even if they return to work, will furloughed workers ever feel secure again?

A reader writes:

My company was fortunate enough to get a payroll protection loan last week, so all of our furloughed people were able to come back yesterday and, I believe, most salary reductions were reduced though not quite back to normal. The entire team I had working on the project I was leading was furloughed because the project wasn’t bringing money in. Everyone is back now and working on other projects, but I can’t help thinking about what it must feel like to be in that furloughed group. Will they ever feel secure in their jobs again or will they always feel like they’re on the chopping block if things go really bad again for the company? Is there anything project managers or senior leadership can do to make them feel better?

For a lot of people, it will depend on how things go over the next year or so. If the company recovers and regains stability, people will be better positioned to regain their own sense of security … to some degree.

But everyone is likely to come out of this feeling less secure about their jobs. Most people have understood in theory that their jobs could/would be cut if their employer hit tough times, but it’s a shock to the system when it actually happens, and happens in such large numbers. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for people to understand that in a more visceral way — while it’s upsetting and destabilizing, it’s also rooted in reality. The problem is if it keeps people feeling jittery and unrooted, to the point that it interferes with their mental health and/or ability to make plans. And I suspect that’s likely to happen, at least to some people. We’re all living through a collective trauma right now, and those don’t wrap up neatly just because you’ve survived it.

Things companies can do that will help: be as transparent as possible about their finances, plans, and contingency plans; treat people well; offer pay and benefits that make it possible for employees to build up safety nets to help weather future crises (that one will be harder for companies already stretched thin with their recoveries, but it matters if they want to retain people). And for the love of god, lobby for health insurance that’s not tied to employment.

{ 298 comments… read them below }

  1. Tamara*

    If you felt secure in your job prior to the global pandemic, that’s a level of economic and cultural privilege that most people, esp. those who are systemically marginalized in society.

    1. ABK*

      Yup, especially those. But really, job layoffs happen up and down the blue/white collar spectrum. Outsourcing, automation, budget cuts. Just ask a lawyer.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*


        I live in the US, so I’ll add that it would be nice to live in a society where losing my job didn’t mean I lost my health insurance. I mean, in a health crisis that’s particularly ironic.

        And it would also be nice is unemployment benefits were more generous/long-lasting.

        Then I might not feel completely “secure” but have a lot less angst.

        AAM please delete if this is derailing.

    2. Lucette Kensack*

      Yes, and?

      It’s something we should want for all people, not begrudge because not everyone has it. The fight is not with each other, but with the oppressive systems that disproportionately harm marginalized folks.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Yes, this.

        The system is the issue, not each other. There’s nothing that corporate overlords want more than for the masses to rip each other apart fighting for their scraps instead of teaming up to address the actual source of the problem.

      2. TootsNYC*

        exactly! The goal is not to attack the people who do have advantages, nor is it to take those advantages away from them.

        It’s to spread those advantages to other people who have heretofore been shut out.

      3. emmelemm*

        The people who own and drive our financial systems count on us resenting each other.

      4. Archaeopteryx*

        +1 Privilege no one should have (e.g. celebs getting out of jail time when normal people wouldn’t) is different than things *everyone* should have, such as this sense of stability, the ability to save up an emergency fund, etc. Check-your-privilege retort aren’t helpful if they treat the one like the other or act like someone’s problematic for having a safe, stable life.

        1. JSPA*

          Fewer people in jail / more people in restorative justice and treatment is actually also something much of the world is doing, with considerable success. A “surprising”* number of the benefits that celebs and captains of industry and the politically-connected take for themselves turn out to be as (or more) societally-beneficial when also applied to the rest of us.

          *(i.e. only surprising if you think poorer people are more intrinsically criminal)

          1. TootsNYC*

            difference being that celebs and captains of industry don’t bother with the reframing and rehabilitation part. They just get off. They don’t get better.

            1. JSPA*

              Eh, a few presumably do, eventually. And some of those slaps on the wrist do come with conditions.

              But as they’ve already had a large(r) number of chances and options, the likelihood of them taking a different path is predictably lower, not higher.

              (I suspect we agree that having poor people separated from families and losing jobs through not being able to make bail is, on balance, a destructive force in society.)

      5. Lady Farquaad*

        Thank you for eloquently articulating my thoughts exactly.

        I felt like I had job security during my pre-covid days. Am I supposed to…not?

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve personally watched businesses die and industries crumble through the course of my rather short life in the scheme of things. I watched a man who spent almost 40 years working his ass off, in a union job, get laid off during the Great Recession because he was the oldest, most well paid person on the line. The union did fuckall for it.

      But I still understand that people only know what they experience and don’t break people down for not understanding it or having false securities.

    4. PeanutButter*

      Yup. I graduated in 2007…laid off from my first “career” job in under a year because of the Recession. I’ve NEVER felt “secure” in a job. I thought that expecting a job to be snatched from you at any time due to mergers, downturns, etc was something everyone felt? I guess not.

  2. GrumpyGnome*

    “We’re all living through a collective trauma right now, and those don’t wrap up neatly just because you’ve survived it.”

    Alison, that absolutely nailed it.

    1. J*

      “…survived it so far.” The trauma: illness, financial instability, economic uncertainty… that’s all just getting started, unfortunately.

    2. Lana Kane*

      That’s the legacy of trauma. When the trauma ends, it leaves a lot in its wake – and it doesn’t usually go away eventually. The edge can soften, but it’s still there. I think this generation of human beings will join others in history that are known for suffering collective trauma, and it will inform future generations as well. It always does.

    3. Artemesia*

      It should also remind everyone at every level of income how important it is to live without debt and to have an emergency fund to provide 6 mos of needs. No matter how crappy the income, living slightly below it and laboriously stowing a bit extra every week for as long as it takes is critical.

      I’m old and so have been through layoffs, mergers, recessions and job loss for me or my husband and have watched my kids go through it. Even when we were making pathetic money and living paycheck to paycheck, squirreling away what we could meant when disaster struck we could limp along until we found new work. This situation is even worse because it affects so many.

      Time for universal health care and some sort of guaranteed income.

        1. Hobbit*

          Exactly. When people talk about stashing away six months of expenses, I always have that little ‘yes, because everyone can count on getting paid enough to actually pay all the bills, buy food and have some left over money’ moment. It is sad, but for some people, ‘cutting expenses’ would probably mean ‘stop having so many meals’.

          1. Quill*

            Or “don’t have a medical condition” or “go back in a time machine and don’t make that move / go to that college / go into that career.”

          2. schnauzerfan*

            I HAD six months saved and then some. Until the cancer dx. That put me a little more than a years worth in debt. And that’s with decent insurance. I have finally dug out of that hole and have maybe a 1 month cushion (and am grateful to have it) but I’m terrified I’ll lose my job and the medical insurance that goes with it.

        2. CatMintCat*

          I work a stable, reasonably well paid job and the idea of having six months saved up is a level of privilege I can’t even imagine. For people on incomes that don’t even meet the basic needs, your comment is a not very funny joke.

          1. Larry O*

            Most of those with jobs have SOME ability to save. Most of them fail to do so. Why? Human nature, social pressure, and advertising!

            Most could somehow survive on 10% less income. So we should do that, and put the 10% into an emergency fund. And maybe 2% for those who make even less.

            1. TardyTardis*

              That would be a nice thing for everyone. For those under crushing student loan debt and living where The Rent Is Too D*mn High? Good luck with that.

      1. Generic Name*

        Wait, are you serious? There are people, right now, in this country (USA) who work more than 40 hours a week (usually at multiple jobs) and have to choose between things like food, rent, electricity. So the idea that “no matter how crappy the income” everyone can save “extra” money each week, is just unbelievable to me.

        1. Midnight Mother*

          Agreed. My family lives paycheck to paycheck. Every time we’ve tried to save something comes up–furnace needs replacing, water tank needs replacing, dog needs surgery, etc. You know the drill. I lost my job because of a serious medical condition needing multiple surgeries (and outrageous co-pays), but was unable to get disability. I finally found a part-time job through the website Rat Race Rebellion. It doesn’t pay much, but it helps us get along. It seems sad to me that people considered essential workers are not paid as if they were. I miss AY and would have voted for him in a heartbeat.

      2. JSPA*

        That stops being possible at the point of people going hungry or living with someone abusive; really, if you made your money a few decades ago, you may not have much direct awareness of the level of desperation that the slow degradation of the minimum wage relative to inflation, the insane ballooning of educational costs (which have vastly outstripped inflation) and the loss of low income housing have created.

        I mean, yes, some people are having their nails done and hitting starbucks, when they’re rent insecure. But some people are already eating beans and rice, and nowhere near making ends meet.

        It helps if your parents had foresight, luck, discipline, and were themselves treated as employable, back in the day, but…that’s not something people can choose. (Your kids sound like they’re lucky to have had you as role models, but they’re also lucky to have had you as a launching pad.)

        1. Quill*

          there’s also the psychological effect of if you know you have 50 bucks but that a debt collector will take it if you have it, you spend it on the first thing that at all improves your immediate quality of life, because fuck that guy.

          It won’t get him off your back (may actually make the debt collector bother you more because hey, you had 50 bucks, where’s 50 more?) but you can eat or wear your purchase and perhaps look more successful, theoretically increasing your chances of being respected at whatever you’re doing that week.

      3. Shortstuff*

        One of the most depressing things about this, is it’s true even (or especially) when it’s impossible to do. For the most part, if you can save something towards a decent emergency fund you should try to do so. If it’s doable with a little stretch then it’s worth it. Beyond that, and without being too political, a decent safety net is something every society needs. Some countries may not be able to afford them. But the richest countries in the world do not have that excuse.

        1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

          Yeah, and six months of bills saved aside is a LOT of money. You don’t build that quickly. That’s like, $21k for us. (Our mortgage alone is $2k/month!) Add in the Life stuff that happens – cats get sick, you or your spouse gets sick, the car goes kaput… and that’s a nearly impossible number to imagine saving. It would take us literally YEARS to save that much money.

          1. alienor*

            Same here–six months of living expenses for me would be $18k minimum if I were just paying the bare minimum of rent, utilities, basic food, transportation. I have enough saved to get through about two months without income at the moment, and it’s the most I’ve ever had in my adult life.

  3. Paloma Pigeon*

    I’ve always felt that the economy would actually improve if we removed healthcare from employment. Think of all the people who would start businesses if they didn’t have to worry about family coverage. Long term goals I would like to see out of this would be universal healthcare provision not tied to employment, and more recognition that work can be done anywhere. Think of all the depressed areas that would not have ‘brain drain’ if knowledge workers could live in more affordable areas and work for big firms remotely.

    1. AyBeeCee*

      Or brain drain – I had been looking to change jobs but health insurance was a big determining factor in what I moved to. How does that make any sense? And yet in the U.S. it does.

    2. Junior Dev*

      This post goes into the problems with employer provided insurance from a doctor’s (private practice psychiatrist) perspective: https://slatestarcodex.com/2020/04/24/employer-provided-health-insurance-delenda-est/

      In addition to the widely understood amount of human suffering tied to this system, there’s a whole bunch of weird medical problems that boil down to people not being able to maintain a relationship with their own doctors even as they change jobs, to continue treatment reliably (without getting it arbitrarily taken away by insurance changes), or to move or travel without fear that a catastrophic illness or injury will leave them bankrupt. Which only compounds the problems you describe.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        There’s also the negative feedback loop people can get into. They could hold down a steady job if they had decent medical care and treatment for mental or physical ailments that interfere with their ability to work. But they can’t get the necessary medical treatment until they can not only hold down a job, but work their way into a job that provides decent insurance.

    3. Valegro*

      Small businesses would be able to hire better candidates as well. My industry is mostly small businesses and is slowly moving towards widespread corporate buyouts and health insurance was a major determining factor about which jobs I could take. It was challenging for my current employer to get a plan that we could use based on how many had to sign up vs how many employees already had coverage from their spouses.
      We also need to do something about our awful 401k system. Part time and small business employees don’t have access to the large limits of a 401k and I can only contribute $6k/year to an IRA before hitting the limit. Everything else is heavily taxed and I get screwed. I almost sold my soul for a big corporate job last time I looked due to these issues.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I’ve thought of this often. Not just the person who wants to start their own business, but the person who might bring their expertise to work for that business, but can’t because they don’t want to give up health care.

        1. TootsNYC*

          if the free market, and capitalism, are so important, then untethering health care from work would mean that there would be MORE competition.

          And if a company wanted to hire contractors, it might be easier to get really good people, because someone like me might have left an unhappy job to take that kind of work.

          1. Fikly*

            Free market does not equal capitalism. Capitalism is pretty anti-free market, actually.

            1. Amy Sly*

              It’s more big business than “capitalism,” but yeah, big business is anti-free market. The free market means competing for customers; it’s so much easier to capture the regulators to prevent a potential entrepreneur from starting a competing business than to have to improve one’s shoddy product/service, e.g. cable companies, ISPs, hospitals in Certificate of Need states, state-run liquor stores …

            2. Searching for a New Name*

              It all depends if you’re using “free market” to mean a freely competitive market or to mean an unregulated market. These things are very different.

          2. emmelemm*

            Yeah, a lot of people of various disciplines would thrive if they could work 9 months at this company, 4 months at this company, 12 months at this company, all on contracts, if it had absolutely zero effect on their health coverage and needs. Some people would actively seek out new challenges constantly, and grow even further than they’re able to do now. As it is, many people are doing this system *unwillingly*, and there aren’t many people in a position to do that permanently by choice.

            1. MayLou*

              In the UK healthcare isn’t a factor in people’s employment decisions and on the whole people don’t flit between jobs like you describe – which is probably because the majority of people have contracts for a fixed period of time which employers prefer because they don’t have to recruit as often and employees appreciate because they have some job security.

              1. Roeslein*

                Can’t say I agree with this – I’e lived all over Europe and worked in London for a few years. Based on what I saw of the NHS I would not have a considered a job (I’m in management consulting) without private health insurance. Now that I’m in Germany I’m happily working for a start-up and not worrying about this!

                1. UKDancer*

                  I have never had a job with private medical insurance in the UK because of the NHS. While I’d be the first to admit it’s not perfect, I am really glad it exists. My father had an organ transplant, excellent post operative care and support and the service was excellent throughout. He would not have been able to afford this any other way and we can not say enough nice things about the way he was treated.

                  I would agree that for discretionary treatment or things that are not an emergency it may be quicker to pay for private care if one can afford it. For example I have paid for physio privately because the waiting lists are quite long for non-essential physiotherapy. Other than that it’s a pretty good service for the majority of people.

              2. Caroline Bowman*

                except that it is though. The NHS is great in an emergency, they really are, but with the things that are ”statistically unlikely” but which still happen, it can take forever to get taken seriously. Months and months and months for quite routine stuff, because it’s ”not essential to staying alive” (but it’s fine to live with grinding knee or hip pain for years because reasons). Getting simple blood tests to find out if you have cancer of one sort or another… oh the list goes on.

                And the dental side! I think it must be something of a lottery really.

        2. Analyst Editor*

          I agree. In fact, I’ve said it here before,
          it I think that a lot of the problems and inequities of out current health care industry are due to health care being tied to employers — and you might not even have to go full single-payer or nationalization (ie Canada or UK) — opting for a German or Swiss-style system, private with a safety net) to preserve the good parts of our healthcare system – flexibility, innovation, rare disease and cancer care, an assortment of hospital quality outcomes — while also enabling those who need it to get basic care without bankrupting themselves.

          1. Mazarin*

            I live in Australia. We have what you would call a ” nationalized” health system.(Medicare) I assure you, we have a lot of innovation (know anyone who has had a hearing implant? That’s Australian), and also rare disease and cancer care. Which does not actually cost anything to access. We also have a great deal more flexibility than you do- I can go to any doctor in the country, without worrying about whether my insurance will cover payment. There is absolutely no part* of the US healthcare system that would be downgraded or would have to be ‘preserved’ if you moved to a nationalised system. *Oh I’m sorry, yes there is. The HUGE PROFITS some people are making would disappear.

            1. Fieldpoppy*

              Yeah, I live in Toronto and one of my clients is the most innovative transplant centre in the world and another is one of the leading cancer centres in the world. We aren’t living without the latest innovations, trust me.

            2. CatMintCat*

              Mazarin is right. The only thing that would be problematic if the US moved to nationalised health care is the loss of the huge profits.

              Case in point – last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer (very early, I’m fine). I had the initial mammogram, follow up diagnostics, including MRIs, CAT Scan, bone scans, then surgery, four rounds of chemo and four weeks of radiation. Cost to me? I think I paid for a cup of hospital coffee (not worth the money). My travel costs were reimbursed (I live remotely and the Cancer Centre is over 200km from home) and accommodation during the four weeks of radiation was also subsidised. I had the best possible treatment and never saw a bill.

              Can Americans say that?

              1. SweetestCin*

                Amusingly, know what I didn’t pay for while my child was hospitalized for three weeks?

                The crap-tastic excuse for coffee in the “family nutrition room”.

                The rest of it though? I’m thankful that I work for a large enough employer, with an ownership that actually gives a rip about his employees, that I have access to extremely good health insurance as an extremely reasonable rate. If I didn’t, we would have likely been forced into bankruptcy and potentially lost our house. (Do YOU have a half million socked away for a completely unexpected, medically unpreventable, and random infection, US citizens? Because that’s what the bill was prior to insurance.)

                I did receive badgering for payment by the Urgent Care that had completely bungled her diagnosis prior to the emergent situation (had they not bungled it, we may have been looking at a night or two in the hospital with IV antibiotics, not three weeks inpatient with IV antibiotics, surgery, etc. and then months of outpatient IV antibiotics) while we were still in the hospital though. That was….not awesome and admittedly NOT my best moment as a human being. Even if I was sitting in the OR waiting room listening to someone inform me that if I didn’t.pay.this.bill.right.now.they.would.turn.me.over.to.collections! (The bill had aged 10 days at this point. 10 days.)

            3. Koala dreams*

              In my European country, we have a weird mix of public and private health care. We have some problems that exist in the US too, like a lack of qualified medical care in remote areas, or certain types of care that are subsidized at a very low level (similar to having to pay a big co-pay before the insurance pays). Other things are free and easy to access. I especially appreciate free health care for children. Some issues are so much easier to treat if you start early, as a small child, as opposed to waiting for several years for financial reasons.

              I also want to add that it’s not necessarily the most expensive care, such as cancer care or giving birth, that will continue to be offered by private hospitals. Usually the private health care companies focus on the easier, less serious issues, since it’s easier to make a profit that way. Regular check-ups, elective surgery, treatments that can be planned in advance are better for business than hard to plan, high risk, experimental treatments.

          2. TootsNYC*

            I want there to be one huge single insurance plan that covers everyone. and we all pay into on a sliding scale based on income (including capital gains).

            Maybe we allow individual insurance companies to each offer their own version, so they compete on price and on service. That might tap into some of the “competition” advantages.

            1. Sacred Ground*

              What you say you want is called single payer, ala Canada or France. We have it here but just for seniors. That’s what Medicare For All proposes to do. But now that Biden is already the D nominee, 4 months before the convention, the likelihood of that passing within the next 4-8 years is now zero.

              As for the second paragraph, the only way insurance companies can provide the required package of benefits and compete n price and still turn a profit is to deny as many claims as they can. It’s a race to the bottom.

      2. AVP*

        re: 401ks, the scary part for me is that they’re so new – what if all of the younger Boomers and Gen Xers retire and realize there’s no way they could have been enough? All of this is tremendously anxiety producing for me personally.

        I’m also in a field that is mainly small businesses and health/401k benefits have a large impact in how people operate.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          “Realize”? A lot know it, but can’t do anything about it other than hope for a miracle.

      3. T. Boone Pickens*

        I wholeheartedly agree on the health insurance part, disagree with you on the 401(k) part. There are other vehicles out there for retirement outside of just the 401(k) that allow you to sock away some pretty big dollars like a SEP IRA which allows you to save 25% of your W2 salary up to $56k. This is on top of the $6k you can contribute towards a traditional IRA or Roth. I will absolutely grant you that doing the research on other plans is a lot. I spent a couple weeks doing research on what type of retirement plan I wanted to have when I opened up my own shop.

        1. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

          Most small businesses don’t offer that and have no interest or time to invest in dealing with the administration of such a program. My employer has less than 20 employees. I literally have no options other than IRA or individual investment (taxed).

          1. JSPA*

            SEP (self employed person) IRA is not an employer plan. Ditto Roth IRA (an after – tax IRA, where you take the tax bite up front while you’re making little / taxes are low, and get the payout money tax free, later, when in theory you’re in a higher bracket. Fair number of presumptions about future earnings and future taxes play into whether it’s a good idea.)

    4. TootsNYC*

      Think of all the energy businesses themselves would free up to spend on researching new markets, innovating new procedures or products, etc.

      As it is now, they have to spend a considerable amount of energy finding, negotiating, and evaluating health care plans.

    5. Jedi Squirrel*

      That would actually make healthcare cheaper in the long run.

      I went through a long period of job insecurity/temping/contracting with no health insurance and now have some medical issues that would not be a big deal if I could have dealt with them in a preventative way instead of after-the-fact.

    6. Lavender Menace*

      Really, the arguments against de-linking health insurance and work are pretty thin, and are looking especially thin right now. I’ve seen even publications and people who are pretty conservative start talking about how good universal health care (and a universal basic income) looks right now.

      1. Lalalla*

        They were never honest arguments but just propaganda from the industry. Wendell Potter, a former VP at Cigna, has some great insights on this.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I subscribed to Tarbell, his online publication, but I never actually get around to reading it.

    7. Searching for a New Name*

      Yes. It makes no practical sense to have healthcare dependent on employment — as a person’s need for intensive healthcare rises, their ability to work generally decreases.

      Practical sense, of course, is a very different beast from capitalist sense.

      1. Dancing Otter*

        This! My relative suffered through three rounds of chemotherapy. When she got too sick to work, and went on full-time disability, she lost her Blue Cross coverage. Just what a cancer patient needs, right?

    8. JSPA*

      Yep. And it’s worked fine for so many countries. Including some that get labeled as “socialist,” while (of course) having robust economies based on business, trade, agriculture.

      If you have any sense of history (or of world markets, finance, shipping and trading) the idea that (say) the Dutch or the Swiss are somehow not capitalist or not business friendly is completely absurd. And yet in both countries, health care is mostly or entirely decoupled from employment.

      1. JSPA*

        Please don’t take this as either a pro- or anti- capitalist and/or socialist sentiment or any other statement that would bump into the “no politics” ban.

        Rather, it’s meant to point out how what was essentially a historical accident has (bizarrely) led the US to consider the coupling of employment and health insurance as some sort of norm;

        how non-employer-based-healthcare in turn became irrevocably linked, in people’s minds, to a particular economic system;

        how the US seems to take some sort of backwards pride in a system that’s set up to fail;

        and how there’s no earthly reason for this to be a partisan issue, no matter how strongly you feel about Invisible Hands, Markets, Collective Action, or any of those other words that shape people’s political outlook and identity.

        1. Long Time Lurker, Infrequent Poster*

          It makes sense from a twisted point of view.

          The point of employer-linked health insurance is to keep the worker healthy so long as they continue to produce labor of value. The analogy goes thus: You do not want your cows to get sick before you milk them or slaughter them.

          Thus, the continued healthcare of employees is just Cost of Doing Business (TM) to extract the maximum amount of Value (TM) from any given “Human Resource”. The moment the Return on Investment becomes too low, then the employer does the logical step: cutting off dead weight. Rinse, repeat, and if you don’t like it, there are boatloads of other people who’d take your position in a heartbeat. Rinse, repeat.

          The system is not set up to fail.

          It is working as intended.

    9. Wintermute*

      Not only that, it would improve the mobility of workers. A lot of people are trapped in bad jobs because they can’t risk 90 days without insurance of pay COBRA for that time while a new employer gets them set up, and that’s before you talk about the risk of a new insurer refusing coverage.

      The idea of labor as a free market only works when it’s a FREE market, when businesses compete for good employees as much as employees compete for good positions. Tying health insurance to employment is just one more way of locking employees down and preventing them from exercising their freedom of choice to earn a fair market value for their labor.

    10. TardyTardis*

      Same here. I couldn’t leave a low-paying, tiring job till my husband got onto Medicare, Because Cancer. And at that I paid $900 a month for *my* insurance once I had to quit to care for him till I finally made it.

  4. Traumatized analytical chemist*

    I graduated into a really bad job market and spent three years working odds and ends, never knowing if I would be able to pay the rent next month or not. The trauma it left (especially because it lasted so long), means that I have not been able to “trust my luck” now that I am in a more stable (albeit still limited time contract) job. I have not been able to prioritize work 100 %, but instead, spend several evenings a week trying to build an independent income online.

    On the other hand, my older brother has gotten furloughed more than a handful of times in his career already, and it seems he accept that it comes with the territory (factory work, dependent on external orders), so I think expectations would and should be adjusted according to the different industries. I was certainly not expecting to spend 3 years barely scraping by after spending so many years eschewing what I wanted for what was considered “safe”. Not doing that again!

    1. Nicotene*

      I recently switched to a FL position and I didn’t feel “safe” until I had a) truly accepted that the work flow, by its nature, was going to be unpredictable, and expecting that, and b) squirreling away enough savings that I felt like I could handle a long gap. Nothing else worked to manage that anxiety.

    2. Karia*

      Yep. I had more stable employment than my partner but we basically couldn’t reliably make ends meet until our thirties. It’s left me hyper vigilant and unable to make plans. I haven’t been on holiday in ten years. I’m reluctant to spend my (small) savings on driving lessons, even though it would expand my opportunities – because what if one of us gets laid off and we need the money for food?

    3. Oh No She Di'int*

      The thing about trauma is that the mechanisms for coping with it usually live on long past their usefulness or relevance. That can be very hard to get over. Your story reminds me of people who grew up during the Depression era, saving every coffee can and reusing aluminum foil because “you never know”. They may have looked crazy, but they were just responding to a threat that most of us couldn’t see anymore.

      1. TardyTardis*

        You’d be amazed what you can do with coffee cans–growing up poor just means the Depression outlook gets perpetuated longer.

  5. Eve*

    I went through the 2008 recession. It took me three years to find a well paying full time position but I had managed to find a part time job that I worked until I found the full time one. I don’t think I ever felt secure in my full time job. I actually kept the part time job that I had during those three years and worked weekends while I worked at my full time job. I was offered a promotion into a full time role where I was working part time and left the other one to take the promotion. I was laid off in mid March. Don’t know if it’s going to an issue of “lather, rinse and repeat” for me. I haven’t believed in job security since 2008.

    1. MistOrMister*

      In 2008, I didn’t realize how lucky I was. I was living at home still, so if I had lost my job it would not hsve mattered on whit. Our office requested people to volunteer to be laid off a couple of times, but we were told our dept wasn’t allowed to volunteer, so I wasn’t really worried. I sure don’t feel secure like that with this one!

    2. Texan In Exile*

      It took me 18 months to find a corporate job when I completed my stint in the Peace Corps in 1995.

      Then, much to my surprise, I was laid off in 2004. I looked for a job for a few years, doing temp work the entire time. I got married and gave up. (On the job search)

      I got another corporate job in 2012, then changed jobs in 2014. I lost that job in Dec 2019 in a re-org. I have not found a new job. I had several interviews in January and February, but then – covid.

      I have never felt safe. And I never will.

    3. Resting easier now*

      I’ve never felt job security until my last job, and even then my hours were cut almost immediately after I passed the probationary period. But it was the first job to come with sick leave, vacation leave, and health insurance (yay unions!) so I was grateful to have a job. Before that I had 20 years of jobs with no paid leave, no affordable health care, part time or minimum wage. My remote rural area has very little in the way of industry or major employers, so unless one works for the local or state governments or schools we take what we can get!

      1. TardyTardis*

        I hear you! I worked at a large corporation for less than $15 an hour, but we had *benefits*, and that made us aristocracy in this town.

  6. MistOrMister*

    My job has not yet (to my knowledge) furloughed or laid anyone off. I still went in a couple of weeks ago and cleaned out my desk. Just in case layoffs come. They sent us an email last week saying the work is still coming in….and I still expect every day that layoffs or furloughs will be announced. I think even people who aren’t necessarily experiencing this stff first hand are still feeling insecure.

    Also, I have been with my firm for 5 years. I was in the last department for a year and was moved a while back, expressly against my wishes, to another department. Same work, different people and MUCH different working style. It will be years before I feel secure again, if I ever do. I know people have tomake tough decisions for the best of the business, but when you get tossed aside like a used kleenex, the feeling lingers…

  7. Cordoba*

    *Everybody* is on the chopping block if things go really bad for their employer.

    If my employer runs out of money (I can’t make them more money than I am costing them) then my job is not going to exist for very long. This can occur independent of my skills or quality of work; the fact that I’m a great employee at a teacup company doesn’t save my job if the teacup market crashes.

    This is unfortunate, but is ultimately a realistic outcome of living in a world with finite resources. If I lose all my money, I’m not going to be able to pay somebody to cut my lawn. If I move to a place without a lawn, I am also not going to pay somebody to cut my lawn that no longer exists.

    I think the response is twofold:
    1) At a personal level, assume your job is *not* secure and take some steps to mitigate that. I always keep one eye on the job market, and at least every year do the mental fire drill of “what would it look like if I got fired right now?” and adjust budgets/planning/resume accordingly. It’s not fun, but it’s more fun than actually getting canned and not having the ability to respond to it.
    2) At a societal level, vote/advocate/donate for a better safety net for people who do lose their jobs; so that when it does occur it will be more likely to be a “temporary setback” rather than “unrecoverable disaster” type of situation.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      All this. For years I worked in an industry that had cyclical layoffs. I didn’t know anyone who hadn’t been laid off during their career, including senior staff. I have never kept shoes at the office for this reason. Nothing of value. I am now WFH, rather abruptly. I left a nice teacup and breath mints at my desk. If I never see that teacup again, oh well.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          I used to, especially in the winter when I lived in Michigan. Or I’d keep work shoes at work and wear tennis shoes to the office.

          1. hufflepuff hobbit*

            I do because I also live in [snowy midwest state]. wear boots in, change to shoes in office, change back into boots for walk to car at the end of the day

        2. The Original K.*

          It is common to do so, in my experience, if you commute via public transportation. You might wear flats or sneakers or snow boots for your commute, which is going to involve some walking, and change your shoes at work. (Not just women, either – my friend posted a back to school picture of her whole family and people were teasing her husband about the bright running shoes he was wearing with his suit.) I remember a former coworker was moving cubes and the bottom drawer of one of her filing cabinets was full of shoes.

          1. Llama Face!*

            Yep, that’s me. I bought an expandable shoe tree for under my desk. I keep about ten pairs of shoes on it that only get worn at work (in varying styles, colours, and heel heights for the different work clothes I own).

          2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            I have kept a basic pair of nice all-work-situation shoes at the office and it’s come in handy many times. But when the office I worked in closed, I was amazed that a coworker toted out about a dozen pairs of shoes! I’ve never owned so many shoes at one time in my life. Gotta wonder what her closet at home was like.

        3. Marion Ravenwood*

          I did in a previous job – I’d wear trainers to commute and then change into work shoes when I got to my desk. Mainly because at the time I lived on top of a hill with no proper path to the main road, so any ‘nice’ shoes I wore would get dirty quickly, especially in really bad weather.

    2. The Original K.*

      I couldn’t agree more with this comment. I went through a layoff that came as a surprise at the time and I don’t want to be caught out there like that again.

    3. JSPA*

      Plus, people who are furloughed under the very specific, artificial circumstances of an unplanned, undesigned, sudden call to sequester are not necessarily at ALL the same people who would have suffered under a different scenario, nor the same who may yet suffer under later-stage COVID control measures, nor the same who will suffer under a more general lingering economic contraction.

      Even for things as simple as yeast; everyone wants it, nobody can get it, but by the time everyone has a pet sourdough starter and is actually tired of baking, will the demand for yeast increase, level out, or bottom out? Nobody knows.

      And probably every industry has some of the same questions. And then there are new industries that will rise (and then fall).

      Who’s going to make the plexiglass wall with the rows of rubber cuffs, that allow people to stick their hands through, and get their nails done? Well, depends on who’s optimistic enough to think that people will have money to spend on their nails, optimistic enough to think that salons can afford to install such wall, yet pessimistic enough to assume we’ll need such a barrier for years to come.

  8. Anon Anon*

    I figure that the result of this pandemic will go one of two ways. The first is the result will be like the great recession. Where many people stayed with an employer much longer than they should because they were afraid of leaving what they perceived as a stable job for the unknown and potentially end up unemployed. The second is that people will get pissed and start demanding more, and we’ll see employees demanding more worker protections, potentially more unions, etc.

    While I hope that we get the second result, based on our history I suspect that this is pandemic will just have people hold on more tightly to what they have even at the expense of their own mental health.

    1. Nicotene*

      Lord I hope we fix American healthcare. I think people who have never had to worry about it before might suddenly be realizing that it doesn’t make much sense to tie it employment.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I don’t think there is anyone in America who has never had to worry about health care at some point in their life.

        1. Black Horse Dancing*

          Many people who are wealthy/have wealth in their families, never worry about health care. Think the Waltons or Meijers worry? The Gates, Bezos, Jobs or people high up? They may worry about their health but never if they can afford care.

        2. Sacred Ground*

          Everyone worries about their health. Not everyone worries about dying because they can’t afford what they need to live.

          And the thing about an infectious disease is that it doesn’t care about your wealth or social status. Maybe some folks are starting to realize that even with their own great health plans and healthy living choices etc, they are still at the risk as everyone else because the person handing them their change at the drive through does NOT have such access.

    2. Fikly*

      Maybe I’m cynical, but I think we’ll get the second, but nothing will change as a result.

  9. Almost Empty Nester*

    I am in my 24th year of working for a large tech company, a household name kind of company. For at least the last 15 years, since offshoring work became popular, job insecurity is a daily normal. I’ve been “resourced” 3 times and fortunately got off the list all 3 times, but security never returns. I have what I refer to as “perpetual PTSD” every time my boss IMs me and asks if I can talk, I always assume that’s what he wants to talk about. Faith keeps me calm that all will work out how it’s supposed to, but also it’s always in the back of my mind.

    1. Pennalynn Lott*

      I worked for a few years at Microsoft back in the years just before and after the Great Recession. Even prior to the economy crashing, every department was forced to do “stacked rankings” and fire the bottom 10-15%. I was in sales. You could be on a team of 10 and have everyone absolutely crushing their numbers, truly bringing in big bucks for the company, and one of you would get fired every quarter.

      The remaining people would get berated by our manager about how grateful we should be to *her* that we remaining nine still had our jobs. I hated that place and I truly hated her (still do). I still have nightmares about it (and her) a decade later. I eventually got caught in a quarterly layoff in mid-2010.

      So, yeah, I never feel safe in any job.

  10. learnedthehardway*

    It’s not the first time there has been an economic downturn that has meant the mass loss of jobs – it’s been a feature of the economy for long enough now that the old paradigm of working in one place for your entire career (which was a thing in the 60s and 70s) has been almost entirely replaced by the approach that working more than 5 years in one place is too long, unless there are very compelling reasons.

    The only difference is that this has been the result of a pandemic, as opposed to a housing / mortgage crisis, terrorism, oil price crisis, etc. etc.

    People will adapt. I think it is pretty well recognized by employees that the companies they work for are not all that loyal to them. I expect that the response will be that employees are increasingly less loyal to companies.

    1. Koala dreams*

      I also expect this. The economy will recover. People will feel more safe, but still remember this crisis. Eventually there will be a new crisis for a new reason, and the cycle starts over.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        I’m not sure what you mean by recover. Even the recovery from the last big crisis (2008) was not really a recovery for a lot of people. Job insecurity, underemployment (not being able to work full time or having to work multiple jobs without benefits) stuck around, and wages did not recover much for many, despite the overall unemployment rate falling over time.

        The big numbers – unemployment rate, stock market – recovered. So yeah, the economy overall recovered. But many people’s lives did not.

        1. Koala dreams*

          Yeah, I meant the economy as a whole will recover, not necessarily the economy of every individual. And even the individuals that do see their personal finances improve, will still be wary and remember what happened last time there was a crisis. It won’t necessarily be something you are thinking of every day, but it will be there in the back of your mind.

    2. Fikly*

      Economic downturns are really not why people change jobs frequently now as opposed to a couple of decades ago.

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        The lack of pensions and inability to get appropriate salary increases without changing jobs has more to do with it.

  11. Susan*

    I am not sure why anyone, ever, at any time, has felt like their job is secure. People mostly cannot dwell on it, because it is exhausting and excessively depressing, but there is not one thing in life that is secure. Even though it is impossible to dwell upon, it is important to recognize and, when possible, make contingency plans.

    1. juliebulie*

      Same here. Maybe because I’ve been included in (or survived) so many layoffs over the years. I don’t think I’ll ever really feel secure. On the other hand, I’ve gotten axed enough times that I have more confidence in my ability to bounce back. But I’d rather not have to do it again.

    2. Jackalope*

      I try to have backup contingency plans, but spending too much time thinking about it would be so anxiety-inducing that I wouldn’t be able to function. You’re right that no job is perfectly secure, but mine is closer to it than most, so I try to put my worry in other areas.

      1. allathian*

        Mine, too. I work for the government in the Nordics, and here in the public sector it’s pretty much impossible to fire people for performance issues. Restructuring does happen, but you can’t get rid of a person unless you get rid of the job description entirely. This has sometimes been known to happen to get rid of particularly poor performers, but it’s very, very rare. That said, probationary periods are usually 6 months, for mission critical jobs they can be as long as a year, when it’s basically quit without notice/fire at will (“not a good fit” is OK).

        My org is also one of those that will do pretty much anything before laying off people, including training at the employer’s expense (if nothing else by allowing employees to study rather than work on the clock) when job descriptions change. People who are at risk of layoffs because their positions are eliminated are also given priority when hiring elsewhere in government (there’s a mandated ten-day period when such people are able to submit their applications before anyone else, although there’s no obligation to hire any of those if a better candidate who isn’t a government employee applies later).

        This does mean that hiring can be risky, lengthy and expensive. In my department, nearly all of our new hires in the last 10 years have started as interns or maternity leave subs.

    3. BRR*

      Agreed. After being fired from my first job with literally no indication that they were unhappy with my performance (I had also been hired after being an intern so I was more or less a known entity too), I’ve never felt like my job was safe. Then I got laid off last year with no warning so add that to my anxiety. My current job is union, but with annual contracts that are more or less always renewed so I’m thankful (?) that I’m only worried about losing my job once a year. If someone’s performance isn’t great, they just wait it out.

      If I was furloughed and brought back on the payroll protection loan, I’d probably not feel too secure. My position would have been furloughed once, and only the only reason I was there was due to the loan and its parameters. I’d honestly feel like I was on borrowed time.

      1. Nacho*

        This happened to me too. Five minutes before quitting time, they told me to hand in my badge and not bother coming back. Then a few months into my next job, we all get laid off when the site closes down. I’m on my third job now, and despite being here for 4 years at a relatively high position, I’m still terrified of being fired.

    4. Lana Kane*

      I think the best we can hope for is exactly what you said – not feeling secure, but having the luxury to not have to dwell on it every day.

    5. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      I think there have been recession-proof jobs and industries where layoffs and furloughs just haven’t been done…but that is, and frankly has been, changing. Technology is helping society do more with fewer people…this is always going to have positive and a negative results. Teachers, doctors, nurses etc were recession-proof professions…but AI is going to get better at diagnosing or teaching reducing the number of people it takes…this pandemic is a catalyst for more investment in automation and businesses finding out which positions they really need. My org made the switch to online and digital everything quickly…but it’s very likely to continue long after the pandemic is over. Why spend $10,000 and have a staff of say 20 people…facilities, IT and AV, event coordinators, janitorial, marketing/comm, etc., putting on an event in a physical location when you can use 1/3 that number to hold a virtual event. It’s been a steep and rocky learning curve but once it’s learned, we’re not going back.

  12. MissDisplaced*

    I haven’t really felt secure in any of my jobs since 2009!
    Gone are the days of working for a company for 35-40 years and retiring with a full pension the way my dad did. In recent years, I’ve just taken a view that EVERY job I work is more or less ephemeral and as such I don’t overly invest my emotions or trust in the companies I work for — It’s a just a JOB, not a mission or a passion and I give serious side eye to those companies that expect more from employees than just doing their work.

    Cynical, I guess, but I’ve been laid off a few times and know how that dog and pony show goes. In American capitalism, we are all expendable when our usefulness is near done or we cost too much. Sorry if that isn’t what you want to hear.

    1. Amy Sly*

      A few months after I moved across the country for my document review job, my family asked if it was going to become a permanent job. “Well, it’s contract work, but they like my results, so it appears I have a job for as long as they have work to do and money to pay me. Which is as close to ‘permanent’ as a job gets these days.”

    2. Texan In Exile*

      don’t overly invest my emotions or trust in the companies I work for

      I had co-workers at my previous job who spent all their time working. They stayed late, they worked over the weekend, their social lives were with co-workers. Their jobs were their lives.

      Some of them would comment on how the younger people seemed to lack loyalty. I would ask why anyone should have loyalty to a job, but my questions fell on deaf ears.

      And then the company got a new CEO. And he brought in his people. And – it’s been a bloodbath. (For those who are familiar with this process, the CEO and his people have almost all come from GE.)

      And not that I wanted this to happen to them, but my co-workers have been forced out or have been demoted or have been otherwise horribly treated and now they get it.

      It’s a job. It’s just a job. It’s what you do for money.

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        At the job I left in January, and the one I started right after, I see 20-somethings who recently graduated from college killing themselves to give everything to the company. Wherever I can, and where I think it’s welcome, I counsel them to keep in mind that it’s just a job, one of *many* that they’ll have over their careers. And that literally no one I know (or know of) has ever looked back over a decade or three and said, “Whew! I’m so glad I put every waking hour into my job!”

        The company will NEVER care as much about them as they do about their job. The system just isn’t designed that way. Do your best for 40 hours (or whatever your minimum amount is) and then walk away, except for maybe the 1 or 2 times a year where it’s “all hands on deck” to get something time- and mission-critical completed.

  13. CoderUnicorn*

    I will never really feel safe again in any role.

    In my area they are doing mass lay offs of nurses and other healthcare workers. Of those jobs aren’t safe during a pandemic I don’t think any job is safe.

    1. Eve*

      I really don’t understand this at all. Since the US has been hit by the pandemic, all we’ve been hearing is how COVID has overwhelmed hospitals and that there was not enough staff to keep up with all of the patients, yet hospitals have been laying off and furloughing staff. I get that elective procedures were being cancelled but couldn’t some medical staff be transferred to hospitals that had a higher need?

      1. Dragoning*

        The hospitals aren’t making enough money to pay them without the elective procedures.

      2. ABK*

        1. I think the total volume of patients in most hospitals right now is less than usual, by a lot. Due to people not going to the ER and elective surgeries being cancelled. Some of that loss is filled in with Covid patients, but in most places it hasn’t been. therefore….hospitals don’t have any money.
        2. Yup, those laid off medical staff could be scooped up by places that do have a need. However, our hospitals are independent of one another. So if the transfer doesn’t happen within the same hospital, the employee would be laid off, then apply for a role at a place that is hiring, then start a new job at that new place.

      3. Fikly*

        Why are you assuming that these hospitals with higher need are the same employer? Or even close enough that someone who gets laid off can get to job at hospital with need without moving?

      4. Lyssa*

        The hospitals have not been overwhelmed. In the vast majority of the country, nothing even close to that has happened. This was a serious risk, and hospitals cancelled everything they could (and people stopped coming when possible) in preparation for the possibility, but it has not borne out. So yes, there are a lot of extra employees with nothing to do.

        1. TiffIf*

          Additionally, this is also happening in places where hospitals are being overwhelmed because elective medical procedures are all cancelled and so practitioners who are not qualified to help with pandemic patients are being furloughed/laid off.

        2. Blueberry*

          The hospitals not being overwhelmed may yet change, however. It’s not like there are places that are immune from the spread of a pandemic, just places where it moves faster or slower.

      5. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

        My major US city still has under 5k total cases. 1.3k are out of isolation in the largest district, which extrapolates to 1.8k in the whole city. So we have around 3k known active cases, not all of which will bad enough for hospitalization.

        Not everywhere is New York City.

      6. hufflepuff hobbit*

        1. hospitals make money oddly
        – the type of patient that comes in with COVID are usually money-losing (medicare pays less than cost for most hospitals)
        -hospitals usually make this up with outpatient procedures (guess what’s not happening)
        2. most hospitals in the US aren’t seeing surges of patients
        3. patients are scared to come in and volumes are VERY low

      7. ..Kat..*

        You are thinking that (for example) every nurse in a hospital can work every nursing job. That we (I am a nurse) are all interchangeable. But we have specialties. A medical/surgical nurse does not know how to do an operating room nurse job. An intensive care unit nurse does not know how to do an oncology nurse job.

        Hospitals try to treat us as if we are interchangeable by requiring nurses to float. I.e., if the oncology unit is low on nurses, they want nurses from other units to float to oncology. All nurses have been trained in basic nursing care, but specialties exist. Do you really want a nurse who doesn’t have oncology training to take care of your loved one who has cancer?

        Also, don’t go thinking that nurses who are working now have any kind of security. Hospitals are already letting us know that as soon as the public’s gratitude for us fades, they are are going to be cutting us, our benefits, our pay, etc as fast as they can.

        1. TiffIf*

          Hospitals are already letting us know that as soon as the public’s gratitude for us fades, they are are going to be cutting us, our benefits, our pay, etc as fast as they can.

          This just makes me SO. FLIPPING. ANGRY.

        2. allathian*

          In my country, they’re training surgical nurses to care for COVID patients in ICU, because they can deal with anesthesia and ventilators, etc. Although so far, things have been going better than feared and there’s lots of room in ICU and they’re already considering restarting elective surgeries at some hospitals.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            In your country, are hospitals run as a for-profit business, or is patient care a higher priority than returning a profit to investors?

  14. ABK*

    It’s a particular type of person who ever felt job security, mainly government unionized employees, maybe other unionized folks? I’m really not sure who lives in that beautiful world of job security….

    1. Anon Anon*

      I don’t even know if it’s tied to types of jobs and the industry. My brother works in large scale events. He’s been furloughed. I suspect that he will be laid off sooner rather than later. Because there is no way that his company can survive without any meaningful income for potential a year to 18 months.

      If I had asked my brother 6 months how secure he felt about his job, he would have said very secure. Because who knew that group events with thousands of people wouldn’t be permitted and probably won’t be until a preventive treatment or vaccine is found.

      1. Nicotene*

        Yeah I had many friends who at least would say they’re in a high demand industry with lots of jobs available. Their current individual jobs are always at risk – cruddy new manager hates you, big contract gets cut, etc – but someone in IT or sales probably felt they had transferable skills and could get something somewhere if they needed.

        1. Anon Anon*

          All the people I know who work in the hospitality industry it’s not like they can go work at another hotel or another convention center. Entire industries are basically dead right now.

        2. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I’ve friends who work as massage therapists, beauticians or in hospitality who would agree. While the individual jobs may fall through, there has always been enough work for those with the skills or experience in the area to move around or go elsewhere when one place closes.

          What is unprecedented now is that these industry sectors have been mothballed or suspended. My hairdresser would never normally be out of work because she’s good at her job and has a waiting list, except that the hairdressers are all shut so she can’t actually work. My friends in hospitality are in a similar position.

        3. UKDancer*

          Yes, I’ve friends in service sectors such as hairdressing, beauty and hospitality and while individual jobs may be at risk. they have always in the past had enough jobs that they could move around. So my hairdresser has had to move salon before but always done well because she’s good at what she does. Now all the salons are closed so she can’t work.

          Likewise my friends in hospitality have always been able to find work because London has a lot of bars and restaurants. Except now they’re all shut or severely limited.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      I am not unionized (so-called right to work state). I work in higher ed and am a state employee, at-will position. I feel about 80% secure even though I’m relatively expensive (one of the higher salaries at my position in my dept), because I’m highly productive AND because my dept has a very long record of not RIF’ing staff except in the most dire circumstances. Only 2 RIFs in the last 20 years. Not true for other depts in our division; it’s a commitment every boss of our dept has held to.

      Possible although not likely that our entire dept could be killed off. Or that the number of staff could be slashed by TPTB. That’s where my 20% insecurity comes in.

      On the other hand, I’ve made a lot less money at this job than I could have if I’d stayed in the industry I worked in 25 years ago –I’d be very insecure in that one. One reason I picked this employer, because I’m exceptionally risk-averse.

      My husband is tenured faculty in a dept that is not going to be axed (core competency). He feels 0% job insecurity. Plus he’s never been laid off or fired, ever (luck), which I have.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Much as I no longer like higher ed, it’s more stable than other industries.

    3. Emelle*

      I have been a preschool teacher for 12 years. This is the first time I have ever felt like my job isn’t secure. (And quite frankly, it is low enrollment more due to parents not sending their kids to school because of pandemic outbreak concerns than parents losing their jobs.)

    4. Scifi Scientist*

      I’m government and unionized. But in my 20 year career I’ve been furloughed at both the state and federal level. I do have some security in that I’m able to come back to the same job and aren’t off looking for a new one every time but since the furloughs are either budget-based or politics-based it is always uncertain as to how long they will last and what to do to plan ahead.

    5. Greasy turtle burger*

      Im a non-union, government employee, and I feel that my job is fairly secure. Not because its a government position, but because of the job itself. I, along with the others in my department, build and maintain water and wastewater processing and conveyance systems.Unless things really go sideways, folks will always need water and use the bathroom.;)

  15. Dancing Otter*

    I wonder if it will change people’s shopping and eating habits. I know I’ve shifted a significant amount of my food budget away from restaurants/fast food toward actual groceries.
    Once upon a time, I was married to a unionized worker who insisted on stocking up on canned and packaged goods in advance of every contract renewal, in case there were a strike. My older relatives, who grew up in the Depression, resisted throwing away food. (No, you can’t just add a bit of baking powder to an expired cake mix. BTDT, yuck!)
    Will many of us do more planning and keeping the larder stocked, instead of running out for one or two items every day or two?
    While I think there may be a short-term celebration of being able to go out to dinner again, I wonder how many people will eat out as much as formerly, having learned what it’s like to eat home-cooking more often. Cheaper, healthier, not necessarily more time-consuming when you consider driving/parking/waiting to be seated/waiting to be served. Will we turn going out for dinner back into an occasional indulgence instead of just what we do by default? What else had become commonplace that will be scaled back?
    A lot of people, I think, had gotten into the habit of small indulgences that they have learned by necessity to do without right now. Maybe the shock of the current dislocation and uncertainty will make the emergency fund a higher priority than instant gratification.

    1. Nicotene*

      I know I will not feel comfortable letting some essential supplies run low the way I used to. Buying new TP or paper towels when I got to my last roll, or waiting to buy detergent / bleach / medical supplies with the assumption I’d be able to pick them up same-day at the store. Some of those shortages came so fast, you were basically out of luck if you needed something right away.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        When this started in earnest last March I began a slow stockpile, the default was to have a 14 day supply on hand. It seemed a little extreme at the time but we are heading into summer with no real end in sight and talk of more food shortages. Fortunately, my work is relatively secure but there will be less hours in September when the new school year begins. Most schools will stay on-line, so no kids on campus and no international students at all. The only good thing is that everyone I know is in the same boat with a few exceptions.

        1. J*

          Yes. I am trying to keep a rolling 14 day supply in addition to the planned needs for the next 14 days (I’ve been grocery shopping every two weeks). I want us to be able to lock down the household if/when my husband or I become ill.

        2. Pennyworth*

          One of our local politicians started the panic buying by telling us to get in 2 weeks of the basics – when the supermarkets were always going to be kept open with full supply lines operating. We have only just got back to normal.

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        I got so frustrated trying to buy paper goods (namely, TP and paper towels) from my local retail stores that I turned to the commercial supply chain. So I went from, “Oh, crud, I’m almost out of TP,” to “Holy cr@p, I’ve got 170 rolls of TP!!”

        Ditto paper towels and rubbing alcohol. I never once thought I’d ever be buying rubbing alcohol by the gallon jug, but here we are.

    2. Little Miss Cranky Pants*

      Okay, confession here, I grew up in Florida and have been used to being at least semi-prepped all summer and fall. Shrug. It’s just what you gotta do. Having seen the inept responses to disasters over the years, I think anyone who thinks the Government will swoop in and take care of is sadly mistaken.

      I stocked up prepping for Ebola back in 2014. A couple boxes of medical supplies, (alcohol, bleach wipes, masks, gloves, etc.), made sure my water supply was fresh, extra canned food, and yeah, live ammo. My brother laughed his ass off at me. Laughed a lot.

      But who do you think called me last month, asking about, um, well, er, masks and gloves? Would that be my sibling unit male asking to share? Why, yes, it was ! Sure I was dead wrong about Ebola, but a be-ready mentality will serve you for all kinds of disruptions.

      It’s gonna be a long, hot summer, folks. Get a little ahead with your supplies if you can.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Yep. It’s part of why I wasn’t shaking my head with exasperation at the run on bottled water. Sure, it didn’t make sense in relation to Covid, but in hurricane country, it’s not a bad thing for folks to have an extra flat of bottled water around.

      2. TootsNYC*

        every time there’s a huge disaster, I think that there is sense in preparing for it, even if it never comes again. Because there will be other, smaller disasters that those same tactics and supplies will be useful for.

    3. Jackalope*

      I’ve actually had the opposite response. I normally prefer to cook all of my meals in advance and don’t eat out that much but I just haven’t had the mental energy to do so, and because of things like having everyone home for lunch those meals go faster. So I’ve been leaning MORE on prepared meals since some days I just can’t bring myself to cook.

    4. SweetestCin*

      Minor change already happening in my shopping habits – I have a child with severe food allergies, to things other than just “peanuts” or “gluten” (sadly, there is a heavy portion of the world who think that “oh, you need GF bread? Its over there.” and nope, that’s not what I need. I need no milk, no eggs, no tree nuts, AND no peanuts.). Shopping during these quasi-shortages has been extremely frustrating. Not every option on the shelf IS an option for us (not unusual). When our option is actually there, we may be quantity limited, with no guarantee that “safe bread” will be there again in two weeks, four weeks, etc (this is fairly new and unusual to us). I can’t get half of it online, or at least with a reliable ship date.

      Ergo, my “have an extra container of shelf stable food allergy safe food” has been expanded to “no, you really need like 3-4 weeks worth of this shelf stable allergy safe food”.

      PS – someone said you could just add baking powder to expired cake mix? Blech.

      1. allathian*

        Would baking be an option for you? I know it’s not an option for everyone for various reasons, but I was wondering.

        1. SweetestCin*

          Thankfully, I learned how to bake at the point where my child was diagnosed – options weren’t as readily available. I haven’t been able to figure out quiche, but she’s never liked eggs anyways. The rest of it – cookies, muffins, cakes, pies, breads, bagels, soft pretzels, you name it, I can bake it or I will figure out how!

          As long as I’m WFH, this isn’t too big of a time-suck, because I can get the dough ready in the morning before I login, let it rise all morning, and then shape and bake at lunchtime. I’m not sure how I’ll figure the timing out once I start having to go to the office if we’re still in this situation though. (I figure that between physically being at home at lunchtime, and not commuting, I’m legit gaining three hours back a day, even putting in my full, typical schedule.)

          The kicker right now is that I cannot find yeast locally. I’m going to have to suck it up and buy it online in a quantity I’m not sure I’ll use up (it seems its sold in 1# bags…that’s a lot of yeast!)

          More along lines of “peanut butter substitutes”. At one point, my local store was out of PB, and I really hesitate to think that enough people were needing the substitutes that they were clean out of them, too. I mean, I don’t even see that at the start of the school year, when people may be trying to be nice and/or dealing with a peanut-free classroom and are buying substitutes. Or yesterday, the random thing my store was low on – allergy friendly chocolate chips. There’s a billion other options there, none of which we can use, and the allergy friendly ones are like triple the price….

          1. ReadingTheStoics*

            I watched an 18th c reenactment video (Townsends, on YouTube), that showed how to multiply/preserve yeast by pulling off a piece of dough and storing it in salt. You make up your bread dough with storebought yeast as you normally would, including letting it rise, and just before you bake it you pull off a fistful of dough, and pack it in a jar of salt. (Look at the video, there’s a technique for packing it.) This is referred to as “the leaven.” Then when you want to use your leaven, you brush the salt off the now dried-out leaven, chop it into bits, dissolve it into your wet ingredients, and make up your bread…pulling another hunk off and storing it just before baking. Repeat forever without having to buy yeast again. If you’re baking bread every couple of days, the leaven doesn’t have to be preserved in salt, but if it’s weekly, it’s a good idea. The salt slows down the yeast. I’m going to try this for the next bread batch this weekend.

            1. Presently DeMo*

              That’s really fascinating! I’ve never heard of doing that. It sounds like the basics of a sourdough starter. You really just need a little bit to let it grow with some fresh ingredients, then use it/save it, repeat.

    5. TiffIf*

      I’ve actually eaten MORE take out since the beginning of the pandemic in an effort to support local restaurants, but that’s only because 95% of the before time I would cook my own food.

    6. Loves Libraries*

      I agree about the current instant gratification mentality. I thought people would have remembered the 2008 recession and have the recommended 3-6 months of expenses saved. But no, the first month after furloughs people are expecting someone else to provide their food and pay their rent. I just don’t understand.

      1. Oh No She Di'int*

        I think that just because the recommendation was made in 2008 (and before) doesn’t mean it suddenly became more possible for people to do that. The underlying economic conditions that led to people living on the edge didn’t change after the recession. For many it was impossible to save that kind of money on subpar wages, and it still is.

    7. Jend*

      I drive right by the grocery store on my way home from work, so I usually stop by once or twice a week and grab whatever I’m low on. It baffled my roommate who is used to giant monthly shopping trips. When I had a grocery store in walking distance I’d hike over every weekend to pick up the next week’s groceries.

      That was Before.

      Now, the first of the month I head out to the grocery stores before they open so I’ll be first in line, and pick up a month’s worth of food. The fresh stuff I’ll work my way through immediately, but most of what I buy is frozen – frozen veggies, a giant case of frozen corndogs, a bag of frozen breakfast sausages, etc.
      I don’t really enjoy it. I like being able to figure out what I’m going to have for dinner and then buy that the day of. When this is over I’m going to go back to buying stuff weekly.

      I might continue buying a month’s worth of cat food at a time, though, that’s rather convenient.

  16. Nicotene*

    I think the people who are saying “no job is ever secure” are kind of missing the point here – if I’m understanding, OP is a manager who is writing in asking what she can do for people who know for *sure* it was their jobs, out of everyone, on the chopping block first. The company decided who out of all their workers to furlough and they picked this group. Now they’re back at work only because of the change of a single government program – but for how long?

    I would add to Allison’s advice that OP should probably anticipate that these workers may well leave their jobs if they get another chance, and to be supportive of that. Or maybe they want to transfer to a department that “brings money in.”

    Knowing your company figured you were the most expendable probably doesn’t feel good.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I would add to Allison’s advice that OP should probably anticipate that these workers may well leave their jobs if they get another chance

      Yup. I know I’d be getting my resume and cover letter together if I were them.

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        I’m currently on furlough and have been working on updating my CV and LinkedIn page, just in case I get sacked. I don’t want to leave my job (assuming I can go back to it), but I feel like it’s better to be prepared.

    2. ConcernedOP*

      OP here. That’s exactly right, Nicotene. I imagine it feels like a different kind of insecurity when the furlough and return are so fresh. I was actually a bit surprised that everyone came back. Some of the people I was managing are some of the best I’ve seen at the company in the 8 years I’ve been there. It would really be a shame if they decided to leave, though I probably wouldn’t blame them. I’m hoping that the other managers and I can help them feel not just secure again but happy with the work rather than always keeping an eye out for an escape route. Maybe some people are always doing that anyway, but I like to think that’s just the way they are and not because of the work environment we’ve set up.

      1. BRR*

        Are their jobs secure? I touched on this in my response off (where I mostly botched the question). If there is only money for their position via the PPL, what happens after eight weeks? Personally, I would be wondering what would change in eight weeks? I don’t imagine the company would be flush with cash.

        My husband’s company is handling it with transparency which is both great and terrifying. They’ve announced layoffs and furloughs will be announced Friday. People in departments where they don’t anticipate business will return ever are likely going to be laid off and people in departments where they anticipate that business is just stopped temporarily are being furloughed. The wait is terrifying and the speculation is terrifying but the transparency is appreciated. While not great by any means, it feels like people are being talked to like adults.

      2. cmcinnyc*

        Some departments bring in the revenue, some departments are essential support (like Accounting–got to have it regardless of industry), and some departments add a lot of value in good times but can be jettisoned in bad times. All those people now know where they stand in the company, and that’s just true. If I was one of them, I’d like to hear from management what they DO value about my job, and what we as a group bring to the table. The company has this department for a reason, even if they aren’t core to getting the work done and making an income. It’s some small thing to hold on to, maybe?

      3. Lilyp*

        I think you ought to focus on giving them transparency and honesty over making them feel better. It sounds like their jobs at your organization *are* precarious right now, and you shouldn’t try to talk them out of that or gaslight them about feeling worried. If something has genuinely changed about the organization’s plans or priorities or situation since they were furloughed or if you’re personally in a position to go to bat to keep their job safe in future rounds, that would be something to share. But otherwise, sometimes truth is kindness even if it’s uncomfortable. Losing good employees is a risk of furloughing people and it’s something your employer chose to take on to make ends meet temporarily.

    3. Fikly*

      If I were one of those employees, I’d be looking at why I wasn’t essential to the company in this time. Was it because of the exact things that got shut down because of covid, but in other circumstances, my job is much more essential? Then I would be less worried. If not, then I would not feel secure.

      Not everyone is getting furloughed for the same reasons. If your job is coordinating public events and your company does lots of things, well, yeah, you’re going to be on the list. But quite likely, in a crisis other than a pandemic, that wouldn’t be something that goes one the list.

      1. SweetestCin*

        That was my thought too. Was a program that I’m specifically working on mothballed (been there, done that, see you later 2008!)? Or is it an overall issue within the company?

    4. Searching for a New Name*

      Yeah, this. The “no job is ever secure” response is pretty dismissive in this context.

      1. Annoyed admin*

        Agreed! That happens a lot here – people project their own stuff onto the question and don’t end up answering it or being helpful. Sorry the replies have been so unhelpful, OP!

        Fwiw I’m a furloughed admin and I think IF I return my employer and/or manager would be in a tough spot to try and make me feel secure. The paradox is that I think more transparency/openness about the state of things would help me, since I was blindsided by being furloughed and have barely been communicated with in the several weeks it’s continued. But it’s very possible that the news is still going to be bad, for the company/industry and for me, even if I am able to return, so I’m not sure more information will be at all helpful…

  17. Anon Today*

    I will never trust my employer again.

    Not because my salary was reduced, but because of what their response to the pandemic has revealed about the organization’s lack of vision, values, and leadership. Because of the careless mistakes that were made that (unintentionally) excluded furloughed staff from accessing unemployment benefits. Because of the incompetence that led to a failure to receive PPP funding. Because of how it was decided which roles would be cut, and which salaries would be reduced. Because of the uneven, inequitable distribution of “pain” across program areas, and the inflexibility about how to deploy resources and solutions.

    So no, I won’t ever feel secure at my organization again. I know more than I knew two months ago. I may or may not have a job in two months, but even if I do I know that our leadership can’t be trusted to rebuild the kind of organization I want to be a part of.

      1. Wired Wolf*

        If the employer mucks up the UI paperwork it can happen…some states don’t know what ‘furlough’ means and are clueless about the idea of paying people to keep them active in payroll. When we were furloughed the company announced that their lawyers had figured that we could be paid a certain amount without it impacting benefits…well it took me 3 weeks, back-and-forth emails with my manager (in which they directed me to essentially commit fraud) and speaking to a reporter about the situation before things got shaken loose and even then I didn’t get paid for all the weeks I claimed. I’m getting paid through PPP now so am off UI, but still glancing over my shoulder in case UI comes back and yells fraud.

        1. Wired Wolf*

          …which they just did. It’s listed as “non-fault fraud” which means I likely did nothing wrong; the weeks they list coincide with the weeks of the “furlough pay” that they didn’t understand. I have to submit a waiver request by 7PM tonight and the info they’re asking for is bogus (luckily, I have notes on all my weekly activities and printed out every document they sent me). I can’t help but think about all the people who might be in a similar situation to me but can’t figure out what’s going on/don’t have the mindset to keep pushing back.

    1. Clumsy Ninja*

      I can agree with this. I’m very disappointed in how my organization has handled everything related to the pandemic.

  18. Elenna*

    But don’t you know, people who don’t have jobs are just lazy and not looking hard enough, so they don’t deserve to be healthy! /infinite sarcasm

    Like other commenters said, hopefully some people are realizing that tying health insurance to jobs makes no fricking sense…

    1. Dragoning*

      I think plenty of people realized that before and are hoping this will be the weight to really drive the hammer down on that nail.

      1. Amy Sly*

        Seriously. Now, I accept that people will have different ideas on how to have a health insurance system not tied to employers (e.g. government single payer, something more like the car insurance market, etc.) but this should make clear the status quo is not tenable.

      2. Fikly*

        It doesn’t matter what people realize as long as the people in power continue to not pass the needed laws.

    2. Batgirl*

      Who are the people who want the status quo and do you think they still will? Not really understanding the system makes me wonder does it work well for some people?
      I can kind of sorta imagine people with great support networks and good jobs thinking “Oh it will never be a problem for me” but surely something as unprecedented as this – who could have predicted something affecting masses of people’s jobs and health at the same time – must have shaken loose some privileged assumptions.
      In Britain it’s kind of fun to watch the same people who voted down pay rises for nurses wax lyrical about them. Even teachers are getting odes from ministers who had vocally put target signs on the profession not too long ago. Now they’re going for hero rhetoric. You can feel a change in the air here.

      1. Blueberry*

        I’m not sure how much hero rhetoric is a change, though. Saying someone is a “hero” implies that they don’t need resources (like proper pay and PPE), just praise.

        (I hope voters remember which politicians started burbling over with empty praise for those they used to consider useless, though.)

        1. Batgirl*

          Oh, I know it’s not genuine; I just enjoy watching people climb down and then paint themselves into corners. It will be interesting to see the effect on the next election. Hoping for the same surge in supporting social structures we got post-war.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I have really good insurance through work.
        And I am terrified of getting laid off.
        Several years ago, I was miserable at my job, and I really needed to leave for my own mental health. I couldn’t; I carried the insurance for my family of 4. And we couldn’t be without it.

        “In Britain it’s kind of fun to watch the same people who voted down pay rises for nurses wax lyrical about them,”
        That’s not the same thing as paying them cold, hard cash.

      3. Pennalynn Lott*

        The people who want the status quo are insurance companies, for-profit hospitals, and for-profit pharma companies. They stand to lose billions if we move to some kind of single-payer system.

      4. Black Horse Dancing*

        IN the USA, we just spends gobs of money on air shows for our medical people.

  19. Ana Maus*

    I was laid off when I was 50 and since then, I’ve been working contract except for one six-month disaster. I haven’t felt job security in a very long time.

    I’m grateful that my current contract is with a sane organization and I was able to be moved to a different project when budget cuts were announced.

    But security? That’s a pipe dream

  20. HR Missy*

    I’m currently on furlough in the UK (very lucky to at least be getting full pay). I’m admittedly anxious about eventually returning – it’s a combination of mental health from isolating since lockdown in March and also how furloughed staff have been treated.

    In our company the tea-pot sellers have had ongoing communication from directors and management, regular contact within their own teams. One member of staff who turned 40 had a nice Zoom meeting to celebrate.

    And our division? Teapot checkers…yeah. Originally we were summoned to a Zoom call where we were originally furloughed at 80% (but apparently the 20% is a saving as we weren’t going to be doing anything…) and then rushed off and left to our own devices. We were then thrown off the group teapot chat “to protect the business” and our IT access immediately revoked without warning. I’ve only had one call from the director about being furloughed at 100% – for a company that has been posting on social media about how we’re all one big happy family but in reality we’ve heard nothing more than a whisper. Would have been nice to have been included in any meetings, but apparently we are not business essential.

    After this, I certainly don’t feel secure in my role, even if we do eventually return. Business is business, but sadly I’m not the only person who has seen bad practice from companies during this time :(

  21. RobotWithHumanHair*

    I felt secure until I was furloughed a month ago. The furlough made me much less secure, but I’m an anxious sort even on the best of days, so that’s normal.

    Then I felt even less secure when I found out that remote employees were being called back to the office this week.

    I felt even LESS secure when I saw a FB post from the company promoting a new product and stating that they’re “open for business as usual”. Which is funny, because if they’re selling product, that presupposes that I should be there for QC purposes before it heads to the client.

    Instead, I’m still sitting at home, waiting on unemployment to come through.

  22. Jedi Squirrel*

    This question was asked in 2008, and I think a lot of people (but not all) did eventually feel secure again. I know I did even after a lot of job insecurities. People have short memories, and don’t necessarily want to spend time dwelling on the past.

    But this is so different. People didn’t die in 2008. People are dying now.

    I’m scared to death. I’ll never feel like I did a year ago.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Amen. This whole thing is like being in the middle of a apocalyptic-horror film. So surreal.

  23. EA*

    I’m ANGRY. My employer used this all as an opportunity to really treat a lot of us pretty badly, jerk us around, keep us in the dark, and maintain inconsistent guidelines for safety purposes across the company. I’m still being jerked around and am working at a post and in a way that is psychologically unhealthy and potentially physically dangerous. Oh, for close to minimum wage. The economy is for poop now, but it will get better, and when it does, I am so gone, so far, as fast as I can. Until then, I’m maintaining a positive attitude (outwardly) and my best customer service face I can. Then I go home and complain at my dog. He isnt gonna talk to anyone.
    My mom asked when I planned on returning to normal activity again. Never. I will never return to my prior going out to eat/movies/bookstore behavior again, because I never, ever, EVER again want to be this dependent on a job ever again. I’ve proven that I can work 5 days a week and just go home to macaroni and cheese, sit at home over the weekend, and save cash. I’ve cut my expenses down to roughly half my current income. I recognize that a lot of my current dependency stems from my prior, less frugal, behavior. I hope no one is counting on me suddenly frequenting businesses that have not seen me since March, because they wont be seeing me in July, either. And this turned into a rant. I’m sorry.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      A dog and mac and cheese? I’m kinda jealous.

      Seriously though, congrats on getting your expenses under control. There have been a lot of articles out about frugality becoming a thing again. That’s at least one good outcome of this situation.

      And I’m sorry your employer is a box of asshats.

    2. Nicotene*

      I had a lot of friends here in the District whose salaries got cut WITHOUT compensatory decrease in hours. So they’re still working 40 hours plus, from home while trying to juggle kids etc, for 70 per cent or less of their salary? That is totally crappy and they’re going to remember that when this is over. They’re also watching like a hawk to see if the salaries get restored once the pandemic is over – most are skeptical they won’t.

    3. Raea*

      “I will never return to my prior going out to eat/movies/bookstore behavior again, because I never, ever, EVER again want to be this dependent on a job ever again.”

      Ooooo hit me in the feels! I like this perspective!

    4. Karia*

      Yep. I once survived on £9k a year. When this is over the places getting my money will be charity shops, the library and the vegetable market. I can live like that if it reduces my anxiety.

      1. TiffIf*

        I was looking at some past tax returns and found a year (circa 2009) when my income was somewhere around $7k USD. I don’t actually know how I survived on that.

        1. Karia*

          It seems incomprehensible now. I did it though; renting a cheap single room in a house, a completely vegetarian diet, shopping at the vegetable market, thrifting everything including cutlery, occasionally flipping second hand finds on eBay, walking everywhere and using my library as entertainment. I hope I never have to do it again but I guess I did it.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is what happened to our grandparents during the Great Depression in the end. This is why some folks still hide money in coffee cans buried in their backyards and scream at you if you throw out half a turkey sandwich. It’s the scars left behind of the destruction these huge life events can have on us psychologically.

      On the flipside, you’ll be able to be one of those frugal, rich folk one day!

      1. The Original K.*

        I often wonder what our trauma response behavior will look like, once this is over. My grandparents grew up in the Depression. They hoarded canned goods. When they died there was a full pantry, their freezer was full, and they had a SECOND freezer in the basement that was also full. The family divided up that food and ate for, literally, weeks, and there was still stuff we gave to a local food bank. My grandmother would reuse tea bags and wash out plastic bags and aluminum foil.

        For us, will it be hand-washing? I was always pretty hygienic but I wash my hands much more now. Will we snap at people when they touch their faces? Will we always wear masks?

        (I’m already frugal, in part because I went through a layoff and know the value of a rainy day fund, so I don’t think that will change for me.)

        1. TootsNYC*

          I’m wondering if the new handwashing focus, and the masks, and the “don’t go places if you’re sick!!” way of thinking will have a noticeable impact on flu season!

          1. Pennalynn Lott*

            It has already had a noticeable impact on my health. In the Before Time, if one of my cats accidentally scratched me or I tore a hangnail, I’d “hit it with soap”, put some antibac cream on it, and maybe put a Band-Aid on it just to keep the cream on.

            I always, *always* ended up with a tiny, localized infection. You know, the kind that only hurts if you bump the [red, slightly swollen] area against something. I thought that’s how healing worked.

            And then… I tore a hangnail on March 18. I washed that finger with sudsy soap for 30 seconds, then applied the antibac cream. The next day? Nothing. I could clearly see where there’d been a tear in the skin and new skin was growing but there was *zero* redness and pain. Total forehead-slap moment for me. I had simply never given the soap enough time to do its job.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I scraped my knee and got an infection, and the urgent-care doc said, “You didn’t scrub it. You need to really, really scrub it–studies have shown that it makes a huge difference. It hurts, but it has to.”

          2. allathian*

            I wonder how soon people’ll throw away their masks once it hits 100 F?
            I hate things touching my face, so I’m glad to live in an area where mask use is neither mandated nor strongly recommended for people who aren’t healthcare workers or otherwise provide personal service, such as beauticians.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          We’re already noticing people becoming relaxed and slacking on these things though. So I don’t know how large of the population that will truly hit in the end. Especially those who aren’t sick, who haven’t lost a loved one or seen it close up.

          Meanwhile I heard someone cough the other day and nearly hit the deck like there was a drive by shooting, sigh.

    6. ReadingTheStoics*

      I SO wish this had happened to me when I was your age – please go look up Mr. Money Mustache…this attitude absolutely can lead to early financial independence. Go you!

  24. Amber Rose*

    You want security? Push harder for UBI. Force it down government’s throats until it happens. This whole mess is BS and it should be acknowledged as such and changed while we’re all thinking about it.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      Weirdly, I was put at risk of redundancy in January due to cost savings unrelated to Covid 19 (this is in the UK where at will employment isn’t a thing as much as jobs are generally more secure).
      Fortunately, I am no longer at risk and I’m lucky to be in an industry where Covid 19 doesn’t impact us and I’m in a job where I can work from home so I feel more secure than I did before all this started.

      1. Amber Rose*

        My husband is in a similar boat, except Covid 19 gave him more job security. He works for healthcare, and our government was threatening huge cuts to all the non-union workers. The pandemic forced them to put a halt to a lot of their cuts for a while.

        I’m in the opposite boat. I felt secure, and now I really very much don’t.

        1. Xavier Desmond*

          I agree with you about UBI. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s happening anytime soon but I think it’s an idea who’s time will come.

  25. Ann O'Nemity*

    I’m pretty cynical about this. I’m in the group that graduated into a recession, saddled with tons of debt. I’ve never experienced the kind of job security my parents enjoyed. Now I’m at a point in my career where I feel like I should be doing really well, but the economy is worse than ever. Housing and childcare costs are obscene, but wages haven’t kept pace at all. I never really trusted employers before; jobs have always been precarious Furloughs, salary cuts, layoffs almost seem like par for the course at this point. For someone like me, I don’t know if there’s anything a manager can do or say that’s going to make me feel differently about my entire professional career experience.

    1. Karou*

      I am also cynical that companies will use first the pandemic then the economic impact as an excuse to keep reduced salaries low and lay people off, even when it’s “over”. I’ve already seen one company lay off a handful of people supposedly due to the coronavirus that I am extremely suspicious about as it was only a couple weeks into lockdown, while the company was still operating and couldn’t have lost much money that quickly. Shady.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        My husband’s company did something similar. Laid off 30% of the workforce in anticipation of possible reduction in revenue. Salary cuts for the “survivors,” who were also expected to pick up the slack. So far, there’s been no slowdown in business! Of course it’s still possible that they’ll experience a downturn, but isn’t that when they should be reducing headcount, not now? Right now my husband’s doing his best with the stress and long hours for less pay, but the experience has damaged his long-term loyalty.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yeah, they definitely should have done that as a last resort. Yikes.

    2. NW Mossy*

      Yeah, I hear you. This is the third major financial meltdown I’ve lived through (I’m nearly 40), and I can see how it’s normalized some things for me that my older colleagues just struggle to grasp.

      Just yesterday, a peer manager was lamenting that she’s not being allowed to backfill a role that came vacant on her team last year. She’s been banging this drum for a while, and I just want to shake her by the shoulders and tell her to give it up because it’s not happening.

      I’ve been in the workforce for almost 20 years now and I have literally never worked for an organization where you could safely assume that you’d be able to backfill if someone left. If you want one, you’d better have your arguments dialed like you’re about to go before the Supreme Court. She’s not understanding that this is how hiring works now, and she’s kind of hosed herself by whining rather than making a substantiated case.

    3. anon4this*

      Yep. I decided to attend Really Prestigious College; it was expensive, but my parents said employers would take one look at that and basically give me any job I wanted. This certainly seemed to be true of my friends’ slightly older siblings going to similar places. But I graduated in 2009. I got exactly one job offer, and went in feeling grateful to have even that. The environment was toxic, but I kept trying to suck it up because what choice did I have? But by about 6 months in, it was taking a toll on my health, so I quit. The job after that, with a much smaller company, was much better, but looking back on it now, I don’t think it was entirely legal (the company has since folded). My third job was AMAZING and so stimulating, but it was in a costly city and I barely managed to cover my rent. This is how it went for a long time. The first respectable, decently paying job I got was in 2016. I still don’t have long term security, but I’m finally about to pay off my last student loan, 11 years later. Maybe after that I can start thinking about building long term savings. I actually loved attending Really Prestigious College – had an incredible intellectual experience and figured a lot of stuff out about who I was and what I wanted to do. But I think I spent as much on my degree there as my parents did buying a house.

  26. Colette*

    I’ve been laid off three times, and it is possible to feel secure again – but I don’t count on a job for security. My current job is secure, even with the pandemic, but I still have savings and know what I could cut if I needed to. And that’s good.

    Every time I mention saving here, people chime in with “not everyone can save!” – and that’s true, but there are a lot of people who could and don’t. The pandemic will change that for some people, and it’ll be interesting to see what effects that has.

    1. TiffIf*

      For a very long time I was not in any position to save. However, I have been with a company now for 7 years where in the past 2-3 years I was finally in a position to save. I’m an older millennial whose earnings were greatly impacted by the great recession and in that time allowed my credit card debt to get too high–it took a while to dig out of that hole and I still have lingering student loan debt (though I am now paying that down aggressively and my student loans were never as high as many people’s). My savings isn’t huge in absolute terms but I know I am in a better position than many. I still rent though, which has always makes me feel insecure, and I dream one day of owning a house–after almost 20 years of shared walls I want to live in a place where I don’t hear every bump, thump or conversation of the upstairs/downstairs/next door neighbor. (I really don’t understand how people who live their entire lives in apartments/condos do it.)

      I am fortunate enough right now that I am working full time from home and at full salary, in an industry/company that, so far is fairly insulated from the current economic repercussions, but I still don’t actually feel secure because my brain still lives in the time before I had sufficient money or was able to save, so I often feel anxious about it even though intellectually I know that I DO have a bit of a savings cushion and my finances are perfectly fine right now.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        (I really don’t understand how people who live their entire lives in apartments/condos do it.)

        You have to move to places that are very well insulated, have very strict rules about noise (and actually enforces said rules), and/or move somewhere with a lot of old people, lol. That’s what I’ve done and, for the most part, it’s worked out great.

  27. Coverage Associate*

    I agree with the consensus that I will put this way: OP is mostly asking the wrong question. While there are some things OP can do to help returning employees feel better, mostly OP should consider how to manage in circumstances where her team doesn’t feel a lot of job security.

    I am not Alison, so I don’t really know the answer to that question. I would probably start with planning for change and turnover: cross training, prioritizing, documenting processes, etc.

  28. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    I’ve made enemies here but I am posting again rather than disappear into a new name, but – I have experience with “will people who have been furloughed or laid off ever feel secure again”?

    In my experience, the first round of layoffs (or furloughs maybe, this is a bit unprecedented) is the initiation into the “uncertainty” that is just below the surface of most situations but goes unacknowledged most of the time.

    To be proceeding exactly as normal and then to be called into an all-hands meeting and told (something like) we’ve evaluated what is profitable and the people of Department X are unfortunately being laid off?

    And then nothing seems ‘certain’ or ‘secure’ ever again, because that’s your initiation into how everything can change at the drop of a hat.

    In my experience, the first time this happened was sort of a “alarm bells” situation. I had been at the job about 2 months at the time, and needed this job to be able to apply for “something I needed clearance for” and then suddenly it was dissolving, and didn’t even involve me that time, but from then on I was wary of these things.

    TL;DR I think that once you experience your first “laying off” (or furlough etc) event, there’s no going back to feeling ‘secure’ ultimately.

    1. TiffIf*

      I’ve never even been laid off actually–but I have had desperate financial insecurity–which also leads to this never actually feeling secure. I don’t even know if I would feel secure if I won the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes or some other large windfall just because that financial insecurity carved such a deep scar in my psyche.

    2. NW Mossy*

      My first post-college job ended like this – the company I was working for went through seriously painful death pangs as it collapsed.

      Every day was like a new level of horror as we bounced around a range of possible fates almost daily. The all-hands meeting on Monday was all about how some competitor wanted to buy us, by Tuesday it was a private equity buyout, and by Thursday we were back to wondering if our keycards would work on Friday.

      It’s hard to capture how much an experience like that writes onto your thoughts about how the working world functions. If nothing else, I now have a much easier time staying calm when things are dire at work, because they’re rarely of the “how many executives will end up in prison because of this?” variety.

    3. Ruby*

      I was laid off a year into my first after-college job, luckily or unluckily depending on how you look at it. It taught me to never fully trust what bosses tell you, and don’t get too wrapped up in your job. I think that’s served me well.

  29. Librarian of the North*

    About three years ago my Dad was laid off and my Husband’s position was eliminated and he was moved into a new position with a 30% pay cut. They work in entirely different industries and it was unrelated to any economic situation. I’ve had serious job anxiety since. Anytime my husband is home early from work unexpectedly or calls me from work my heart beats fast. I am picking my job based on trying to secure us in separate job types. I think we have yet to see the full extent of the mental damage this situation will cause for everyone. It’s going to be hard.

    1. Anon for this one*

      I know several people who are “couples working for the same company” (not as co-workers or managers/reports) where I can’t imagine the “eggs in baskets” anxiety right now. One of the couples is in what I perceive as a ‘vulnerable’ industry.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I ha a bad stretch at a job from which I pretty much expected to be fired. My youngest was about 13, so he was starting to be really aware, and he’s always been a little sensitive and a little anxious.
      Ever since that, if I’m home on a work day, my son is asking, “Why are you at home, Mom!”

  30. Kay*

    I think this can be generational, even. My father was laid off in the recession around 1990-1991, and I was just old enough to start to understand what was going on around me. He was an engineer and found contract work again quickly but it was a few years before he found a true full-time position. My mother went back to work overnight as a nurse in the meantime. They had always been frugal and careful but it kicked into overdrive after that. Having some of my earliest and clearest memories being of my parents embracing borderline extreme frugality and never feeling like their financial cushion was “enough” – my brothers and I are of a similar mindset as adults.

    In the same way, my grandparents lived through the Great Depression as adolescents/teenagers and my grandmother carefully wrung out and hung paper towels to dry for the rest of her life. She taught me to sew, to shop for sales, and once for Christmas gave my mother and I an entire huge box of miscellaneous things that she had gotten as the “one free” on BOGO sales over the year.

  31. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Older millennials who graduated into the Great Recession are still scared. This will just be another blow to them in the long run, especially with their crippling student debt still taunting them on the daily basis.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Yup, although this time I’m actually employed and my company continues to secure business, so maybe, hopefully, I won’t wind up unemployed during another recession?


  32. Retail not Retail*

    My department found out today that we got the PPP money. Meanwhile my manager has only been giving us info two weeks at a time since the last week of march – “the next two weeks same pay!”

    I don’t know if it’s deliberate or he didn’t know but it is just. Please. Be transparent if you can.

    Our first two week announcement came at 2:45 (we get off at 3) on Thursday. Half the team had Thursday as their Friday. My manager knew Wednesday morning that it was good news but was told to keep it from us. Thanks for the extra day of stress!

  33. Bella*

    it’s funny (kind of) but I never realized until recent years how much the 2008 recession impacted pretty much all my decisions. It happened while I was in college and I remember all you ever read about was people trying desperately to get a job… anywhere… for not months, but YEARS… everyone was a waitress or a bartender in the meantime.

    I took a year to be an au pair after school ended because it seemed like a more solid lead than whatever waited for me, and felt lucky when I got a job paying $12 to copywrite (in a cheap city, to be fair).

    I was just so glad I didn’t have to keep doing holiday work at Target, because I am a terrible cashier!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I still cringe at people who say “Just get a job at McDonald’s!” or “go bag groceries!” because in 2009, when my friends all graduated…they weren’t hired by the grocery stores or fast food. It was so bad that FAST FOOD told you “Nah, you’re just using us to pay the bills until you find something better [well no shht, isn’t that point?]”

      So I’m actually in awe a bit that you made something happen out of school, lots of people didn’t! And then were lambasted for “still living at home with their parents” and called “bums” and so on. They were trying. They couldn’t get minimum wage jobs, let alone anything in their area of study!

      1. Archaeopteryx*

        Eugh to all those thinkpieces calling us adolescent because we weren’t buying houses, investing, saving six months’ safety net in our 20s… like, I paid fat stacks for a BA, graduated with honors, and ended up working retail for years. But sure, it’s because we think avocados taste good that we can’t buy a house.

        1. Karia*

          Oh I hate that attitude so much. Tiny luxuries don’t equal deposit money.

          And all the good money advice sites *recommend* putting money aside for small discretionary purchases. Humans are not robots, and giving yourself small regular treats can prevent truly unaffordable splurges later on.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

            > Tiny luxuries don’t equal deposit money.

            It’s a convenient narrative: With my cynical hat on… journalists (maybe also millennials) embrace the “avocado purchases are what keeps millennials from a stable living situation — ergo they just need to give up the avocado toast!” narrative because it’s what sells articles, and in their own turn keeps them in (somewhat precarious) employment!

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        This was the story of my life – I graduated in September ‘09 and didn’t get a job until the end of August ‘10. And it was a temporary, part-time office assistant job at a for-profit college, smh.

    2. Swamp Rabbit*

      I started college just after the Great Recession, and it hugely influenced my life path and all my decision-making. I changed my major/career plans A LOT of times because I was so worried about being unemployable. Everyone was pushing STEM as the path to job security, but I had a math learning disability and knew anything with a lot of numbers and technology would be my ticket to getting fired. I had originally wanted to study anthropology and specialize in Mongolian tribal societies and Saami reindeer herders in post-Soviet Russia. The recession scared me shitless, so I decided to make a “practical” decision and pursue journalism – I could get paid to write! After I heard many horror stories of small town newspapers closing and veteran journalists never managing to break $30,000, I changed to teaching. Most of the teachers I knew at suburban school districts managed to retire at age 55-60 thanks to their public school pension, so this seemed like my path to financial stability. The only problem was that everyone and their mother wanted to become a teacher to get a fantastic pension, meaning jobs were only available to newbies at under-funded school districts which made you buy your own classroom supplies on a salary of $35 K. Scratch that! I pivoted back to the idea of world cultures again, this time wanting to specialize in a language few Americans study so I could be a competitive candidate for lucrative foreign policy positions. I failed to consider the fact that I would need to study abroad, which was out of reach for me financially even cobbling together scholarship funding. Ironically my desire to “outsmart the next financial crisis” led me to take out extra loans as a result of changing my major one too many times. I ended up in social work, which I previously had dismissed due to its reputation as low-paying. When I realized how plentiful social work positions were in my area and how great a need there was for social workers, this eased the anxiety the Great Recession had cultivated within me . I also was attracted to the mission of social work, to advance equality for all people, as a result of the economic issues I went through during the Recession and during the painfully slow/inadequate recovery. My life would have taken a totally different path had I never experienced dead-end jobs and financial uncertainty during the Great Recession and its aftermath.

  34. Frustration Nation*

    I work in TV production, which is a typically unstable job. For the past 5 years I’ve been working on a long running cable show, so have managed to have pretty steady employment. The catch for steady TV employment is a tremendous paycut, which I agreed to because I thought I’d be able to move around within the company and learn some new skills. Turned out that hasn’t been the case. I’m still doing the same job I was hired to do, and was overqualified for then, for only slightly more than when I was hired. We were told to work from home the middle of March, and then furloughed 3 days into that. Unfortunately, we can’t produce more episodes until domestic travel is safe and the public will allow us into their homes, which I suspect is a long ways off. The network that airs our show has a tremendous backlog, and is now airing it on other networks they own as well, so they’re making money off our work, but we don’t receive any residuals (nonfiction TV staff are not unionized, so there are no residual agreements). Basically, the network is doing just fine without us, at least for a little while. They’re certainly not paying us while we’re furloughed, and we have no idea when we can go back to work, which is tough because we made so little money to begin with. Working in this industry means I’ve never really felt secure in my job, but at least knowing other shows were being produced kept the hope alive that I could eventually jump to another project. With EVERYTHING shut down, the outlook at this point is bleak. Most small production companies operate at a deficit, so they’ll need an influx of cash just to get up and running again. No idea if the networks will pony up that money. I know we’ll all go back eventually, but when is the big issue. And if it will be safe when we do. Hopefully the network won’t make us go back too early because they want more episodes. What would make us feel better is a solid list of actions our company will take to keep their employees safe, both in the office and out in the field. We know work is never guaranteed. But it should be safe!

    1. TootsNYC*

      that’s what publishing has been like, only in a slow, slow decline.

      In my career, I’ve been laid off 8 times, and witnesses 3 waves of layoffs that didn’t tag me.

      In the early years, it wasn’t a problem; the longest I was out of work was 6 weeks (and i made money, because severance overlapped with unemployment)
      In recent years, it hasn’t been easy. And if I get laid off in the next wave that’s coming (I don’t know if I’ll be the one tagged, but it wouldn’t surprise me), I don’t really know where I’ll get work.
      I’ll have to reinvent.

  35. Princess Zelda*

    My younger sister’s only 21, and she’s now been laid off twice, has been fired for having food allergies, and has been forced to resign because she wouldn’t violate occupational safety requirements. I highly doubt she’ll ever feel secure in any job. Our parents think that’s a tragedy, but I think it’s just reality. No job is “safe,” and so we might as well just try to do what we like what we can (and what pays the bills when we can’t) instead of chasing some illusory security.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      My first job at 19 went bankrupt. I heard daily threats of violence aimed at our owner for his business going under and being unable to pay the debts owed to South American business men who gave him credit.

      So I have hope that your sister can bounce back regardless of seeing some really ugly sides of working in the end.

      I’ve always been secure in my jobs after I got my first stable one at 22. The other couple of years between the year plus I spent in the first position was spent in temp work, so that is by nature unstable.

  36. JohannaCabal*

    After surviving 2009 (a layoff and then a firing), I’ve learned that no job is really permanent. After those experiences, I hate to say it but I developed a mindset to always be prepared for the worst. Even though my two subsequent jobs were awesome and I’ve grown professionally, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    Plus, it doesn’t help that I grew up in a household where my dad was the only one that worked and since he never finished college, he was stuck in sales jobs. This meant he never really advanced. So, he frequently was laid off or even fired at times.

    I recognize that I’ve had the privilege to save enough to have a cushion. My advice would be to do this, even if it’s just a few dollars here and there. Also, develop skills in other areas. I’ve started a podcast and am bucking down to finally write my novel.

    Right now my company has cut our pay by 20%. Supposedly, it’s for two months but who knows? I’m keeping my eyes open and am even applying to other places (have had some Zoom interviews already).

  37. Ancient Alien*

    This entire episode has firmed up my future career planning. Assuming my health holds up, I’ve got about 25 years of work ahead of me before i can retire at 70. I used to think i wanted to move up 1-2 levels into management, but now, I’m realizing im perfectly fine in a senior analyst role. I plan to seek out new opportunities at this level every 5-6 years for the express purpose of learning new skills to increase my future employability. My focus has shifted from climbing the ladder to remaining employable. I’ve seen it happen to too many friends and colleagues 10-15 years older than me that thought they were secure in a low to mid-level management position, get laid off, and then bam, it becomes glaringly apparent that they haven’t learned anything new in years and have great difficulty finding another role (because now they are “overqualified” for non-management roles). Of course, YMMV, but for me and my industry, i think its lateral moves from here on out. That, and i don’t want to spend time and energy learning how to be a manager when i could focus that time and energy setting up an independent income stream for myself.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      This is my thought process as well – I’m trying to learn everything I can when it comes to content development and management so that I can move around throughout the remainder of my 30+ long career without much trouble.

  38. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    Even for businesses that weather this pandemic just fine financially there has been a sudden and steep learning curve to change how they do business…so far i see a lot of online comments about the end of open offices or more WFH…but what I’m seeing at least in my org is a rapid leap in technology and a swift end to paradigm paralysis.  This is always going to have positive and negative results. My org made the switch to online and digital everything quickly…but it’s very likely to continue long after the pandemic is over. For instance, why spend $$$$ and have a staff of say 20 people…facilities, IT and AV, event coordinators, janitorial, marketing/comm, etc., putting on an event in a physical location when you can use 1/3 that number to hold a virtual event. It’s been a steep and rocky learning curve but once it’s learned, our senior leaders have already indicated we’re not going back. We pulled it off because we were forced to. My job is so far secure, but it isn’t going to function anything like it was before. I’ve been spending the last 2 months largely taking any course i can…LinkedIn Learning, YouTube, Adobe tutorials, Office 365 tutorials…to pivot to about 90% digital projects; where we had been about 30% before.

  39. Turquoisecow*

    I worked at a company that did mass layoffs roughly once a year and then went bankrupt and closed, largely due to incompetent and somewhat corrupt management. The experience taught me to never trust anyone in business. The Company looks out for its own interests and not its employees’. You can work all the late nights and weekends you want for reduced pay – the company will still drop you like a hot potato if it serves their needs.

    I was lucky and didn’t get laid off until the very end, but I saw plenty of hard working people get tossed out to save the company a few bucks on salary. I don’t feel secure in corporate America and it has nothing to do with the pandemic.

    1. CW*

      Have you considered starting your own business? That way, you would be in control an feel more secure. Just a thought, though.

      1. Have dragon, will quest in exchange for hummus*

        Have you considered that they’re gonna have to pay the healthcare costs of themselves AND their employees, or potentially not provide any insurance at all? And that if the business goes under in an emergency like this one, their credit goes under? What planet do you live on?

      2. Sacred Ground*

        Have you considered asking what someone even does for a living before making that suggestion?

        And since when is starting up a new solo business a path to LESS financial anxiety?

  40. MrsSwimmer*

    We had massive layoffs in 2015. I always think I’ll be laid off. The fear never goes away.

    1. OTRex*

      Yup, was laid off twice during the last recession (and yes, actually laid off, not fired), and that was 10 years ago, I have a new career and I still have never shaken the fear, even before the pandemic.

  41. OTRex*

    I’m in healthcare and I’m not a doctor or a nurse. I live every day in fear that I will lose my job. I’m single, so if that happens, I’m screwed, because getting a new job will be nearly impossible; I’m a licensed health professional so it’s not like I can just hop to a new career, and my role isn’t exactly one that is in hot demand during a viral pandemic.

  42. Swamp Rabbit*

    As someone who spends the majority of my workday on the phone with health insurance companies, we need universal healthcare ASAP. A big component of my job is quality control – making sure that our providers fulfill their mandated reporter responsibilities, ensuring conflicting diagnoses are reconciled within patient records, verifying that treatment plans are clear and comprehensive, making sure we have necessary information releases on file, and checking that appropriate referrals are made for patients’ needs. The fragmented nature of the American healthcare system siphons time away from addressing these important patient safety and quality of care issues. It’s really common for health insurance companies to delegate a different company for administering a patient’s benefits (or sometimes multiple different companies, depending on if it’s mental health, pharmacy, etc). If I call a patient’s Blue Cross of Narnia policy and the representative tells me that they actually carve out benefits to the UnitedHealthcare Hogwarts Employee Plan, I just wasted half an hour on hold. This is actually a best case scenario – sometimes I may be making twice weekly calls to Blue Cross of Narnia, presenting the clinical rationale for the patient’s treatment and filing necessary appeals, only to find out a month later that I now need to start the process all over again with the United Healthcare Hogwarts Employee plan. Because pre-certification could not be filed on time with the UnitedHealthcare Hogwarts Employee plan, now they are requesting a live peer review with our physician. All of this wasted time takes away from critical tasks which actually impact patient outcomes. Don’t get me started on the employers who switch insurance policies on January 1st, and their hospitalized employee is never notified they now have a different health insurance company…

    In some cases it is no exaggeration to suggest that the time spent on health insurance-related administration tasks equals hundreds or even thousands of dollars worth of labor (between my pay, the pay of the doctor/clinican at the insurance company, the pay of customer service reps, paper records we need to mail in, and the pay of our doctor if they need to get involved). These administrative expenses drive up the cost of services and are better reallocated toward actual medical services and quality assurance focused on the patients’ needs. If claims for every patient went to the same place for a national healthplan (or a few places, based on residence/type of service), this would save so much time and money on the provider’s end. I estimate for most COBRA cases I spent 2-5 hours placing calls to the patient, their health insurance company, and their employer (if consent is granted), just trying to figure out when the COBRA becomes active. If the mail is slow or the company is delayed in processing the monthly COBRA payment, every month I may need to repeat this process because the policy has gone inactive again. (“Oh, you just sent 300 pages of medical records? Well the plan wasn’t active so we threw them out. You’re going to have to mail them in again). The average individual COBRA premium is $569, and the average family COBRA premium is $1,595. If we didn’t have such a convoluted system, unemployed people would not have to pay an arm and a leg to get healthcare.

    You can work in healthcare and know all the right questions to ask, but until this country gets universal healthcare, no one is protected from the hidden costs of our healthcare system. Case in point: I had a syncopal episode at work as a result of dehydration, and a coworker called an ambulance for me. I’m aware that a lot of local ambulance companies are out of network, but this knowledge gets me nowhere if I am unconscious and unable to articulate it. I was unable to decline the ambulance or ask that they send a different ambulance company to get me, so before I even woke up, I had just accrued a $900 bill for myself. I was still a bit woozy at the hospital, and to my dismay a nurse handed me three capsules of sodium chloride. If I had been mentally present, I would have called a friend to get me a whole bottle of sodium chloride for $11.95 at CVS, but instead it ended up costing me over $60 just for those three pills. I was lucky that the doctor who saw me when I was still fading in and out did not bill as out of network, or I would have been even more screwed. The bill that I got was so unmanageable that I ended up foregoing some essential healthcare services for several years just so I could pay that darn thing off. I am supposed to advocate for patients getting the care that they need, yet I could barely even afford basic check-ups and labwork for myself. There is something wrong with the American healthcare system if people work within the system still cannot afford to access care.

    If you love your employer-based healthcare I am happy for you, but recognize that your plan could change at any time, even if you don’t get laid off. Your employer might double your deductible next year to balance their books, they might switch to a different insurance carrier, or they may drop an important specialist that you see from their network – forcing you to switch to a spouse’s policy/a Marketplace plan, or even to forego insurance entirely because you can’t afford to pay for your appointments on top of the premium. I hope that people who are satisfied with their current plan have the foresight to recognize that one day your plan may no longer work for you. Advocate for universal healthcare now so that you and your family are protected in case your employer-based plan no longer meets your needs.

    1. J.B.*

      Yes it has always seemed an incredibly inefficient system. Thanks for the details!

    2. Amaranth*

      Several years ago we had a large hospital bill, and a friend who used to do medical billing told us to ask about discounts. We offered cash and they chopped the bill by 2/3 (about 7k). That is how much not dealing with insurance was worth to them. …Or how much they inflate the bills.

    3. Roz*

      This is fantastic insight – thank you for sharing this!
      The inefficiency of this system boggles the mind – especially when it seems from the outside that your country is so proud of how “efficient” private everything is.

    4. Kyrielle*

      My current plan is awesome. I am terrified of changes to it, but also if I lose my job for any reason (…like economic impacts from a pandemic, but so far I’m okay…) then I will have to go on my husband’s insurance. Which is pretty good…but a different and specific network. I’ll lose half my providers, and the closest hospital.

    5. emmelemm*

      Thank you for all of that. My work only tangentially touches healthcare management (basically I work in software that is used for that), but the things I’ve seen just in that capacity are mind-blowing.

    6. Koala dreams*

      Thanks for sharing your experiences! It’s interesting to see an inside view.

  43. Pigeon*

    I was fired from a job early in my career. The experience taught me a lot of lessons and I’m a much better worker now, and in a career much more suited to me, but I’m actually grateful for the experience now. It’s easier to be calm during periods of upheaval when you’ve already been at your lowest and survived.

  44. pcake*

    Lots of us never felt that secure about jobs to begin with.

    My father was an aerospace engineer in the 1960s, and you had two choices – work by the project, which meant each job was less than a year, or work for a lot less per hour but have the “security” of an ongoing job. Most of his friends did the work by the project deal, which meant every year they were unemployed for at least a while, and sometimes the government offered the DOD a lot more money than other times. Then in the mid-late ’60s, there was a blast on the news when it was discovered that colleges pushed so many guys into engineering that there just weren’t enough jobs. My dad was unemployed for over a year, and one of his buddies changed careers to become a teacher during that period even though it paid a lot less per hour, but there was work.

    One of my dad’s friends was one of the few that opted for security, and worked at a company he didn’t love for decades. He was let go by that company after over 35 years just before he would have received full retirement. He was not alone.

    Unsurprisingly, I’ve never taken job security for granted.

    1. sam*

      it’s not a *fun* lesson, but probably one of the best lessons I learned during the last economic crisis when I got laid off from my job that I LOVED is that ultimately, job security is a myth and no job is permanent, no matter how good you are at it or how “necessary” you think you are. After I finally got employed again, I worked as a (fancy) contractor for a while, which helped me get over the idea that jobs shouldn’t end, because I worked on a few assignments that were specifically designed to end.

      Now, even though I’ve been gainfully employed again at my current job for over seven years, I don’t take those lessons for granted, and I have built up a significant rainy day fund. I know not everyone has been or is in a position to do that because of different circumstances, but prior experience made it, for me, one of my biggest priorities. Not that I would *want* to spend it all down because I would ultimately like to eat more than rice and beans in retirement, but if necessary, just knowing that I could survive for several years without a job makes me less anxious about the immediate future at times like this.

  45. cape daisy*

    I didn’t feel particularly secure before, due to a psychotic CEO and HR director.
    3 days before the furlough scheme in the UK was announced, they did 1st round redundancies as a cost cutting exercise. They used it as an opportunity to get rid of people who had long sickness records and people they didn’t like. I fell into the didn’t like group. They’ve split my role between 2 lazy and dumb people who coincidentally, are smoking buddies with the HR director.
    The furlough scheme was announced and they retracted the redundancies, so they didn’t have to give us a redundancy payout, and could use the money to top up the furlough payments to the high earners in our company.
    They’ve now altered our contract so that they can make us redundant at any moment with immediate effect and no payout.
    We’re also getting fortnightly emails from our CEO about how tough it is and keep positive.
    So I’m looking for a job else where as I’ve had enough of the playground politics.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      You are entitled to statutory redundancy pay outs. They can’t just alter your contract in that way

  46. Urn*

    May the silver lining of all this be an exponential increase class solidarity, unionization efforts, and maybe even a little revolution (as a treat).

  47. remizidae*

    One of the few positives of this situation is that personal savings rates are up. If you’re employed but feeling newly insecure, take that as motivation to start saving more! Your employer is not going to take care of you all your life. Neither is the government. Live below your means and take care of yourself.

  48. First Time Commenter Long Time Reader*

    Our furloughs started Monday this week. We are fortunate that the company is paying in full all furloughed employees’ medical/dental/vision in full during the furloughs. Beyond that and staying in contact with the employees I don’t know what else can be done to make them know they are vital to the company and the company’s future.

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