Helping / Living With The Unemployed

If you or someone you know is apathetic about finding employment; really not caring one way or the other if work is found or not, the only way to get them moving is to identify that one thing. “That one thing?”, you ask. Yes, that one thing that makes wanting to find work more meaningful than not caring.

For a family member, friend or professional working with an unemployed individual, this is a tremendous challenge. You are also likely to find that the longer a person has been unemployed, the greater the effort will be to shift their thinking sufficiently to get them started.

Be forewarned, you can’t motivate someone else. Oh you can help them, support them and encourage them, but you cannot motivate someone else to want something they don’t want themselves. All you’ll get if they don’t want it bad enough is a token effort, and the first time they run into a barrier, they’ll pack it in and go back to what was comfortable; not bothering to look. Unfortunately, they may reason that they can be unemployed and struggling to find work or unemployed and taking it easy. For many, a simple choice.

The frustrating part for those around the unemployed person is failing to understand why they’ve become so disinterested and why they seemingly won’t put in the effort to find work. It’s highly likely that there’s been a major shift in their values; and the values they currently hold differ from those around them to such an extent they’ve become difficult to be around. There may be an increase in friction and tension, more arguments, less things to talk about, or the conversation about work might be one they insist is off the table.

There are far too many factors that could be in play in any individual case for me to accurately know what’s behind a person’s apathy, but here’s one possibility that may be going on. After having become recently unemployed, the person took some time to self-heal mentally. This is especially true after having been fired, let go, or quit a job they found problematic. At this point, they wanted to find work, and planned on doing so soon. When they felt ready, they began to look. That period of time to, ‘get ready’ may have been anything from a week to over a year – hard as that might be for someone else to understand.

As this person started to look for a job, they found it harder to get one than they had in the past. Perhaps because of technology and having to use computers to apply online, or having a poor resume, they kept getting nowhere on their applications. Interviews weren’t happening, or when they did, no job offers came. From the person’s point of view, they’ve left a job on bad terms, can’t get interviews, aren’t sure really how to compete against so many other people now applying for the same jobs, and their psychological state is becoming increasingly fragile.

Without being able to articulate what they are experiencing and how they really feel, they retreat rather than engage, and withdraw into themselves. Socializing becomes a huge outpouring of effort and only having so much energy to get through a day, they choose to stay in the relative comfort and safety of their home or a room in their home. This isolation skews their thinking; they become anxious beyond their safety zone, perhaps more irritable and easily frustrated. Whereas they used to be happy and good to be around, they are now a constant source of worry for others and an ever-present and growing concern.

How they see themselves has changed dramatically. Once productive and self-reliant, they had dignity and a healthy view of their ability to provide. Now they feel dependent, reliant on family or friends – and when that dependency becomes too hard to live with, they remove themselves and turn to the broader society at large to support them. It’s sad, it’s unfortunate and it’s not uncommon.

Of course they – or you, never used to feel or be this way. Once purposeful and hopeful, things have changed. It’s understandable why so many might self-medicate with alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs. With the ever-present thoughts of failure, disappointment and regret, anything that takes that thinking away, even for a short time is appealing.

Suddenly, just telling someone to get a job and expecting them to respond accordingly doesn’t sound at all realistic. Getting a job is transferring our own value of employment onto this other person who doesn’t share our value system as they might once have done. Yes, they genuinely want work perhaps, but they haven’t the energy, focus, willpower and motivation to make any real progress on their own. None, until that is, they find that one thing that they want more than they want the way things are. And no, you can’t find it for them.

Conversations are good; talk that draws someone out once the trust is established that allows them to go deeper and unload the ‘big’ stuff. Some are never going to work again, some may and others will. All three types will need support however, and the nature of the support they receive will vary depending on the individual.

Sure it’s challenging for family, friends and those who work with this population. Do what you can; know your limitations.

The Exhileration Of, “I’m Hired!”

Yesterday I got word that a client I’ve been working with during the past year has successfully interviewed for a position she really wanted. Now anyone whose business it is to assist others in moving towards financial independence will tell you that when one of our clients succeeds, it is so joyful to share that news with them. It re-affirms of course our work, but really it’s just about being so excited for them and we can almost see and hear the weight slide off their shoulders.

This one client I will admit is a person that I have had exceptionally high expectations of. Not only has she always presented herself well-groomed, but she has always been open to hearing and acting on advice and suggestions made to her. One of her most attractive qualities to me has been her determination and focus in conducting her job search. When arriving for example in the Employment Resource Centre to use a computer, she will enter the room, move to a cubicle, open up the necessary software and e-mails, and then seldom take her eyes off the work she needs to get done. When her work is completed, she’ll often pack up and leave without wasting anytime on Youtube, Facebook, personal e-mail etc. She’s here to work.

I made sure when I spoke with her that I congratulated her for her determination and told her how proud I was of her. I couldn’t help but smile myself as I heard the excitement in her voice. What really came out was her rise in self-worth and growing self-esteem. You see over time, her confidence was eroding, she was doubting herself and wondering if she shouldn’t expand her list of acceptable jobs to well outside her chosen goal.

Ironic in some ways that when a person is unemployed for longer than they expected, that their self-perception should be so damaged. Of course that’s because in our society we tie how we perceive ourselves and others by what occupation we have, and how we earn a living. The feeling for many without a job is that they don’t in fact, “earn a living” at all. So when an employer told her she was hired, her view of herself soared because someone else was validating her as a person and saw value in having her as an employee.

HOW the offer was made helped repair a lot of damage too. You see, she had originally been told that there would be two interviews potentially. She would only be hired by the person ultimately making the decision if she could pass the first interview with, as it now turns out, a co-worker. Well, after meeting with that individual, she was told to sit tight for a moment and the decision-maker appeared. A short time later, the rest of the interviews were cancelled, and she was hired on the spot and today is her first day – less than 24 hours after the interview.

Sometimes that’s how things work. Unemployment rears its ugly head and you crash after a long fall when that period of time gets drawn out seemingly forever. Then just when you really start to doubt yourself, a job offer comes and you feel vindicated, you feel optimistic again, you appreciate a pay cheque so much more, and you make a commitment to value your work and what it means because it becomes part of your identity.

If you are struggling in your own job search, take some small comfort in this tale. One day it WILL become true of you too. Resist the urge to give up and spend time in the dark places of depression and gloom. It may not be easy, but surround yourself with positive people who believe in you. Speak with a Career, Employment or Guidance Counsellor. Many of the people around you who to you appear to be entirely successful, have themselves experienced unemployment and frustration. You are not alone in your job hunt.

All the very best as you work to land that next job.