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How COVID-19 has reduced unemployment stigma

·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·4 min read
A jobcentre employment office in Tunstall, England. Photo: Nathan Stirk/Getty
A jobcentre employment office in Tunstall, England. Photo: Nathan Stirk/Getty

With the UK economy in lockdown, shops, restaurants, bars and venues have been forced to close their doors, leaving many out of work. Although the furlough scheme has helped to protect some jobs, there has been a spike in redundancies across Britain.

The unemployment rate for October to December was 5.1%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) - its highest level for almost five years. This means 1.74 million people were unemployed, with the number of people on company payrolls down 726,000 on pre-pandemic levels.

Workers in the hospitality, retail and entertainment industries have been badly hit and because these sectors employ large numbers of young people, they have borne the brunt of job losses.

It’s not all bad news, however. With so many people facing job and income loss, stigma surrounding unemployment is beginning to fall.

Before the pandemic, many people who found themselves out of work felt ashamed about their situation, despite it often being out of their control. But now, an increasing number of people are opening up about their work situation on social media.

In November 2020, a survey of 253 UK HR professionals by LinkedIn found that while 82% believe there was some stigma surrounding unemployment before COVID-19, nearly half say it has reduced since the onset of COVID-19.

READ MORE: How to realistically completely change jobs during the pandemic

The results showed 61% of UK businesses were very receptive to interviewing people that have been recently laid off as a result of the economic fallout. And many of those surveyed said that unemployed candidates were often more committed to the role, proactive and resilient.

Recruitment experts have known for years that unemployment can reduce a person’s chances of finding another job. This is because we tend to make negative associations with unemployment, such as doubts over abilities and competence, which can often lead to unfair discrimination.

A number of studies have shown unemployment stigma exists. In 2011, researchers at UCLA carried out a series of studies involving resumes from job seekers which gave details about their education, work record, experience and other factors. Participants were asked to review the CVs and told that some of the candidates had been unemployed for a few days. The results showed even job seekers who had been out of work for days were perceived as less competent, warm and hireable.

WATCH: What government COVID-19 support is available?

Unsurprisingly, this stigma has a negative impact on those who are unemployed, affecting their mental health, wellbeing, confidence and self-esteem. And this is on top of the trauma of losing a job and the anxiety over the financial implications.

“Businesses that fail to look past the stigma of unemployment will miss out on the biggest talent windfall in a generation,” said Janine Chamberlin, senior director at LinkedIn, in a statement. “Forward thinking companies are focusing less on candidates’ current employment status and related previous experience, and more on their transferable skills, personal attributes and what they can uniquely bring to the business.

“They are also supporting people as they transition into new roles by offering reskilling and professional development opportunities. With the high levels of people currently unemployed due to COVID-19, companies that assess candidates on their transferable skills will benefit from diverse talent pools and fresh perspectives.”

So what should you do if you are currently unemployed and are worried about being unfairly judged?

LinkedIn has launched an #OpenToWork profile photo frame that members can use to show employers they are looking for new opportunities. More than three million people around the world have downloaded the feature so far, and according to LinkedIn, these members receive around 40% more messages from recruiters.

READ MORE: How to avoid burnout when you're job hunting

“As you go through job descriptions for new roles, don’t be put off if you lack some of the specific skills they ask for,” says Charlotte Davies, a careers expert at LinkedIn. “Think about how the skills you already have could be applied. We recently launched the Career Explorer tool, which can help you find a role that might be a good match for your existing skills. It also shows where there may be skills gaps, and points you to free LinkedIn Learning courses that can help to plug any gaps in their knowledge.”

Redundancy is never an easy situation to deal with, and it can take its toll on your mental health, relationships and other aspects of your life. It’s important to speak to loved ones, friends and family who can support you emotionally and point you in the direction of new opportunities.

Stigma can be debilitating, but job and income loss is something huge numbers of people experience all the time, not just during a global pandemic. It can help to put your situation into perspective and focus on your skills, abilities and attributes, whether you have qualifications, soft skills or life experience.

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