VIEW FROM A REDUNDANT EMPLOYEE: WHY MENTAL HEALTH COULD YET BE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF COVID-19

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Back in June, I wrote about the professional challenges – despite some personal upsides – of being furloughed as a result of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. While I was therefore thrilled when my workplace brought me back in, initially on a part-time basis during August, the furlough period did indeed prove to be the relative calm before the storm, and I was informed in early September that I was at risk of redundancy.

While I believe that my company fell into the same trap which has been the downfall of so many before them – namely of seeing marketing and communications as ‘discretionary’, and therefore an area that can be more easily culled in a recession – nonetheless I was forced recognise I was one of many victims of the serious cost-cutting exercise that they felt required to undertake. Our marketing team is seeing around 25% of employees leave the firm this month, while the team responsible for delivering future qualifications is, in contrast, broadly unaffected. External communications will be far more reactive in future, with fewer resources to deliver proactive campaigns.

Yet I’m one of the lucky ones. Next week, I’ll be starting a new communications role with a housing trust. I’ll therefore be leaving the education and skills sector for the time being (not my intention, but a necessity!), but am grateful to have the transferable skills that being a comms professional gives you. Colleagues who are running my current organisation’s events are not so lucky. The largest recruitment agency for events professionals, for example, currently has no vacancies advertised on its jobs board.

This Saturday (10 October) is World Mental Health Day – and this year’s theme is ‘Mental Health for All’. It couldn’t be more perfectly timed. I doubt I’m alone in knowing a handful of people who have contracted Covid-19, but know far more who have found the past six months mentally challenging, at least for some of the time.

The pandemic has the potential to cause far more mental and psychological damage across the nation in the long-term than physical damage caused by contraction of the virus itself. One of my favourite reads throughout the past six months has been Private Eye’s resident doctor ‘MD’ (in reality Dr Phil Hammond), who said this back in May:

“Even if a drug or vaccine rides to the rescue, the psychological effects of the pandemic will cast a long shadow. The “dread risk” of Covid-19 won’t vanish overnight. Some will struggle to go outdoors and back to work, others will become fearful if social distancing is relaxed from, say, 2m to 1m. Mass anxiety can imprison a nation. Kindness and understanding will be key.”

With the government’s furlough scheme winding up at the end of the month and the new job support scheme winning few plaudits among employers, there is significant concern that unemployment will skyrocket right in time for Christmas. This is going to cause widespread stress and uncertainty among families of the many affected individuals, and may well be coupled by a Christmas period in which families and friends cannot get together in the normal way. A double-whammy impact on mental health.

There aren’t going to be easy answers that will help comms professionals who are put at risk over the coming weeks and months. However, community support and advice is an undoubted help. I was lucky enough to gain a mentor as part of the CIPR’s mentoring scheme, and that helped to shape my future direction, which I now hope to put into practice in my new role. In addition, if you’re not already on the Guild app, it’s a great help. I’m only in two groups – the CIPR Greater London Group and FORT – Furloughed or Released Talent – both of which share jobs of relevance and interest.

And finally, consider getting chartered status. To say I was one of approximately 320 people in the UK with Chartered PR Practitioner against my name was of huge benefit when trying to find a new role. I’m sure it helped me secure a new role quickly, and therefore meant my own mental health wasn’t too adversely affected.

The author is a communications professional working in the Education and Skills sector.

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