Make us your home page
Instagram

Furloughed employees struggle to let go of work

Here's something you don't hear the boss say often: You're forbidden from checking e-mail, making work calls and peeking at your BlackBerry.

In these desperate economic times, more employers are forcing thousands of workers to stay away from work, often for a week at a time. These mandatory unpaid furloughs let companies cut costs by reducing hours rather than jobs. But unlike vacations, furloughs have rules. Don't expect pay. Don't check voice mail. Don't do any work at home.

In the ultimate work/life test, can the American worker — the one who brings his laptop to Disney World — give up his link to the office?

Bob Olson, CEO of Winnebago Industries, struggled with disconnecting during his furlough: "There's a natural urge to want to be involved every day."

Olson says Winnebago will save nearly $2 million by requiring all 500 salaried employees to take two weeklong furloughs, one during its second quarter and one during the fourth.

Olson admits having a dinner conversation without handling an issue at the office took some getting used to. He had to completely rely on his management team. His biggest challenge: "disciplining myself to not call the office or answer e-mail."

Furlough rules are clear: If a salaried employee performs any work at all during a weeklong furlough, such as answering an e-mail that comes through a work BlackBerry, he or she is owed the entire week's salary.

Conscious of this rule, Jodi Gersh, Gannett's social media content manager, says she stashed away her work BlackBerry and used her personal cell phone during her furlough week. For Gersh, the novel approach to time off turned into a weeklong battle to disconnect: "I was still on Twitter but I couldn't respond to work-related comments."

House swapping

Colleagues who traveled told Gersh that after the first few stressful days of adjustment, they found the experience "freeing." But for Gersh, travel was not an option when coping with a week without pay.

Watercooler chat led her to an idea for easing travel costs and finding opportunity in the furlough trend: She started a Web site called furloughhouseswap.com, where anyone on furlough can swap their home for a week in another city. Now that Gannett mandated a second week of furloughs, Gersh says she definitely will swap her home in Washington, D.C., and travel.

If there's an upside to mandated furloughs, which some consider a temporary pay cut, it's that this forced unplugging from work can mean truly reconnecting with family and friends. The boss can only call in an absolute emergency.

Employers anticipate more furloughs. In a poll by the Society for Human Resources Management in Alexandria, Va., 17 percent said if the economy doesn't improve in the next six months, it would be somewhat or very likely they would furlough employees.

State and local governments, educational institutions and businesses both large and small already have forced them on thousands of employees.

Volunteering

To ease the financial burden, Frank Rocha, 26 and single, is taking his 10 days of unpaid time off one day at a time. An admitted workaholic/BlackBerry addict, Rocha found the only way he could resist working during his furlough was to throw himself into volunteering.

Every other Friday, he spends his unpaid day at Childhelp Merv Griffin Village, where he works with severely abused children who are receiving treatment. "I saw it as an opportunity to be a mentor and influence kids' lives," said Rocha, a Redlands, Calif., redevelopment project manager intern, who also works as a police officer and detective.

Furloughed employees struggle to let go of work 04/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 25, 2009 4:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Miami Herald.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Target Corp. reaches $18.5 million settlement with 47 states over data breach

    Retail

    NEW YORK — Target Corp. has reached an $18.5 million settlement over a massive data breach that occurred before Christmas in 2013.

    Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia have reached an $18.5 million settlement with Target Corp. to resolve the states' probe into the discounter's massive pre-Christmas data breach in 2013. 
[Associated Press]
  2. John Morgan 'prepared to invest $100M' in medical marijuana

    State Roundup

    John Morgan spent nearly $7 million pushing two statewide ballot initiatives to expand medical marijuana throughout the state of Florida.

    Personal injury lawyer John Morgan says he's ready to invest $100 million in medical marijuana. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  3. Google tracking real-world sales as well as online ads

    Business

    SAN FRANCISCO — Google already monitors your online shopping — but now it's also keeping an eye on what you're buying in real-world stores as part of its latest effort to sell more digital advertising.

     Google already monitors your online shopping - but now it's also keeping an eye on what you're buying in real-world stores as part of its latest effort to sell more digital advertising. 
[Associated Press]

  4. Labor Department green-lights retirement savings rule

    Personal Finance

    WASHINGTON — A Labor Department rule that would set higher standards for the advice brokers give to retirement savers will go into effect June 9 without further delay, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta said Monday.

  5. Report: CEOs got biggest raise since 2013 with Charter Communications CEO on top

    Corporate

    NEW YORK — The typical CEO at the biggest U.S. companies got an 8.5 percent raise last year, raking in $11.5 million in salary, stock and other compensation last year, according to a study by executive data firm Equilar for The Associated Press. That's the biggest raise in three years.

    Charter Communications CEO Thomas Rutledge -- whose company took over Bright House Networks last year -- was the highest paid CEO in 2016, according to a study carried out by executive compensation data firm Equilar and The Associated Press. 
[Associated Press file photo]