One thing that has struck me about the pandemic is how quickly businesses were able to accommodate home and flexible working. As someone with a hidden disability, the early years of my career were full of struggles specifically because my employers were not willing to be flexible with me, despite above average performance. During the pandemic, I completed my PhD (whilst working part time at another university). Not having to travel most days, and being able to avoid people who I find stressful has transformed my health. I still have a disease, but it’s more manageable. My hands are no longer covered in blisters from stress related eczema. It’s meant that starting work full time after years of floating around hasn’t overwhelmed me, and for the first time as an adult I feel confident in my ability to work 5 days a week, consistently without being ill.
I’m worried that in a year or so, whenever life starts to resemble our previous life more closely anyway, employers will start to demand that we go to the workplace 5 days a week again. I won’t be able to cope with full time work if I have to add in a minimum of 10 hours communising per week, along with the energy spent on dealing with people in person. Though the pandemic has been stressful because of all the changes, for me, the changes were what I already knew I needed to succeed: the ability to work from home whilst still feeling like part of a team, having access to development opportunities, and being treated as competent despite the fact that I can’t be physically present every day. This is now normal for most people who have switched to remote working. I think many of us have enjoyed the break from commuting, and the chance to spend more time at home with our loved ones, or the personal time to pursue hobbies and interests that couldn’t be fit in before. I hope that our new normality includes a greater recognition that flexibility and the offer of increased or full home working are positive things that increase staff happiness and therefore improve staff retention and staff devotion to their jobs.
I feel really lucky with the job I got. The environment couldn’t be more positive and supportive, particularly in relation to the university environment where academic jobs are so scarce and rarely guarantee even 5 years of security. I’m excited that my new job might give me the chance to have a family at last – a luxury I don’t feel I’ve been afforded through my previous fixed term contracts. But that makes the potential of job loss all the more stressful, particularly when my partner has been unemployed for over six months. There’s a lot of pressure for me to provide for my family at the moment and I’m conscious that I could lose everything very quickly with how hard it is to get a job during the pandemic. I’ve never found it so hard to get a job before, and I’ve been working (at least part time) since I was 14. It’s so strange that such a stressful time has also brought a lot of relief. I’ll probably be sad when it all ends, as I’ve enjoyed the relief of not having to explain why I work from home a lot. I’ve enjoyed being able to rest at weekends and to not feel like I’m missing everything and everyone. I’ll miss the luxury of undisturbed working when I’ve blocked my diary out to avoid meeting requests, and the ability to wear comfy pants or pj bottoms beneath the view of the camera during meetings I can’t avoid.
I am excited to see friends, though, without worrying who they’ve been in contact with. I’m excited for live music, and feeling those first few beats of the drums. I’m excited to wander round museums. I’m excited for conferences and the opportunity to speak to people who research the most amazing things. Im excited to visit or work in other countries, to see their sights and taste their food. I’m excited for Friday drinks after work, when everyone piles into a local bar and laughs off the rubbish parts of the week. I’m excited to go to local cafes for a fancy dinner break. There are so many amazing things that we all definitely took for granted. Perhaps when it’s all over, the gratitude will overtake the intensity of the last few years politically? Who knows what it will bring. I’m happy to have a few more months at home, so that I at least have a chance of being able to work full time tor a while, but I’m really excited for all the amazing snippets of normality that are yet to come. There’s a lot to be hopeful for.
I became a Civil Servant late last year and have learned much since. The inside scoop into managing the pandemic (and concurrent risks that may pile) provides a very different context. As with much of government, policy is very much a reactive process, with seldom pro-active opportunities or strategies in place. Mostly it signifies the extreme lack of emergency preparedness in 2019/2020 Britain and the need for a forced proactive preparedness for 2021 onwards. None of which however, solve the gaps in the growth of previous students and academics (as I was up until July 2020), stunting them both socially and mentally. I fell on my feet in my graduate job, but I am very much aware of both the luck and rarity of my situation. Students have been vastly mistreated and grossly unsupported throughout this period, careers and career advice is virtually bare and the already hard-to-get graduate jobs are ever more challenging and competitive. I strongly worry about the future of graduate careers (and any careers for that matter of fact) for the younger generations going forward and constantly feel that now I have a job, I am stuck in it because to leave in this current climate would be wild and unstable – the very opposite to what I had hoped as a fresh graduate entering the working world.
I remember quite vividly what I was doing last year at the same period. My internship had just ended and winter break had begun. I started writing my internship report and my mother came and visited us. I went to a lovely exhibition about Picasso at some point. I still have pictures of that day. I remember not studying for the accounting test that was supposed to take place on the day me and my fellow students went back to school. It was a poor decision on my part since I sucked at accounting. Thankfully, I ended up being sick that day and missed the test.
One week after the end of winter break, the entire country was in lockdown. It was easily one of the worst part of my life: my sister lives with me so I wasn’t completely alone, but not seeing anyone else was lonely and I missed going outside. Mathilde (my sister) and I used to argue over who would go grocery shopping. One day, my father called to tell us about my mother’s advanced stage lung cancer.
It’s been almost a year now. Almost a year since the first lockdown. They say we are not going back into lockdown as of yet. But they’re talking about it. And why wouldn’t they? The situation is getting bad again. On my way to work, I see people who don’t wear their mask properly or don’t wear it at all.
Speaking of work, I am working as a librarian in a school now. The measures we were told to apply are appalling. They wanted to close school cafeterias at some point. To avoid children eating together and risking contamination. Everybody, teachers included, thought it was a dumb idea: most parents rely on the cafeteria to feed their children while they’re at work. So as far as I know, they dropped that idea. But here’s one of the most ridiculous measures: classes are supposed to close if three children test positive. Except that the children in my school age from 3 to 5: they’re considered too young to be tested. How are we supposed to know whether or not little Juliette has covid? Maybe she’s sneezing because of a regular cold. Maybe she just has a sore throat. Who knows? Not us.
If I ever catch covid, it will be at work. I know it. You can’t make a 4 yo wear a mask all day long. You can’t tell them no when they ask for a hug or try to kiss you. I feel like it’s never going to end. Today is the first day of winter break. I wonder if it’s going to be like last year.
I wonder if we will go back into lockdown one week after the end of winter break.