Category Archives: unemployment

Advice by moonlight

It’s 12:47 at night on Monday (Tuesday?).   Mondays are Mondays, which means it’s hard to get up in the morning, and they are long days, full of meetings, catching up on email, figuring out what I said I’d do over the weekend and didn’t, regular work, and then the highlight of my week, an hour with the kiddles at 826Michigan, followed by pub trivia.

This Monday was enhanced by a ribbon cutting ceremony at the library (a rather moving one at that), the excitement of losing my purse (I think/hope I know where I left it), and a young writer more interested in bolting out the door than crafting his personal nemesis.  So the columns, all in all, were left by the wayside until 12:47 or, by now, 12:50, when I’m tired but not sleepy.

And thus I offer a quick drive-by-fruiting (Mrs. Doubtfire?  Anyone?) of Prudence’s Monday live chat–which I always forget about until 12:47, or, by now, 12:51 on Monday (Tuesday?).

As Prudence says each week, (except, of course, this week when I want to quote it): Let’s get to it!

….

Yikes.  After reading the first three chat participants, I’m not sure “drive by fruiting” is the best approach after all.  Some pretty heavy stuff in this week’s chat.  Here’s a rundown, anyway, with key quotes included and sassy commentary withheld.  Have a look, if you want to read about:

  • “One of my close friends just announced his engagement to a woman he’s been dating for a few years. We’re happy for him, but many of us can’t shake the feeling that he’s making a mistake. In essence, the woman makes fun of him a lot in front of his friends, and not in a loving way.”
  • “A few months ago, my husband raped me in the middle of the night. He was asleep during the attack, and he believes that it is a disorder called sexsomnia…I feel like I will never be able to get over this and I will live in constant fear for the rest of my life…To make matters worse, I have recently started having an affair, because I needed someone to take away all of the pain….I still care about my husband, and I want to honor the commitment I made to him, but when I look at him all I see is a monster. Is there any hope that I can fall in love with him again, or should I cut ties and move on?”
  • “If you have done whatever you can to get any kind of income and you haven’t been able to find a stable job, do you take it as a sign that perhaps you’re supposed to be unemployed? I’m at my wits’ end, and this is how I’m thinking, more to save my sanity than anything else. What do you think?”
  • I work in a small, close-knit office. There is one “boss” to speak of, but we all work mostly independently. Most of our staff have advanced college degrees. My problem occurs during lunchtime. There have been quite a few times that the “boss” reaches on my plate and takes some food.

Thank God!  Something petty, at last!  From that point on, the chat is all over the map, with the nasty relatives, nosy friends, speech disorders, adultery, boozing, housekeeping (and lack thereof) and lazy co-workers we all like to see.

Not much cheery or inspirational in Prudence this week, I’m afraid.  Tell your friends not to marry jerks, ignore the jerks in your own lives, and do your jobs, everyone!  Happy Tuesday.  Since it’s now 1:08.


 

Pull up those bootstraps!

Today Abby printed a letter from a woman bemoaning that her bachelor’s degree was useless, and I couldn’t help but groan a little on the inside:

DEAR ABBY: I was a stay-at-home mom for many years and enrolled in college when my youngest entered kindergarten. I held various part-time (and later full-time) dead-end jobs to supplement my husband’s income. It took 15 years, but I finally graduated with a B.A. in history, although I have since discovered there isn’t much I can do with my degree.

After almost 30 years of marriage, my husband decided he wanted a divorce. I am now on my own and struggling to survive. I have no marketable skills, can’t afford to attend school full-time because I must work in order to have benefits, and don’t have the money to pay for more training without going into further debt. I don’t know how I’ll ever be self-supporting.

My current job pays $10 an hour, the benefits are good, but I don’t really like my job or see myself ever earning a higher hourly wage. If it wasn’t for alimony, I’d be even worse off, but that won’t last forever. (I have three years left.)

I’m thankful that my kids are on their own and don’t need my support, but they can’t help me either. What options are there for someone in my situation? — FRUSTRATED IN NORTH CAROLINA

Now, I feel a little bad taking her to task, because she’s in a particularly difficult position: recently empty-nested and divorced, she was a non-traditional student and seems never to have had a very satisfying work experience. Add that to the current economic climate and we wind up with a very different beast than the 22 year old liberal arts major who stays in school just because they don’t know what else to do and have convinced themselves they’ll never get a job.

But……still. She’s managed to finish her degree, work, and raise a family–she needs to give herself a little credit and put those skills to use! Maybe her past work experiences weren’t exactly gateways to the corner office, but surely she did SOMETHING of value. Did she serve customers well? Was she a good listener? A creative problem solver? A mediator in conflict? Loyal and never missed a day of work? All of these things count! What on earth does she mean she has “no marketable skills”? Of course she does.

Abby was encouraging:

DEAR FRUSTRATED: You are an educated, literate, mature college graduate. You could make some executive an excellent, competent personal assistant. Depending upon what the requirements are in your state, you might also be able to be a teacher’s assistant in one of the schools.

Contact an employment agency and ask if it can give you a skill assessment. I am sure you could find a job where your attributes would be appreciated if you start looking.

These are both great suggestions–substitute teaching might be another option that could potentially ease her into being a teaching assistant. But I think her options go way beyond these if she is open-minded. Yes, it’s true that many jobs are looking for more specialized backgrounds than they used to. I’ve definitely noticed that more places want people who majored in business, communications, HR, etc. when previously the rule of thumb I always heard was that it didn’t matter what your major was as long as you had a degree. (Or maybe that was just a line my liberal arts school tried to sell me…)

The college degree may not a golden ticket anymore, but work experience IS. This woman has a leg up on all the green graduates who will be excluded from jobs looking for “3-5 years” experience, if she can find a way to spin her myriad experiences as relevant. I agree she should seek help from an employment agency or, maybe even better, the career center at her university (many provide free support for all alumni) to see what suggestions they have.

As for her current job, why can’t she see herself ever earning a higher hourly wage? Can she seek a raise (maybe not this year….) or is there some way to earn bonuses or other useful incentives?

A person with a college degree, a job, health insurance, additional financial support for three years to come, and independent adult children for whom she doesn’t have to provide does not get to say she has no options.

Losing Jobs without Losing it All

I’ve noticed a trend lately in the columns that is a clear reflection of our troubled economy: lots and lots and LOTS of letters from folks who have lost their jobs, or whose friends and spouses have. Most of the writers simply want to know how they can best be helpful and supportive, without coming across as patronizing (in particular if they still have a job, especially at the place from which the person was terminated). These two samples juxtapose nicely, and give perspective from both sides. First, Miss Manners:

Dear Miss Manners: Several of my co-workers were recently laid off. Some of them are finishing up a few things for a week or two before they leave, and others left the same day.

What do you say to an acquaintance who was just laid off? It’s a painful time for them, and I want to say “I’m sorry” or “Are there things I can do to help?” but I don’t want to come across as pitying them, or as saying “Ha-ha—I’m still here, and you’re not, sucks to be you!”

I feel awful for these long-term coworkers, but I’m not a close enough friend to actually know what they would need or appreciate. I also feel guilty about still having my job, but this isn’t a time to whine about me, it’s a time to reach out to them.

A card seems stupid and pointless. A nonconversation sounds awkward and awful. Ignoring it seems worse. A gift certificate or some such seems to assume that they are in dire financial straits.

Gentle Reader: What about taking each one to lunch, your treat, and not bringing up the subject?

The gesture itself shows that you care, without any of the undertones that you fear. You will then be able to adjust your tone to the way each is handling it and offer practical help if it seems relevant. Miss Manners would consider this especially graceful if your invitation is made or repeated after they have left, to show that they are missed and not forgotten.

Then, Abby:
DEAR ABBY: In this day of massive cutbacks and layoffs, please remind your readers that people who have recently lost their jobs need their friends now more than ever.

Having found myself in this situation, I know firsthand that people I thought were my friends truly are not. The phone calls and e-mails stopped almost immediately when word got out that I was laid off. Being treated as if I have some sort of contagious disease has been as bad as losing my job. I know what happened to me is a sign of the times and no reflection on me.

So — to all of you who have chosen to no longer communicate with me because of my employment status: I am fine. I have a positive attitude. This will not keep me down. I realize that my possibilities are endless. However badly you treat me now, when you are in the same situation, I will be there for you.

To the wonderful man in my life, thank you for standing by me and giving me daily encouragement. To my family, whom I worship beyond belief, thank you for your understanding and continued support. You have made me the person I am, and because of you, I will succeed. — UNEMPLOYED … NOT DOWN AND OUT

DEAR NOT DOWN AND OUT: Thank you for so eloquently pointing out that people who have lost their jobs should not be abandoned, and that the support of friends and family is crucial.

Although family relationships are our primary source of emotional support, the relationships we form at work and our work-related contacts can become like an extended second family.

If these relationships are treated as expendable, it can often be as traumatic as the death of a loved one. When a death occurs, there can be as many as five distinct stages of grief. These are anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, when it comes to job loss, there is also the added element of fear.

This is why I am appealing to you, my readers. No one can ignore the fact that times have grown uncertain. Millions of good, hardworking individuals have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. More bad news may be on the way.

Now is the time for all of us to reach out a hand to encourage and help one another. People who are unemployed should not be made to feel they have been discarded. There is strength in numbers. We will all be stronger if we stand together and observe the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. — LOVE, ABBY

I would venture that it’s unlikely that most people see termination as a contagious disease and hope to dodge it by avoiding contact. Rather, like the writer of the first letter, they probably just don’t know how best to express their support without trivializing or coming off as superior–afraid of causing offense, they choose instead to do nothing.

Abby compares the trauma of losing a job to the grief of losing a loved one–I think the reactions of friends, relatives and former colleagues in both situations are comparable: when we don’t know what to say or do, we too often do nothing at all. While I’m glad the writer of the second letter has such strength and confidence, its clear that her friends’ passivity and distance has made her pretty bitter towards them–to the extent that she’s written them off as not “real” friends. This abandonment has redoubled the pain of her termination, and she’s not going to take it!

A good reminder to us all that thoughts and intentions don’t do much–it is words and more importantly actions that tell others we care about them and haven’t forgotten or abandoned them.

You do it best…when you do nothing at all?

Ouch. I really feel for these folks. The only thing worse than watching someone you love lose their job is, um….losing your job under the watchful eye of someone who loves you.

Dear Amy: I am 30, and my boyfriend is 32. We have been together for eight months. We are looking at this relationship as one that will lead to marriage.

He was laid off at the beginning of the month. His response to this event has left me confused and disheartened. This was his first job out of college, and someone who knew his family hired him without an interview. He rose steadily in the company, almost effortlessly, and he deserved it — he is brilliant. Since the layoff, he has not completed his resume, has not contacted people in his industry for leads (though he knows quite a few people), and although he has listings on a few online job sites, he has not followed up on promising postings.

For now he has his severance and an agreement with his former employer to be a subcontractor for another month or two.

He agrees that he needs to do more, acknowledges that as time passes he is more anxious, and has promised to ramp up his efforts, but he always has an excuse for not actually getting things done. I’ve sent him information for work in his field, have offered to help send resumes or do anything else that might help to make it a less daunting task.

I know that it’s his life, but what else can I do to help? He is a loving, supportive, caring man. I don’t want to walk away from this relationship, but I can’t see myself with someone who is so unwilling to help himself.

Is there anything more that I can do or say? — Anxious Girlfriend

It’s so hard to watch someone you love wrangle with trying to find work. It’s hard for lots of reasons…hard because, well, there are just fewer jobs to be had these days. Hard because you have to just trust that they’re doing everything they can–even though you’re probably hearing only the real highlights or real lowlights, and not much in between. Hard because maybe you have the energy and drive to do some research, and you sincerely want to be helpful, but don’t know if your efforts will be perceived as badgering, or even condescending (“look at all the opportunities I was able to find in a 3 minute Google search…” etc.).

It’s hard because you don’t know if the person needs a pat on the shoulder or a kick in the pants, and if it’s even really your role to administer any of those things. Hard because you both just want to punch all stupid HR folks who never call back or even acknowledge receiving an application. But since they avoid getting punched like it’s their job (oh wait, it is), you wind up taking it out on yourselves, each other, or the poor, innocent resume–and by extension, each other again. (“Why would you use that word? I wouldn’t have used that word. Is this what it looked like when you sent it out?”) Wait…I seem to be talking about my life….ahem.

And it’s hard enough when you’re looking for a first job, straight out of college, and can hang out in family homestead limbo (even if you’d rather not) while you search. It’s got to be even worse when you don’t go through this trial by fire until you’ve had a job where you succeeded easily for 10 years, and now you’ve got no job, and are probably questioning the reality and validity of your success in the first place. So, now that my rant is over, here’s what Amy actually said:

Dear Anxious: The next thing you need to do is less. Much, much less.

This will be very challenging for you. You seem like a very high-functioning, caring and capable person, and your guy is foundering.

If he is paralyzed, your pushing him will not help. Prodding can make paralysis worse because it is perceived as pressure.

You should convey a version of the following: “I believe in you. I know this is hard, but I also know you can do it. I’m going to do you a favor and let you do whatever you need to do. I hope you’ll tell me if I can help you; otherwise, I’m going to step back.”

Then you should back off (from his job search, not the relationship). Your boyfriend might spend his days in his jammies eating Cheerios out of the box. When he sees the end of income looming, he may get it together.

This is a test of his character — not yours.

I think she is right on with her advice on this one. It’s what I tried (didn’t always manage) to do when I was in a similar situation (which, I should clarify, was due to some perfect storm of bad market, bad timing, stupidheads, and other factors, and, unlike this case, not a lack of effort or applications). Until explicitly asked by the job seeker to participate in the process, I think it’s the best anyone can do.