Being furloughed is defined as a “leave of absence” by an employee for reasons usually involving the economic conditions of their employer.
This is not a voluntary move; however, it is often temporary. During this time, the employer can get back on track and have the employee return to work as usual, or the furlough turns permanent.
Unfortunately, this can happen to anyone at any time. As scary as it can be, you can use your time off of work in ways that are productive and useful for you. So, take a breath. It's ok. Everything happens for a reason.
However, you do need a plan to get up and get going again. In furlough situations, it is unknown when you'll be able to get back to work, and depending on your financial situation, you may need to start making some career moves.
The upside to this is that you have the time to do some figuring out for yourself.
Here are some things you should do while you are furloughed:
1 – Optimize Your Current Situation
Unemployment and Aid
First things first, you should optimize the situation you're in.
This means figuring out if you qualify for unemployment benefits (and taking advantage of them if you do), and then figuring out if you still get benefits through your employer. For instance, some companies continue to pay healthcare benefits during furloughs. If you still qualify for these, then make sure you know for how much and for how long.
Earlier this year, assistance was also offered through the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) which provides payments as outlined below:
- $1,200 per adult for individuals whose income was less than $99,000 ( or $198,000 for joint filers)
- $500 per child under 17 years old – or up to $3,400 for a family of four.
(For social security recipients, the IRS automatically deposited funds based on tax data on those citizens). As a small business owner, you could also apply for the Paycheck Protection Program to help cover payroll expenses. This includes help for self-employed and independent contractors.
As there is a motion to produce a second stimulus package, it is worth watching out for any new changes that may come up as this current pandemic situation extends further into 2020.
Review Your Finances
When you are furloughed, the unpredictability of your work and your paycheck can take a toll on your ability to pay your bills. It is worth taking this time to review your monthly expenses and find areas you can potentially cut back on and save. For instance:
- Call your cable/internet provider and ask for deals, or consider canceling altogether (especially cable, you can stream everything online anyway!)
- Check your electric and gas usage – are you using more energy during peak hours? Can you cut back?
- Speak with your mortgage lender (or landlord for rentals) and see if they have any options to reduce payments during financial hardships. Do the same with your car insurance.
- If you invest in the stock market regularly, consider halting those payments, and use that money for bills instead.
- If you carry a credit card balance, speak with the company and inquire about a payment program, or a reduced interest rate.
- Stop dining out and instead focus on buying groceries and cooking at home (this saves so much money!)
- Eliminate or reduce all unnecessary spending. So, no new clothes/shoes/accessories unless absolutely needed.
- When you do need to shop, look for deals, use coupons, and take advantage of sales where you can.
Look for Ways to Make Money on the Side
If you're able to, try and find sources of income that you can capitalize on during your furlough period. Some examples include:
- Signing up to be an Uber or Lyft driver
- Offering your services online as a freelancer (e.g., through Upwork, Fiverr or Care.com)
- Selling items around the house you don't use (post to Craigslist, Facebook marketplace, etc.)
- Find a gig that allows you to work from home (e.g., for healthcare providers, they can find Telehealth work options). Sites like Indeed, FlexJobs, ZipRecruiter offer postings.
You may not completely cover your expenses with these options; however, it can help offset some costs. And, depending on the work, you may be able to add the experience to your resume! (see below)
2 – Add to Your Skills
As stressful and upsetting as this situation may be, it is also an opportunity to reinvent yourself or pivot into another role that you've been thinking about or aiming for. Everything happens for a reason, and you should take this time to take a chance on yourself.
So ask yourself, do you want to keep doing what you've been doing? If not, what other skills do you have that you can capitalize on? Is there something you'd like to learn that you haven't had a chance to pursue in the past?
If you're interested in classes to learn something new or brush up on some skills, then check out this site for free Ivy League-level classes that you can sign up for. Some allow you to obtain a certificate, but you will have to pay a fee for those.
LinkedIn has free courses as well via LinkedIn Learning. Sign up for a one-month free trial so that you can access their library. Some of them provide tips for interviewing, making an excellent first impression, and body language!
Kahn Academy is another resource you can try. You may have heard of it as a place for school-aged students to get extra learning, tutoring, and exposure to different subjects. However, there are also college and career level courses you can sign up for, plus options for learning about personal finance and developing a growth mindset.
3 – Update Your Resume
Time to bust out your resume and give it an in-depth review. Remove information from it that is no longer relevant, and update information on your current job and skills that you have used and honed over the years.
When updating your resume, don't forget to add your new skills and/or certifications. Also, re-write your introduction with your new career goals in mind. Just because you have been doing one job for so long, doesn't mean you have to continue – especially if its a job that doesn't bring you the fulfillment or satisfaction you're looking for.
Also, if you're considering changing job tracks, or making a career shift, then research typical templates for the new job you're looking for. If you're switching industries, the layout of the resume may need to be different.
For instance, in medicine and healthcare, the layout of our resume (or curriculum vitae) leans towards highlighting academic achievements and research publications. In business, I was always taught to highlight leadership and management experience and skills.
4 – Activate Your Network
Networking is key during this time. Depending on the situation, if people aren't hiring, it takes knowing people and speaking to the right people to find a new position or even have a position created for you.
To give you a unique example, I run a fellowship within my department (I'm an Anesthesiologist) in perioperative management, which means I train individuals on the nuances related to making sure patients are medically optimized before coming in for surgery. One day, a friend of a friend reached out with questions: she works as an Internal Medicine hospitalist but wanted to pursue a different career path.
A lot of her current work involved evaluating patients for Anesthesiologists at her hospital. Given her experience and her interest in the area, I offered for her to apply to my fellowship. After vetting her and speaking with key people in my department, we are going to have her come aboard.
An Internal Medicine doctor employed and trained by an Anesthesiologist is not something you usually hear about; all it took was a phone call from her to get this ball rolling. We are also in a position to offer her this opportunity because of our own needs and protocols we are working to develop. Having someone with her background is invaluable.
I also found out that she's been trying to do something different with her career for YEARS, including shadowing and research in anesthesia. In a round-about way, she built up her experience with anesthesia, and now she's going to get further training with me.
To summarize, it can take quite a bit of networking and asking questions to find the right person to give you the opportunity you are looking for. Sometimes the offer you get is not for a job, but it will provide you with some experience and exposure. I encourage you to explore those options because every bit of knowledge helps. The sooner you get started, the sooner you'll be able to navigate your way towards a path that is uniquely your own.
As this example shows, anything is possible; you just have to ask.
How You Can Get Started
Reach out to your family, friends, or trusted colleagues, and let them know that you are looking into different career avenues, or are wanting to shift. Whenever they send you a name or contact, set up a phone call and speak with them (no texting!).
Also, update your LinkedIn page (or make one if you don't have one), and get a sense of the local opportunities available to you through their search. A simple google search about your area of interest can also bring up information on companies and job opportunities. This is probably the most challenging path to take, but emailing or doing cold calls is also another way to get contacts and build your network.
You can also consider joining interest groups in your area related to your career goals. Many will hold networking events or lectures, where you can meet and greet people doing the same thing you want to do. You never know who you'll run into!
5 – Dedicate Time For Yourself
As I've mentioned above, you should use your free time to optimize, reflect, and network. To take it a step further, I'd also suggest you use this time to reset and catch up on sleep and life.
Spend time with your family, take care of your health (physical and mental), and regain your balance. The stress of the situation can take its toll, especially if you are facing a lot of uncertainty.
It's important to stay positive, keep yourself centered, healthy, and focused so that you can get through this time as effectively as possible, and also plan for the future so that you come out of it prepared for your next phase in life.