Returning from Furlough

Learning to come together again isn’t easy, nor is it a smooth transition back, Emily shares her thoughts on why we need to ditch the hierarchy of difficulty battle and go for kindness instead.


Many conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks have been about whose life is harder during the lockdown.

I’m not talking about the frontline NHS staff, who have been struggling heroically to save our lives over the last few months with whom no one can really compete, I’m talking about the ‘normal’ workers – as if there is such a thing. People like myself, who worked in an office before lockdown, doing a (hopefully) good and useful but not life-changing job.

For my sins or counting my blessings, I’ve worked throughout this period, while colleagues and friends have been furloughed left, right and centre. Now they are slowly returning to work I’ve noticed a real need for kindness and understanding on both sides.

Those that have worked throughout are exhausted, after stepping up to carry company workloads with vastly reduced resources.

Those that were furloughed have been bored and frustrated as well as often fearing for their jobs and personal livelihoods going forward.

As our Prime Minister Boris Johnson said recently, the journey out of lockdown is much harder than the shutdown.

The Futile Hierarchy of Difficulty Battle

It reminds me of a recurring argument I had with my husband after we had our first daughter. I ‘gave up’ my career and became a freelance journalist to enable one of us to be flexible and look after our child, while my husband had all the financial pressure to keep us secure and went to work every day. 

Many an evening would begin with us explaining our days to each other and subconsciously competing for the title of ‘whose day/life/situation was hardest’. Competitive tiredness was a real issue.

It was only after a while we realised this hierarchy of difficulty battle was utterly futile, that we managed to move past it and join forces to become a real partnership. Understanding that we both had pressures, that those pressures were different and we needed to support each other to get through those together rather than fighting for a title was the key turning point.

Becoming a Partnership Again

Similarly, with those returning for furlough and bringing our working worlds back to some semblance of normality, it seems key that we look to understand and appreciate the challenges each other has faced and support each other as we come back into our teams.

We can only do this by listening to each other and not judging – from whichever side of the fence we’re returning. Rather like the Relate counselling technique of letting each other speak without interruptions for three minutes without commenting or interrupting, then we can all learn from each other’s experiences without engaging in the hierarchy of hardship battle – because they were both hard. Just different.

Given the Choice – Choose Kind

It’s important to recognise too that there’s a real and understandable desire to lash out at the frustrations of the whole Covid-induced situation but it’s clearly not a coincidence that Mental Health Week last month focussed on kindness – it’s supremely hard to be generous of spirit and kind when you’re angry, hurting and scared.

But that’s why we need to focus on kindness more than ever, and not engage in the hierarchy of difficulty argument because, as the heart-warming book Wonder describes, and hopefully without sounding too cliché, ‘choosing kind’ is how we’ll heal the divisions that this dreadful pandemic has caused and become strong united teams once again.