One of the great assumptions most of us make who provide employment counselling and support is that the people we work with want to gain employment. That’s a logical assumption; we are Employment Counsellors and Coaches after all, so it stands to reason that anyone approaching us for help in finding work does so because they’d rather be working than unemployed.
So why is it then if we take this basic assumption that so many people don’t follow through with the expert advice they receive? I remember many years ago I used to come up with plans for the people I’d be working with – and they were great plans. I’d map out where the person is and where they wanted to end up. I’d look at their possible barriers to reaching their goals and I’d devise great pre-emptive strategies for moving past those barriers. The person I was working with would marvel at my skills and knowledge and I’d send them on their way with a big smile on their face and some optimism in their steps. “They’ll be working in no time if they just stick to the plan”, I’d think.
The problem more often than not is that for some reason the person didn’t get very far with that grand plan. I’d puzzle over that and end up with the same conclusion again and again; they just weren’t trying hard enough. The plan was excellent and seemed to end in success if they’d just follow the plan. The plan itself was never the problem; the problem as I’ve come to understand it was that it was never the person’s plan at all, but rather MY plan for them.
Well that was only part of the problem. In order to have any lasting impact, a plan not only requires ownership of the individual working the plan, it requires that the person have the necessary motivation, skills and resources to implement the plan.
Now this might seem hard to wrap one’s head around if like me you are employed and thankfully so, but not everyone is motivated to work. Even when someone says they want a job and comes across as self-motivated and earnest, it may well be that in reality, they have come to accept a comfort level with things just the way they are yet they don’t grasp this fact. Ironically, i’s not that this is necessarily their preferred lifestyle either, but the push to work hard at getting a job; the effort and the stress of putting in the work and getting rejected isn’t something their psyche can take. It may well be that from the outside; the person is sabotaging themselves with self-destructive behaviour, or just appears lazy.
What it comes down to much of the time is that the more we come to know someone, the more insight we gain into what they are capable of, which differs from what we think they are capable of. They may in fact not have the skillset required to ultimately be successful and the result of this means that the time they require to move from where they are to where they want to end up is longer than they’d like. In other words, they have to be introduced to and internalize some skills they don’t have at present; skills that are pre-requisites to taking all the steps to their goals. They then have to have the skills to actually implement the newly learned skills. That’s a lot of skills!
Complicating the process of providing help is that people don’t always know themselves and what they are capable of but they think they do! We, as the people working with them, may also make the mistake of simply asking someone if they have a certain skill or capability and then taking them at their word. Something as simple as asking, “Do you have basic computer skills, like using the internet to job search?” could have the person answering, “Yes”, but if we were to sit them down in front of a computer, they might ask, “Okay, how do I get to the internet?” Suddenly the gulf between what they said, (what we assumed) and what they are capable of (the reality) is painfully clear. So instead of talking about employer research, we have to go back and learn basic computer skills.
People are not intentionally difficult. They may not have the stamina required for a lengthy job search. They’ve been so emotionally beaten down they just don’t have the constitution required for a sustained job search – especially what is required in 2016 to find employment. Whether it’s online applications and employer research, social media profiles and networking, applying for work challenges some in ways they aren’t capable of.
Look, being out of work for many is shameful enough. Add to this drop in self-perception the innocent questions they get asked like, “What do you do for a living?” and suddenly something not intended to offend causes a furrowed brow, a dropped head, an apologetic response and a desire to withdraw.
Helping someone reach their financial independence requires a mutually invested effort; a plan that the person themselves devises with some guidance. In other words, it’s got to be their plan and the role of an Employment Counsellor or Coach is literally to help but not take ownership for the plan.
Plan the plan, then work the plan.