For Joe Svoke, an electrical construction estimator in Farmington Hills, Michigan, unemployment can be summed up in one word: lonely.
“I remember one time when I was let go, it happened at 3:25 in the afternoon. They called me into the office, and it was over. It was done in such a cold, insensitive manner. Another time I was given a letter telling me I had two weeks left. The boss didn’t want to say it to me face-to-face, so he handed me a letter! But both times these layoffs happened I have found that loneliness is the greatest problem.
“You don’t have somebody to reach out to like you do when you’re working. You don’t have access to people. And the people you would normally contact are harder to get to. Often they just don’t respond to your call. So you feel lost—really lost. The struggle is trying to keep focused when you feel this lonely.”
Other job-seekers report that unemployment creates deep feelings of fear. Anxiety about the future looms like a terrible approaching storm. Still others describe unemployment as a feeling of shame. They feel inadequate, as if they had been fooling friends, neighbors, and previous employers and now they have been found out.
These feelings of loneliness, fear, inadequacy, and shame can challenge any home life or marriage. Frustration, disappointment, and helplessness can transform the most committed of eternal relationships into temporal turmoil. And as stress builds to volcanic proportions, every relationship in the family suffers from the fallout.
Yet, many spouses have dealt successfully with this experience. They have learned how to cope with the emotional rollercoaster of unemployment for themselves. And they have discovered secrets for helping their loved one through the same disturbing ride.
When the Bad News Hits
When Allison and David moved to Massachusetts, they bought a house and settled into their new ward, spending the first seven months in the nursery. Dave tells the story this way.
“We really didn’t get to know anybody in the ward while we were serving in the Nursery. Then I was called as a counselor in the bishopric. And two weeks later, my job disappeared! New house, baby on the way, no family in the area, don’t really know anyone and—bang!—my job is gone. I wanted to say, ‘Father in Heaven, what’s happening here?’"
The first thing Allison did when she heard the bad news was call her mother for advice.
“Mom gave me some great counsel. She told me the most important thing I could do is stay positive. Don’t let myself become stressed out. That would negatively impact Dave. I needed to find my own grounded faith and portray positive energy—be an outlet for him.”
Allison labels this time of unemployment “a wake up call,” and she has found herself appreciating more deeply the good things she and Dave do enjoy.
“Our two-year-old is healthy. I’m experiencing a healthy pregnancy. We were given a severance package which many people don’t get. We had stayed out of debt, so we were somewhat prepared. It is easy to get complacent in life. I see this as a reminder that we don’t have control. Heavenly Father is in control. This has made me more introspective in my scripture reading. Dave is doing everything he can, and I can help him best by listening and letting him bounce ideas off me.”
Schedule Talk Time
Karl Hawes was the senior vice president of sales and marketing for a nationally-recognized entertainment product. He is also the bishop of the Rochester Michigan Ward. At the same time Karl learned his services were no longer needed, his wife Babs made an important discovery. It was “a little life-changing miracle that I found on a bookshelf.”
“One of the very first things that happened was I discovered How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie. It is like a wonderful handbook that is helping me apply the scriptures to my everyday life.”
Babs continues, “When we go through these stretching experiences, we have many options. I can choose to grow and stretch right along with my husband. Or I can be a deterrent and a drag. Or I can be somewhere in between. I get to choose just as he is getting to choose how to handle this.
“One thing he and I have found helpful is getting together each morning to correlate the day’s activities. We focus on things that will bring us together. We set goals together. It’s important to have a time when you can share your honest feelings with each other. There are times you want to be able to say, ‘I’m scared. I’m worried. This is a hard day.’”
Polly Garner, an LDS psychotherapist who has assisted a number of clients through job loss, agrees. Couples would do well to schedule specific time to talk when a critical event is taking place in their life.
“Having a pre-determined time when you know you will be able to address whatever issues are confronting you that day allows you to address them at a time when both husband and wife are prepared. Otherwise, there is a strong possibility that one of you will say something at the wrong time, when your spouse isn’t ready to listen. Having an time agreed upon to share honest emotions and concerns can go far toward reducing stress and emotional buildup. It’s an excellent outlet for talking about feelings.”
What else can a spouse do to help?
Joe, the construction estimator, says his wife Rachel has done two significant things to help.
“First, she gave up the dining room. She encouraged me to set up an office in our dining room. Make it feel like work . . . a place to go where I could focus on my job search.
“The second thing is that she is careful not to be pushy. She has passed a few interesting articles to me, but she knows I am trying hard. We’re both working hard to keep things normal. She understands and respects the significant amount of time it takes to find a job, and she has given me that time. But she also encourages us to have time together. In the evenings we come together. That’s our routine. She’s demonstrated her support, and that has been important to me.”
Use Your Ward Employment Specialist
Polly Garner, the LDS psychotherapist, believes having an objective third party involved in the job hunt process can be a key ingredient for maintaining a solid relationship and keeping emotions under control.
“A concerned wife can encourage her husband to find a job coach. Encourage him to invite the ward employment specialist to be his coach. If an employment specialist isn’t available, consider your home teacher or a quorum or Relief Society leader. Help him identify a credible individual who will work with him to keep the job search the primary focus of his daily activity. There is probably someone in your ward or stake who can be an effective job coach during this crucial event in your husband’s life.
“Whatever you do, don’t take on the role yourself. Keep your marriage relationship out of the daily struggle.”
She adds, “During my husband’s period of unemployment, I wanted to provide love and nurturing. That’s hard to do if he feels like just a few hours earlier you were nagging him to pick up the phone and ask an old acquaintance for suggestions, or give a reporting of his day’s activities. That’s a role for the job coach.”
Sharpen Your Interviewing Skills
In areas where an LDS Employment Resource Center exists, full-time staff or volunteer missionaries may be able to offer additional resources and suggestions to both job-seekers and job coaches.
Each of the full-time LDS Employment Resource Centers, as well as a number of individual stakes, offer the Career Workshop, which is designed to help job-seekers uncover and articulate their marketable skills. Hundreds of thousands of individuals have been trained in these ten, twelve-hour workshops where participants create personal commercials and develop power statements to support claims about specific skills and abilities they would bring to the employer.
Probably the most significant feature of the Career Workshop is that it provides an opportunity to practice these techniques and receive valuable feedback in a safe environment. Facilitators at the Employment Resource Centers are trained to ensure that each workshop is a dynamic, energetic training ground where job-seekers can actively improve their interviewing skills.
The Career Workshop has become an important component in the support network for unemployed individuals in many communities. In locations such as Chicago and Detroit, job-seekers from other churches often account for a sizeable percentage of the participants.
Julie Tatoris, a specialist at the Detroit resource center, notes, “Two of our best referral sources are the local Catholic church and a large three-thousand-member non-denominational church. They tell their people, ‘If you want excellent training in job search skills, go to the LDS career workshop. It’s the best training around!’”
How Leaders Can Help
One of the most valuable services Church leaders can provide to a person seeking employment is the opportunity to network with someone new.
Most jobs are found through networking with individuals outside our regular circle of contacts. So priesthood and Relief Society leaders can dramatically influence the networking process by encouraging meetings between quorum members, their network of contacts, and the job-seeker. Lunches, dinners, and parties provide opportunities for networking when they include business people outside the job-seeker’s normal sphere. They also provide structure, deadlines, goals, and targets that keep the job-seeker mentally active.
What Lies Ahead
Experience tells us that most families will encounter unemployment at some point in time. It is an unfortunate reality of today’s worldwide economy. And in the future, it is likely that more and more families will have to follow the food chain by moving to new cities and even new countries where jobs are flourishing and employees are needed.
Fortunately, as most who have moved soon discover, the gospel is the same worldwide and people in the new ward quickly become good friends. As families experience the challenge of finding employment, it is important to remember “this too shall pass.” And once they have gotten off the unemployment rollercoaster, many report that it was actually a blessing because it moved them out of a negative work environment.
Husbands and wives discover increased personal strength and find they have grown stronger as a couple because they have overcome adversity and at the same time maintained a patient, kind, gracious relationship.
As Jim Cook of Canton, Michigan, has found, a supportive spouse eases the severity of the situation. Speaking softly and gently about his wife who is helping him through a difficult period of unemployment, Jim says, “I got so depressed at one time that I just stopped looking. But Diane didn’t complain. She’s been completely supportive. We are a good team.”
For nearly thirteen years, Doug Mallory has managed the LDS Employment Resource Center in Michigan. He has also served two terms as president of the National Association of Job-Search Trainers. But the most important training for this current work assignment came from his own painful period of unemployment, which he now acknowledges as a true gift.