how do I respond to colleagues who are jealous of my furlough?

A reader writes:

I’m furloughed, along with about 98% of my organization (~35,000 people), the vast majority of them public-facing retail.

When the corporate furloughs came, one of the “reassuring” points leadership widely circulated was that, at some compensation levels, with unemployment plus the federal stimulus and our company paying our insurance premiums, an employee stands to make more money while unemployed.

This stands true for me:
– My premiums are paid so I don’t have to buy insurance.
– I receive my weekly unemployment.
– I receive an additional $600 per week via the federal government package.
– I am bringing in more cash than when I was working.

I would obviously keep this to myself, but locally, these calculations are popular in the news, the calculators are widely circulated online, and our company shared this. After initial sympathies, I had several coworkers tell me they are jealous and wish they would be furloughed.

I get it, who wouldn’t want to not work and still bring in more money? But I’m not doing well. Financially, I’m fine, but my mental health is struggling without my job and it’s difficult to find purpose in my days. My young kids and their schoolwork keep me busy, and I try to remind myself that it’s a blessing to give them the attention they need and to cherish this time with them. But they’re assholes sometimes! And I would sometimes prefer to deal with my asshole coworkers instead. At least most of them know how to spell.

Not to mention, my anxiety has my head spinning with the “what ifs” like “what if they decide to eliminate my position permanently?” Or “what if this goes on longer?” I get to think about this stuff all day.

How do I handle friends and colleagues who are vocal about their jealousy of my situation?

Yeah, the reality is that no matter what companies are hoping, a lot of people who are currently furloughed won’t ultimately be brought back to their jobs — they’ll end up unemployed in a terrible job market that’s flooded with other applicants. For many of the people who will end up in that situation, getting an extra $600 a week for 15 weeks (the length of the federal supplement to normal unemployment benefits) isn’t enough to make that worthwhile.

And most people in your shoes aren’t living large. They’re stuck at home, freaking out about how to navigate (and pay for) their futures.

To be fair, it’s understandable why people who haven’t looked closely at the numbers — and especially people who are working outside their homes, with all the risks that currently entails — can look at someone who’s temporarily getting paid more to stay home and think, “That must be nice.” And the media and the government haven’t done a good job of educating people about the math. But a lot of people in your situation would gladly trade that extra money for a job they could count on.

But people who are currently working don’t necessarily have jobs they can count on either. So from their perspective, they might be risking their health (and their family’s safety) for less money than you’re getting staying at home, only to end up in the same position as you later this year too, just minus the additional financial help. They shouldn’t take that out on you, of course; they should be angry at the conditions that have led us here. But feeling jealous is understandable.

While we’re on the topic, it’s worth explaining where this $600/week federal supplement to unemployment benefits came from. Normally unemployment only pays a portion of your previous income, but the original goal of the pandemic assistance was to pay people 100% of their previous salary (to counter the massive economic impact of so many people losing their income at once). But most states’ unemployment systems run on computer code that’s decades out of date, and there was no way to quickly program in the kind of flexible calculations needed to do that (especially at a time when many state systems were already crashing under the weight of so many claims). So they settled on this $600 supplement because it was the average; for some people it will add up to more than they were earning and for some people it will be less, but there was no way to program a customized payment for each person.

Anyway, all of this is just background that doesn’t answer your question, so…

When people tell you they’re jealous of your situation, one option is to gently point out that you’re not excitedly rolling around on a bed covered in cash while your spouse pours champagne over you:

* “Honestly, I’m in a panic most days. I’m saving for when the extra ends in two months, because I have no idea when I’ll be working again.”
* “It’s temporary, and I don’t know what will happen when it ends. I’m saving as furiously as I can.”
* “It’s really stressful not knowing when I’ll be working again, so the help is appreciated.”
* “I wish I were working! My stress is through the roof.”

Another option is to assume the comments are at some level expressing concern about their own situation and respond accordingly:

* “This is such a hard and stressful situation for everyone, working or not. How are you doing?”

What do others think?

how do I respond to colleagues who are jealous of my furlough? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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