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Making the Most of Furloughs: 6 Survival Tips

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Furloughs: Smaller pay checks, grumpy co-workers and more work with less time to do it. The federal government isn’t accustom to furloughs, but higher education institutions confront them more regularly. 

These universities have conducted many studies to determine the effects of furloughs.  Unsurprisingly, they discovered furloughs are likely to be unpleasant.  The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology explains that furloughs are interpreted by employees as a breach of “psychological contract.”   Employees expect to work a certain amount of time, get a certain amount accomplished, and go home at the end of the week with a consistent paycheck.  When employers aren’t able to hold up their end of the bargain, morale suffers.  Luckily, many studies have found ways employees can stave off discouragement:

1. Don’t say, “At least you still have a job.”  Regardless of the problems we face in furlough, framing it as one step away from unemployment can be demoralizing.  It can also shut down constructive conversation that may help colleagues through a difficult time.

2. Share the Burden.  During furlough, California State University developed a communication system in each office where overloaded employees could post projects they needed help with while other employees could offer hours of their day to help complete tasks when they were less busy.  This helped equalize the workload and was a method for employees to support each other.

3. Exercise Your Innovation Muscle.  Are there tasks around the office that could be done more productively?  Now might be the perfect time to test out that new time-saver you have been mulling over.  If it works out, suggest it to your co-workers.  It might serve as the perfect opportunity to get rid of an outdated and inefficient system. 

4. Share Your Ideas.  Have a time and a space where you and your co-workers can discuss the furlough.  Open communication about what to expect from each other is important, especially when the stress level in the office is up.  Try your best to be constructive, as together you may generate new ideas of how best to confront it.

5. Do Some Soul Searching.  As corny as this may sound, see if you can use the furlough as an opportunity.  Find that to-do list and see if there is anything you can cross off, whether it’s repainting the kitchen cabinets, finally learning to play the guitar, or spending more time with family. 

6. Stay Active in Your Community.  In my opinion, this is the best way not to get discouraged.  Some firms have used furlough days to do a community service project together.  This is a great way to spend time with your co-workers in an environment outside the office.  The work you do is important, so remind yourself why you do it. 

For more information visit the Young Government Leaders (YGL) Institute for Public Policy at

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