No one’s job is the same as it was before the Covid-19 crisis hit. And no one’s experience of work during lockdown has been thesame. New divides have emerged – between those who can work from home and those who can’t, key and non key workers, those who’ve been furloughed or lost their jobs and those who’ve seen business as usual. Below we explore some of your stories about your working lives during the pandemic.
“There seems to be no sight of real work starting up, I fear redundancies and worry about losing everything.”
Man, 40s, East Midlands
Many people saw their working lives grind to a halt overnight. The beginning of lockdown made it impossible for millions of people to do their jobs, whether working in retail, hospitality, the creative industries or any number of other sectors that couldn’t exist while everyone was required to stay at home.
As of July, 9 million people were on the government’s furlough scheme, that is more than a quarter of the UK’s workforce.
40% of all workers who have been put on furlough are in hospitality or retail.
The experiences of people on furlough varied enormously. For some, the uncertainty of whether their industries and jobs has been extremely stressful, and caused a loss of hope in the future.
One man in his 60s, from the West Midlands, wrote:
“There are no opportunities coming out of the pandemic for me. I work in aviation and my household income has been reduced by 70%. I fear that despite being on furlough, when this government support ends I will likely be made redundant due to contractions in my industry.”
“If this were to occur I consider it will be extremely unlikely that I will secure alternative employment due to my age and the large number of other individuals being made redundant by my industry. I have no experience in any other industry. This will put me at risk of losing my home due to inability to pay my mortgage.”
For others, furlough has been a chance to reflect on what’s important in life.
“I’ve genuinely enjoyed and deeply appreciated the time and space to work on myself, learn more about myself, and try and nail down some more plans for the future. I would like to change career, but I am holding on until the uncertainty of covid is over (or until I lose my job and my hand is forced).”
Man, 30s, East of England
“I really don’t mind being furloughed and I don’t miss work one bit. Hoping to stay furloughed til at least the end of the summer. I’m considering mentioning to my employer that he should consider me for redundancy. I’ve been thinking about changing jobs for the past few years, so, even though there will be less job opportunities in the near future, now would be a good time to move on.”
Man, 50s, North West England
“Covid has made me reassess my job. Covid strips everything back. I was staying in my job because I wanted stability and enhanced maternity pay whilst starting a family. There’s been fertility difficulties and five years on I’m still in the same job because of it. I have a lengthy train commute and covid makes me nervous doing that train journey again. With covid I’m not sure how stable my job is now anyway. So I’ve taken the brave step and applied for a new job, closer to home.”
Woman, 30s, Yorkshire & Humberside
“We are all aware that we are in possible danger”
Woman, 50s, South West
For essential workers, in the NHS and beyond, there was often little choice but to continue: we all relied on them to. The frontline of the pandemic extended through health and social care services to supermarket workers and delivery drivers, all navigating a world transformed.
The emotional and physical toll of going out to work was obvious in many responses.
“Two GPs I have worked with over the years died. A number of colleagues were hospitalised but thankfully survived. Many of my colleagues were frightened and some were in tears. Our patient workload changed, the patients were much sicker, often needing two members of staff to care for them.”
Man, 60s, South West
“It was very scary initially as I am working with covid positive patients. Initially no clear guidelines on what PPE to wear and whether there’s enough of it. Also I never thought my job would be ‘dangerous’ yet I’m doing ‘aerosol generating procedure’ though currently still not being classified as such (my professional body is campaigning for it). However luckily so far the hospital has been coping but very worried for a second wave since the relaxation of the lockdown with a huge amount of tourists coming down to Dorset who have not been behaving responsibly.”
Woman, 40s, South West
But it hasn’t just been people working in the NHS who have felt scared. Working in essential shops has been frightening at times, as Rachel, a woman in her 40s from the South West of England, explains:
“The beginning of the pandemic was horrendous in my food shop I work in. […] Customers were frightened and needed reassurance. Issues with some staff not taking distancing seriously. Having to speak to the union on four occasions about the working conditions.
Coming home feeling that I was filthy. Not wanting to touch things. Feeling numb as some customers were so vulgar in their behaviour. Pushing, angry, not giving any respect or consideration to us the key workers. Scared to sit and eat at work.”
Many people called for a new deal for those we’ve relied on through the crisis, particularly for low paid workers:
“I am also depressed to discover that for many people it has taken this sort of crisis to realise the jobs that really matter. No one will ever stand there and clap for a hedge fund manager or a futures and options trader – who get paid ridiculous sums of money to sell bits of paper that are essentially a gamble on the future.”
Woman, 60s, London
“[there is a] need for a total government rethink around status and pay and conditions for the nursing and caring professions.
This pandemic has really highlighted which members of society are the most valuable – ie key workers generally – and that fact that on the whole they are the least well paid with the least social status. There needs to be a real shake up. A society where a footballer is paid more per day than a nurse or shop worker is per year is not acceptable.”
Woman. 60s, South West England
“Working from home, even to manage a team spread across their own homes, has been fantastic. The team feels closer as individuals, productivity has increased, work-life balance is far better and if we could work like this forever (and if I can make it so we will) once the world is back to normal then everybody in the team would be happier.”
Man, 30s, North East
The majority of people who responded to our survey were facing a different challenge: adapting to working from home. Many people told us that they were thriving, enjoying a reset work life balance and the opportunity to spend time with close family. And those with young children, without enough space to work comfortably and those living alone, the shift was far from easy.
For some people, the ability to work from home has been transformative. One woman in her 50s from the East of England, said:
“My husband and I both travelled the world extensively for work and this has stopped completely. From a business point of view, using virtual communications instead, we can now question how necessary this all was and are unlikely to return to doing this significantly before we retire over the next couple of years. It has given us much more time home together, which we value.
“Early retirement (by just a couple of years) is now much more likely as we have had a pleasant taste of what this might be like and we also feel that the good jobs should go to younger people with families to support.”
She’s also seen a shift in the attitude of her employers to homeworking:
“In the short term, the difficulties of commuting into London have meant that my employers are keeping the business working from home as long as possible. I think our CEO has been surprised at how well home-working has gone, with major projects being successfully delivered. We have also become far more aware of who the crucial people on the team are.”
Another woman, in her 20s from the East Midlands agreed:
“I hope that after this is over my company will see the good that working from home has not only done from me, but also a lot of other people I work with. Part of me misses seeing people everyday, but I find the calls and check-ins we do with each other on a daily basis as rewarding as seeing people in person.”
She didn’t initially see the benefits of homeworking.
“At the start I did find it hard to be motivated and to separate my work life and my home life whilst being at home all the time. Previously when away from the office I just forgot it existed so that I can enjoy my home life without worrying about work. But now I feel like the relieved stress of not working in office means that I do not think of my job as something I need to get away from, but I am viewing it as something I can develop.
“I have also noticed that being self motivated and not having an office that is constantly monitoring me, has meant that I have become more invested in my role. I am now trying to do what I can to help others in my team more and also login in on the weekends if I feel like it would give me a good head start for the next week.”
Yet, some people have found the shift to homeworking extremely challenging.
A woman in her 60s from London said:
“Working from home is another thing that is different according to how rich and how poor you are. For some people they can slip away to their study. For me it means I now sit on the sofa 16 hours a day as there is nowhere else in a small flat to work. It is uncomfortable, not like sitting at a desk and my hands and arms sometimes hurt.
As well as finding her physical environment challenging, she has found herself feeling isolated and worried about the future:
“I miss the office banter, working from home when you live on your own and in lockdown is very isolating. It is all email and not much conversation, or if it is – it’s a meeting that is much more painful to do over zoom or skype or whatever.
“The uncertainty of not knowing what comes next is also exhausting mentally. I know I have a job for the moment, but I was almost made redundant a year ago and I am worried it will happen as the economic situation plays out. I can’t afford to lose my job.”
She also reflected on the wider changes she’s noticed as a result of lockdown:
“I am also depressed to discover that for many people it has taken this sort of crisis to realise the jobs that really matter. No one will ever stand there and clap for a hedge fund manager or a futures and options trader – who get paid ridiculous sums of money to sell bits of paper that are essentially a gamble on the future. ”
Childcare has proved another challenge:
“I feel very guilty trying to keep the children quiet whilst I am on client calls, as they naturally are making noise and want to talk to their parents. I have twins aged 6 and an 8 year old, so they need a lot of support to get through school tasks on Google Classroom. We find it hard to navigate the online work and I often feel extremely stressed trying to juggle everything. The children are not doing as much work as they should be and I feel I am letting them down. It’s almost a daily choice between letting my boss down or letting the children down. I feel I/we cannot continue like this for much longer.”
Woman, 40s, Scotland