After I graduated I took on some freelance work at my local radio station, assisting on the breakfast show. At first I was ecstatic to get the job. I had no idea how long I would be there but I prayed the work would keep coming. Then the exhaustion of being new and inexperienced set in. The shifts consisted of 5am starts and a deserted office to greet me good morning. One morning a TV broadcaster, thought of as a ‘local treasure’ on the network, laughed at me for saying I was finding the early mornings a struggle and let out a purse-lipped baby wail into my face.
A few weeks later, after realising my visible discomfort with the subject of sexual abuse, a colleague 10 years my senior told me that my future shifts would be seriously compromised if I didn’t sit through a phone-in on the Adam Johnson case. She didn’t have a clue why that particular topic might have been causing my hands to shake in frustration, and she didn’t care to ask. She later apologised, but the in the heat of a live newsroom the insinuation was clear: you’re supposed to be a professional; if you can’t hack it, you’re out.
Of course in radio and TV unsociable hours and short-term contracts are par for the course. There’s nothing wrong with coffee runs and answering the phones if it gets you in front of the right people. That’s how it’s always been. But the pressure, with so little experience on which to draw, can at times become unbearable – especially when we’re constantly reminded that we’re disposable.
This isn’t just about the media, it’s the experience of graduates trying to enter any number of professions. One student on my course was lucky to move to London after she landed a job in publishing, but it wasn’t the happy ending she imagined. “The actual office environment is so intense. It took me ages to admit to myself I was miserable, because I liked the idea of being here so much,” she tells me now. Another, a trainee teacher, has struggled to qualify in an increasingly stressful environment. “The expectation for us to do everything required - even when we’re not yet working independently - is impossible. I’ve already taken three weeks off for anxiety. Out of the 25 of us that started my course, there are only 20 of us left, two of us require extended placements due to absence, and another five are just pushing to finish with no desire to teach afterward”. No wonder anxiety and feelings of loneliness are rampant among Generation Y.
The current climate is one of insecure jobs and low pay, and it doesn’t do millenials any favours. Employers receive hundreds of applications for each entry level position, so they won’t accept anything less than a superhuman. And so millenials are left scrabbling around for any opportunity we can get and then expected to move heaven and earth if we’re lucky enough to bag a job. This isn’t a complaint about hard work: we know it’s impossible to succeed without putting in some serious graft. But that success shouldn’t come at the cost of our mental health. For far too many of us millenials that’s the price we’re having to pay – and that should worry us all
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