"I shouldn't complain...at least I have a job"
Posted Monday 17 May 2010
This is the first in a series to launch our Taking care of business campaign on employment and mental health.
When M.A. lost her job in the financial sector in November of last year, she blamed herself and not the recession. Despite many years of commitment and loyalty, a near perfect attendance record, and a history of glowing performance reviews, M.A. felt as if she wasn’t good enough at her job to avoid redundancy.
Although she was one of over 150 people to have been made redundant in her division, and the job cuts were not a personal reflection on her or her teammates, M.A. remains full of self doubt and worry about her future. It struck me as she told me her story that her employer had clearly done little to ensure that she left their employ feeling valued, and thanked, for her decade-long contribution. Instead, M.A. is finding it difficult to find another job, which she believes is directly linked to her lowered sense of self esteem: “If they’d told me that [my job loss] wasn’t my fault, I might have felt more able at this stage. As it stands, I feel useless, stupid...not worth [my old employer] holding on to”.
Economic recession is not, thankfully, the standard state of affairs in the UK. However, the fact that recession is not a constant means that many employers don’t know how to support their staff when they themselves might never have experienced economic downturn. In my role as a corporate wellbeing consultant, I’ve witnessed many managers struggle with keeping their teams engaged and motivated when they themselves feel stressed, vulnerable and anxious. It is all too easy to forget that managers are human too, and are likely to be as worried about their jobs as are the people they manage.
It remains that the human cost of the recession is often forgotten when other, bottom line, considerations are raised. The need to cut jobs may be an unavoidable economic imperative but how this news is communicated and how remaining staff are supported is perhaps the most important part of “managing through recession”. Even after those made redundant have left, “survivors” may grapple with feelings of guilt that they themselves have remained in post while valued colleagues have not; they may also find themselves working harder with fewer resources, and may become hyper-vigilant in measuring their own performance harshly, fearing that they too will be the next to go.
D.P., who has remained with his employer despite massive job cuts both this year and last, recently explained “I have to work twice as hard for the same money, but I shouldn’t complain...at least I have a job. I’m just not sure how much longer I can keep doing this. Working 15 hour days and most weekends – is it really worth it?” Other people report cuts to their working hours or salary – as we know, some companies have even offered staff the chance to work a reduced week in lieu of redundancy. As preferable to redundancy as this option might seem, 51% of people who had experienced a drop in salary or cut in their hours said they had experienced symptoms of depression, while nearly half reported anxiety and stress symptoms, according to the Guardian.
The issue remains that everyone has been affected by the recession – whether they’ve lost jobs or not. Employers who take the wellbeing of their staff seriously may find that, despite difficult decisions to be made, employees who are supported appropriately and mindfully can face an enormous amount of stress and come through the other side more resilient – and committed – than ever before.
Andrea Woodside, wellbeing consultant and Mind trustee
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