Furloughed? 5 ways to get your career and money ready for now and later

By Mark Saine, TIAA Managing Director of Client Leadership Solutions

Whether you've been furloughed for a few weeks or a few months, being prepared can help set yourself up for a successful return. As you navigate your furlough, and then get ready to return to the office, here are a few ways to feel more confident about making your way through uncertainty—both professionally and financially.

1. Manage transitions well.

Co-workers and supervisors may have questions while you're out of the office. Staying in touch with your colleagues is a good investment of your time. It's the best way to maintain relationships and make it more likely that they’re enthusiastic about welcoming you back. Maybe you can help them while you're out with useful advice or insights. For example, if a co-worker is struggling with teaching remotely or some other aspect of work, you may be able to share your experiences and tips. Or if your manager needs quick insight about handling a client or patient while you’re out, your insights and experience may be valuable.

But if the requests become too frequent or time-consuming, it may be time to set some boundaries. If co-workers are reaching out too often, discuss the matter with your supervisor. If that isn't possible, think about limiting the frequency of your return phone calls, texts, or emails to once a week or every few days. It could be a delicate conversation, but consider reminding your colleagues that providing effective input on work matters is challenging when you're not a full-time employee.

2. Learn about workplace changes.

As various regions reopen, I see changes in many workplaces. Your organization may have smaller teams or new policies and procedures. Some employers are dealing with new scheduling approaches. And, in some cases, pay rates have changed, either for the short term or permanently. You may also need to abide by new safety protocols, such as social distancing or wearing masks. Your employer should spell out all of these changes prior to your return, but as you communicate with your colleagues, ask questions to get a better feel for what to expect when you go back. Such changes may also affect your finances, especially if have other shifts in spending.

3. Analyze your needs.

Your furlough experience may affect how you feel about returning to work. I've had people tell me that they are so grateful for time with their families and the bonds they forged. Other people wanted the financial, professional, and personal rewards their work offers. Still others created a "pandemic plan" and used the money they saved on expenses like commuting, work clothing and dry cleaning to invest in professional development classes to build new skills, keeping themselves marketable.

I've been coaching someone who has a goal to move into a more senior position within a university. But they needed to gain experience in different roles first. So, we've been working on how this person can make some lateral moves to get the additional experience necessary for their dream job. Take some time to think about your long-term plans now, including where you'll need to invest time and, possibly, money in new skills that will pay off down the road. Even if you're going back to the same role, it's a good time to take stock of where you want to go so you can plan what you need to do when you get back.

4. Prepare for re-entry.

Your furlough may have given you the opportunity for late-night Scrabble games with family or integrating healthier habits into your days. As your return to work gets closer, it’s a good idea to get back on a regular schedule. Get enough sleep. Prepare meals as you would when you are working. You may also need to plan childcare, pet-sitting, or other arrangements and expenses, and adjust your budget accordingly.

And take some time to reflect. I suggest people be clear about how they feel about going back to the office. This type of contemplation will help you determine how to best prepare and return to work with the right mindset.

5. Make up for lost time.

If you weren't able to keep up with retirement plan contributions, health insurance payments, or other benefits contributions during your furlough, getting back on track is a priority. I suggest contacting your financial advisor to discuss your goals and adjust your contributions, if necessary.

Returning to the workplace after a furlough can be an exciting time, filled with relief and excitement about new plans. With a little preparation during this time, you can set the stage for a successful re-entry.

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This material is for informational or educational purposes only and does not constitute fiduciary investment advice under ERISA, a securities recommendation under all securities laws, or an insurance product recommendation under state insurance laws or regulations. This material does not take into account any specific objectives or circumstances of any particular investor, or suggest any specific course of action. Investment decisions should be made based on the investor’s own objectives and circumstances.