My furlough & redundancy journey
I think it truly hit us how serious the Covid pandemic was going to be when we flew to Malta in the middle of March. When our flight landed we were asked to fill out a form to say where we’d be staying before being allowed off the plane - 160 people on board and it didn’t occur to them we might need pens.
The holiday was nice but quiet, and a lot of places were already restricting numbers or closed to the public.
At this point in the UK, we were still being told by Boris that lockdown measures were not going to be required and that herd immunity was the way to go. That all changed quite quickly on 23rd March, as the first UK-wide lockdown was announced.
We’d already been working from home for a week by that point but it wasn’t until close of business on March 27th that people in the company were told they would be furloughed.
I remember the anxiety we all felt at the prospect of being removed from our jobs for an unspecified amount of time - the not knowing was leaving me wanting to climb up the walls. We couldn’t quite explain it, but I think it was the fear of not having a purpose - and the fear of what could follow if things didn’t improve. Most of my office were furloughed at that point.
The first couple of weeks of furlough were okay; I took to getting jobs around the house and garden done that I generally hadn’t had the time or the energy for whilst working.
The first three weeks passed and we had the follow up letter saying that our furlough would continue and we’d be called back ‘when needed’. That’s when it started to get harder, the question mark of ‘when’ - weirdly I didn’t really consider if it was an ‘if’ situation at that point.
I was lucky that prior to lockdown we had put a deposit on a puppy. When we collected her a couple of weeks into May I became a full-time puppy training extraordinaire! Although this is when the strain really started to show… there’s a thing called puppy blues (they are handful and there’s sleep deprivation involved), but it hit me really hard. There was a lot of crying, from me and the puppy.
We started to get to early June and we hadn’t heard anything since the follow up letter. Everyone still on furlough was starting to get nervous. Almost as if the tension was sensed, we all got letters in mid June saying that the first few months of lockdown had gone well and they would start bringing everyone back as soon as possible. We breathed a sigh of relief and carried on in our weird new world of unemployed employment.
July 1st arrived and again I had been starting to wonder when I’d be called back. So when I received an email from HR asking for me to call them I thought that was it, back to work. I wondered if I might be asked to go back part time initially.
The problem was, it wasn’t that phone call, it was the other one, the one I hadn’t really considered. I was redundant, effective immediately.
It kind of felt like the floor dropped out from under me and I didn’t know how to respond. I just asked practical questions about returning equipment and being able to pull my personal files from the laptop.
They sounded so genuinely sorry to have to let me go and I knew I was a victim of circumstance, but it doesn’t change much. In my mind I was redundant, no longer required, useless…
I had a panic attack the moment the call ended and the anxiety and insomnia I’d already been struggling with since lockdown started got a lot worse.
I took the week to sort out the practical side of leaving my employer, I then updated my CV and changed my status on LinkedIn to Open to Opportunities.
Being on the social media platform made me aware of how widely this issue was spreading - every day, existing contacts were popping up with the green banner and writing statements of how their time at X company had come to an end and they were looking forward to the next chapter. I did wonder how many of them felt as lost as I did.
The job hunt
By the end of my search I had 11 recruiters on my list, and lost count of the interviews I had attended, most through Zoom, some in person. The most soul destroying one was being asked to come into London, to be told 20 minutes into the interview that the role they had so urgently needed to fill no longer actually existed.
I’d never struggled to find work before so it became harder and harder to motivate myself. Zoom meetings were often taken with a Hobbs dress on show and pyjama trousers hidden under the desk. Full pyjamas would be resumed the moment the call ended.
It was astonishing how much more energy it seemed to require to be on a Zoom call compared to talking to someone in person or just on the phone. My best interviews were on a normal phone call and resulted in job offers.
I finally started my new job after 3 months furlough and 3 and half months unemployed (203 days in total).
The thing I realised quickly was I had lost my stamina for working full time. I was exhausted but didn’t dare let on, I felt so insanely lucky to have a job and didn’t want to let anyone down.
I’d been back at work for a week and half when the second lockdown was announced, and I thought that was me done. Luckily, the workload was still there and I was still needed so my concerns of a sudden exit were unfounded.
I’m now a couple of months in and feel I’ve found my feet, I work with a great team and I’m looking forward to the new year and the potential it brings, both at work and at home. River (the puppy) has made herself totally at home now and we couldn’t imagine life without her!
My advice for those who find themselves in a similar position: the first piece (which I didn’t actually manage to achieve myself!) is to try to not take redundancy as a comment on your performance and capabilities. This situation is unprecedented and everyone is just trying to make the best decisions they can - it sucks on an epic scale, but it is a chance for a fresh start with the possibility of better things ahead.
I also wish I’d signed onto job seekers the moment I became redundant, I didn’t think of it to begin with and then I kept thinking employment was round the corner so I kept putting it off. I might not have burned through all of my savings if I’d had that little bit coming in for the time I wasn’t employed.
Next, recruiters are a great resource for getting a job, you just have to be mindful of the intent behind the pitch. I did suffer some unwanted pressure from certain parties to accept a job I didn’t think was right for me. And luckily I didn’t take it, because I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t, and where I am was worth the wait. I will happily point people in the direction of the recruiters who I felt truly helped me this year.
The job market for surveyors does appear to be genuinely there. It’s just weighing up what is important to you, which I know comes down to finances a lot of the time.
But I would recommend trying to aim for something you believe you will be happy in for the foreseeable future. You’ve been through enough and deserve a chance to excel at something you can be passionate about.
My final and most important bit of advice is to call LionHeart. They are quite simply fantastic! There’s financial aid, legal and careers advice and mental health support. They have helped me and so many friends this year, and that is what they are here for.
We are so lucky as a profession to have such a dedicated group of people whose sole purpose is to be there for us when times are hard.
Jen Hobart MRICS is a senior building surveyor, APC supervisor and RICS assessor. She is also a mental health and APC ambassador for LionHeart, saying: “I had to overcome challenges during my APC due to my long standing anxiety disorder and I hope that by telling my story that I am helping to create a more open and safe environment for those who are struggling.”