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Observations of a returning furloughee

Posted over 2 years ago by Richard Haaker


It has been a month now since I returned to work from being furloughed.  Time to put digits to keyboard to give mindful insights to others making the same transition.  Before I start, I need to humbly acknowledge that I consider myself fortunate to be making this transition as many thousands of people out there are not having such a positive experience.



My first observation was the immediate and monumental change of pace.  In. An. Instant.   My transition may be slightly unusual in that I got a call to return to work at 8.05am, and by 8.30am I was being debriefed via zoom for an important meeting at 10am to take down the details of two C-suite level vacancies.  It was exciting, but I was nervous.  The thought that I might have lost grey cells during the groundhog weeks of furlough weighed on my mind.  I was grateful that the team at Macs did so much to hold training sessions, keep in touch sessions, trading updates and of course pub quizzes.   I shudder to think what would have happened to my cranial capacity without those important touch points.


My second observation almost instantly after emerging bear-like from the CV-19 induced hibernation was the reminder that the team who had been looking after the good ship Macs had been operating at this pace throughout the lockdown.  I’d always felt guilty on furlough. Guilt that these folk were navigating uncharted waters in a boat who’s rudder had been knocked off by coronavirus, and who’s sails were being filled by that all-powerful wind of change.


I was then immediately struck by awe.  It quickly became apparent having been “re-onboarded” that this team led by James Taylor had been incredibly busy.  I don’t use those words lightly either.  Busy not only with the BAU stuff, but the extremely challenging work that comes from being thrown into an existential paradigm-shift with almost no warning.


Then I cracked on with my day job, trying to find people for these C-Suite roles.  Talking candidly, I Was shocked at the number of extremely talented people who wanted to talk to me about these roles.  In my first two weeks back, I Zoom/WhatsApp/Facetime/Skype’d more candidates than I can ever remember interviewing in that space of time.  More even than in the dark days of 2008.  To repeat, I have never seen anything like this level of candidate flow before.  We may all need to keep reminding each other over the coming months that in all crises comes opportunity.  We will get through this, and will probably have relied on each other more than ever before to do so.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Word association game time:  Macildowie = recruitment. Right?  Well, you would be right.  Then CV-19 came along and catalysed the rapid evolution of plans we had always had to “be more than just a recruitment company” .  There will be a big reveal on this separately (and shortly), but let’s just say we are all really excited about where we will head as a result of the new and revamped non-recruitment services that were created and perfected during lockdown by the team I was rapidly starting to regard as super-human.  And all at a time when, oblivious to all of this, my most challenging decision as a furloughee was whether to shave or not.  The shame.

Not all roses

Like most businesses, some tough decisions have been made too.  Inevitable when your business, like many,  lurches from delivering its best ever February (in 26 years of trading) to a March where the taps were turned off by the Invisible Man.  So back to those still working at Macs: more frantic, heart-felt thinking, decision-making and action orientation.  All in the name of protecting the health of the staff, and the health of the business.  It is always these two principles that guide decision-making at Macs, especially the hard ones. 

One species

One thing that has really hit home in conversations with customers is that everyone has a similar species-wide challenge, the obvious one being the restrictions in seeing your nearest and dearest.  And that has done a beautiful thing. It has levelled people.  It has broken down barriers. Taught us all we are all in the same boat (I’m pushing it with the maritime metaphors).  We have all had video calls where pets or kids have run rampage around us or our washing machine spin cycle cranks its way up to 10m revolutions per second just as it’s your turn to speak on a conference call.  Nobody minds that anymore.  It’s a talking point that unites where it once used to irk.   We’ve become more tolerant, empathetic and interested.  Isn’t that a lovely side-effect of something so tragic…

Hug a tree

Finally, anyone that knows me knows that I am a tree-hugger.  So many more people have developed an appreciation of nature thanks to this impromptu anthropause.  Personally, I saw 12 new bird species in the three mile radius of home that I had previously never seen in that locale.  As a bird nerd, I was grateful to be able to find joy in these little things.  In truth, I hope this wider appreciation of mother nature is one of the lasting of the positive pandemic legacies.  Our business always wanted to work toward carbon-neutrality - Covid-19 has most definitely accelerated this.  It is great to see it firmly on the agenda not only at Macs, but also at other businesses I have been speaking to since returning. We all have to do out bit and thankfully, it seems the appetite for this has grown.

That’s it for now folks, wishing you and your loved ones safe passage through these choppy seas (that IS the final nautical metaphor).