As the state of lockdown continues, retail employees broadly speaking fit into three categories at present: there are those providing essential services who continue to do vital, often stressful, work to keep the country running. There are those, mostly working for businesses whose future was already in doubt before COVID-19 struck, that have very sadly lost their jobs. And then there are those people working for viable but non-essential businesses that have been furloughed under the government scheme.
Notwithstanding the exceptional, and very different, challenges facing the other two groups, it is those furloughed employees I want to focus on here. Being on indefinite leave from a business is a state most people will never encounter during their careers. Executives will occasionally be placed on gardening leave, usually on account of leaving the business for a competitor, but there is no recent precedent for a period of enforced absence from the workplace that coincides with a national emergency of such scale and severity.
Many lower-paid workers will be preoccupied with the financial impact of losing a fifth of their pay. Others will be focused on caring for vulnerable relatives. What a large majority of furloughed employees will I’m certain have in common is a nagging anxiety about what the future holds for a sector already going through a period of tumultuous change – and by extension for their own jobs.
It is easy to tell people not to agitate about work during this period, much harder to do so in practice, but time spent not contemplating work is so valuable at the moment. The priority of any furloughed employee must be to look after their own health and wellbeing, and that of their family, over and above any sense of duty to stay connected to their work.
Here are a few suggestions for doing just that: if you do feel the need to keep in touch with your employer by, for instance, checking emails then set aside a short amount of time to do this as part of your daily or weekly routine. The same goes for the news cycle which can become all-consuming if you turn on the tap of TV and social media commentary and leave it running at all times.
Make time for physical exercise. And try not to stress about what you’re not doing or could be doing with your time – just focus on what you need to do to get through each day.
Retail is such a fast-paced environment there is rarely any time to pause and take stock. I’ve been running Anthony Gregg Partnership for approaching 20 years and am using the current downtime to reflect and re-energise in the expectation that business, while not exactly returning to normal, will resume at some point in the not-too-distant future.
The last financial crash in 2008, though not directly comparable, was a severe shock to the retail sector and the functions that support it. We took the learnings from that recession and diversified into other areas including coaching and mentoring meaning we’re well placed to reboot the business when restrictions start to be lifted and maintain a strong position for years to come.
Other companies will be in a similar position. Retail leaders are paid good money to carry the burden of ensuring their business can recover from a shock like COVID-19. The duty of those that work for them, above anything else, is to take care of themselves.