Laid Off


The news has come out that 2,600 hourly employees and 300 contract and salaried employees are going to be laid off in 2019 by GM at their Oshawa plant in Durham Region Ontario.

This news isn’t good of course for those people and their immediate families. Nor is it welcomed news for the many businesses that both feed the GM plant with raw materials and supplies, and those who run businesses in the after sales markets. Think too of the impact on coffee trucks, safety shoe companies, clothing retailers, tire manufacturers etc. The ripple effect is going to go far beyond the 2,900 employees referenced as being directly laid off.

However, people are laid off on a daily basis not only in Oshawa, but in communities right around the globe. Just last week I had news of a friend being laid off in the coming year by a large Ontario hospital. You’d think that working for a large organization for 18 years would give a person a sense of security, but that’s just no longer the case.

There’s a lot of sympathy and empathy for those Oshawa GM employees. First of all, the number being laid off is a large one and it’s the finality of the decision; closing the entire plant for good – that’s making this story unique. However, a laid off employee is a laid off employee no matter where they work, no matter how many others are laid off with them. So imagine how a person must feel who is laid off but doesn’t get the press covering their impending departure; who doesn’t get the Province’s Premier announcing his government will do all it can to help out. That is something GM employees are getting that others are not.

Just as it shouldn’t be about who has a worse situation, those laid off by one employer or another, it shouldn’t stand to reason either that one employee gets more help to recover. Losing your income and finding yourself still having to meet your financial commitments is the same no matter which employer is laying you off. Stress, anxiety, fears, uncertainty; these are universally experienced.  When laid off for reasons beyond your control, you go through the same stages as others – shock at the news, anger, bargaining, acceptance and eventually moving on. There’s no timetable dictating how long you’ll spend in any one phase, and you might go back and forth too from one to another.

In the Oshawa GM case, it shocks and stings because this community has largely developed an identity as a community built on the automotive trade. Removing a key contributor in that industry robs the community at large of some of that identity. This happens all over the world where a major employer in a community pulls out and relocates somewhere new or shuts down altogether. Some towns have dried up in the past when this happened and only rusted buildings remain as a testament to what once was.

If there’s a silver lining in this – and I’ll accept that right now not a lot of people want to look for a silver lining – there’s reason to hope. Not hope for a reversal of GM’s decision as this doesn’t seem to be a ploy to get more government bail-outs or interest free loans. No, the positives lie elsewhere – potentially.

First of all, autoworkers have experienced lay-offs in the past. This is something many actually anticipate and to some degree plan for. This is different of course; the entire plant shut down for good. I get that. However, the industry shuts down lines every so often when producing a new vehicle, or having over production and so many won’t be laid off for the first time for reasons beyond their control. This previous experience with being laid off could potentially have instilled in many of those workers some resiliency; the ability to bounce back quicker than those in other industries who have no experience with ever having been laid off.

There’s an opportunity here too for competitors in the industry to bring onboard some of these highly skilled, dedicated and well-trained employees. They’ve got a stellar work attitude, up-to-date experience and they work with attention to detail making quality products. An employer might just look at these people and realize the potential benefit to their own business by holding a job fair or two.

The plant itself sits on some prime real estate in Durham Region. Not many companies need or can manage a facility the size of the GM property, but for those with vision, here’s a functioning, highly efficient and state-of-the-art facility for some other manufacturer to consider taking over. It could come with a well-trained and productive group of people at the ready too.

For some, the news will actually be the push they’ve needed to move on from the employer. It isn’t impossible to imagine that some of those affected might have considered other lines of work as people do in any business do from time-to-time. Perhaps for some, this was their wake-up call. A year of employment left and time to brush up the résumé, look for what’s next, and the real motivation to get serious and figure out some career change. Not all who get laid off have the luxury of a year of employment to do so.

Here’s to hoping those laid off here and elsewhere land on their feet.

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Living With Extreme Anxiety?


There’s a difference between feeling anxious and nervous every so often and feeling chronic and severe anxiety all the time. If that’s hard to imagine, it’s like comparing having a bad headache with a migraine; two related but completely different experiences. Those who suffer from migraines wouldn’t wish them on others, and those with chronic and acute anxiety suffer so intensely, they too wouldn’t wish what they experience on those they know.

If you’re fortunate enough not to live with ongoing, acute anxiety, it might be challenging to understand and really empathize with those that do. Situations that seem innocent and safe to you can be paralyzing for the anxiety sufferer to deal with. In the most extreme cases, anxiety can be so intense that a person might live avoiding interactions with others; and I mean all. Things you might take as straight-forward and simple such as withdrawing money from a bank, doing grocery shopping or taking a bus might be incredibly difficult to think about and impossible to actually do.

Now many of us who don’t live with acute anxiety still find some situations stressful. It might be a job interview, attending a family gathering, getting married, the first day on a new job, having to stand up and make a presentation to a large group of people. Perhaps if we recall how we feel in these circumstances we might get a small glimpse into what others experience. The thing is we’d have to magnify the intensity of how we are feeling in those situations and then imagine living like that all the time, day in and day out 24/7. That’s where we probably would admit it’s impossible for us to truly understand this condition.

Through my work as an Employment Counsellor/Coach, I help people as they look for employment. I go about this in part by asking questions and listening to people share their past experiences and finding out what their problems and barriers are. By learning all I can about someone, I can better assist them in finding not just a job, but the best possible fit; looking at much more than their skills alone. I’d like to help them find the right career or job that is a good fit for their personality, their psyche if you will, so it means taking into consideration things like the workplace environment, leadership and management styles a person will perform best under, frequency of interaction with others etc. It’s NOT just about looking at a job posting and seeing if a person has the listed qualifications.

Now if you live with severe anxiety, just like anyone else, you might ask yourself if you want to go on with things the way they are, or would you like a different, (and hopefully) better future. You may have instinctively just thought, “I can’t”. It’s okay; you’re safe and you’re not in any danger just reading on. Things can stay the same even after you’re done reading. So just thinking again for a moment, would you like a future where you make some progress in a safe way?

You may not be ready yet and if so, I understand. Forcing you into situations where your anxiety will be off the charts isn’t going to be helpful. However, for those of you who are willing and able to consider some forward movement, there are some things you can do.

Let me first say that many of the people I help through my work have mental health challenges. Some of these people do in fact have acute, severe anxiety. I want to say right up front that I have tremendous respect just appreciating how difficult it is for them to come and meet with me in the first place. Now my first encounter with many is in a group workshop. That likely sounds terrifying to some readers.

At the start of a workshop, I will mention that should someone have anxiety or feel extreme stress, a good thing would be to let me know as soon as possible. After all, I want the experience to be safe and positive. So what can I do with that knowledge? As the presenter, I can avoid putting such a person in situations that will trigger their anxiety. So I may not ask them to volunteer, avoid asking them to share their feelings or answers with the group, or if I am going around the room asking people to share some answer to a question, always give a person the option to say, “Pass.” This power to opt out of anything threatening alone is a help.

Other small things that help include being able to excuse yourself from the room entirely if an activity seems dangerous or extremely threatening. Get your breathing under control and come back when you’re ready. By creating a safe environment and asking others in the group to show respect and patience with each other, it can be a safe place those with anxiety can attend. It might even take a few attempts before completing a class, but you make the progress you can.

So when you’re ready, (and that’s the key), speak ahead of time with anyone who is running a class or in charge. See what accommodations they can make to keep you safe and included. When you do finish, you’ll have immense satisfaction at having worked through a major hurdle. And as always, you’re worth it!

Nervous About An Upcoming Interview?


First things first; congratulations on the interview! Give yourself credit because you’re up against a lot of other people all competing for employment. So well done!

That credit your giving yourself is important because its external validation that  you’ve done a good job responding to the employer’s needs. Employer’s need people who can be productive and add to the success of the organization, so just getting to the interview is a good sign that they like what they read.

Okay, so you’re nervous. There are two kinds of situations where nerves can have you feeling anxious . The first is where you haven’t prepared at all for the interview. Not only did you not prepare, your plan is to wake up and wing it, counting on your natural ability to charm and think on your feet. If this has worked in the past, it will likely work again. Wrong. Employer’s are better qualified than before, better trained and can size up these candidates quickly. Your nerves will go through the roof as you slowly become more and more exposed as having not invested any time at all in doing some basic homework. You’ll be nervous, and for good reason as you’ve brought this on yourself.

The second kind of nervous is the good kind; yes you read right…there is a good kind! This is nervous excitement! You’ve prepared yourself as best you could, read up on the job posting, their website, you may have talked to some employees and you really want this job. The possibility that you’re soon going to be hired for a job you can do well, doing work you’ll enjoy and in a situation you’ll be successful at is so motivating! So this nervous excitement as the interview draws closer is fantastic.

As someone who loves interviewing, I’d be more worried for you if you felt no nervousness at all – that would be a huge warning sign that you’re running on autopilot and aren’t as invested in the job or company to the extent you should be.

Now, what to do to help you get those nerves under control. First off, breathe… Stress is a physical thing, and a few deep breaths; in through the nose and out through the mouth will help you give your body oxygen when it needs it to relax. Now stand up for a moment. Seriously. Place your hands on your hips and spread your legs, with equal weight on both feet. You’re in the, ‘Superman’ pose. Head up and looking straight ahead, chest slightly out and hold this for two or three minutes. Do this before the interview – say in the washroom or reception area and you’ll feel confidence growing. Odd thing is, it works.

Now, first impressions are important so choose clothing you feel comfortable in that fit the job you’re applying to. Check them a few days before so they are clean, ironed and you’re ready. On the morning of the interview, shower, brush the teeth, do your hair (off the face as a general guideline for women) and give yourself enough time to get where you’re going anticipating delays.

It’s always good to bring multiple copies of your résumé (for you and for them), pre-determined questions you want answered, paper and pen for notes, the job posting and your references to offer at the end. Depending on the job, you might want any certificates or proof of licences and education requirements too.

Smile at the first meeting, offer a firm handshake and look the interviewer(s) in the eye as you do so. When you walk, don’t amble or shuffle along, walk with purpose and be aware of slouching shoulders.

As for answering questions, use the STAR format. Well, I endorse it at any rate. Essentially you answer by sketching out SITUATIONS you found yourself in so the get a framework for your answer, present the TASK or problem to overcome, move to the ACTION you took in rising to the challenge and finish with a positive RESULT that came about because of what you did.

This format is neat, tidy and concise. It will help you PROVE you’ve done what you claim you can do. I can’t stress enough how specific examples you give are essential to a successful interview. Without specific examples in your answers, you’re hoping they’ll believe you’ve got the experience and skills you state you do, and you’ll come up short.

The tone of your voice is important too. Nervous people often talk quicker and their voices are slightly higher. Slow your words down, pause every so often to emphasize certain things you believe are critical, and your voice suddenly gets more interesting, more meaning is attached to your words and the overall impact is a more attentive audience.

As the interview wraps up, ask for their business card. All the information you need to follow-up with a thank you note or phone call is on that card. Do send a card of thanks! Many don’t bother these days and that’s even more reason to do it. You stand out and that’s what you’re hoping to do.

The most important thing you can do is leave a lasting positive impression. Why hire you? What makes you the right fit? Answer this now, before you get to the interview. It’s not about what you want, but how hiring you is in the company’s best interests.

Doubt Yourself? This Is A Strength!


Do you doubt your abilities or skills in your workplace? Do you wonder if you’re as effective or as productive as you should be? Good! You my friend have just identified a strength.

I bet that comes as ironic because perhaps seen your lack of confidence as a weakness. I mean after all, how can self-doubt be good? Well, read on and see if what I’ve got to say doesn’t make you change your point of view.

Think of doubt as your instincts kicking in when you’ve got a decision to make. Should I choose one thing over another, or even when presented with several options and having to make the best choice. Some people confidently make a choice and stick by their decision, sure in their ability to make the correct one. You however, are less sure, so you pause, hesitating while you think and weigh the pros and cons of the choices before you and even as you make your choice, an inner voice is crying out, “Wait! Not all the information has been processed yet and we might be wrong!”

Now if the top prize always goes to the person who makes the quickest decision, sure the confident person might win more than they lose. However, even the most confident person will tell you that their confident decisions turn out to be incorrect every so often.

Self-doubt is a good thing if it causes us to check on the information we already have or gather more information when necessary to make the best choices. So if you teach or instruct, you may doubt your ability to communicate a topic to your audience; to get through to the extent you’d like. The ideal thing to do is to check with those you’re teaching; essentially determining if you’re being as effective as you’d like or as your employer expects. Checking with your audience might be done verbally as in asking for them to paraphrase what they’ve learned, or it could be in the form of a test. Have you ever considered that tests don’t only show what someone has learned but also show the ability of the teacher to instruct?  It’s true!

Self-doubt can also benefit you if you are feeling pressured into doing something that goes against your moral compass. Ever had one of those moments when you were dared to do something that you just felt was wrong? You wanted perhaps to impress someone or a group, but to do so meant hurting someone intentionally? You doubted your ability to actually do it though and said something like, “I don’t know if I can do this. It just seems wrong.” That was self-doubt kicking in and it was a good thing back then and it’s still a good thing today.

Now while self-doubt is a good thing; a strength, in its extreme, it can be a negative. When self-doubt has you completely paralyzed, unable to go ahead and make any choice at all, that frozen state of inaction that robs you of your ability to choose is not a good thing.

If you know you have to compile a report for your boss by a certain date and you’re completely at doubt about if you can do it, it will definitely be an issue if the day comes and you haven’t even started. However, I don’t think that’s just self-doubt kicking in, that’s also the fear of asking for help until you gain the confidence to do similar reports on your own in the future. Not everybody learns at the same pace, and you might need more help before mastering the skills needed to compile reports on your own.

Of course self-doubt takes energy. Many who doubt themselves wish they had more self-confidence, especially when it comes to big choices and big decisions. I have to say though, at the root of this self-doubt there’s often an explanation for this present behaviour in the past. Many who continually doubt themselves had little praise, support and encouragement from people in influential positions while growing up – parents, teachers, employers and yes former/present partners.

An abusive partner who constantly looks for every opportunity to be critical and demeaning, can unfortunately cause a lot of damage in a person. If you were told all the time, “This coffee tastes like crap!” you’d start to doubt your ability to make a good one. This lack of confidence and heightened self-doubt is a cruel result of bullying and abuse. In fact, if you as a co-worker or boss find you’ve got an employee who seems plagued with self-doubt, you could help them immensely with some encouragement to make choices and not come down hard on them when they make a choice you’d rather they didn’t. Words of encouragement will do more to achieve the desired result than any words said in anger and frustration. In fact, just by being such a person’s boss, your title alone is something they’ll feel intimidated by.

Good advice? Start with small decisions; those with small consequences. If you can, look for work that might have less responsibility for decision-making; at least until your self-doubt gradually subsides. Increasing your confidence is also something you might share with others, so you receive encouragement more often. Remember self-doubt is a strength and can often have you re-evaluate your thinking and come up with a better result.

All the best out there today and every day!

Making Bad Choices, Then Feeling Bad


Out of control; moving from one chaotic event to the next, over thinking things and then having everything you do questioned, analyzed, evaluated, summarized and judged; these the things you do to yourself.

Sometimes the one who judges us the hardest isn’t a stranger, family or friend, but rather the one who greets us each morning when we look in the mirror; ourselves. After all, we know ourselves more intimately than anyone else. Only we know each thought we have, why we do the things we do. Check that last one… there are times we haven’t got any explanation for the things we’ve done. Could be we often ask ourselves, “Why on earth did I do that? What was I thinking?”

Living daily in chaos and under constant pressure and strain stretches our resources to the point where our thinking becomes skewed so the decisions we make are flawed. We end up making bad choices we then regret; lowering our opinion of ourselves and feeling worse than before. Rather than learning from our mistakes, they get repeated, and later repeated yet again, and how we perceive ourselves sinks each time. The pattern of feeling bad about ourselves a lot of the time can lead us to make even poorer choices.

The funny thing is (only it’s not funny at all), when we make all these bad decisions, they seem so right at the time. That’s the hardest part for us to understand later. Trying to explain this or justify this to someone else who questions us is just impossible. We can’t help feeling so small; like a child being scolded by an adult who catches us doing something dumb. But as a child, at least we could be forgiven for not knowing better. By now, we should have grown up, matured, learned to make better decisions and have our stuff together. Instead, we can’t even make simple decisions without a struggle; like what to pack the kids for lunch.

You’d think that asking for help would be easy; a logical step to make sense of all the chaos, but think about that – if it was easy, you’d think you’d do that – so is not asking for help just another thing you’re doing wrong? Figures!

If everything above sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. If you struggle to do things that others find simple, like find something on the internet, open a bank account, file your taxes or get your child tax credit, don’t feel you’re the only one so there has to be something wrong with you.

The thing about making decisions is that when you make a good one you feel better. Make a second and a third good decision and you develop a pattern. Repeat the pattern and you start to gain confidence and view yourself as having good decision-making skills. The same however is true when the decisions you make don’t turn out the way you’d hoped. One bad decision on its own is exactly that; just one bad decision. A second followed by a third etc. establishes a pattern and you can easily feel that based on results, you make poor choices.

Decisions we make are always based on the information we have at the time. So when trying to figure out what to pack the kids for a school lunch, we look in the fridge or the cupboards and what we pack is based on what’s available. We can’t send what we don’t have. While it’s clear to someone else we sent something inappropriate, it was at the time the best choice we had, avoiding sending something worse or nothing at all. Unfortunately, other people only see what we sent and judge our decision-making solely based on what they see, not what possible items we rejected. In other words, you may have actually made the best choice anyone could have made based on what you found as options.

The same is true for the big decisions that go wrong in the end. You might choose a job that doesn’t work out and then another; then start to question why you make such bad choices. It could be that you just lack the right information in the first place about how to go about finding a good fit. The thing is, at the time, the choices you made – and continue to make – seem right. You’re not dumb or stupid; you lack the knowledge to make a better informed choice. Without that necessary information, its like a game of hit and miss; with a lot more misses.

Getting help with making decisions from people you trust is not a sign of weakness, but rather wisdom. But I get it; people you’ve trusted in the past, abused your trust and things didn’t go well. That’s led you to only trust yourself, and as things aren’t working out any better, this has you feeling worse, with no one to turn to.

Decide for yourself of course … but you may want to find one person you can share small stuff with and see if they can help you. If they do help you make good decisions, they might help you with the bigger things later.

Good decisions are hard to make in times of chaos – for anybody. Learning how to make better decisions, like any other skill, can be learned and could be exactly what you need.

Regretting The Words Left Unspoken


Remember that special person you never told how you really felt? Of course you do because after all this time you just can’t get them out of your head for very long. You wish now you could go back and tell them how much they had an impact on you, how much you loved them perhaps, and you wonder if/how things might have worked out differently if you had.

It’s wondering, ‘what if’ that tantalizes; because it ignites possibilities of what might have happened had shared your thoughts openly. Ah, but you were scared, nervous and afraid of blurting something out you’d come to later regret. Ironically, after all these years, here you are now regretting the words you left unspoken.

It’s very much like that in other situations too; although the people we neglect to say what’s on our mind to aren’t just potential sweethearts. No, sometimes we find we lose job opportunities to others and later wish we had said a few more things at the job interview. This is often especially the case if we sincerely wanted a job bad. It would have been perfect and you have wanted a job like that in a long time, so when the news came that they went with someone else, it hit like a truck. If only you had said what you were feeling, things might have worked out differently.

Or perhaps there was someone you really valued in your past; that person who made a big impact on you. Perhaps it was their influence that set you on the path you later took or are taking now. A teacher, a father or mother, a mentor or some person who inspired you to think differently, perceive things in a new light. You never said how much you appreciated them and now their gone. Whether they passed on, moved away, have dementia and don’t recognize you, or you moved away yourself, the opportunity to tell them how you feel is lost.

Now the only thing worse would be finding yourself in this situation here in the present. You know, feeling so strongly about someone you see in the here and now daily, but feeling timid, awkward, embarrassed or anxious about sharing how you feel. You’re so worried about ruining things or spoiling your chances that you go on being around them in silence. You wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just open my mouth, pour out how I feel? Tell them?” Of course in your mind you worry about creating a wide divide, making things weird, learning that your feelings aren’t reciprocated and as long as you don’t do anything…you’ll at least have what you have now – which is something.

Opportunities to step up and voice your true feelings pop up every day; but not forever. Take your work environment. You really value the support of a co-worker; they’ve passed on knowledge to you, covered for you when you weren’t at your best, listened to you share your frustrations, applauded your accomplishments and even motivated you when you needed it. There they are beside you every day, and having a real heart-to-heart with genuine sincerity, telling them how much they mean to you sounds both the right thing to do but maybe the weird thing to do.

Really though, what’s so weird? How long have you worked together? All those years and the hours you’ve spent in each other’s company? Why should it be weird to shut the door and say, “Hey listen, I want to tell you how much you mean to me, and I’m being serious.” You’ll likely catch them off guard, and they might use humour to deflect their real feelings, but they’ll likely also be grateful. What they feel in any event is up to them. You’ll feel better knowing you expressed your feelings and took that chance instead of regretting saying nothing. Then they retire, take another job, move or have an unexpected long-term medical leave etc. and you lose touch; opportunity lost.

I mentioned the job interview earlier. How many times have you walked out of an interview and suddenly said in your mind, “Oh, why didn’t I just say _____?Should I walk back in? Should I follow-up with an email or phone call? I really want that job! I’d LOVE working there so why did I find it so hard to tell them how bad I really want it!

Sometimes its convention and decorum that gets in the way. It seems somehow inappropriate to tell someone how we really feel. On the other hand we also hear that employers want people who are passionate about the work they do. So when you do find something you’re passionate about; a job or company you’re sincerely excited to work for and will invest yourself with fully, why not just open your mouth and express that.

Just like that mentor, potential love interest, teacher, co-worker etc., you’ve got a limited window to risk expressing how you feel. They won’t stick around forever, and the time will never be any better than it is now – today. If you’ve waited for a sign, this is it.

Look, hearing someone tell you how much they appreciate your support, your love, your encouragement, the opportunity to work with them etc.; it’s all good. We need to get better at telling others just how much they mean to us. Few things are better.