rollercoaster emotions); we’ll then turn to ‘The Other Story’, where I hear from others, their personal stories of this period and how they’re coping; and then we’ll end with seeing things through ‘The Positivity Lens’: where we re-frame the difficult emotions we’re all feeling and in turn take something positive from all of this! I want this to be a space where we’re allowed to feel good, bad or in between – and where we can leave with a renewed sense of optimism for the good that we can take into our days. As much as we can forget in the midst of heightened emotions or by reading an entire news feed of pessimistic news stories, positivity can actually be found in our darkest challenges!

So, here goes – I hope you’re ready for this ride with me:

The Rant

I was furloughed last week. I went from working a job I’m incredibly passionate about, to being told that unfortunately, from an operational perspective, my employer was having to, essentially, ‘let me go’. I’ve initially been furloughed for a period of two months, taking me up to the end of May, but this may change based on how the current situations develops or deteriorates. Now, I have felt incredibly grateful that my employer clearly explained to us all what this situation means, and have committed to top up the 20% of our salary the Government Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme doesn’t cover, so financially, I am so gratefully covered.

But mentally and from a wellbeing perspective? Being told you’re finishing work and your entire-routine-rug is being swept from under your feet isn’t exactly the best thing your brain wants to hear.

Last Monday, all employees were told in a group Skype call that two thirds of the company would be furloughed. Last Tuesday, we were told who was furloughed. And then a day later, we were all told to wrap up the long list of work tasks we had left and shut down our laptops for the time being. And quicker than you can say ‘whoopeedoo’, we were essentially told to sit on our bums, do nothing and get paid to do just that. And before we start cracking open the celebratory prosecco, let’s just list below the whole array of emotions I felt after finishing work for the last time in the foreseeable last Wednesday:

16:00

*Shuts laptop* Well, shit. I now have a whole lot more free time on my hands. This could be okay, right?

16:05

This is definitely not okay. I can’t relax. Relaxing is my worst nightmare! I like being productive. Shit, being told to sit on my bum all day and do nothing is my personal idea of hell. Work was literally the only thing keeping me sane right now.

17:00

I like working!! I felt like I was doing something that helped. Now I feel helpless, like I can’t do anything to help over this horrible period…

18:00

Okay, I’ve been thinking of things that I can do to help. I could write more, I could join some virtual, online volunteering initiatives, I could log onto Facebook to see if there are any mutual aid groups I could join to help in the community…

19:00

I’ve tried brainstorming. Now all I keep doing is thinking of ideas to do with work, but I’m not allowed to work, so essentially these ideas are pointless. Why can’t I just switch off from work?! I’m being told to do nothing and get paid. Why am I finding this so hard?!

20:00

Just logged onto Facebook. I’ve instantly been hit by a barrage of productive people doing productive things over this period. I feel like I need to either write my first memoir, learn a new language in a day or knit myself a new home otherwise I won’t have done furloughing right. Why can’t I do furloughing right?!

21:00

You know, although I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, this furloughing business felt personal. That letter I had to read was pretty formal and scary, and I’m like 99.9% sure one of the factors in my furloughing may have been because of that time I put a typo in a Tweet I scheduled. Pretty sure this is my fault…

22:00

Yep, so now I’ve just realised I’m one step closer to redundancy. And, on another note, our cacti, Terry, died this evening, so I’m pretty sure I just suck at being a responsible adult in any sense.

22:30

Furlough is another word for ‘your role is essentially replaceable and made-up and useless, because we can easily replace you when the cookie crumbles’ or in short, ‘you suck’. Well, there goes me getting an early night tonight now I’ve realised this biggie. I’m going to lose all sense of routine now, anyway, because who’s getting up before 11am if they’re not working, huh?

23:00

Shit, I bet when I do start work again, I’ll barely be able to get back into the flow of things. I’ll have forgotten how to dress myself in the morning unless the label says ‘day pyjamas’, and that’s before you even reach the workplace. God, I’ll have lost the ability to type and God forbid, use Excel. I could barely even use Excel anyway, goddammit. Here’s to attempting to sleep, folks…

Okay, so the above is a little overplayed for the funsies, but I think the gist of a lot of these emotions are things you’ll definitely identify with if you have been furloughed.

Enough of the ranting, now, even I’m worn out… Let’s move forward.

The Other Story

Now, I’ve done some incredibly important research from a clearly reputable place: and no, I don’t mean the British Library, I mean the wonderful world of Instagram. I want to speak to ordinary people living ordinary lives in these extraordinary times to ensure we’re all getting a chance to rant, process and learn from each other at a time where we’re all just, essentially, trying our bloody best.

I put a call-out on Instagram to ask for people’s thoughts on being furloughed. And thank you so, so much to those of you who got in touch. And just to prove the craziness going on in my own head when I realised I’d been furloughed wasn’t completely crazy, here’s what some of you think about the whole shebang:

“[I’ve] lost [my] job. [I’m] daunted as doing ‘nothing’ is not my jam at all, I like being busy and productive!”

“I have been [furloughed] at my part time job. It’s a little annoying but I run an online business, so luckily I’m ok.”

“When my world ground to a halt I did freak out. I’m trying to become more productive. I’m trying to do a bit of art at least each week. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the spare time that I have. That I should be using every second of it to be productive. But that’s just my own personal inner perfectionist.”

Smilin ‘cos we’re all in this together (does HSM dance)

I feel like we’re seeing the same themes running through, here. Financial security is one thing, and being thankful for still having an income is a biggie. Yet missing from the furlough safety net is our wellbeing, and our mental health seems to be slipping through the cracks. The abyss of ‘nothing’ being something that’s terrifying instead of welcomed, and the pressure to be utilising your sudden free time ‘right’ is another fear attacking us all.

But, one thing I was super happy to read is that a few of you went into this furloughing lifestyle armed with the positivity a lot of us need to take time to build over this period. Just take a look at the below responses:

“I haven’t been [furloughed] yet but I think I will. I’m excited by it! I want to do nothing for a bit!”

“Honestly, [I’m feeling] pretty damn good – I’m on a zero-hour contract and wasn’t expecting pay. But I’m still getting paid for doing absolutely f*** all!”

It’s this unashamed positivity I think we can all reach, once we push through the scary barriers of our lifestyles being completely upturned overnight. From taking an unideal situation and reframing it into a positive opportunity lies the key to bringing sunshine back into our days over this challenging period.

The Positivity Lens

So, rants aside and legitimate stresses processed: it’s time to reframe our thoughts on this whole furloughing malarkey. If you’ve been furloughed, this is a decision that you cannot control – it’s something that unfortunately has been decided upon for the sake of your employer’s business. But what you can control is how you see this unexpected opportunity. This is what you can now see it as:

  • A chance to relax, however ‘relaxing’ may appear to you. Struggle to relax? Set aside some fun tasks for yourself, like tackling your mounting library of books, binging Gossip Girl (because Gossip Girl solves everything) or getting your creative on by blogging or painting.
  • Remember the hilarity of the situation: you’re essentially being told to sit on your bum, do nothing and get PAID. It’s surreal! It’s ridiculous! And none of us know what we’re doing, so don’t feel pressured to be behaving a certain way.
  • Use this time to support your loved ones and others’ wellbeing. Join an online virtual volunteering initiative, support your elderly neighbours by giving them a daily call or grabbing some shopping for them, and raise awareness of charities you’re passionate about right now.
  • Keep to a routine, wherever possible. Give yourself a bit more of a lie in, but spend your weekdays working towards little projects or goals so you can keep to some working normality. This blog is getting me thru, I tell ya.
  • Or, just do NOTHING. Take time off, too! If you want to do NOTHING you CAN. There is literally no right way to be doing quarantine, for goodness sake. Apart from staying inside, that is right – but you get me with the rest.
Shakin off those negative vibez

So, there you have it. An ode to the furlough. A period you’ve been thrust into without consent, that may feel scary at first but as time goes on, you’ll get into the groove of. Now, if you’re furloughed like me, I suggest a good rant to your bestie on the phone about how you may be feeling and then after that, you’ll be ready to take on this furlough world, one slice of positivity at a time.

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