Hey Bell, it’s Time to Talk

It has been 12 days since Bell Let’s Talk Day, a day designed to build awareness and spark conversation around mental illness and stigma. Whether or not the movement was genuine is something that gets debated year after year due to the overt capitalism that permeates everything we do. As someone who lives with mental illness, I never wanted to dig too deep into the argument because I was just happy to have a day where I could share my story in an effort to end stigma and have it be “acceptable.”

Regardless of how I feel about what the day stands for, it’s time we talk, for real, about the media giant’s complete disregard for the humans they employ, or used to employ. In the 12 days since the hashtags took over Twitter, Bell has laid off hundreds of employees across all their media properties and terminated numerous TSN radio stations across the country. All of this after the company posted a 28.9% increase in net earnings over the last financial quarter. 

The corporate greed expressed by the layoffs is compounded by the fact that Bell Media has received $122.9 million in support payments through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Ever since the beginning of the pandemic the company has continued to pay out regular dividends to their shareholders, as well as having just announced an increase to their payouts. 

So with money clearly not being an issue, what gives? Yes, firing employees is a normal part of business but these mass layoffs clearly have nothing to do with performance, something you don’t have to look too far into the list of names of those let go to figure out. Dan O’Toole, co-host of one of the network’s flagships shows, SC with Jay and Dan, was the headlining name in the first round of cuts made on February 5. Sportscentre anchor Natasha Staniszewski and TSN soccer analyst Kristian Jack were among the other notable names let go. 

As if the hundreds who were suddenly unemployed with the first wave of cuts wasn’t enough, Bell followed it up with a second round on February 9. This time the TSN radio stations in Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Hamilton were wiped from the air with one fell swoop. 

With the layoffs not being made for bottom line reasons nor performance purposes, the only explanation that really remains is the company wants to employ cheaper talent. And this is where my second conflict comes in. I am on my way to being that cheaper talent, so I should be happy that jobs are opening up for my pay grade, right? But I guess what I never considered is that my future would depend on my idols being left out in the cold in the midst of a global pandemic. 

This is where it goes back to Bell Let’s Talk. If you’re on Twitter you’ve undoubtedly seen O’Toole’s thread where he grapples with his former employer’s public stance on mental health and their behind-the-scenes attitude that dismisses it completely. 

Sure, some of these people may not endure financial strain any time soon, but unemployment takes a toll far beyond a bank account. “Work provides us time structure, it provides us identity, it provides us purpose and it also provides us social interactions with others,” says Connie Wanberg, PhD, an industrial and organizational psychologist at the University of Minnesota. 

It doesn’t take a psychologist to know that COVID has created an environment of uncertainty far beyond what any of us could have imagined having to experience in our lifetimes. And that is before you even consider the job market. For hundreds of Bell employees, regardless of what was happening in the world, they had their jobs to count on for some form of consistency. And then out of nowhere, that and all the benefits it brought, was ripped away. 

To say that Bell now has a PR nightmare on their hands would be an understatement, and it’s one of their own creation.  From the optics to the timing, the decisions made at the corporate level over the last few days have made it impossible to take initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk Day seriously again. This is a company who did not hesitate to take advantage of governmental aid for its employees, and then hesitated even less to disregard those employees and their wellbeing mere days after making a public showing of care for mental health. 

Going forward, at least personally, I strive to treat every day as a day appropriate enough to talk about mental health instead of waiting for the one day a year that a media conglomerate says it’s okay for us to do so. Bell Let’s Talk messaging suggests that these conversations should be happening throughout the year, yet couldn’t carry on their own conversation for two weeks. 

It has been 12 days since Bell Let’s Talk, so Bell, it’s time to talk about how your actions speak louder than your monetary donations on where you stand on the fight against mental illness.

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