What will furlough mean?

What will the last few months mean for the future of how we work? Despite all the uncertainties, one thing is clear: there will be many studies and many different perspectives and possibilities.

Middle aged woman on sofa working at home on laptop


For many furlough will have been a period of acute anxiety, waiting and hoping that it was not just a temporary pause from redundancy. Many will be learning now or in the next weeks that the scheme only offered temporary relief. Every day brings more announcements of redundancies. For others furlough will have meant a lot of worries around income as 80% of the minimum wage, if not topped up, is not enough to live on. For higher earners, the £2.5K monthly cap on furlough may not cover the mortgage. Yet others will be looking at furlough with envy because they haven’t been able to benefit from paid time off.

For employers it will have been a time of great stress, figuring out who to put on furlough, who to take off and when, who to put on part-time furlough…how to get through the months with the least economic damage possible and, for many, how to survive at all.

For some, though, furlough will represent the longest time they have had off work while still being employed, unless, of course, they have been on maternity or Shared Parental Leave. For many dads, in particular, it could be the first sustained time they have had at home with their kids. Will that change the way they view work or life generally? Will that matter when people will be under pressure to do whatever is necessary to hang onto their jobs?

Will the flexible working we have seen in the last months become a permanent feature of workplaces once childcare and schools are back to their normal hours – even if we could be in for a stop go approach over the next months? Will that extend to people who cannot work from home or will the division between office workers and others become more stark? Will people who have had more time with their family push more for that flexibility? Will those who have been working from home, however difficult that has been, and who have taken stock of how exhausting their pre-Covid lives were, also push for change? Or will people who have been working from home with kids be keen to get as far from home as possible, even if office life is nowhere near back to normal and worries around public transport remain?

There are so many questions that arise from this pandemic that will spawn hundreds of studies because there are so many potential impacts, depending on so many different factors, including what the Government does and doesn’t do or prioritise and how that compares to what other governments do.
It feels like we are on a precipice, but one thing that is clear is that the long-term issues facing the economy – skills shortages, an ageing population, the need to combine family and work life, automation, constant change and so forth – will remain.

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