Furloughs and Layoffs

Furloughed? This challenging time can be an opportunity for reflection and growth

Many workers were blissfully unaware of what it meant to be furloughed before COVID-19. Now, millions of Americans are living the challenging realities of furloughs and workshare programs — namely, lost income, potential changes to benefits and uncertainty. In addition to these material concerns, furlough can stoke emotional and psychological stress. In the Harvard Business Review, sociologist Aliya Rao writes, “employment, or lack thereof, has become an intrinsic marker of a person’s moral worth.”

Despite these hardships, the disruption of furloughs can be a unique opportunity for reflection. Labor market experts Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Becky Frankiewicz suggest, “Many of us get caught in the trap of normalcy and routine in our careers and forget to re-examine our interests and life objectives. This crisis gives us time to re-evaluate our futures in a way that we may have never been given before.”

The Portland State Graduate School of Business career staff has recommendations to help furloughed employees leverage this time to reflect on goals and values.

Develop new skills and credentials

Historically, MBA applications rise when people find it difficult to find, keep or get promoted into jobs. Business school is a popular choice for many reasons: management training, content area specializations, built-in networking opportunities and mobility into a wide variety of careers and opportunities with high salaries. Additionally, graduate school can be completed full- or part-time. Our Portland State School of Business website includes detailed information about each graduate business degree program.

A furloughed employee who is not ready to commit to a graduate program might consider a certificate — a short, flexible program that can complement existing skill sets and open doors into new industries and functional areas. School of Business graduate business certificates include Global Supply Chain Management, Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, HR Analytics and more.

For those with an interest in practicing a specific skill or developing a high-level understanding of a particular topic, there are an abundance of course offerings available online. Online learning will not confer an accredited degree or credentials but can provide a great opportunity to upskill in an affordable, flexible format. These services include Coursera, Udemy, Khan Academy and Skillshare.

Re-think your job search

The prospect of finding a new job is scary, especially amid the worst recession of the 21st century. However, the story is more complicated than high unemployment numbers. The coronavirus pandemic is one of the most unequal in history, and has “severely affected jobs in restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues as Americans try to avoid crowded places.” The visualization below shows how jobs have been gained or lost for each 25% quartile of income earners.

Jobs for white collar workers have either bounced back or, for the top 50% of earners, have a promising upward trajectory. But this news is quite grim for the lowest 50% of earners, suggesting worrying implications for exacerbated wealth inequality.

DeAnne Preston, Corporate Outreach Specialist at The School of Business, says, “I expect to see an increase in temporary, contract or project-based work in the near future, because while many employers are not confident about making the commitment to hire a permanent employee, the work still needs to be done.” If you are collecting unemployment, part-time work may not be as lucrative as your unemployment check. The gig economy isn’t limited to driving for Lyft — sites like AllWork and Fiverr have seen a huge surge in both supply and demand for freelancers. Bloomberg’s roundup of freelance trends points to freelancing expanding into all different types of professions, with freelancing platforms exploding in valuation and serving talent from all around the globe.

Reap the full benefits of your network

“Networking” is an oft-repeated and possibly tired piece of advice, but it is an essential first step. You may find there is more you can do to get the most from your connections.

Additionally, Preston evangelizes, proactively building and leaning on your connections. She says, “Tell everyone you know that you are job searching [or furloughed]. . . Your network of business acquaintances is your career version of the rainy day savings fund we’re meant to build up during sunny days — and now is the time to tap it.”

Your network includes your friends, family, acquaintances, former classmates and coworkers and broader community members. Be sure that you are connected to them on LinkedIn! This also includes second and third connections who work in industries, functional areas or at certain companies that interest you.

One-on-one interactions may be the most effective way of connecting. Preston advises sending a short email to your network or your network’s connections to initiate an informational interview.

While informational interviews are a great step, it’s important to start with the people you already know. Even if you think their work is irrelevant to yours, you never know whose sibling, best friend, or spouse does work in a relevant field. If you already have a relationship with them, they will be so much more willing to help.

Additionally, Preston says, “there’s nothing wrong with blasting your LinkedIn network with a post saying that you are looking, but do take the time to make it concise and informative. Be sure it includes a summation of the kind of work you are seeking and if you are prepared to relocate, say so.” Finally, include your accomplishments, awards and other accolades in a public place where your connections can see.

For all of us, especially those lacking financial stability, this is a scary time. Consider reaching out to your network, not only for professional connections but for love, support and affinity. Then imagine a future with work you find interesting and fulfilling. An antidote to uncertainty of this moment may be planning for a meaningful future.


Karen Lowe is a 2020 graduate of The Portland MBA. She manages marketing and strategic partnerships for The Give Bin and writes regularly for Portland State’s Graduate Business Blog.

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