My Advice: Hold Off Job Searching

Sounds like odd advice from an Employment Counsellor to give on the surface of it doesn’t it; putting your search for a job on hold. Yet quite often, that’s the advice I give some of the people I meet with.

Now if you’re employed and see yourself first and foremost as a taxpayer and believe that everyone in receipt of social assistance should be completely investing 100% of their time looking to work, my apologies. There are some situations in which I believe looking for a job is not only ill-advised, it can set someone back tremendously from finding employment in the long haul.

Take yesterday as an example. For two weeks, I instructed a dozen people in the basics of using the computer. I’m talking basics here; using it to make an email, learning how to access the internet, find employment opportunities, make a resume, apply for work with that resume. We did more as well, but I like to instruct with practicality in mind, so as most were unemployed, why not learn the basics of the digital world and at the same time, showing them how competing for employment these days requires computer skills? Anyhow, there I was yesterday, seated with one of the participants from that class, doing a follow up appointment.

Typically, I plan on giving someone feedback on what I observed over those two weeks, encourage them and point out moments of success and accomplishment. However, I threw all that out the window yesterday when this one woman came in and we sat down in my office. She was 15 minutes late, and said she had almost decided not to come in for the scheduled meeting. Two developments on the day before our meeting occurred; she was contacted by her Doctor who said she must meet immediately with her to share results of some medical tests and her 13 year old daughter was committed to a hospital for a few days after telling her own Doctor that she was thinking about killing herself.

Suddenly, giving feedback on computer skills and talking about using these new skills to job search seemed entirely inappropriate. Of greater importance in that moment was listening, supporting and responding to her disclosure, her fears of what her Doctor knows and must share in person immediately and her own daughter’s thoughts of ending her life. At a time like this, the focus on receiving, comprehending and processing these two major life events supersedes any encouragement to get out and get a job.

Besides, if you believe that she’d be able to effectively job search at the present moment, I’d venture you’re views are based in ideology and not practical reality. Do I think governments always get this? No. I suspect when they look at stats, they focus solely on how many people start a program, how many finish and how long it takes someone to find employment after taking a program to determine its effectiveness. Numbers don’t tell the whole story; not by a long shot.

“Will I get in trouble for not looking for a job though?” she asked. So I took an hourglass from my desk and flipped it over, letting the blue sand fall. “You only have so much energy. Right now, your focus and energy is on receiving your own diagnosis and whatever implications that holds. As a caring mom who has a daughter in crisis, the two of you have a lot to work through, you’re probably blaming yourself and you’re scared. You just got two extremely upsetting events on the same day. Forget the job search for now; you won’t be in trouble.” She looked at that blue sand accumulating in the bottom half and said seeing how the top was emptying was how she felt.

Near the end of our meeting, she told me how glad she was that she’d decided to come because she’d considered staying at home. There she was, expressing gratitude to me for making her feel better. It’s pretty humbling to hear someone in the midst of heightened anxiety and trauma be so genuinely kind and thoughtful. When she left she hugged me; we hugged each other. Somewhere in that simple act, some of her fear melted into me, and some compassion for her suffering flowed from me to her.

Do you really believe she should be focusing 100% on looking for work? Do you really think I – anyone for that matter – who counsels and supports people looking for work should pressure her into making a job search her first priority? And where I now wonder does any government making funding decisions and program cut decisions factor in this kind of experience?

I tell you this, were I that woman, receiving these two pieces of information, I’d sure be grateful to meet with a compassionate, understanding and patient person. Yesterday I was fortunate to be that guy, but this is not about me. I believe there are people with equally, even better responses everywhere, having similar experiences daily.

Something as simple as removing an expectation of finding work and assuring them they won’t have their benefits suspended, can do far more good in the long run by building a trusting, human connection. For who is equipped to deal with either of these situations let alone two on the same day?

So yes, put aside the job search; there are times when it’s not priority #1.

And your thoughts?

What Don’t You Like About Your Job?

The majority of people, I believe, would say there are pros and cons to the job they hold. While we all want jobs that bring us fulfillment, happiness and positives, here today, I want to explore the not-so-good things about the work we do.

First off, I think it’s fair to say that when the negatives in a job build up to the point where they outnumber the good, it’s definitely time to strongly consider looking for a change. Well, honestly, if it were me, I’d have started to look for a change long before I let the negatives grow to such a point where they outweighed the negative. But that’s me.

Now the negatives in a job generally fall into two categories; things we can change and things over which we have no control. Take a job where you’re working outside in all weather conditions and you have no control over the rise or drop in temperatures, you can’t control hail, rain, sleet or blazing sun, but you can of course control what you wear in such conditions to mitigate the impact of the weather on you., Then there’s the length of time you may be exposed to such conditions, and in some situations and depending on the importance of the work or whether there are deadlines to be met or not, you might not even be compelled to work until conditions improve.

For many, it’s the people that we come into contact with each day that either make or break our jobs. Work for a supportive and encouraging supervisor and you might express your thanks by willingly putting in extra effort as you go about things. On the other hand, when there’s friction between you and the boss, that heightened negative stress may be so severe you get to the point where you realize your mental and physical health aren’t worth risking any further, and you walk away.

Here’s something to think about which you may or may not have already realized; the things that you find frustrating as you go about your day may actually be the things that keep you growing, improving and keep you stimulated. Huh? How can that be? And if this is how you grow and improve yourself, maybe you’d rather not!

Ah but it’s true. Sometimes we can coast along in our jobs, doing what we’ve always done and doing them well. We don’t stretch ourselves, we’re stable and reliable. What we do is what we’ve always done and others around us have come to see us as trustworthy, capable, competent and someone they can rely on. That sounds good right? Yes, of course it does.

But then adversity hits. Something or rather some things, come along and cause a wrinkle in how we go about our job. New technology, a new policy, some additional training we’re required to undergo, some personal health concern that impacts on our stamina, or anything which puts our performance in jeopardy. Yes, it could also be a change in your supervisor, new expectations, a shake up to the team, relocation or a move by your competition that changes how you’ll go about things moving forward if you’re to survive and thrive.

It is these things with which we can become frustrated. It begins to feel like we have to invest energy coping with whatever this new annoyance is; energy that we’d rather pour into the work we’ve done, doing it the way it’s been successful for us in the past. If and when whatever is causing this frustration is confined to us alone, we might also start to worry what others might think of us; will they question our abilities to adapt and succeed? It’s different for sure when frustrations are shared by others; as in an entire organization having to overhaul and redefine their place in the market.

The key is to identify correctly what your source of frustration is and secondly identify what you might do as options to work through things and get past these frustrating days. When you’ve identified possible solutions to implement, you move to action; actually putting into place one or more of the ideas you’ve brainstormed. If your actions reduce or eliminate what you find frustrating, you carry on. If on the other hand, the frustration remains or has escalated, you go back to the ideas you brainstormed and implement another. And don’t underestimate the value of sharing what your source of frustration is with others. You might find your solution is one that has worked for others and they are only too happy to share it with you.

You may end up stronger and have added a new skill to your repertoire as you look back on the frustration of the past when it’s behind you. And if there’s truly nothing you can do to eliminate this frustration that’s affecting your health and happiness, walking away is often not a sign of your failure, but rather your intelligence in preserving your dignity, self-respect, future happiness and good health. The wisdom in knowing how much to invest as you combat your work frustrations, and when it’s time to remove yourself from the situation altogether is what it’s all about.

Go ahead then. It’s good to share! What are you finding frustrating at the moment? Or if you’d rather, what did you use to find frustrating and how did you move past it?



Need A Supportive Work Environment?

Would it be a safe assumption to say that all of us hope to work in environments where we feel supported as we go about doing our jobs? I mean, if you’re going about your work and in the course of your duties you experience an unusual amount of stress, would it bring you comfort to have another employee pick up on a change in your behaviour and ask if you were okay?

Whether it was your boss or a co-worker, suppose someone did pick up on your observable behaviour and after learning what was affecting your performance they offered to take over for a bit or trade off some of your heavier tasks for some of their lighter ones. Would you be grateful for that offer of help or might you in fact feel even worse that what you thought you were masking well has been discovered?

Maybe the answer to the question depends upon the field you’re in. I suppose there are some people who feel that to expose themselves even slightly as not being at the top of their game might jeopardize their jobs. There have been for example, reports of police officers who felt they couldn’t admit or share their mental health issues because the culture they work within doesn’t have a place for people perceived as weak. Anyone coming forth might be told to, ‘suck it up’, ‘deal with it’ and could be threatened with re-assignment. The fellow officers working with such an employee might feel they can’t trust their colleague to have their back in a high stress situation where police training needs to be followed.

Contrast this kind of work environment with someone who works in the field of Social Services or Mental Health, where the norm is for people to help each other out, self-care and team care are promoted; where an employee might be encouraged to walk in and say, “I’m not at my best today; can you help me out?”

Now whatever environment you yourself work in, there is a limit to the capacity of any team to take on the responsibilities of a person not working at their typical efficiency. There’s a big difference between someone who has one or two times a year when they’re not able to function at their best, and working with someone as part of your unit who is continually unable to work at the level of the rest of the team. Striking the balance between showing compassion on the one hand and expecting everyone to pull their weight so others don’t go down is critical.

De-briefing is an activity that some companies promote when their employees experience stressful encounters. So if Counsellor listened to a client who shared some particularly troublesome images and thoughts, or a customer berated a Sales Clerk, both might need 20 minutes to breathe, share in confidence and then emerge refocused.

So okay it’s a fair question for you to ask, “You normally blog about getting and keeping your employment. Where are you going?

There are a few points in here that I want to make with you my readers. First of all, finding the right environment where you feel safe and supported is critical to your own mental health. Just because you have the skills and qualifications on paper to compete for a job doesn’t mean you can perform the job as well as you’ll need to. Secondly, you might be more than able – even great – at performing a job when things go well. However, if your job has those moments when you are faced with adversity and you don’t handle adversity well, you should seriously contemplate a change for the sake of your own mental well-being.

Sometimes the wisest thing you can do is recognize your strengths and your weaknesses, and improve on those weaknesses. However, sometimes it’s equally valid to seek a better personal fit; and that’s not an admission of weakness whatsoever, just recognition of needing a better-suited atmosphere to work in.

Now where I work, I recall one co-worker whom I thought had the skills and abilities to thrive in the role she took. She didn’t last long however, after coming to realize that her personal needs and those required of the job description weren’t compatible. She opted to apply and return to the job she held previously, and the experience didn’t diminish her as a person in my opinion whatsoever. In fact, she’s happier in her present role than she was previously, and she has a first-hand appreciation for the job I have and what it entails. There’s no ‘weakness’ at all in this equation.

It’s important in your job to understand what’s expected and hoped for but not intrinsically written down in the job description; one of these things being to support and be supported by your peers. Teamwork doesn’t just mean pulling together to meet a deadline. Teamwork implies looking out for each other; having each other’s’ back. Having a co-workers back might mean saying, “I’ve got this, relax” every so often.

Good advice when you are looking for work, or looking to relocate to another department or team, that you examine the degree of support that workplace will provide – especially if you know you’re emotional and stress triggers. This isn’t something people typically voice when they are looking for employment, but it can be the single most important thing to being successful.

A 3:30 a.m. Headache On A Work Day

I’ve been awake for an hour now due to one of those dull but pounding headaches. When I first awoke, I decided to nip this thing in the bud and got up to take some pain medication – just the off the counter stuff. Then after returning unsuccessfully to bed, I was up five minutes later and out making a cup of tea.

Trying to sleep on the couch, the next thing I knew my wife is excitedly calling to me to come and see the bunny outside in our backyard – yes it was only 4:15 a.m. at that point. You see my headache and the decision to get up and get some medication woke her up unexpectedly and she couldn’t return to sleep either. Aren’t we a pair? So here I am writing a blog now at 4:45 a.m. and next to me is my wife, studying her notes for an exam she’s writing later today. And we both have a workday ahead of us.

Now my predicament is not unique, and I’m not seeking sympathy either. I just want the pain to go away, and figure that by trying to concentrate on something – in this case collecting my thoughts as I write – my headache will subside and go away. Now I’m setting myself up for a long day at work, and I’ve got some training right at the end of the day I’ve got to attend too. Not like I can call it a day early and scoot home if I wanted. I’m hoping and believe however that this shall pass, and I’m visualizing myself at work with a smile on my face, and this headache just a passing phase. That’s optimism.

But when in this situation, we have a choice don’t we? We can instinctively decide to call in sick and spend the day at home, or we can do what we can to prepare for work and make a last-minute decision whether to go in or not. Sometimes just having that shower and having that warm or hot water cascade over my head just seems to wash a headache down the drain. If I make the decision to stay home, I put off the shower and lounge around fighting a headache that wins in the end.

Now yes I know that some people have medical complications and issues that can’t be overcome with willpower and positive visualization. If you are sick, you are sick. And sometimes you are best advised to stay at home not only for your own recovery, but to eliminate the possibility of infecting those around you. I’m referring more to those iffy days when you’re not 100% and it would be seemingly easier to just call in ill and let your co-workers cover for you. These are the days and the moments that only we know what’s going on in our bodies and can weigh the options of to work or not to work.

And doesn’t it sometimes depend on what you have planned for the day? Are you indispensable and the only one at your workplace who can do something like perhaps meet a client, solve a problem, make a presentation? Or do you feel like one of a thousand drones who if away, wouldn’t be missed except by the payroll department when it comes time to issue the next pay cheque for one day’s missed work? Maybe you’d argue that it shouldn’t even matter what you have planned for the day; if you’re sick you’re sick after all.

It comes down I think, to your personal work ethic, your tolerance for pain, and your priorities. Some folks have a low pain threshold and don’t go to work unless they are 100% everyday. Others drag themselves in even when they are at 30%; sniffling, coughing, moving at half-speed, spreading their colds and misery with every breath they take, as if some award were being handed out at year-end for the person voted most dedicated with the best attendance record.

As for work ethic, there are those – and I bet you recognize them – who you can almost guess with a high degree of accuracy will be off on snowy days, Fridays and Mondays, who one day talk a bit about feeling something coming on and you just know they’ll call in ill the next day. Doesn’t it irk you when they come back two days from now and then casually mention that they recovered enough during their sick day to go to the spa or the mall? Oh yeah.

Personally I think if I’m really truly ill I stay home. If I’m under the weather just a little and not at my best, it’s a judgement call. And I’ve learned over the years that if I’m very ill, stay home and use those sick days that have been put in place to allow me to heal faster and infect fewer of my valued co-workers. If I didn’t have those sick days, I’d be forced perhaps to work if money was scarce so I’m glad I’ve got them.

Do your best to be dependable and reliable; it’s a good characteristic to have and quality to be defined as having. As for my personal update, it’s now 5:10 a.m. and that headache is receding but not entirely gone. I’m going in. And so I’ll accumulate a few more hours of sick time to be taken if and when I really need it – which apparently today I do not. Whew!