Why Aren’t You Working?


There are many reasons why people aren’t working; what’s yours? Some possibilities are:

  • Not looking for work
  • Physical or mental health restrictions
  • Poor interview skills
  • Weak resume
  • Unsure what to do
  • Attending school full-time
  • Raising pre-school age children and unable/unwilling to find childcare
  • Required as a primary caregiver for a family member
  • Not motivated

This isn’t an exhaustive list of course, just enough to stimulate some thought, give enough possibilities that some of my audience is captured and yes, perhaps enlighten those that think there’s only one reason anyone would be out of work – laziness.

The first and last reasons on my list – not looking and not motivated one could easily argue are so related they are really the same; ie. not motivated to look for work. For some people, this is absolutely true. Would you agree there are those who aren’t motivated enough to seek out a job? I mean, I know people who fit this category and I suspect you do as well. They have shelter and food provided by someone or some organization, their needs are modest, their motivation to work to earn enough money to support themselves just isn’t enough to get them going.

Perhaps it’s a phrase in that last sentence that is the real issue for many; the idea that money to support themselves is the motivation to work. Money does of course, provide the means to acquire housing and food, as well as the discretionary things in life which for many improves their quality of life. However, working to support oneself when you’re already being supported isn’t much motivation. In other words, if you’re not working but getting housed and fed, you might not be motivated to work 7 hours a day just to get housed and fed – something you already have.

Work therefore, or more importantly, the motivation to choose to work, has to come when there’s more to be gained than just money for basic support. For some it can be an issue of dignity vs. shame or embarrassment. Support yourself with your own source of income and you feel independence, a sense of being in control of what you do, where you live, what you do with your money, who knows your personal business and who doesn’t.

For some people, work provides social interaction. Be it with co-workers or customers, there’s some connection to other people, which stimulates our feelings of inclusiveness; we are part of something and not isolated. Feeling isolated, left behind, left out, missing out – these are common to people who don’t work in some cases. Of course, other unemployed people will tell you they get all the interaction with people they want; many of those they ‘hang with” themselves being unemployed.

Feeling a sense of purpose is one thing employed people often tout as the best part of their jobs. What they do is significant and important to some part of our population, and this feeling of purpose gives identity to the working person. The problem for some who struggle to find a job is in fact deciding on what job to do; in other words, they are focused so much on finding their purpose, they get paralyzed waiting for it to materialize.

The irony is that when you’re unsure what to do with your life, often the best way to discover it is to start working! It is through work that you learn where your skills are, which skills you wish to develop and improve on, what you like and don’t. You learn through success and failure what you’re good at, where you make a difference, where you’re appreciated for your service and what you do and don’t want to do in future jobs. The idea that at 20 years old you should have the next 43 years all laid out clearly before you is a myth. You’ll change jobs and careers in your lifetime – perhaps 7 or 8 times or more and this is normal.

For some – and you may not like this truth – it is a question of not trying hard enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not painting everyone with the same brush, and I’m not saying some people who are out of work don’t put in huge amounts of energy and time. However, if you’ve gone at your job search seriously with no success for a long time, its high time you partnered up with someone and get the guidance and support you obviously need to increase the odds of success. This is precisely the action many don’t want to take and that’s a puzzlement.

The crux of the thing is it’s essential that you’re honest with yourself when it comes to why you’re not working. What you tell others who ask may not be the real reason; what you know to be at the heart of why you aren’t working is the truth. So what is it?

Good questions might be:

  • Why aren’t I working?
  • Am I genuinely happy not working?
  • What’s stopping me? (Is it really me?)
  • Where could I get help and support to find work?
  • What would make me more employable?
  • Who might help me discover my strengths and interests?
  • How do I get help with childcare, transportation, the issue of my age?
  • Would volunteering somewhere be the best way to start?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue; whether it’s you or someone you know out of work.

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