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Self Care In A Pandemic (53): Back To Work? Know Your Rights…

Many of us will be going back to working from home this week, after a Christmas and New Year festive break. Others will be on the front line and have hardly had a break at all, and I am so thankful for the many people who are living and working sacrificially to help us all.

I’m not here to offer any sector or service specific advice, but I’m just writing as I encounter life, and want to share my insights, learning and encouragements with you.

In the UK, we are under Government Lockdown apart from certain ‘exemptions’. We should stay at home unless it’s absolutely essential to do otherwise. However, not all employers take this seriously or seriously enough. Some managers allow their pride to dictate how they are going to present things to their staff. And if you are finding yourself feeling stressed because your employer is asking you to do things you feel uncomfortable about, or that make you feel unsafe or that you are going against governmental advice or putting yourself or others at risk in this pandemic, then take a step back and remind yourself that your boss isn’t the ultimate authority in this situation, or in any situation.

It will be difficult for some of you where in the employment setting the buck does stop with your boss. I’ve been in those difficult situations in the past when I was a young, fresh graduate and didn’t know much about the world of work and found myself working in an organisation that didn’t have an HR team, or HR officer….. at all. It turned out the boss bent certain rules to his advantage, and being timid, shy, scared and not knowing my rights I was a bit of a walk over and I wasn’t treated or paid well. Said boss turned out to be a bit let’s just say ‘bossy’ towards the end, and with him being the head of the organisation that was a tough place to be. However, as an employee you do have rights and perhaps depending on the part of the world you are in and the sector you work for joining a union might help.

Since then, I’ve been blessed to work in an organisation that despite its faults does have a proper HR structure, therefore no boss can call all the shots. It took a good few years for me to realise this. My first couple of bosses in this organisation were lovely, kind women. My bosses changed due to changing structures in teams and so the second lovely boss with whom I’m still friends never caused me any issues. We got on great and she didn’t ‘lord it over’ other people. She was merely first among equals and treated us with respect.

After that she retired and my next boss was a bully, and someone I don’t want to spend many sentences writing about. It caused a lot of distress to myself and others and I thought I had no alternative but to just try to suffer through things myself. Everything went through her, even things she should have and said would go to HR through. I suffered and others around me suffered until one day I was having a coffee after work with my boss / friend who retired and she told me that what my new boss was doing was out of order, unethical and that I should join a union.

I realise that this is not for everyone, but it has been such a blessing in my working life, especially as I needed to get reasonable adjustments for health conditions, and was being made to suffer, jump through hoops and denied fair treatment until I did join a union. Even after joining a union the amount of bureaucracy with the employers was just plain sad. For people asking for the smallest, simplest of things, the bosses with their egos wanted to put up so many obstacles and make their employees miserable. I am thankful that my True Boss, My King of kings and Lord of lords Whose servant I am is Jesus Christ – The Servant King who Loves and cares for those who are His.

I found a couple of great advocates and representatives with my union and even this week I’ve been able to reach out to one of them to ask advice because of things I feel I’m being called upon to do in terms of work that I don’t feel comfortable with in light of the government stay at home order.

So whatever situation you find yourself in if you are employed externally, remind yourself that you deserve to be heard, treated with respect and that you have employee responsibilities, but you also have rights. Especially with everything going on with the coronavirus you may be more likely to find information and advocacy support as there will be others in the same boat as you. Know that you’re not alone, and that there are options, even if it takes a bit of hard work, perseverance and researching information for you to get to a better and safer place.

I think back to my coffee with my lovely retired boss and the chance conversation that actually was a game changer for me. Join the union, she advised, and I did and it has helped me so much.

Maybe that’s not the right route for you, but perhaps think of this blog post as a coffee and cake with a friend (me 🙂 ) who is telling you, reminding you that you have options, you have every right not to be bullied or to be made to go against government safety advice in the pandemic and that there are people out there who will advocate for you and support you.

Maybe there is a citizens advice bureau or similar that you can talk to if you don’t want to go down the union route, or if it’s not for you in your personal situation, your sector or industry.

Maybe there is a trusted friend or family member that you can bounce ideas off.

Maybe there are advice and information pages you can read up on online.

Just know that you are not trapped, and that there are options for you as you move forwards. It can be hard to stand up for ourselves sometimes, so don’t be afraid to ask for a bit of advocacy and support and help if you need to.

Take care, and stay safe. You are not alone. x

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Self Care In A Pandemic (2). Routine…

Do you remember the start of your year, in 2020? What were your personal thoughts about the well rounded, almost ‘perfect’ 20-20 year that stretched ahead? Did you have any goals or plans that you wished to pursue, or that seemed likely, that because of the pandemic have been interrupted or cancelled?

As someone living and working in the UK, at the start of the year much of the talk in the news centred around ‘Brexit’ – Britain’s formal exit from the European Union. Regardless of the politics and whether or not you have any particular feelings towards this (which I understand many of you living in other parts of the world may not), there was a feeling that there would be implications for our personal lives on some level.

As such, I optimistically started 2020 thankful for my steady job, and beginning to brainstorm European countries that I have not yet been to that I would like to visit in 2020, before any potential future travel restrictions that might be caused by Brexit! Ah, how little did I know back then!

Needless to say, none of those travel plans materialised in 2020, and not because of Brexit, but because of Covid! Wherever in the world you may be, I am certain you’ve heard of that. I am thankful that I have travelled quite a lot and enjoyed traveling on my own as well, so although my plans never materialised for travel in 2020, it is no great disappointment or inconvenience.

However, I’m not the only one who had plans at the start of the year that did not come to pass. Perhaps you did too. Maybe you planned to get married this year and that had to be called off or at least postponed to less uncertain times. Maybe you considered relocating or buying your first home, changing job, or taking a risk, visiting friends or family or doing something that due to the pandemic has had to be put on hold or cancelled altogether.

Some of you may be in a place of real turmoil, or may know others whose lives have been shaken in 2020. It is heart-breaking to hear stories of people who are mourning loved ones because of Covid, who have lost their jobs or face uncertainty with their income, who are struggling with mental health, loneliness and depression on a more intense scale than they might have been before because of isolation, uncertainty and anxiety.

The bad news hasn’t stopped some people from experiencing joys in life, but sadly this has not been the case for everyone. I know of people who are expecting babies this year, who have got engaged, and even couples at church who managed to get married as planned this year, albeit with a few less people in attendance. Some have still managed to get away on short holidays or breaks, or explored the world of ‘staycations’. Others have enjoyed working from home, time with family, or time to enjoy hobbies that they previously had little space in their calendars for.

We have all come through this year differently, with shades of light and dark along the way, but it is unlikely that you have not been touched or impacted by the pandemic in some way, even if that is inadvertently.

And because of this, I write to reach you and encourage you, as a small offering of hope.

What are some of the ways that many of us here may have been impacted? One thing that I know many people face is a change of routine. Routines have changed in terms of where we work, whether we are able to work at all, being able to socialise, see friends or family, where we can eat, where we can go, and what we need to be ‘on guard’ for.

No longer is our routine when leaving home characterised by a final check of whether we have money, keys and phone with us; instead, we have the additional ‘check-list’ of whether we have our facemask, hand sanitiser, maybe even gloves with us. We have to be even more mindful of our interactions, our distancing, our shopping and disinfecting habits than we were before as we realise how much of the day to day things we took for granted in seemingly more ‘care free’ days.

Whether your life and routine has been slightly or significantly impacted, there is no doubt that you have had changes to adapt to this year.

It’s a word of solidarity to say that you’re not alone. We’re all facing change in some way.

So what do routines and self-care have to do with each other? So much. If any of you have also suffered with times of mental health challenges, then perhaps you also know the importance of routines to help get you through those tough days. Routines do not save us (as you will know if you have read my blogs on faith before, I believe that only Christ can save us to the uttermost that we need), but they can provide a sense of stability in uncertain times.

If your routine has been changed this year, and you are facing unexpected changes due to the pandemic, try to establish new routines that provide you with a sense of comfort, predictability and even joy.

There may be things from your previous routine that you miss, and others that you are glad to see the back of. I personally do not miss the daily commute to work, and instead enjoy lingering unhurriedly over my morning cup of coffee.

Think of some of the things you are thankful are no longer part of your routine in this season, and take a moment to write them down, to be grateful or simply ponder them, however small they may seem to be.

Things such as no longer having to face rush hour traffic if that is the case for you. Of no longer missing out on time with your children, perhaps. Whatever it is, take a moment and appreciate that even in unsettling times of change, some changes have been a blessing to you.

Next think of the positive changes to your routines that you may not have even noticed before. Think of ways in which you can establish and build upon these to bring in a greater sense of wellbeing into your life as you persevere through this ‘pandemic year’. You may have lost a lot this year, or may feel unsettled and disrupted, but are there any things you can incorporate into your day that will help you?

A friend of mine has been incorporating regular walks into her new routine, and enjoying the peace of nature, something she wouldn’t have had so much time for before. Maybe you’re stuck at home in a high rise flat in the city and can’t enjoy such things on a regular basis, or at all in this season of your life, but perhaps the routine ritual of your morning breakfast / work out / coffee / crossword or whatever it may be is something you can look forward to.

Routines help take some of the mental pressure away from our minds. With fewer decisions to make, we can be more present in the moment, more able to enjoy the gifts of the day, and routines can help to ‘free up’ certain areas of our lives to do this.

I know that many people deeply dislike the term ‘the new normal’, so I won’t use that here, but in what ways have you adapted and brought in positive changes into your daily life?

Routines don’t have to be rigid, but having something predictable to look forward to in our day to day lives can help ease the burden and promote self care in these changing times.

x

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