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Tips for When Unemployment Hits Home

Doug Mallory - August 14, 2012

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What can you do when unemployment, the monster that hides between the cubicles of your office building, strikes? Oftentimes, losing a job brings feelings of depression, inadequacy, and shame—emotions that are detrimental to one’s well-being. But losing a job shouldn’t mean losing hope. Make the most of this challenge with some timely advice.

For Joe, an electrical construction estimator, 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.”

He continues, “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 can challenge any home life or marriage and 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 to cope with the emotional roller coaster 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 Dave moved to Massachusetts, they bought a house and settled into their new ward, spending the first seven months in the Nursery. “We really didn’t get to know anybody in the ward while we were serving in the Nursery,” Dave says. “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 recalls. “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 wakeup call,” and she found herself appreciating more deeply the good things she and Dave do enjoy.

“Our two-year-old was healthy. I was 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 did everything he could, and I helped him best by listening and letting him bounce ideas off me.”

Schedule Talk Time
Karl was the senior vice president of sales and marketing for a nationally recognized entertainment product and serving as a bishop when he learned his employment was being terminated. His wife, Babs, says that by focusing on things to bring them together as a couple, they were able to cope during a very difficult time. 

“One thing he and I have found helpful is getting together each morning to correlate the day’s activities. 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.’”

Polly Garner, an LDS psychotherapist who has assisted a number of clients through job loss, agrees.

“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,” she says. “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 a 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.”

Coping Together
What else can a spouse do to help?

Joe says his wife, Rachel, did 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 was careful not to be pushy. She passed a few interesting articles to me, but she knew I was trying hard. She understood and respected the significant amount of time it takes to find a job, and she gave me that time. But she also encouraged us to have time together. She demonstrated her support, and that was important to me.”

Use Your Ward Employment Specialist
Garner believes having an objective third party involved in the job hunt process can be a key ingredient for maintaining a solid marital relationship and keeping emotions under control.

“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.”

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 series of 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 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. A specialist at the Detroit resource center noted, “Two of our best referral sources are the local Catholic church and a large 3,000- 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 among 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.

As families experience the challenge of finding employment, it is important to remember that “this too shall pass.” And once they have gotten off the unemployment roller coaster, many report that it was actually a blessing because it moved them out of a negative work environment.

Husbands and wives often 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 of 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.”

LDS Living has even more helpful articles on this topic! You can find out more about the Church’s employment resources and what they can do for you, and you can also learn more about how to make things work when the wife takes over as the breadwinner.
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© LDS Living, July/August 2012.
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