Of all the workers who returned to English shops and pubs after the easing of lockdown rules last week, I wonder how many Ross Hanbury look like.
The 39-year-old has been a fitness coach in London for almost 20 years, at gyms, schools and rugby clubs.
He sees a lot of people from various walks of life, so he knows the pandemic has affected people in different ways. It helps explain what he did last Monday, when he finally returned to the gym in West London where he is training personally. “My first question to people was, ‘How was your lockdown? He told me the other day. “And then, depending on their reaction, I gave them my honest answer or my watered down answer.”
His honest answer is that he’s had a pretty good pandemic. He did not lose his business. He was not derailed by illness, nor any close friends or relatives. But he’s not rushing to talk about it, because he knows so many people who have been polite by Covid. The bereaved. The unemployed. The bankrupt. The patient. Hanbury’s thoughtful behavior strikes me as eminently reasonable when thousands of workers are sacked together for the first time in months, often without having a clue of what each has been through.
Alas, his approach is by no means uniform, which is why human resources experts are ready to repeat the frayed moods and angry words that erupted when people returned to work after the previous lockdowns were lifted. ‘last year.
“We’ve seen quite a bit of friction in organizations,” says David D’Souza, director of membership at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. “You had a group of people who had vastly different perceptions of each other’s experience and who came into contact with each other.”
This created what D’Souza calls “organizational resentment” between the various labor camps, which already seems to be resurfacing this year. The gap between those who could and couldn’t work from home has long been great, especially if frontline props were paid less. Expect a gap this time between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.
Yet one of the most serious threats to office harmony is the deep divide between those who have and have not benefited from government leave programs that pay people for hours without work in jobs that otherwise could have been deleted.
Bosses should be aware that the programs have created “a distinctive new group of workers within the group and outside the group,” says Pearn Kandola, a business psychology company. For full-time staff going through the crisis, the thought of being paid to stay home can feel like a vacation. So when workers on leave came back expecting real time off in the summer, it didn’t always go well, as several people made clear on Twitter last week.
One was puzzled that the dismissed had not been forced to give up their leave. “I’m so glad I worked every fucking week in this pandemic to make the leave schedule work so well,” wrote another.
For the fired, however, people who have kept their full-paid jobs may obviously look like the lucky ones.
Think Scott Walker, another 39-year-old Londoner I spoke to recently. The 2008 financial crisis stifled his first career as a stonemason, so he changed his tactics and spent four years earning an engineering degree that eventually landed him a contract to design mechanical systems for theme parks. and large rock concert ensembles. The job was rewarding but insecure, so he was relieved to finally land a full-time job at a London-based engineering company – just before the pandemic broke.
Father of a two-year-old, with a new child on the way, he has now spent more time on leave than at work, as Covid has hit both concerts and theme parks. “It has been extremely stressful,” he says, adding that the fear of losing a job for good was constant. “I was starting to think I was going to have to change my profession again. But I was like, I was getting too old to start over. Walker is due to return to work soon. When he does, I hope he finds more understanding than resentment. It is the least that workers like him deserve.