I just hope we are not forgotten when everything calms down

We hear from one of #OurHeroes, a Probation Officer in Hampshire, about how the outbreak of Covid-19 has affected him.

‘I have been a Probation Officer for over 18 years, working in offender management for the majority of my career. My job involves working with people in custody and managing the risks of offenders on release. The last ten years have been extremely difficult for all of us working in the service as we’ve had to deal with the consequences of privatisation, public sector cuts and austerity. This has led to a fragmented and disjointed service with fewer staff having to cope with enormously increased workloads. Sickness has been high and morale low. However, despite the frustrations we still take great pride in our work and when this health crisis started I knew that my colleagues would have the resilience and the determination to face it.

Life has been very different since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Many of our offices are now closed and to keep in line with social distancing measures I now stay in contact with offenders by phone and carry out “door step visits” to maintain face-to-face contact in a safe way. It has been tough to keep everything running as it should, trying to prioritise whilst certain resources and services are limited. Nevertheless, we have continued to maintain our main roles and responsibilities as best we can.

Part of my role usually requires me to be office based, however my routine has now changed greatly. Currently, I work one day in the office, carry out door step visits where I can and spend the rest of my time at home. I am a proponent of home working and have always wanted the opportunity to try it out, although I never imagined it would be under these circumstances of course! My colleagues and I have made it work and I therefore hope managers will be more flexible in supporting such practices in the future. I know that UNISON supports home working wherever it is feasible to do so, as it can offer great flexibility to employers and employees among other reasons.

However, there can be dangers in working from home and I have to be honest, just a few weeks in I was feeling a little disorientated and dissatisfied with the whole set up. I found the biggest problem was distinguishing between when the working week ended and when the weekend began and so forth. Then there was the issue of working during weekends or at odd times, and the risks that came with this. Thankfully, I soon overcame this and I now keep my routines separate. I ensure I start at the same time each day and have a rest when I need one. Having a strict routine helped, particularly building in time for proper breaks. It works for me now, but it was a struggle to adjust to initially. I’m happy to say that I found UNISON’s guide to effective and safe home working really helpful.

Throughout this challenging time, it’s been really important to stay in good contact with colleagues. It really has been more important than ever that we support and look after each other. When we are at the office, social distancing measures are always in place, but we keep our doors open so we can talk to each other. Whilst working at home, we hold virtual meetings or catch up sessions and can chat using appropriate social media platforms if we have any issues. My Cocker Spaniel ‘Dawg’ is usually on hand for comedy value!

Conversations with fellow union members and colleagues suggest that many of us are feeling a little demoralised and undervalued during this time. UNISON remains in negotiations to get special payments implemented for probation staff in our region, and this could really make a difference to us. Public service workers, many of whom are low paid and potentially vulnerable, are all in this together and I just hope we are not forgotten when everything calms down. It could be easy for us to become the target again under a new level of austerity, when there is likely to be a gaping hole in the economy. However, we all count our blessings for being alive and being paid during this time and I wish all my fellow key workers the best and to stay safe as best they can. God bless. United we stand, divided we fall!

Are you a key worker with a story to share about what’s happening in your workplace in the fight against Covid-19? Then we want to hear from you so we can celebrate you, our heroes, and everything you’re doing.

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