The mindset of the jettisoned employee

by sawamix

Well, I think the crash came and went yesterday. I certainly hope so, anyway, because if it did, it wasn’t so bad as crashes go. Some massive fatigue, a short weep session, but not the curled-up-in-a-fetal-position-in-the corner crash I’d feared.

The job search has ramped up pretty quickly, thanks to the intartoobz. I can remember when a Really Serious Job Hunt took the form of laying in a supply of fine stationery, a box of carbon paper, and a notebook. The Sunday want ads were about the only source of open job listings if you didn’t have a large personal network. The other option was mass-mailings to companies; the appropriate staff found through poring through Standard& Poor’s Register at the public library. As recently as last year I was tossing out old job search letters done on a typewriter with the newspaper clipping stapled to my carbon copy.

So job searching has become easier, despite the prevalence of online job application software, much of which is quirky at best and nonfunctional at worst. But at least today you don’t need to practically hire a secretary just to organize the paper from a job search.

It hasn’t quite hit me yet, and indeed, I don’t think it’s really hit anyone yet. It feels strange to have all these e-mails about job opportunities flying around among not just the casualties, but also the survivors, as the combination of impending loss of friends and survivors’ guilt sets in among those who will remain. In my more optimistic moments, I think that perhaps this is a case of ultimately the living (those keeping their jobs) may very well envy the dead (those of us being jettisoned).

I am, however, compiling a picture of what kinds of behaviors are constructive when dealing with friends, relatives and co-workers who are losing their jobs, and what aren’t.

DON’T look at the person with what I call the Basset Hound Face. I mean no disrespect to Tbogg’s dogs, but what is cute on a basset hound is really annoying when presented to the one who has been sacked. Your friend/relative/co-worker is being laid off, s/he has not been diagnosed with terminal cancer and s/he is not dead. So don’t look at him/her like this:

We know you feel badly about it. What that face does is make us feel that we somehow have to comfort you, and frankly, we are having enough trouble keeping ourselves together. And besides, while that face is utterly adorable on a basset hound, on a person? Not so much.

If you don’t know what to say, DO say “I don’t know what to say.” It’s a no-win situation for you, so don’t try. If we’re envisioning our futures as having to scavenge the remains of McGriddles out of trash cans and keep warm on a subway grate, “You’ll find something soon” just sounds hollow. Commiserating, as in saying, “Yeah, the job market really sucks these days,” isn’t what we want to hear either. The best thing to say, if you are in a position to actually follow up, is “I am going to help you find a job.” If you genuinely don’t have the resources to do that, “I don’t know what to say” is fine.

We found out in the middle of the afternoon. I had figured that this was coming, so I had come up with plans for who I was going to e-mail first, and who in my workplace I had to see that might know of available positions either in-house or outside. So I didn’t even talk to my fellow programmer/project manager, who is surviving this layoff. The next day I came in and there were five e-mails from her. One was the “I don’t know what to say but I am going to help you find a job” e-mail, and the others were links to job listings she’d already found and notification that she’d already contacted people who were jettisoned in our LAST layoff. In this case, the person is a bit of a control freak and helping people find jobs is her way of trying to make some kind of order out of this chaos, but her approach was really constructive and helpful.

DON’T ask if the person needs money, and DON’T ask the person to “not hesitate to call” if s/he needs anything. Of course the person needs money. If the person didn’t need money, the prospect of six months of unemployment followed by retirement or other slack time would have us dancing for joy. But trust me, we are not going to ask you for money even if we do need it, because we have pride. What we want is a job, not a handout. If you’re in regular contact with the person, you’ll know if/when the financial position becomes dire, and when/if that happens (and hopefully it won’t), if you’re in a position to share your network of contacts who might be in a position to hire, or if you can offer compensated work, or a reference letter, then just do it.

DON’T ask the person to call if s/he needs to talk. Check in every now and then to see how the person is doing. If the person needs to talk, s/he will. Trust me. But don’t use the tonal equivalent of the basset hound face. If you do, we’ll take it as “I really don’t want to know how you’re doing because it’s really depressing…but if I sound REALLY, REALLY CONCERNED, maybe that will suffice.” And for God’s sake, don’t ask how the job hunt is going. It makes us feel stressed and pressured to find something soon, if only to take the burden off of YOUR worrying. Believe me, when we find something, we’ll tell you.

DO tell the friend about friends of yours who were in a similar predicament and who came out on top. Especially if the unemployed person is over 50, DO tell him/her about middle-aged friends of yours who may have taken the better part of a year to find a job, but who found one before the year was out and are now blissfully happy and making money hand over fist. Your middle-aged friend who lost his job and then hung himself in the bathroom after the unemployment ran out? DON’T tell us about him. We don’t want to know.

DON’T belittle the loss. It may be “just a job”, but for most of us, the job is 1/3 of our day. We spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our spouses and families. In addition to the financial issues, there’s the interpersonal impact of job loss. We tend to rank relative degrees of trauma associated with loss, but when it’s you, “It’s just a job” is as meaningless as telling a couple whose baby was stillborn, “You can always have another one.” It may very well be true, but it’s not constructive at that moment in time.

I’m actually lucky in that our layoff is in a small, self-contained group, and those of us who have been cut know that this was not at all related to job performance, and it wasn’t even necessarily related to our value to the department. Everyone being cut is a senior-level person where cutting is gives the most cost-cutting bang for the buck. I’m not sitting here thinking that if I’d only done this or that I wouldn’t have been cut, because in no way is that true, and I’ve been told as much. That helps prevent the Runaway Train of Self-Doubt from pulling in temporarily at this particular station.

Today I take the day off, and tomorrow it’s back to job board land.