A Year After My Pandemic Furlough

A year ago today, my employer at the time furloughed me along with a nearly a quarter of their workforce. While we knew about the impending pandemic furlough, actually hearing my name called out on a group Zoom call felt surreal and quite cruel. I’d never lost a job, not to a firing and certainly not to a pandemic.

Day One of my Pandemic Furlough: A picture of Jenna lifting a glass of bourbon.
My husband poured me a drink on April 15, 2020. #ThisIsHowYouFurlough

Of course, by this time last year, my sons had been home for over a month. While their daily school schedule paled in comparison to those of some of my friends’ kids, it still felt difficult to manage their daily educational needs, my work schedule, and life in general. My anxiety hit an all time high as we waded into the beginnings of the lockdown. I watched entirely too much news and feared the absolute worst at every turn.

So, part of me felt relief when the final furlough verdict came down. That relief lasted all of one day when I realized that applying for unemployment would consume all of my energy. I had an issue with my PIN. There was another issue with my Social Security number. Nothing about applying for unemployment went smoothly.

A local business accused those of us on unemployment of getting rich. However, I knew we were in for a struggle almost immediately. My approval of funds came through at way below what it should have been based on my salary. Even with the extra $600 of relief from the federal government, I just barely made half of of what I normally made. I knew that finding a new job needed to be my primary concern.

However, I was in no way prepared for a job search during a pandemic. News stories kept touting that it would change the workforce forever, that companies would finally embrace remote work. In May, June, and into July, I can assure you that many companies dug their nails into the “culture” of in-person office spaces in a way I had never seen before, and I had been working from home since 2006. An HR rep invited me to a Zoom interview. The listing didn’t specify that they wanted an in-office employee. I brought up my location immediately, not wanting to waste anyone’s time. The HR rep basically told me that they would never hire a remote employee because their “culture is too important.” Then she all but hung up on me.

I only heard back from approximately 2% of the applications and resumes I sent out during that three month process. It felt incredibly discouraging. I spent those three months running, caring for my family, playing Animal Crossing, reading books, and feeling my anxiety continue to creep up to alarming levels. The employers that did reply to my applications split 50/50 between polite rejections and “we are unable to fill the position at this time.”

I applied for any and everything within my skill set. Following advice I learned from previous searches, I applied for jobs above and below my experience level. I fought imposter syndrome and wrote cover letter after cover letter. It felt absolutely exhausting. The free time—whether spent with my family, playing video games, cleaning (thanks, GoCleanCo), reading, or “relaxing”—felt exhausting as well. I didn’t know how to “relax.” I’m not a relaxing type of person; I don’t rest well.

By the middle of July, I thanked my lucky stars for old contacts and a job that fit my skill set. I realize how lucky I was to land a job within three months, but I have told everyone that it was the most difficult job search of my life. Listings disappeared, pulled off the web, as I was putting my application together. The absolute silence after applying was deafening. While everyone kept predicting that the pandemic would change remote work for the good, I was witnessing white-knuckling from employers who would write NO REMOTE in caps lock in their job listings. I’m thankful for my current job and would like to not look for one any time soon.

One year after the day of my pandemic furlough, I can say that I’m in a good place, work-wise. I miss some of my old coworkers, but I have remained close with a group of awesome people. They also seem happier. I’m good at what I do now, but I was also good at what I did then. It’s not my fault if an organization didn’t plan well enough and used a pandemic as an excuse to offload a quarter of the workforce.

If I’ve learned anything through this process, it’s simply that our employers, even the best among them, will always work to save their own bottom line. I’ve heard it said that if you died today, your job would be listed by tomorrow. I will never again allow a job to take over my family time or life. They are my number one priority. Full stop.

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