Furlough: Would You Go?

April 27th, 2009 by Kathy McManus

Would you volunteer for an unpaid time off to keep your colleagues from losing their jobs?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

It’s the recession question being asked at factories, offices, workplaces, and dinner tables across America: would you volunteer for an unpaid furlough to keep your colleagues from losing their jobs?

Three days here. Six days there. A week, two weeks, a month. Thousands of workers in dozens of industries are making the trade-off of losing pay for saving jobs.

But is everyone stepping up simply because it’s the responsible thing to do?

When the University of New Mexico asked for furlough volunteers in order to avoid layoffs, a 30-year-old paid intern raised her hand and said, “I’m glad to do what little I can” to help the school weather the recession.

While one co-worker saw the move as “gracious,” another worker publicly questioned the young woman’s motivation, saying she was trying to “suck up” to her bosses for future employment. “Supervisors love that attitude,” said the critic. “What she has said will ensure her a good-paying job once she finishes (her) internship.”

The tension at the university “highlights a behind-the-scenes drama playing out in a growing number of workplaces,” reports The Wall Street Journal, where the question of whether to volunteer for a furlough has sparked contention and anxiety among workers.

Some employers are shielding the identity of furlough volunteers from the rest of the staff. “We didn’t want there to be any sense of competitiveness, like ‘I did this, why didn’t you?’” said an Iowa executive whose employees are taking secret furloughs.

Employment experts offer advice about the politics of volunteering for an unpaid furlough. “In this job market, the last thing you want is for people to think they can do without you,” one said, cautioning that an employee who sacrifices a lot of time off “may be viewed as expendable” rather than as a team player.

At the University of New Mexico, a staff head said employees are worried not just about image, but reality. “I have people emailing me and saying, ‘I’m one paycheck away from homelessness. I can’t miss one day of work.’”

Tell us what you think: Are you responsible for saving a colleague’s job by reducing your own hours and pay? If you were asked to volunteer for unpaid time off, what would you do?