This article first appeared here in July 2009
7 Major Traumas of Unemployment
Written by: Gilbert Goh
Many readers have asked me what to expect when they were given the pink slip.
Trying my best to be optimistic, I told them to stay well prepared and not to take things for granted here. People who are prepared and positive tend to sail through unemployment with their chins up.
Unemployment has known to break up marriages and drive many to depression especially if families are hit hard financially. For me, unemployment means no income and due to a lack of unemployment welfare, there is no social safety net for our jobless.
I will list the seven major traumas that will strike the unemployed and coming up with some solutions to counter their impact.
By now, most people will know that unemployment = no income and full stop. Many I know could not face up to having no regular income as their savings is almost near zero. What they have earn before is just nice for their monthly expenses. Some simply spend away what they have earned without any regular savings plan in place. When unemployment arrives, they are shocked and could not think straight for many days. This is what I termed a worse case scenario and it happends to many people I know.
My advice for people who are STILL working now is to plan out your finances before you even receive the pink note. Don’t wait till you are retrenched before deciding to plan out your finances. That will be too late. The clouded mind of the retrenched also does not allow one to plan confidently. If you are married, do this important exercise with your spouse when you are relaxed and calm.
Prioritise your expenditure – decide how much you need to survive on given the amount you have in your savings acount. Then calculate how long you can live on with that expenditure plan before you press the panic button of borrowing from friends and selling stuff. Many may need even need to downsize their car, home and lifestyle to make ends meet without an income or living on one income for a family setting over a prolonged priod. Do plan that out as that option may arrive at your doorstep however detailed you have plan for life without a job. It is called planning for the worse. Trust me, some of you will need it.
At the worse scenario when you need to raise cash urgently, what alternate forms do you have? Do you need to borrow from friends if necessary and who will they are? Do you have things to sell on ebay and how much can you raise by selling stuff online? These are all valid things to think through before the crunch time comes.
Many people are made bankrupt as their debts piled up and bills went unpaid for many months. This can be avoided if you talk it out with your banker or enlist the assitance of Credit Counselling Bureau to act as a mediator for you. Check out all avenues of assistance before the bad news hit you in the face.
Personally, I have faced many sleepless nights when I was unemployed during the Sars period. The worse stressors were when the bankers sent you pay-up nasty mails with the legal masthead on them. It was not only stressful but terrifying for one who has always enough to pay up for such monthly bills.
Needless to say, it is prudent to live frugally now even if we are still working given the turbulent time we have in this current economic climate. When you spend wisely even though you are still employed, it will be easier for you to adapt to a frugal lifestyle when you are jobless. It comes easily as you have being conditioned to live simply all along.
Summary note: Plan out your finances well using a worse case scenario.
Many families enjoy a blissful time together when everything sails through smoothly in life. However, when one of the family’s income earner is jobless and tense, everything changes at home. Tempers flare up easily and the whole family atmosphere changes over night.
The warm cheerful father that they have known all along may now turn into a hot tempered monster who roars at everyone at home. Suddenly, his constant presence on the sofa now turns into an unwelcome sight for many at home. Children will try to avoid the massive terrifying frame and camp in their bedrooms waiting for the nightmare to end. Instead of hugging them, their dad now snap and growl. Young children who do not understand what have happened may turn inward and depressive at the suddent change in family dynamics.
My family members got the blunt end of my outburst during the first six months of my unemployment. I would snap at my daughter at the simplest of things and made her cried. Of course, I felt bad at my foul mood but could not do much to improve matters. I also quarrelled alot with my wife over finances as we took out a home mortgage loan based on the income of two working members. It stressed out the only working spouse who has to pay for most of the household bills.
I later talked things out with my family members and things improved when I shared my issues with them. They could understand why my mood was foul and I also promised that I would be more responsible in my behaviour.
We also continued our regular weekend family outing and this helped to provide support to me during that tumultous period. Many unemployed readers have told me that their family remains their best form of support and reinforces the good relationship that they have all along especially during their unemployment blues.
Summary note: Talk things out with your family members and continue whatever family time that you have all along. Your family is your best support during this awful period.
Some people I know count on their friends to support them when they are jobless. I was fortunate to have a good butch of friends whom I counted on for support. They were with me when I was down and out. Some offered me financial assistance and never chased me for repayment and I was grateful for their unconditional support.
However, there will be some friends who will run away at the smell of trouble from you. A friend of mine for twenty over years disappointed me much when he turned the cold shoulder during that period.
I remembered we shared many years of good brotherly bonding as we grew up together and later became very good friends. So it was a shock when he turned the cold shoulder during that tough period. Calls to him went unaswered or he would not want to go out with me for our regular drinks. I was more disappointed than angry with him. Needless to say, our friendship went downhill after that. So, be prepared that your good friends may turn out to be those that may not stand by you when you are down and out. This may hit singles more as they count on their friends to be their support system. It may be wise to cultivate a few more good friends to be on your side. Woe to those who only have one or two good friends and could not count on them when he needs them most.
Fortunately, I have also invested in other friends and those that I thought would be cold to me turned up to be rather supportive. They went out with me and provided me a good listening ear when needed. To these days, we still stay in touch. So, you will reap from the time and efforts that you have sow on friendships. Though one or two may turn away, there will still be others who will respond to us when we need them.
Summary note: Be prepared that friends may turn away from you when you need them most.
4. Emotional Disturbance
Many unemployed people turn depressive and negative especially when they went jobless for many months. Some will face sleepless nights or have difficulty going to bed. Anxiety seems to be the byword of every jobless vocabulary. The odd one will also have suicidal thoughts when the going gets rough. To some, losing one’s job is like losing part of our life. We have identified ourselves with the position printed out on our namecard and when one is retrenched, our identity goes thorugh a crisis transformation.
For the record, the first three months may be the most difficult period as the unemployed adjust himself to face up to his situation. Many snap easily at their loved ones and relationships tumbled downwards. Family members may also need to be prepared here to be more understanding and loving. Many I know could face up to the trauma of unemployment better when their family members were supportive and dependent. It is also a test of how strong the relationship has being. Families who spend alot of time together tend to have an easier time when someone goes jobless. The time spent together previously now acted as a buffer for them when the chips are down.
Almost all of the unemployed people I met have some form of emotional disturbance during their period of unemployment. Some managed to have only a mild attack whereas others need to seek medical assistance.
It is not difficult to fathom why the unemployed turned depressive. Unemployment often attacks the self worth of a person and many I spoke to often questioned why were they retrenched when they were hardworking and performing well at work.
Their self worth thus took a hard stab as damaging self enquiry went on for many weeks and months often during the crucial first three months. I would advise these people not to do too much self critical examination of why they were retrenched and their c olleagues get to work as often managers do not reveal too much about retrenchment exercise. Some human resource managers I spoke to told me that there were many other reasons why a staff has to be laid off. Besides work performance, other perimeters such as business re organisation, financial constraints and manpower reduction were considered before someone is being laid off.
Critical self enquiry on one’s work performance also hampers one from venturing to seek re employment confidentally. Some I know never venture out of one’s home unless it is at night to avoid the inquiries of neigbhours. I also have this problem as I try my best avoid neighbours who will ask me why I am always at home.
In face-saving Singapore, many jobless people will try all ways to face up to their jobless state. Some retrenched PMETs still turn up in their tie and brief case preparing to go to work when they have no office to go to so that their family members will not know the truth.
Ego saving efforts to concel unemployment seem to be more rampant when the person is higher up the corporate ladder. It is well known that the higher you climb, the steeper will be the fall. The top executive has much to adjust to life without work as now he does not have a secretary making coffee for him in the morning nor those power lunches he share with his peers and bosses. He is all alone facing up to an uncertain empty future. The jobless executive needs to redefine what success means to him now. Is climbing up the corporate ladder that important now when one needs to be better at managing work life balance? Time alone without work may be the best tonic for the busy working executive to sort out his priority in life.
For the emotionally disturbed, it may be good to speak with someone about issues that torment us. Seeking counselling is also helpful as research has shown that by speaking out our problems to another person we often feel less stressed. It is never wise to left issues that emotionally affect us without really addressing them. It is like caging up an angry dog who wants his daily favourite walk in the park. So seek help when necessary.
It is also good to communicate our fears with our spouse who will remain by our side through thick and thin. They will remain our best form of support during the down time.
Summary note: Learn to face up to your fears and be humble enough talk to someone about them.
5. Physical wellbeing
Besides suffering from emotional setback, the unemployed may face a barrage of physical ailments. Lets face it, what goes on inside us will affect our physical being. Of course, the vice versa also applies here.
In his book ” Real Life”, Dr Phil McGraw wrote: ”When you adopt a healthy lifestyle it begins to add up in a powerfully positive way.”
WHen you sat depressed at home and shouting at your kids half the time to stay quiet, the heart went pumping hard and rage is also not a healthy way to destress. Over a prolonged period, when the person is jumpy and anxious, it will manifest itself physically. On the other hand, a healthy phsycial wellbeing will also influence how you think and act. I have exercised long enough to know the merits of such a statement.
I knew a friend who was retrenched recently and after suffering three months of joblessness, he had much more white hair than befores and lost some weight in the process. He was anxious as he was the only primary breadwinner. His wife works part time and is also on medicinal assistance.
Thus, do not discount the physical after effects of unemployment. What that goes inside our head will affect our physical well being.
So what can we do to counter the stressors of unemployment?
For me, I took to jogging to destress and found it helpful both for my emotional and physical well being. I have started to run for well over two decades and intesified those runs when I was jobless.
In my book “How to survive unemployment” I have detailed how exercising has helped me alot to recover from the emotional perils of joblessness. If readers want tohave a free soft copy of this book, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summary note: Guard your physical well being by having regular exercise.
Lets face it – those who can adapt to unemployment faster will tend to recover and look out for rehiring opportunities. The ones that still hang on to their previous employment tend to have a hard time adapting to unemployment. They tend to speak bad about their bosses who have retrench them and also question their self worth alot more. They have not learn to move on as fast as they could have.
In his bestseller book “The 4-hour Work Week”, author Timolty Ferriss wrote: “Usually, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be – it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do.”
Mr Ferriss describes vividly what the problem the unemployed will face about adapting and facing up what he fears most. When the retrenched still is hung up on why he is being laid off, it is likely that he will have difficulty trying to take active steps to getting re hired.
He is still sore about his retrenchment and so long as he is mad about it, he will face difficulty in adapting to his jobless situation.
Thi is perhaps the reason why many still could not open up to their loved ones when they are about to be retrenched. Many only inform their spouses the day that they have no job to go to causing a mini panic at work.
I have found that those who could adapt and accept their retrenchment well turnd out to be the ones that could find new jobs fster than those who could not.
Top executives often have major adaptability issue as they have much more to lose when they are laid off. Besides losing the financial perks, the self worth also nose dives and they tend to question their capability to perform. As rehiring for the top brass retrenched PMETs tends to be longer, the resilience factor of this category of workers has to be higher. Some may even have to downgrade their expectations in a worsening job market. Needless to say, their salary expectation has to be readjusted.
Some needs to adapt to looking for work beyond their level of comfort. Others may have to adapt to a lower pay package in a totally different field. A few may even have to be relocated to work abroad for a stint. I remembered I have to take up a teaching job 2 years ago – a totally different field in China, in a major job shift which I have gladly taken up. The experience changed my life forever and shifted alot of my own life’s paradigm. I would not have done what I am doing now if I have not taken some risk, uprooted myself and got out of my comfort zone. Worse of all, I will also be forever trapped in my own limited world view.
I have heard of how we have major problem taking on certain job scope and that could probably have contribute to a worsening jobless situation. Learn to let go of our past position and salary package and take some risk with a new career.
Some who have went for retraining with e2i and WDA have adapted well in their new career. They not only do well in their new job but also derived satisfaction from their work.
Summary note: Adapt to your new state well and take on some risk to move on to newer horizon.
7. Self Confidence
I want to talk more on this topic as I have seen many matured PMETs suffering a serious dent on their self confidence after being laid off. Some may not even recover as they face a proloned period of unemployment damaging their confidence irrevocably. Many simply want to retire at home if they can.
It is obvious that the longer the person goes jobless the damage to his self confidence will be greater.
People who goes jobless for more than 12 months will also face a psychological barrier of getting rehired. Their body language says it all when they go to job interviews with sloughed shoulder and downcasted eyes.
Interviewers also do not take to prolonged unemployment kindly as they may feel that the person is unadaptable and fixated.
It is good thus for the unemployed to do some casual or temporary work so that their resume will not be blank out during that period. It also shows a person who is vibrant and actively trying to get out of the rut.
Self confidence is also strongly tied to a positive mindset. A confident person will try to bounce back from adversity and also adapt to different situation.
He will want to thrive in any adverse situation so as to learn from the experience.
To him, any negative experience can be utilised as a nurturing process so that something good can come out of it. He will not want to waster any time wallowing in self pity.
So whenever you enter into an adverse situation, try to look out for a learning experience out of it.
A jobless situation can turn out to be a rewarding experience if the person can try to look out for a positive career revamp. How we think will determine how we approach our problem.
Summary note: Learn to see the positive outcome of any adversity – however hard it is.
I hope that I have provided you enough information for you to stay prepared during your unemployment period. This will be a particularly tough time for you and your family. It could also be a test of your family relationship and the journey will be choppy I assured you. However, after going through the rough journey in stormy sea, the ship will soon arrive on shore and you and your family will treasure each other alot more. A person who has gone through the consuming fire of trials will often come out stronger and more matured. I hope that readers will agree with me on this.
Motivational quote: Pray to God, but continue to row to shore – Russian proverb