Unemployed is not a dirty word: the importance of empathy


Résumé (Photo credit: Michael Paul Escanuelas)

Stuck under a sleeping baby last night with no access to the remote control, I was forced unwittingly to watch a documentary on unemployment. I don’t know what channel it was on or its title , but it was horribly depressing. Watching people try to smile as they discussed how long they had been out of a job, how they were trying to manage their money, and how they were trying to get through made my heart race and my gut clench like I’d been punched.

While I am now employed, that wasn’t always the case. I was laid off for almost a year. It is awful. Even if your situation isn’t dire and you aren’t in immediate fear of losing your house or credit, or worried about being unable to feed your kids, it does a giant number on your psyche. I felt like my world was not in my control. Even when I got up every day and did the work – looked at jobs, wrote emails and put together networking campaigns -I still knew that ultimately the fate of my career was in someone else’s hands in a depressed economic market. Having to explain to others why I wasn’t working was embarrassing – even when I’d done nothing wrong. I felt judged and humiliated, even though I shouldn’t have.

You want to know what’s worse? The fear and questioning from that time has stayed with me. Every time I make a mistake or mess something up (which I do all the time) there is a tiny voice in the back of my mind screaming “Beware!” Honestly, I think joblessness has shades of Post-traumatic stress disorder to it. In the back of your mind is a constant watchfulness, and a definite sensitivity to and awareness of corporate climate.

This isn’t a post on job search, or resume writing, interviewing or even dealing with uncertainty in your current company or career. It’s a plea for compassion for those without work that really want and need jobs. I just found myself thinking – wow, I really don’t want to think about this. I don’t want to remember what this felt like. I don’t want to look at it. And honestly, when I interview people on the phone as a recruiter that are going through hard times, it brings it all back: the biases, the ugliness, and the struggle to keep my head up.

If you know someone who is unemployed, try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to sit there and honestly imagine what they might be feeling, or what they might be worrying about. Go out of your way to lend a hand, make a referral or give a suggestion where you can. If you are an employer, consider taking a chance on someone who isn’t working. Unemployment is not fun: it’s more like social leprosy. I was lucky with friends and family who kept encouraging me and helping me through, but there are tons of people without that kind of assistance.

And if you are working but not happy where you are? Be grateful that you get to go to a job. Smile at people. Do your work diligently, knowing there is someone else out there that would love the opportunity. Quash your complaining. Do the things they ask even if you don’t enjoy them – it’s called work for a reason. There is nothing wrong with trying to improve your career situation and find better opportunities for yourself, but know that doing so while you are gainfully employed is a luxury. Don’t screw it up by not doing the job you already have.

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