I wish I was made redundant during COVID-19
Updated: Nov 2, 2020
I’m one of ‘the lucky ones’ who kept their job during the mass redundancies that COVID-19 brought with it. But I don’t feel lucky. My company hasn’t had many layoffs due to our heavy reliance on government funding, which has not faltered this year. We are an ‘essential’ health service, but my job is far from the front line. We had one redundancy in our team, and I don’t know the full story behind his removal, so I wouldn’t want to speculate. What I do know is that I have absorbed about 80% of his tasks.
I started working from home at the end of March, along with most of the state who were able to. I lugged my computer home and made a visit to IKEA to get the essentials: a desk and a chair, and the non-essentials: four pot plants, a pen organiser (I don’t even use pens), and a decorative desk clock, which I have never looked at because I can see the time on my computer, phone, and watch. It was fun at first, setting up my workstation and saving almost three hours every day not having to commute. Fast forward seven months, and that fun has well and truly expired.
“We know it’s been a tough year,” the higher-ups at my company say on a weekly basis. “We are going to come back stronger than ever!” “We need you to be at your best to deliver the best to our clients.” It’s now October and we are definitely not stronger. I’ve taken two weeks of stress leave, and almost every colleague in my twelve-person team has taken leave in the past two months. Every week I get a call or visit from a manager ‘checking in’ on me. Sometimes it’s under the guise of ensuring I am mentally healthy, particularly given my stress leave. Often it’s to get a status update on my ever-growing to do list.
The day I realised I needed to take stress leave, ironically, was R U OK? Day, the annual day of corporates feigning interest in the wellbeing of their employees. I had been absolutely hammered with work in June, when the redundancy of my colleague was announced, and had been working long hours. Most of my days were filled with administrative tasks that had never been my responsibility before. But there was nobody else to do them, so I crammed them into lunch breaks and completed them while stuck on endless conference calls. My to do list had grown so long that I couldn’t remember the details of the tasks on it.
I was in way over my head. I envied my redundant former colleague, but didn’t voice this to anyone. I knew that my confession would be taken poorly. I knew, logically, that I was lucky to have been the one to keep my job. I knew my former colleague had been job hunting for months to no avail. But I longed for redundancy, for my manager to solemnly wander over to my desk to request I come into the conference room. I literally dreamed of waking up to find an email with the news waiting in my inbox. I wished to be on JobSeeker with so many other Australians, not because I wanted to lay about the house and access ‘free money,’ but because I wanted a legitimate reason to be unemployed.
I knew I could quit at any time, but what kind of person quits a reliable, stable (as stable as they are at this time) job during a health, economic, and unemployment crisis? It would be ludicrous! No, I couldn’t do that. But I certainly came close on R U OK? Day. There was a morning tea at the office. It was less enjoyable than other years of course, due to the social distancing regulations and associated food restrictions. A number of staff members were still working from home, so the event was sparsely attended. I wished I wasn’t there, but that was nothing new - I wished the same every work day.
The managing director made a speech about the importance of mental health. The head of HR said some words about how proud he was to work with ‘each and every one of us’ who had ‘shown resilience through this tough period’. Another department head talked about her personal struggle with burn out. Then my boss waltzed up to take the metaphorical mic. The person who had been looking over my shoulder for months, who had been lumping me with additional tasks, who had slowly added my former colleagues’ tasks to my endless to do list, one by one, trying in vain not to be noticed.
I remember almost word for word what she said in the following minutes, but recalling it makes me quiver with rage. Her seemingly caring words made the managing director shed a literal tear and begin a round of applause when she finished her address. But her words were empty. She was putting on a show, I had seen it before. I should have expected it, she was known for these performances, but it hit me harder than it usually did. Her sickly sweet words dripped with hypocrisy known only to me and my teammates. I don’t remember the rest of the day. I probably filled out some spreadsheets and sent some emails. Perhaps had some leftover cake for afternoon tea.
I do remember calling in sick the following day. Well, texting in sick. I made an appointment with my GP and the psychologist I had seen for a period of time when I was a student. The GP said I showed physical signs of exhaustion and likely stress-related insomnia. The psychologist asked how much sick leave I had and told me to take it all. She prescribed a daily walk outside, reading, and seeing friends when I could. I submitted my sick leave request, and divulged to the HR Officer that it was stress leave. I guessed the news would travel.
I am now back at work with a slightly higher capacity to handle everyday work stress. My boss hasn’t let up with the task allocation, but she now speaks to me less, which is something. I still spend periods of the day staring longingly at my former colleagues’ empty desk. I still am not sleeping well. My daily walks feature daydreams of being let go from my position. I spend time every night applying for jobs, but I have not yet been shortlisted for one. The market is flooded with applicants, and I watch the ‘people applied’ counter on LinkedIn positions rocket to over 400 in a week.
I still wish every day that I was not one of ‘the lucky ones’.