Furloughs: The Vacation You Never Wanted

From government agencies and auto makers to newspapers and the NFL, it seems no organization is immune to furloughs these days.

Even fictional reporter Brenda Starr recently got word from her comic-strip boss, B. Babbitt Bottomline, that she has been furloughed until further notice.

With the increasing likelihood that these mandatory unpaid days off may be coming soon to a cubicle near you (or worse yet, the one you're sitting in), is there anything you should do to prepare, besides saving your pennies in anticipation of those lost paychecks and the potential financial hardships?

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In other words, should you take this as your cue to dust off the old resume and hit the nearest career fair? Or should you throw economic caution to the wind, treat your furlough as an unpaid vacation and catch up on your sleep and soap opera viewing?

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Forty-two percent of working dads and 34 percent of working moms would take a pay cut of 10 percent or more if it meant they could spend extra time with their kids, according to a pair of CareerBuilder surveys conducted between mid-February and mid-March of 2008.

(If anyone had bothered to ask non-parents whether they'd be willing to swap 10 percent of their pay for more time off, I suspect that a sizable percentage would also have said, "Hell, yeah!")

But what about in 2009, the year of the seemingly bottomless recession? Are workers who've been forced to take an unpaid leave of five, 10, even 15-plus days embracing their unplanned vacations with all the gusto of a school kid on spring break?

Apparently so.

"With my days off, I did not want to think about work," said an advertising sales manager at a newspaper in Madison, Wis., who declined to give his name for this article. "I really did not consider updating my resume or looking at other career paths. I wanted to have those days as an escape."

Family Quality Time

The ad man spent three furlough days of quality time in March with his pre-school daughter and at collegiate basketball games. And, if the weather cooperates, he plans to spend one or both of his remaining two furlough days (one in April, one in May) at a Cubs game.

But he's not the only one milking his mandatory days off for all they're worth.

Tomi Tuel, an analyst for a California state agency, spent her two furlough days in February working on the novel she has been writing.

Another newspaper manager who declined to give his name spent his weeklong February furlough (his first of three unpaid weeks off he'll be taking this year) cleaning the garage of his Southwest home, repairing the drywall in his bathroom and doing some gardening. He plans to send his next weeklong furlough, coming up in May, visiting friends and relatives in the Midwest.

And Seattleite Natasha Jones, a county government worker who'll have 10 furlough days this year, was thrilled to spend the extra time with her husband and pre-school daughter.

"We never get to spend a full weekday together unless I burn a vacation day or I'm sick," Jones said, who works as a deputy communications director. "I am definitely in the camp of, 'Thanks for some days of my life back, even if it drops my income a bit.'"

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There're Signs

That's not to say all furloughed workers have their head in the sand.

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