Furloughs: They’re not just for prisoners anymore

8 Dec

I just found out I would get five more days off during the first three months of 2010. Our management says we can probably anticipate getting another 10 more!

It would just be so much better if I were getting paid for them.

Welcome to the world of furloughs. Basically, these are days off without pay — considered a temporary layoff — that a lot of companies and state governments are having their employees take to save money. These are also considered “take one for the team” measures. Without furloughs, many companies would be forced to do layoffs — or do more of them. Everyone at my workplace, management on down, had to do 10 furlough days in 2009.

When my co-workers and I were lucky enough to spread out five unpaid days over three months (We got five days in two separate quarters,), people in other places have had to take a straight week off — literally leaving them with half a paycheck on which to survive for two weeks. One of my friends had to take 10 furlough days — all at once. He is not a journalist, by the way. My friends and I have used the term “vacaylough”. I had a furlough on my birthday this year, and I called that time off my “birthdaylough.”

But my co-workers and I are not alone. The mass communications industry isn’t alone, either. State government employees have been hit hard, too. Throw a dart at a map of the United States to see which states have been hit. Here’s a list that shows, as of June, which states furloughed workers and for how long. California has furloughed 238,000 workers twice a month since February. This will last through July 2010.

So, maybe you haven’t been furloughed, and you’re wondering why you should care about those who are. Well, first of all, it could easily happen to you or someone you love. Once one company saves money in a much timelier and less traumatic way than layoffs, others will probably follow suit. Don’t be surprised if you get hit. Then, your service from government and business suffers badly. For example, Oregon has been closing the vast majority of state offices for set employee furlough days. OK. So you may not care about those pesky state employees losing money. Say that again when you can’t renew your driver’s license one day.

Here’s the killer about any workplace — private or public — that furloughs employees: The same amount of work has to be done. Two big problems come from that. Employees have less time to focus on specific tasks because they’re combining that work with the work their furloughed co-workers would normally do. There are also service delays. Hawaii will take even longer to process unemployment claims at a time when so many more people need those benefits.

Then, there’s economic recovery issues. Who doesn’t want to see our economy improve? Forced time off is yet another reason for people to cut back on spending — even more than they have already had to do. Even when the furloughs are done, do you want to go on a spending spree when you know what happened before? Or worse yet, do you want to go on a spending spree when you know what could happen later?

Here’s how that domino effect works: Consumers get furloughed. They’re afraid to spend. Businesses don’t make as much money. Businesses can’t hire people who need jobs. Businesses may have to shut down because they’re losing so much money. More workers are laid off. Whether you look at that from a fiscally conservative or liberal point of view, you can see the only good that comes from furloughs are layoff reductions.

So, how do you survive such a blow? Join me tomorrow, and I’ll show you ways I’ve survived my furlough time. I’ll also offer some tips on things I DIDN’T do that I SHOULD HAVE done. There are hardly any good options when you’re stuck at home without money to do anything, but there are constructive and even (somewhat) fun ways to pull through it.

Until then, have fun rolling pennies!

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2 Responses to “Furloughs: They’re not just for prisoners anymore”

  1. injaynesworld December 8, 2009 at 4:50 pm #

    I’m hoping some of those furloughed here in CA are the workers at the Franchise Tax Board and that they become so pissed that they will mark my returns as “paid”.

  2. Amanda December 8, 2009 at 6:19 pm #

    I was flat out laid off 2 years ago. It was a small company that basically went under. Laying me off kept them from going under right away. It saved the rest of the company from the same fate for only 5 months. I would have rather had a furlough than have been laid off — of course, I got more in unemployment than I would have with half a paycheck, so it evens out. So in the words of my high school algebra teacher, “some’s better ‘en none”. But I agree with you about the spending thing. People aren’t going to be confident to spend on big things until they know they won’t be furloughed or laid off. It’s just sad that it has to be either way. Looking forward to your “survival tips” tomorrow!

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