Psychological effects of being furloughed

Minimal effect with effort Photo: Furloughed workers/ AP

WASHINGTON, October 4, 2013 Is being ‘furloughed’ from a position in the government any different than losing a job altogether? Yes, because the presumption is the position will be re-established directly after the federal government gets its affairs in order and resumes business as usual.

However, there are psychological and financial repercussions that remain for quite some time if allowed to enter the psyche.

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Various studies report that regardless of the level of income one has, one can fall into serious financial difficulties in 30 to 90 days if forced to live without a paycheck.

With this type of furlough, several mechanisms of humanity come to the fore. Government employees tend to see their jobs as permanent and “safe,” without some of the uncertainty that is present in the private sector. When disagreement in congress and the presidency sends government employees home without a paycheck, job, or an uncertain future, it shakes the foundations of employee confidence to the core.  The rug of confidence and peace of mind is yanked out from under them.

In private enterprise, this type of potential is always a considered risk.

The sudden loss of income can strain a marriage. Spending must be cut, potentially leading to conflict. With holidays approaching, there can be disagreement over gifting or travel plans, for example. 

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Stress can devour an otherwise peaceful household, particularly if the furloughed person is the sole source of income. Prolonged stress can lead to depression and change of personality which further exacerbates friction in relationships.

Loss of quality sleep, anger towards those perceived as having caused the furlough, loss of respect of leadership and loss of external and internal control called ‘locus of control’ in psychology, can affect self-esteem, self-efficacy and doubt not only in the nation’s infrastructure but self-importance as some of the federal government employees are not furloughed as deemed too important to furlough.

Self-realization and critical assessment by a furloughed employee is key to not falling into the trappings of despair.

Understand such decisions are not personal and not an affront to performance on the job. Additionally, understanding this is more than likely very temporary can keep one focused on the proverbial light at the end of a tunnel and that for hundreds of thousands of Americans, the light at the end of the tunnel is a train coming at them.

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These people are simply out of a job or career without prospects for the future the furloughed enjoy. In fact, these people have their sense of identity stripped away whereas the temporary furloughed do not.

Having a dialogue with creditors may prove helpful providing creditors are sympathetic. Creditors almost certainly are aware of the shutdown and may work with debtors considering the extenuating circumstances. 

While awaiting re-instatement, enjoy the time with your family, hobbies and slow down a bit to smell the roses. Consider this time a forced vacation.

It is possible to send out resumes while awaiting re-instatement just to test the waters in your field. One of two discoveries may happen: There are no prospects and you are very fortunate to have the position you do and feel confident in this knowledge or something might be available you find far more rewarding.

Fortunately, the primary concern for the furloughed is the backlog of work upon return. If this feels overwhelming, simply recall those in the tunnel with the train and count your blessings.

In any case, it is best to not let this episode in your life demean, depress or anger you. It’s not you. It is poor business.


Paul Mountjoy is a Virginia based writer and psychotherapist.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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