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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Have You Failed By Taking A Short-Term Anything Job?


Suppose you’re one of those people – and there’s a lot of them out there these days – who have some education beyond High School. You’ve planned all along on pursuing a job that makes use of that education. However, with a widening gap of unemployment on your résumé matching your growing frustration at not working, you’ve found yourself finding the idea of just taking a job – any job – more and more appealing; something you thought you never would. There’s this nagging notion that you’ve failed though that keeps you from actually applying for work outside your field of education. So have you?

The short answer is no, you haven’t. Exhale and breathe a sigh of relief. Do that a few times and read on.

There’s a lot of common sense involved in doing exactly what you’ve contemplated and like I pointed out in the beginning, you’re one of many who are well-educated and unemployed. It is not only understandable that you’d be looking at broadening your job search at some point – perhaps where you are at the moment – it’s also a very good idea.

So how come? I mean, Employment Coaches and Counsellors often say you should stick to your career plan and never give up on what you really want. Doing anything else is just settling isn’t it? What happened to finding your passion and not letting any setbacks get in your way of going after what’s going to make you truly happy? Flipping burgers, selling clothes, walking school kids across busy intersections: these aren’t the kind of jobs you thought you’d give more than a passing glance at. Could you ever imagine you’d actually be seriously thinking of going after one of these jobs at this point having finished College or University?

Hang on and settle down. We’re not talking forever here. No one is suggesting that you start your first day down at the fast food outlet and pump your first shouting, “Yes! I’ve arrived!”

The jobs we’re discussing here have been in the past called survival jobs. More and more they are also called transition jobs; work that bridges the gap of time and space between the present and a job in the future. These are typically short-term positions outside your field of training and education.

When you find yourself browsing these ads more and more and seriously thinking about actually applying, may I suggest you change your line of perception. Instead of thinking that you’ve failed; that your post-secondary education was a waste of both time and money, consider the positives of these transition jobs.

First and foremost, the income from a job – any entry-level job – will stem some financial bleeding. Admittedly while likely minimum wage, money is money and some is better than none. Perhaps more important than money however is the inclusion factor. Right now you’re outside the workforce; remember feeling that everyone has a job but you? That so many people you see from your window seem to have somewhere to go, something to do, while you sit and grow despondent, frustrated and perhaps depressed? Uh huh. Yep, getting up, showered, dressed and out the door with a purpose is always good. That routine you’ve been missing is more important than you might have thought.

Now if you’ve looked at that School Crossing Guard advertised on some Municipality’s website and scoffed at it, think again. First of all those hours; before school, at noon and late afternoon leave you two chunks of time – mid-morning and mid-afternoon – to continue your targeted job search. Of even more significance perhaps is that once you land a Crossing Guard job, even though you’re working outside, you’ve at the same time become an internal employee. Had you considered that? Yes, you’re now able to see and apply for the internal jobs with that Municipality; jobs that up until now you had no access to. Full-time jobs that pay much better and perhaps come with benefits too.

That Crossing Guard job might be one you have to take for 3 or 6 months before you’re eligible to apply for anther internal job. Okay so be it. Do the job at present and do it with a positive attitude. You’ve got this job so you might as well enjoy it and keep telling yourself you’re in transition from this to your next job – the one you really want.

Remember you don’t have to add a short-term job on your résumé, but consider doing so because it does bridge a gap. In your cover letter or at an interview you can certainly state with confidence that you took the short-term job where you are working to pay the bills but you’re highly motivated to seek work in your field as this is where your passion and strong interest are.

A failure? Far from it. You’re wise enough not to let pride get in the way and perhaps it even demonstrates your belief that no job, and certainly not the people doing them, should be looked down on. Perhaps it’s helped you learn humility and an appreciation for the hard work involved which you’d previously overlooked. Perhaps too you’re actually better for the experience and will be all the more grateful for the opportunity to work in the field of your choice doing what you love.

Suddenly, you might be more attractive to your employer of choice.

 

Unemployed: The Emotional Toll


Let’s dive right in. You’re growing increasingly isolated from your friends, bills aren’t getting paid in full, savings are a thing of the past, skills are outdated, references are becoming harder to get, and you’re cutting both cable and the land line while eating a lot less healthy foods. Your psyche is becoming more fragile, your swagger like your clothes has long since stopped being trendy, your self-respect betrayed by a conscious decision to hide the weigh scale in the rear of the bathroom cabinet. Yes, there’s a lot of baggage you’re carrying around with this unemployment.

When it first happened, whether you walked away, were laid off or were terminated, you couldn’t have predicted you’d be out of work so long. “Not me”, you asserted with confidence; “I’ll be working soon. In fact, I’m going to actually give myself a little well-deserved break from work before rushing into my next job.” That ‘well-deserved break’ has long since gone from a break to what seems like a permanent reality. Things are different than they used to be when you’d be able to get yourself a job anytime you felt like it.

The television, once a source of entertainment and relaxation is now a diversion. It’s become a way to escape the prevailing thoughts of failure that are more and more prevalent, day in and day out. All the canned laugh tracks in those sitcoms that once got you laughing along now seem less funny as if they mock your idleness. Even the couch that you loved to lounge on no longer provides the comfort it once did, as you feel the guilt of inactivity every time you sit down for more than 20 minutes. So you stand and pace with nowhere to go, nothing to do – except feel so tired you just want to lay down on the couch again.

Being out of work does much more than drain the bank account. In fact, when you first find yourself out of work there are usually financial support systems already put in place to stave off financial hardship such as severance, employment insurance and if need be, government social assistance. The same is not necessarily true however for the emotional and mental strain of being unemployed. It’s this assault on your mental health that often goes unattended to, and failing to recognize the impact on your mental stability that arises from being out of work for a prolonged period of time, or failing to do anything about it can take an emotional toll with life-long implications.

There are for example some people who, having been out of work for an extended period, eventually regain employment and to all accounts have regained mastery over their mental health. The same individuals however may upon having those memories triggered, re-experience the stress without the loss of work. Being called into the office of the boss or an average performance review could set into motion some fears that the person thought they had left behind but in reality have just been dormant. Even hearing of others who are out of work; a relative of a co-worker who is struggling – any such reminder can bring the past crashing back to the present depending on how severe the person experienced their own unemployment.

On the positive side, we change jobs more frequently than in the lives of past generations. No longer is it common for people to retire from the job they started in their 20’s. So with more people experiencing the transition from one job to the next, the stigma of being out of work is not as rampant as it used to be. It’s still personal when it happens to you of course, and this doesn’t diminish or make light of your own experience, but unemployment is an experience that many around you have shared. Talking openly then about your unemployment will have more empathetic ears than in years past. In other words, if you talk about it, you’ll find understanding instead of condemnation.

Another good thing is that because more people are experiencing job loss, there are more supports in your community than in the past to help in the transition from your past job to your next job. There’s employment coaching, mental health counselling, financial planning, debt consolidation and restructuring and more services to help you deal proactively with your specific predicament. Look, you can’t be expected to be an expert in all areas of life. You’re good at what you do, and it stands to reason there are other people who are specialists in their work. Getting professional help to stabilize things at a time when you may not make the best decisions due to the strain you are under is a good move.

There is for many, a natural tendency to cocoon themselves from the world; hide unemployment and its impact from others, deal with it alone and then emerge transformed into something anew. This can work for some people. However, sharing what you’re experiencing could also lead to opportunities, job offers, leads, contacts; all of which could reduce your time out of work. This isn’t a time to let your pride rule the day. If a friend offers to pay for lunch, let them; they may not have any other way to be helpful. You’re going to get through this, and you’re not alone; help is out there.