Young members and the lockdown office – “Let them work in the study”

Fiona blogs about how many people, particularly younger workers, are struggling working from home.

I was recently in a group video call with my whole division at work, for a “watercooleresque” virtual meet-up after months of sharing a desk with only my cat. It was pleasant, but in one of the breakout rooms I found myself awkwardly nodding along as an older and more senior member of staff described how nice it was to finally use their study, and how actually “everyone seems to be preferring working from home!”

Hang on, I thought, no I’m not, I’m miserable! I’ve shifted my desk between every room in my flat except the bathroom for some pretence of variety, and to get out the way of the actual purpose of those rooms. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Young workers typically have lower wages, less opportunities for promotion, and are more likely to rent or live at home with parents due to astronomical house prices and insufficient pay. We’re overlooked and undervalued at the best of times, and all of these “normal” issues that young workers face are magnified by the pandemic. Most people working at home are doing so without a dedicated room, and are more likely trying desperately not to show their bed or laundry in the background of their team meeting. It really highlighted to me how incredibly different experiences of working throughout the pandemic have been, and the classic civil service management’s approach of trying to one-size-fits-all their employees into a narrative that suits them.

The reality is that Covid is a disastrous upheaval for so many people. Lockdown has been a chronic and ongoing trauma for us all, and it’s fundamentally dishonest (though totally ideologically consistent) that the Tory government is attempting to scapegoat young people, pretend it’s just business as usual, and put money above wellbeing at every opportunity.

So when it was my turn in the meeting, I told them that prolonged and forced homeworking has massively hurt my mental health. I said that it wasn’t OK for me at the start, and it’s still not OK now. I need support, I need leeway, and thousands of other workers will be needing that too.

So don’t feel pressured to grin and bear it. This is really rubbish. Your employer should be helping you as much as they possibly can – if they’re not, which is likely, drop your local rep a message.

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