When it was first announced that University of Illinois academic employees would be put on involuntary furlough for four days this spring, I think it struck most of us as bad news. No one wanted a salary reduction at a time when personal economic pressures already stressed many households. Even the prospect of an extra four days off didn’t temper the sting, as most of us have more vacation time than we can take due to the demands of our jobs. The furlough program may have been necessary to address major cash flow shortfalls, but it was bad news, plain and simple.
Normally when I take vacation leave, I’ll check my work email a couple of times a day. I may not act on the email immediately, but I’ll forward it on to someone else in our office if it needs immediate attention. The furlough policy, however, prohibits us from conducting any university business on an official furlough day. In those moments when being uncompensated for my work isn’t enough of a deterrent, the furlough policy is an official reminder that I can’t participate in work activities.
As a result of the furlough — for the first time in my career — I’ve truly had free time, where I can set my own agenda without feelings of obligation or worry leaking into my thoughts and activities. They are a time for me to forget about the stresses of my job and focus on those activities and people that truly fulfill me. I’ve come to view these furlough days as a gift of authentic time off.