Starting a New Job During the Pandemic

The impact of COVID-19 has been significant for the world of employment. Those of us who were jobless during the height of the pandemic may have felt trapped in limbo, wandering aimlessly around our homes with no motivation or structure to our daily lives. Minimal contact with others would have added to the feeling of isolation and no doubt affected our mental health.

From the Office for National Statistics, “Around 1 in 5 (21%) adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021... more than double that observed before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (10%).” Taking into account a sedentary lifestyle, financial losses and minimal social interaction in-person during the pandemic, it is no surprise that COVID-19 gave rise to a mental health crisis in the UK.

As someone who suffers with social anxiety, little to no contact with other people seemed ideal at the beginning of the first lockdown. I was unaware, however, that the lack of social interaction would have a notable effect on my wellbeing. Being unemployed only added to the already growing heap of stress and anxiety. My already existing mental health issues intensified as a result.

Finding work during the pandemic has been an uphill battle, with the dropping availability of work coupled with disheartening rejections and being ‘ghosted’ by potential employers, never to hear from them again. While the daunting cloud of unemployment seemed constant, it was easy to forget that the disruption of coronavirus would have greatly influenced job opportunities. Eventually, companies would begin to employ workers again as the world tried to recover from the pandemic.

I joined RWA as an apprentice during the last stages of the pandemic – it felt like a fresh start and the improvement to my mental health was almost instant. I was able to have social contact every day at work and felt that I had purpose as I worked through tasks and learnt new skills. The daily routine helped me to gain some control over my life and even my sleep improved. My mind was always occupied and left little space for intrusive thoughts.

Although these factors have had a positive impact on my wellbeing in general, it does not mean that long-term mental health issues simply disappear. They require constant care and attention in order to prevent deterioration and negative effects on daily life – this includes considering mental health in the workplace.

A recent study by Lime Global Ltd reported that 51% of UK workers feel like they must put on a brave face for their colleagues. Despite clearly struggling, many workers feel that their mental health issues need to be concealed due to a fear of showing ‘weakness’ or being ridiculed. Consequently, this damages personal resilience and productivity at work.

There is an unquestionable stigma around mental health, often causing it to be dismissed or misunderstood. In the same study, over a third (36%) of workers believe that their employer does not provide adequate mental health support. Some workers worry about confidentiality issues or discrimination when discussing wellbeing with employers. Simply mentioning mental health in a newsletter does not erase the negative connotations surrounding it – more needs to be done.

So, what can employers do?

CIPD provides a guide on how employers can take actions to ensure mental health is cared for and how to identify signs of poor mental health at work.

Group discussions and activities surrounding mental health awareness may help put anxious workers at ease, encouraging them to find the support they need. Regular communication about wellbeing will assure others that they are not alone and that there is no shame in seeking help.

For new staff who are joining the firm after unemployment in lockdown, making them feel welcome and explaining the preventative measures in place can provide reassurance. A re-induction for those who are returning to the office after working remotely will help them reconnect with other staff members, as well as help them adjust to the working environment again. It is best to not overload employees with copious amounts of work during their first week – there needs to be time to adapt.

Engaging in CPD and completing e-learning courses can bring workers a sense of achievement and confidence in their existing abilities. Other activities undertaken do not need to be complex – they could be as simple as reading an article on a new subject or taking on new responsibilities at work. Learning keeps the mind active and has a positive impact on wellbeing.

Social connections bring a sense of belonging and self-worth, which is essential for good mental health. Weekly group meetings, casual conversations and even just sharing lunch with a colleague are all beneficial. Informal out of work activities such as dinner or bowling can help strengthen bonds with colleagues, though these should not be mandatory.

It can be intimidating to openly discuss mental health issues, but keeping it buried will only have long lasting consequences. Reaching out to someone is the first step towards a healthier mind.

About the author

Regine joined RWA in 2021, having graduated from Loughborough University with a 2:1 in Graphic Communication and Illustration. As a Digital Content Assistant, she uses her graphic design and illustration experience to create engaging e-learning modules. 

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