The New York Times looks today at furloughs — the cost-cutting measures undertaken by struggling governments and businesses whereby employees take usually unpaid leave for a day or two a month.

Some people take the time off but feel bad about doing so, out of loyalty to bosses and colleagues left to carry the workload. Others work quietly — and sometimes openly — through furloughs, because they fear for the long-term safety of their positions and hope their self-sacrifice impresses the management.

And some say the message from the management is unclear, leaving employees wondering: Is this real time off?

“I think it’s a joke,” said Roland Becht, who works at the California Department of Motor Vehicles in San Diego. (More than 200,000 state employees are supposed to have two furlough days each month.) “I’ve tried to schedule furlough time and was denied because we’re short-staffed.”

American workers are finding themselves at a new frontier, and the rules are being written on the fly. Some companies have strict policies forbidding work during furloughs, or close down for days at a time. Others simply tell workers, however unrealistically, to squeeze in furlough time when they can.

Becht told the Times he’s taken two of his eight furlough days and typically works an hour of overtime daily:

Work is more stressful than ever, he said.

“I really don’t blame the management at our local level,” said Mr. Becht, who took a 9.2 percent cut in pay several months ago. “I understand they can’t let three or four people off when you’re already understaffed.”

But of the furlough, he added: “It’s not doing what it was designed to do. We were imagining three-day weekends. There was some optimism. It was a trade-off for sure, but people were O.K. The mood now, I would say, is down. People are working in fear because they don’t know what’s going to happen next.”

Have you or someone in your family been directed to take furlough days? How is it working in your workplace? Leave a comment below (go to Survival if you’re not already there).

KELLY BENNETT

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