Redundancy and unemployment bring with them a cluster of problems, financial, family, personal and social.
Most people who lose their jobs go through something like a bereavement process. Having lost the clear daily structure and sense of purpose that a job gives, they are particularly prone to suffer from insecurity and low self-image.
There is often a common pattern to people’s reaction to being unemployed, though factors such as personal attitude, age, finance and support can make a great deal of difference, and the pattern is by no means a rigid one. The loss of work generally causes a period of shock, which may include a sense of unreality (‘This can’t be happening to me’) and denial that there is any problem. Following this comes a comparatively optimistic period, characterized by activity and confidence that the spell of unemployment will be short. But if no job is found, this can change to a period of discouragement and despair, which after a time may lead to apathetic acceptance and resignation. Clearly, being in either of the last two stages will lessen the chances of getting a job, so it is important for the unemployed person to maintain hope and momentum, both personally and in the search for work.
Helping those who are unemployed
Make sure everything you say and do shows acceptance, respect and affirmation. Avoid anything that might seem condemning or patronizing. Very few people are unemployed because they don’t want to work. Sadly, some long-term unemployed people become so discouraged and so lacking in self-esteem that they give up trying to find work. But these need extra understanding and encouragement, not criticism and condemnation.
Remember that many people gain their sense of self-worth from the job they do, so those without work will need extra love and affirmation, and continuous encouragement to find self-worth in their relationship to God and others, and in what they are able to be and do.
Keep an eye open for particular reactions such as anger, loss of confidence, loss of self-respect, and so on. Many people find the period about six months into unemployment the hardest time. Provide help and encourage them to seek counselling before things get too serious.
Remember that in a family situation the other family members will be under stress. Keep an eye on them, and make sure they seek help if problems arise.
Help those who are unemployed to maintain hope, and to sustain the motivation to remain active. Share the pain of job application rejections with them, but help them maintain the determination to keep looking for work. Help them with their decision-making, but don’t make decisions for them. Be patient; there will be mood swings and dark periods; but they need you to remain a dependable source of support and encouragement.
What could I say?
Unemployment situations vary greatly, but you may find it helpful to make some of these suggestions.
Make use of all the help you can get. Accept that redundancy and unemployment can give rise to significant personal and emotional problems, quite apart from the practical issues like loss of income, and that you may have to go through these. To do this you will need all the help you can get. Whatever you do, don’t try and cope on your own. Allow family and friends to help and support you. Get others to pray for you. Find a counsellor or understanding friend with whom you can talk about your reactions and feelings. Join a local support group for the unemployed.
Keep an eye open for the reactions that are common among unemployed people. Most common among these are anger and depression; do what you can to deal with them as soon as they begin to appear. Be aware that there will be an extra strain on your family; watch for signs of tension and deal with them before they get too big.
Pace yourself. Combine a hope that the period of unemployment will be short with a realism that accepts it may not be.
Keep yourself occupied. Never do nothing. Draw up a list of jobs to do round the house. Do the garden for the old lady down the road. Give a couple of mornings a week to the church office or to Mencap. Offer to help in the local charity shop. Join the staff of a playgroup. Do voluntary work in your local school. Take on a new ministry in the church. Take up new hobbies. Grow vegetables. Join a local club. Develop new domestic skills. Do a project on local history, or birds in your local park. Run, swim, walk, keep fit. Offer your skills to your neighbours. Work out your family tree. Every week, plan and do something new that you’ve never done before.
Structure your day and your week. Aimlessness will quickly lead to boredom and despair. Follow as clear a structure as you had when you were working.
Use the opportunity to learn new skills. Take advantage of retraining schemes. Do a course in your local college.
Take it that God is giving you a ‘sabbatical’ from work so that you can do something special for him. It may be some special service, or it may be giving a lot of time to prayer, or study of the Bible.
Take the opportunity to reflect. Give yourself time to do some serious thinking about your career, your values, your goals, your family, your priorities, the principles that are controlling your life, and your relationship to God. Work out and put into practice any necessary adjustments.
Use the opportunity to develop a simpler lifestyle, and to have more understanding of the less fortunate in the world.
Make a point of maintaining and developing your relationships with friends and family. Fight the tendency to withdraw; God is giving you extra time to spend with them. If you have lost many of your friendships because they were work-related, make every effort to develop new friendships to replace them. Get alongside lonely people. Widen your circle of friends at church and in the community.
If you have financial problems, get help before they become acute. Replan your budget. Write to your mortgage provider. Talk to the Citizens Advice Bureau. Make sure you are getting any state benefits available.
Make full use of schemes and centres for the unemployed run by the government and churches and voluntary organizations.
Get advice over letter-writing skills, composing a CV, filling out job applications, and interview techniques.
Remember, unemployment is a challenge, not a disaster. However unpleasant the experience, be determined you will learn and grow through it as a person and as a Christian.
This is a chapter from Peter Hicks, What Could I Say?, published by Inter-Varsity Press UK, www.ivpbooks.com,© Peter Hicks 2000, and used by kind permission of the author and publisher.