Supporting at-risk employees in the UK workforce needs action now

By Dominic Atkinson


06 07 2020


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As the UK comes to terms with the tragic loss of life caused by the pandemic, another devastating crisis is looming. The combined effects of mental health issues and family impoverishment from unemployment could ravage communities without appropriate and immediate action.

As think tanks such as Resolution Foundation urge a swift response and Boris Johnson calls for a ‘Roosevelt’-style initiative, there is a growing realisation that society must take collective and rapid steps to tackle job losses due to Covid-19.

Nearly three million people in the UK are currently claiming unemployment benefits and this figure could rise significantly as the furlough scheme ends. Recent modelling from Learning and Work Institute predicts that the jobless could exceed four million – an unemployment rate not seen since 1938 in the wake of the Great Depression. Allowing this disaster to unfold will be catastrophic for society and its most vulnerable members. Only a co-ordinated effort to implement support strategies by the conclusion of the furlough scheme will avoid Great Depression-era levels of unemployment.

The career development community urgently needs more support to help people get back into work, and is calling for a Career Guidance Guarantee. In its recent Emergency Exit report, which detailed the effects of coronavirus on the labour market,  Learning and Work Institute estimated that there could be a shortage of up to 10,000 work coaches. One proposal to combat this is to mobilise the 5000-strong professionals of the Career Development Institute and other professional bodies, and deploy them in the areas of most need, making use of the expertise which already exists.

Empowering local employment services and providing housing associations with more resources to assist the jobless in adapting to the immediate aftermath of Covid-19 could also be highly effective ways of implementing targeted action. In addition, we recognise that virus-accelerated digital transformation is underway, and there is significant risk of people without relevant skills or the opportunities to acquire them being excluded from the job market.

The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) has already proposed a scheme where the laid-off and those facing redundancy receive access to support facilitating a quicker return to work. ERSA urges a £1 billion investment in Jobcentre Plus, upskilling and coaching services, and while this can be part of the solution, we have already seen how centralised approaches have lacked timely and specific efficacy during the pandemic. Working with existing local infrastructure, which can be further scaled to cope as the number of people affected rise, must feature in the plan.

Organisations making redundancies must also be part of the strategy. We’re urging employers to look beyond simply ticking the boxes of the essential legal obligations associated with redundancy. We believe it’s time for companies and businesses to invest in a human-centred approach, recognising better offboarding as both an organisational and a societal imperative. The support provided should be tailored to the employee and their needs, including practical tools and expert coaching which can identify upskilling and reskilling opportunities to facilitate moving into new roles.

We believe it’s time for companies and businesses to invest in a human-centred approach, recognising better offboarding as both an organisational and a societal imperative.

With mental health services already stretched, there is also the risk of untreated anxiety and stress disorders that will make it even harder for the vulnerable to re-establish livelihoods and avoid long-term unemployment.

Stay Nimble research has revealed that the North West is most at risk of a sharp spike in mental health issues related to Covid-19 redundancies. Stay Nimble research also indicates that poorly handled redundancies can significantly increase the risk of mental health issues – a quarter of those surveyed in this region reported stress or panic attacks related to redundancy.

Three quarters of respondents in the North West also said that financial advice, coaching and mental health support when leaving a company would have had a significantly positive impact on their future success. Business leaders across the UK must carefully consider options during redundancy, and ensure that employees receive the same investment on leaving a role as they did on starting it.

Stay Nimble wrote its Best Practice Offboarding White Paper to help businesses navigate post-furlough redundancies, and is currently providing thousands of no-cost coaching sessions with accredited advisers to workers made redundant.

Redundancy can have a devastating long-term impact on individuals and families, and too many workers will slip through the cracks if career support is not provided. The wellbeing of all employees is critical and must be safeguarded. Damage from Covid-19 could take years to rectify without prompt action, and it’s vital we act now to support the millions of people and their communities who will need help.

Dominic Atkinson, co-founder and CEO of Stay Nimble

Dubbed the ’Headspace’ of career coaching, Stay Nimble is a certified social enterprise focused on addressing four of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The platform is now also helping housing associations to scale employment services for their customers. Stay Nimble recently won ‘Best use of Technology in Career Development’ at the UK Career Development Institute Awards, and is a finalist in the Nesta CareerTech Challenge.