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March 2017

Managing Unemployment

By | Careers, Food for thought, Uncategorized | No Comments

Albertans have been waiting for the price of oil to go up; a signal that the economic and employment crisis will be over and we can all go back to normal, to the way things were.  And while the price of oil is up and we are hopefully seeing the employment market relax a bit and release more opportunities for work (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-economy-bmo-report-gdp-growth-2017-1.3794548), there is still a pervasive feeling of gloom and uncertainty around town.

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For so many people, the challenging economics have influenced their livelihoods, their lifestyles for them personally and for their families, but also their sense of well-being, of ability and capability, as well as their feelings of worth.

For those who have been laid-off, there are most certainly financial considerations and the logistics and time spent looking for a job, navigating through Employment Insurance requirements, etc.  The individual may have lingering questions and concerns about what their role was in loosing their job.  What is something they did or did not do?  Were they not performing to the best that they could have?  Why did the company choose them instead of their colleague?  And then, I should feel bad for wishing it was someone else other than me….  Often these questions go unanswered and for many, we accept responsibility for loosing our jobs when in many cases, it was simply being on the losing side of economics.

Our Identities

Think about when we meet someone for the first time.  Generally, we introduce ourselves by our names, ask each other how we are doing, and then ask, “What do you do?”  Much of our identity or first impression of people is wrapped up in what we do for a living and we get used to being identified as the engineer, accountant, nurse, restauranteur, etc.  But for the unemployed, there is a certain amount of shamefulness in saying, “I am unemployed currently, but I am an engineer” or maybe “I am between jobs right now.”  Suddenly we have this sense that we must explain why we are between jobs or defend our worthiness as individuals, that we are apparently productive members of society, and that we do not have some character flaw that has caused us to lose our jobs instead of the colleague next to us.

For many of us, we have not lost our jobs before, we have not experienced unemployment, we have been generally, more or less successful in our careers, in our educational endeavours, and so on.  How does losing our jobs influence how we see ourselves?  For some, do we know how to manage failure?  What does it do to our self-esteem?

Our Partners and Families

What we also overlook is that spouses are affected either through sharing the worry and concern of adjusting to a different lifestyle, and perhaps having to find a job themselves to help support their family.  Partners in the relationship may find themselves with new roles within the family and may have mixed feelings about the changes in responsibilities.  This can bring about challenges in our relationships including confusion about each others roles, anger or resentment, blame, and even a sense of insecurity and uncertainty about letting your partner down.

Why Me?

So how do we move past these troubling feelings?  So many of us will continue to ask, “Why me?”

As a Human Resources professional I can tell you that for a company, it is generally about economics or circumstance.  The company will be watching its bottom line and make decisions to ensure the viability of the organization.  Or more simply, your role ran out of work.  And while these seem like cold and thoughtless decisions that do not concern the individual at all, the good news is that the decision had nothing to do with who you are as a human being (and you can relinquish responsibility for that decision as a result).

As a Psychologist, I would ask you to consider your other identities.  Perhaps you are a husband or wife, a son or daughter, a brother or sister…. Nurture these identities, evaluate the importance of your work identity in comparison to your other identities.  Consider how you could introduce yourself differently….

If, however you are feeling like your self-esteem and your self-worth have taken a blow, or maybe you are feeling ashamed of experiencing a job loss, contact a counsellor.  They can help you to work through some of your feelings associated with your job loss and also to help you to redefine your experience and your path to wellness and re-employment.

Please stay tuned for my next article that discusses the experience of those that have stayed at companies that have experienced reductions in their workforce.  For survivors of work force reductions, there can also be difficult feelings including grief, guilt, and a sense of lack of control.