Many of us join companies thinking we will have a clear path of progression and growth for years to come. For the most part, since the last recession, this has been true. But what started as a health crisis has evolved into a redefinition of work, with an estimated 18 million Americans furloughed since mid-March.
The economy has taken a serious plunge, and now the millions waiting for their careers to resume are faced with a new question: Should I wait for my furlough to end or should I apply for other jobs?
Furloughs — a word that until recently was unfamiliar to most people, including business leaders — are the talk in boardrooms and at breakfast tables around the world. Furloughs are temporary, unpaid leaves of absence that several businesses have bestowed on employees due to financial hardships. The catch is that employees on furlough are able to maintain their health insurance and 401K benefits. At the same time, they are not provided a salary during the leave, and under such circumstances, can collect unemployment and benefit from the CARES Act.
A key consideration in furloughs is that the employees have the opportunity to be called back to their jobs once their organization recovers — though there is no guarantee that this will happen. In part, whether or not they return will be contingent on the demand for their former jobs to return. Many people in this position are struggling to gauge which decision is wiser: waiting for things to revert to normal (or at least the new not-normal), or thinking in shorter term and applying for a new job now.
In our view, there are five key points to consider if you are debating whether to seek work during furlough or not:
1. Can you afford to wait?
This is purely a financial question. With enhanced unemployment benefits, furloughed Americans can earn on average $24 an hour for four months. However, for many, this is insufficient to support their lives, and the limited timeframe is concerning. Furloughs can last for up to six months before a company is required to decide if a worker is returning or not. This means there is a chance of economic exposure pending how long the furlough lasts. There is also the risk that workers will not be called back to work post-crisis and the opportunities that were available mid-crisis will be missed.
For those who can’t afford to wait, there are some good options. You can apply for new roles both permanent or temporary to keep learning and earning. Although we have a record number of people filing unemployment, according to ManpowerGroup’s real time view of all open jobs in the U.S., we had 5.8 million open as of May 7. Even if you don’t want to commit to a new career path, you can take on temporary work that allows you to try out a career change before committing to it.
2. Do you want to wait?
Furlough is a loaded word, but it doesn’t have to be defined by fear. It can be the beginning of a new future. 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. We are forced to stop and think: Is this truly my desired path? Is this a job I love and want to do again? Or is it time to think of doing something new?
Take some time to pause and think. Reimagine your potential in a way that the former normalcy of life wouldn’t have allowed. Ask yourself if your job is worth waiting for. Do you want to return to your pre-crisis life? If there is any inkling of doubt in your mind, there is no downside to applying for something new, and seeing what could materialize as a different future.
3. Will what you gain be better than what you leave behind?
The familiar concept of the “grass is greener” is often true when we think about career options. Analyzing the pros and cons of your job considerations can play a vital role in making an informed choice. Take a fresh look at what you enjoy in your furloughed role and the benefits it provides — from essentials like pay and health care to the more personal like your hard-earned reputation. All of these elements carry value. Now compare them to what you could be gaining in a new role at a new organization. Consider your desired flexibility, learning opportunities, and perhaps most importantly, the future demand of the work you could pursue compared to the work you are waiting to return to.
While comparing, remember that there will always be trade-offs (e.g., less money for more fun, more money for less freedom, and more prestige for less meaning). Ensure that these are worth the pursuit and aligned with your core values.
Before making a decision, this is also the perfect time to discuss your career with your current employer and see if there are ways to reshape it in ways that work for both of you. It is possible your workplace may be supportive of you applying for other business opportunities or work with you on an adjusted scheduled. Ask about the things you’ve wanted but were too afraid to ask for before. If you decide to pursue a change after these considerations, you will be doing it with the most available information.
4. Are you ready to build a remote network?
Let’s say you are committed to the exploration and ready to take on a sprint or two for your future. It’s important to understand how joining a new company during this crisis and post-crisis will likely play out. Nobody knows, but you can and must make bets. Without speculation, there is no planning, and planning is all you can really do right now.
Undoubtedly, there will not be large onboarding classes where you get the chance to network with leadership and build a cohort of other new hires. But you can still ask as many questions as needed during the interview process to ensure that your bets are as data-driven as possible. Perhaps there won’t be hands-on training, even if your new role is labor intensive, which is likely, since for most jobs the largest proportion of learning is on-the-job, practical learning. This does not mean that companies will stop doing formal training. However, you will need to be a student and extract formal learnings from every experience.
Given this, you should consider how you learn best. Can you learn in a virtual environment? How much supervision do you want and need? Do you prefer to follow instructions or find your own way? To be successful in this environment, you will likely need to step outside of your social comfort zone as well. Can you build a network without physically seeing your co-workers? Do you know how to display key social skills like empathy and learn a new etiquette online? Think about these questions as you explore options.
Remember, humans are extremely adaptable. But we are also quite lazy — always looking for more efficient and effortless ways to solve our immediate problems. We learn only when we have to, and now, the whole of humanity must figure out what to do under these circumstances. The world will be changed even as we reopen it. Understanding how those changes impact your orientation into a new job and company is vital.
5. Would upskilling for the long term be more valuable than new work for right now?
Finally, there is another option — let’s call it “working the wait.” The wait for work doesn’t have to be wasted. It can also be a self-investment. There are numerous options for free learning and upskilling right now — from Yale University offering one of its most popular courses on the science of happiness to ManpowerGroup offering free courses in partnership with the University of Phoenix, as well as a range of open-source content curators that can help you identify your key learning needs. The opportunities to learn while you are waiting to earn are numerous.
Even pre-crisis, we knew that skills were changing with the pace of technology. In many ways the crisis has accelerated that technology and the possibilities of making a virtual contribution. Now is a great time to know what skills will be in demand later on — both soft and hard skills — and invest in future-proofing yourself for the role you are waiting to return to or the role you choose to pursue during furlough.
Think of this employment “time out” as a chance to redefine your short and long-term thinking on career marathons and job sprints. Use it to reimagine your future because, even when we return to work, it will be very different than it was in the past.