Life on Hold – Psychologically Adjusting To Living on Furlough

By Sadie Hopson of We Work Well


COVID-19 has placed us all on an emotional rollercoaster of uncertainty, with every dip and fall creating a new challenge to psychologically overcome. The sheer pace of change is leaving many people feeling propelled into the unknown meaning that it can be hard to adjust before there is another twist or test to face.

And whilst there remains a high level of fear associated with contracting the virus, this has now become compounded by greater fears in relation to our economy, our businesses, our jobs and our incomes. Entire industries have been closed, many SMEs are struggling, and every single company is trying to calculate how to survive this time and emerge out the other side with their business in-tact.

To help to overcome this mammoth task, the Government introduced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which allowed companies to “furlough” their staff to protect their people and their business. This lifeline has been welcomed by many and The British Chamber of Commerce have estimated that 44% of businesses will furlough at least 50% of their staff, with others furloughing their entire workforce.

This means that there will be thousands of furloughed staff rapidly trying to adjust to the new temporary norm, feeling in limbo about the present and the future.

So, if you are a furloughed employee, what can you do to manage your wellbeing during this time?

1. Focus on personal development

It is normal for people to feel a lack of motivation during this time, particularly if you typically work in quite a fast-paced role and/or are highly driven in your career. Fears of stagnation can quickly creep in and concerns about your career future may also pop up.

Whilst you should not put any undue pressure on yourself, if you are feeling a lack of purpose take this opportunity to progress your mind and advance your knowledge in key areas, particularly related to your wellbeing.

If you typically work in a competitive or high-pressure environment and miss the mental stimulation, set yourself targets and goals to meet and even create your own incentives.

If you are taking the opportunity to learn a new skill/language/craft or simply reawaken an old passion, consider creating challenges with colleagues to keep you all motivated and connected. Teach each other new languages, share achievements, play a song you have learned, the options are endless.

2. Embrace vulnerability

This is a new situation for everyone. Some people will adapt quickly to being furloughed, others won’t. This is related to a multitude of different factors, including your personality type, domestic life, financial situation, and life experiences.

Try not to judge your own response to the situation by others or make comparisons; this is a unique situation and may result in unique responses. So, if you are struggling, embrace your vulnerability and reach out. Vulnerability is a strength; it provides connection to others and helps deepen our interpersonal skills. It develops empathic relationships and helps others to speak up too.

Talk to your employer if you are struggling and if there are any specific questions you have about the situation. There is a huge range of resources available during this time so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask people for help.

3. Practice self-compassion

Self-compassion is about self-kindness instead of self-judgement. It is about enhancing a sense of humanity and self-awareness.

More than ever we need to cultivate a kindness towards ourselves and about ourselves and effectively manage any toxic or negative thoughts.

Practicing mindfulness is a very powerful way to achieve this and this is a fantastic opportunity to learn how to harness the power of this form of meditation. There are also fantastic apps available such as Headspace or Calm and many free online courses on the subject.

4. Express gratitude

Many furloughed workers express feelings such as guilt, anxiety, frustration and feeling that they are devalued or lacking purpose. They may feel bad for those who are still working or resentful that they were chosen to be furloughed. These feelings are all normal.

Our working lives are a powerful contributor to our identity and when this is temporarily taken away from us, it can make us feel lost.

Try to remember that your company has placed you on furlough as they value you and do not want to lose you and are making this decision to ensure that you and the business have a sustainable future.

This is not a personal situation so try to detach from any negative thoughts around the choices made and remain positive about your future. Rather than focusing on what has been lost, think about whatever little things bring you joy and express gratitude for the things you do have.

Take time every day to document 5 things you are grateful for in your current life

5. Recall your strengths and positive qualities

This is a great chance to think about your strengths and remind yourself of all the qualities that make you a fantastic employee, as well as remind yourself of the ways that you overcome challenges in the past. Resilient people acknowledge the skills that have helped them get to where they are today, they know their attributes.

When resilient people acknowledge their capabilities, they are able to simply acknowledge what they do well so they can use their strengths to their advantage.

Write down your personal strengths and unique qualities. If you are struggling, reach out to 5 key people in your life and ask them to write a list of your positive qualities. This is a fantastic way to reflect and bolster your self-esteem and self-awareness.

6. Create communication networks

For many people, the lack of daily interaction and rich diversity of connection can quickly lead to feelings of isolation and sadness. Loneliness is intrinsically linked to poor mental health so be proactive in creating a diverse range of communication networks, both personally and professionally.

Try to replicate the same diversity in your day to day life but ‘switching up’ the people you talk to.

Make new contacts with professional networking, reach out to old colleagues, think about old friends you have lost touch with, keep in touch with current colleagues…there are many ways you can mix it up!

7. Cultivate a growth mindset

Your mindset is related to your beliefs about your ability and creates a whole mental world for you to live in.

With a fixed mindset we feel that we have no ability to change. With a growth mindset, we can embrace new ideas and the prospect that anything is possible.

In this current situation, some may feel a sense of hopelessness. This can lead to us becoming de-energised and lose self-esteem. Cultivating a growth mindset means trying out new ways of doing things and using self-motivating statements to keep us feeling energised. It means remaining open to new ideas and new opportunities.

8. Acknowledge the grieving process

Globally, many of us are facing feelings of grief and loss. We are mourning the loss of our freedom, our routine and our predictable future. We are fearful for our loved ones and are grieving for what has already been taken away, whilst remaining anxious of what else might change.

What we must remember is that this is a process and dealing with grief is complicated. Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross states that there are five stages of grief:

Denial – e.g. It’s not that bad, it’s just like flu.

Anger – e.g. This is the governments fault; they should have handled it better.

Bargaining – e.g. I am sure I can see other people if we wash our hands. We’d know if we were sick.

Despair – e.g. I am going to lose my job and probably my home. This is hopeless

Acceptance. – e.g. I can’t control the pandemic, but I can do my bit by staying home and following the guidelines

Each of us move through these phases in a different way, they are fluid not fixed. So be patient with yourself (and others) if you are experiencing these feelings at different levels of intensity or durations.

9. Be part of a bigger community

Our working lives and working community contribute to a powerful sense of belonging. When you feel detached from that world it can be really unsettling. Whilst you can take steps to keep in regular contact with your working community, remember that you are part of something far bigger.

This point in our lives will be marked in history as a time that we are all united in facing a situation that means we all understand that it is okay not to be okay.

Stress, grief, anxiety, uncertainty, and fear are things we have all experienced over recent weeks, and this is a chance to build empathic connections with everyone around us based on a shared understanding of what we have all faced together.

Build on this sense of humanity and community and take warmth in the many examples of kindness, from your neighbourhood NHS 8pm clap to the smiling supermarket worker helping an elderly shopper. You are part of a community working hard to protect the vulnerable and showing courage in the face of adversity.

Lastly, I would like to emphasise the power that you have to positively impact other people.

Giving back and showing kindness to others is one of the five “mental health five a day” things that we should do every day to boost our own mental health.

Think about how you can practically help someone else, perhaps reach out to someone you know is alone, or check somebody vulnerable has what they need.

Even just smiling and greeting the person walking across the street will benefit both you and them.

For me, this quote is a great one to remember right now:

Today, give yourself permission to be outrageously kind, irrationally warm, improbably generous.

I promise it will be a blast.

Sacha Dicter


If you have any other questions about support to help employers or employees cope during the pandemic, please get in touch with us at

Thanks for reading.