This article was originally published in 2012; it is being reprinted to help people who are facing unemployment in 2020.
It could happen to you.
The alarm beeps. You jump out of bed, shower, get dressed, have a bite to eat, banter with the kids about homework and the sports page, kiss your spouse goodbye and head to work, where there’s a message waiting on your computer:
Human Resources wants to meet with you in 45 minutes.
Translation: Your pink slip is waiting.
Anxiety takes over your brain. Fears are set loose: The mortgage payments, the credit-card debt, looming college tuition payments, that nagging back pain you’ve tried to ignore, the kids’ attachment to the neighborhood and their friends. Even worse, your advancing age, your limited skills, your parents’ increasing dependence on you.
Welcome to the job market of the New Millenium.
The numbers reported in the press in this region just recently merely scratch the surface of this new normal in today’s workforce.
Northeast Utilities recently announced it will be laying off 200 employees. L + M Hospital in New London cut 33 positions. In May, 45 employees at Westerly Hospital lost their jobs. Foxwoods cut 50 employees this year. In 2012 it was 282 employees at Mohegan Sun. Pfizer, anyone’s guess, a whole bunch more. Presently, in 2020, as the result of the pandemic, workers are being temporarily and permanently laid off: Mystic Seaport closed its doors to visitors and its 199 employees, Mohegan Sun called back 3,000 of its 5,000 workers, leaving 2,000 workers to find alternative means of employment, Hartford Hospital began permanently reducing positions as of July 1.
It doesn’t matter where you work. Unemployment is an equal-opportunity employer. State employees, health care workers, teachers, manufacturers, people in hospitality and publishing, utility workers.
Nobody is immune.
But there is hope as well as alarm in those statistics. Joblessness has become a robust laboratory in preparing for unemployment and escaping it. I run into it every day in my work.
Take the case of Jenn. At age 50, she was a successful Human Resources worker at Pfizer. She loved the company, loved her job. But she also wanted more for herself. In 2001 she enrolled at Three Rivers Community College. Keenly aware of the layoffs taking place around her, she knew that investing in her education would be a huge benefit especially when and if her job disappeared. She took one and two courses a semester, transferred to the Avery Point campus of UCONN in 2005 and got her undergraduate degree.
Jenn also needed corrective surgery. Taking care of her health while she still had medical insurance became a priority, especially in the event she might find herself looking for another job. A few months after her graduation from UCONN in the spring of 2011, Jenn had surgery. That same year she was told her position was being eliminated.
Upset, anxious? Yes. Incapacitated? No.
For Jenn was prepared. She had paid attention to how others were dealing with unemployment. She also had been successful at school and work and knew she could apply those same strategies to this next challenge.
She wasn’t paralyzed by shame into isolating herself, either.
Jenn asked questions and did research in person, by phone, and through social media. She used every resource available to her: the company’s outplacement service, CT Works, the regional job agency, the UCONN alumni network. I helped her as a mental health and career consultant.
She never stopped talking to others about jobs. She stayed open to the possibility of using her skills in a different field. She felt drawn to health care, having observed the care given to her aging mother in a health care facility. She researched this field and learned about the skills and education she would need if she were to transfer into this field. Jenn began to see herself as employable across fields.
John Beauregard, of the Eastern Ct State Workforce Investment Board, summarizes the issue well:
Given the ever-increasing skill demands on workers in this structurally changing economic climate, many job-seekers are switching emphasis to employment security through skill enhancements from job security, which is becoming more and more scarce
While unemployed Jenn spoke about her experiences at a career services event at UCONN, clearly demonstrating that losing one’s job, although difficult and challenging, doesn’t have to be devastating.
Jenn approached her job search as a full-time job and it paid off.
One morning in June she logged on as she did regularly to search CT Jobs. And there it was: a new posting of a Human Resources position for a large health care enterprise.
And the new and better future she had prepared for.
Liz Pelissier, LCSW is the owner of Sound Career Services, with an office in Waterford, CT.