Many people would not have heard of furlough prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but that isn’t the case now. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) was first introduced in March 2020, with the aim to support employers whose businesses were severely affected by the pandemic. As we continue to navigate the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic, a real employee shares their experience of how returning to work following furlough affected their mental health at work.
I didn’t want to look back and feel like I didn’t achieve anything
After over two years of working for the organisation, I was put on furlough in May and I returned to work from furlough in September. Not having work to focus on had its challenges. I’ve never had more than two weeks off in my whole career, so I did feel apprehensive and disillusioned. Being furloughed, when a few of my colleagues were not, did make me feel a little undervalued in comparison to some of the team, which obviously affected my confidence. As time went on, I felt less connected and guilty at times, because I was not working and some of my teammates were.
Being at home so much was quite lonely, but I didn’t want to look back on the time and feel like I didn’t achieve anything. Whilst I was on furlough, I tried to get up and do the things that I didn’t get the chance to do before.
As my return-to-work date approached, it did start to affect my mental health, as I started to feel slightly anxious. I missed interacting with my colleagues and I felt like I had lost confidence, because I hadn’t used that part of my brain for so long. I started to think what did I do? How did I do it? I was confident that it would all come back though! I felt very lucky that my manager had organised weekly wellbeing calls with myself and other members of the team, as it enabled me to feel connected to the team whilst on furlough.
Being on furlough for six months meant that I had changed my routine
My first day back at work was daunting as I was faced with the new normal of working from home at the kitchen table, along with the challenges of being able to access the IT systems remotely. Being on furlough for six months meant that I had changed my daily routine, which was very different to my pre-furlough work routine. My morning online Pilates classes were replaced with numerous zoom calls about various projects and I soon realised that it would take a bit of getting used to. My calendar was also packed with meetings and there was a mountain of emails to contend with. I need not have worried about it though, as any worries were eased, with an abundance of supportive calls and messages from my manager and colleagues.
Before long, it felt as if I had never been away!
My first week back felt quite full on and I was exhausted by the end of it. At times I did find it all a little daunting as we were still in the middle of the pandemic. But being able to focus on work did help me to focus less on my mental health at work and anxieties about coronavirus. I viewed my return to work as a positive one, as it was an opportunity for a re-introduction to the organisation, enabling me to come up with a fresh perspective and new ideas. I was able to catch up on various projects and understand what had changed.
My manager organised an individual online welcome back meeting. I have a good relationship with my manager which was beneficial, and we were able to talk about everything from my mental health at work, to the projects that I would be working on. We also discussed my home working requirements including the IT equipment that I required, which I found to be highly reassuring. We agreed a work plan for the first month, which allowed me time to catch up, read updates and get used to the new ways of working.
I also had numerous daily phone calls with my colleagues which were so useful as they were able to sign post me to key information and documents. It was great to feel so welcome and before long it felt as if I had never been away! Along with a return to work from furlough presentation, the organisation also organised a series of mandatory online webinars and learning and development training that needed to be completed shortly after my return. This felt daunting at first, but looking back, it was a great way to familiarise myself with the organisation’s procedures again.
I could still do my job and I could still do it efficiently and I was a valued member of the team
After the first month or so, I felt my self-confidence begin to return and I began to feel part of the team again. I began to get involved in new projects at my own pace and this reminded me that I could still do my job and I could still do it efficiently and I was a valued member of the team. I also received lots of positive praise and acknowledgement from my manager, which helped me realise that I wasn’t disappointing anyone or becoming a burden, which I was worried about, as there was so much to catch up on from not being in work for so long.
Mental health training can help when integrating back into a workplace environment
Access to mental health training helps all employees build essential resilience skills, allowing staff to manage their mental health at work, while working from home or when integrating back into a workplace environment, such as returning from furlough.
You can support the mental health and wellbeing of your team, whether they’re working or on furlough, by downloading our free guide which features more about our mental health training.
Topics: Mental health & wellbeing