A lot of people working in financial services have been quick to trumpet the perceived benefits of home working and I do not doubt that some will be better off for the changes to working life that Covid-19 has catalysed.
Others though will find that being out of sight and out of their bosses' and colleagues’ minds is only a short step from being out of work. There are many who will miss the office, some sooner than they ever expected.
This was brought to mind when I got a phone call from a client and friend of mine. The instant I heard Brian’s voice I knew something was wrong. It was cracked, as though he was about to burst into tears.
What tragedy had befallen or was threatening to befall this 50-year-old built-like-a-tank friend of mine? All the possibilities ran through my mind in a flash. The sudden death of a loved one? A bad medical diagnosis? Had he become yet another victim of a fraud that had cost him his life savings?
No. It was his job. He blurted out his distress, and what he said worried me. I’d never before had a call from anyone who sounded seriously suicidal. “Brian”, I broke in. “Stop. You’ve got friends.”
He calmed down. “This has come out of nowhere” he said. “It’s flattened me. I didn’t know where I could go or who I could ask for advice even. We don’t have a Union. Then I thought of you. I knew if anyone would have an idea what I should do, you would.”
We had a very long talk. Half-an-hour later we’d agreed a game-plan involving Debbie, a good employment lawyer I know. I called her and she spoke to him within the hour.
Brian is a graphic designer. He started out straight from school, qualified at university and for the last 20 years has been a senior and respected employee of a local firm employing around 20 people.
His work has included conceiving original, creative concepts involving well-crafted design, liaising with major corporate clients, and networking to bring in new business. I spoke to him just after the first lockdown.
He was loving working from home without the 90-minute each-way commutes. I asked whether he wasn’t missing the cross-fertilisation of ideas and inspiration that busy offices full of creatives generate?
It wasn’t a problem, he said. They had Microsoft Teams. Then, at the beginning of August, though still working from home, he was called into the office. Out of the blue, his boss presented him with a highly negative performance review.
Ambushed, he had not been given even the slightest prior intimation that there was any problem. He loved his job and those he worked with. He’d thought he’d still be with the same firm when he retired. Now, suddenly, he was in the departure lounge, made to feel incompetent and worse than useless.