There seems to be someone in every crowd who spoils it for the rest. In his June 9 Interchange column, Scott Morgan talked about those who are cruising on unemployment and abusing the system. Yes, there are those few taking advantage of the system in this climate of high unemployment. However, there also are a lot in the unemployed camp who are doing what every member of society should do, employed or not: pulling his or her own weight.
Recently finding myself “unemployed” or “in transition” or “up in the air,” as Walter Verfenstein stated in his Interchange column on (U.S. 1, March 3, 2010), I ask that you do not lump me as one of the spoil sports described in Morgan’s article: “They’d rather collect unemployment than come back to work.” I have not yet met any folks who fall into that category. Instead, I see people broken down by a broken system.
Some people handle this blow better than others and see it as a good time for change and an opportunity for a fresh start. For others, it is harder to bear because they have sunk their whole identities into their jobs, have house payments to make, families to feed, and college tuition bills and car loans to pay.
For me, rather than throwing myself a pity party, where I would be the only guest and not have much fun, I try to focus my energies in a more constructive vein. I fill up my day planner with job search activities and networking meetings, and I make sure to “get out there” once a day.
This is a great opportunity for me to give back, too, to offer my skills, knowledge, and experience by volunteering for a worthy cause. When the unfairness of it all visits, uninvited (as it inevitably does), I run five miles instead of sitting at home in front of the television.
Does the system make it easy for a recently unemployed person to “collect?” No. Then again, I guess the system is designed this way so that unemployment compensation is not seen as an appealing option but, rather, like a reserve parachute — a last resort to land on your feet, not hover in the air and look down at the scenery.
Everyone has to pull his or her own weight in our society: the unemployed, the employed, employers, and the government. What is on a slippery, declining slope in this country is the lack of personal responsibility, accountability, and pride in our work. We need to stop passing the buck and blaming other people for our own faults, ignorance, and lack of thinking.
If we get struck by a car while walking down the highway because we relied on some inanimate software application instead of our own gray matter, then we should take responsibility for our own lack of good judgment. We also need to stop castigating those who do step up to the plate and hold themselves accountable and responsible.
If you are fortunate to have a job, put your all into it and be proud of what you do. Just because you have a job, doesn’t mean you are working. Taking advantage of sick time and not working to your full potential (e.g., slacker) is not pulling your own weight in society and it is an insult to the rest of us. Do not stereotype all of us who cannot find jobs as not trying hard enough. I firmly believe “what goes around, comes around,” so now is the perfect opportunity for you to reach out and help someone not currently employed. You never know when you might need a helping hand yourself someday.
The whole unemployment experience is degrading and demeaning. Especially in our materialistic society, which places too much emphasis on how much money to make instead of how much goodwill to produce. You might earn a sizeable salary, but are you proud of what you do? If you are currently unemployed or in transition, pull yourself up by the scruff of your neck, and do the best that you can to go at the search with full gusto.
Do not get lazy. Graciously accept any help offered along the way. If your former employer offers outplacement services, take it. I am pleased with the services I am receiving from my coach and outplacement firm, Drake Beam Morin.
Because employer-provided outplacement typically has an expiration date, you also need to augment this with another and free service the state offers, which does not come with an expiration date — Professional Services Group. The PSG in Trenton is a nonprofit, volunteer group of professionals, for professionals in transition, provided by the Mercer County One-Stop Career Center and the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The group’s mission is “to provide peer support, assistance, and direction so as to return skilled professionals to the workplace in a timely manner.”
There are a slew of other free resources and networking opportunities offered out there. Your local library is a good start at finding the right ones for you too.
Employers: just because the way you terminate an employee might be “legal” does not necessarily mean it is right. Yes, we are faced with a bad economy. But don’t use this as an all-too-easy excuse for conducting unfair and unethical termination practices. Take the high road and remember the Golden Rule. If you need help, consider presenting your issue to a kindergartner and enlist her counsel. Kids are often pretty wise and will tell you exactly what you need to hear.
Uncle Sam: People are supposed to work; employers are supposed to provide work and abide by legal hiring practices; and you should referee, holding the players accountable and responsible, playing according to fair and legal rules. Provide appropriate training to your representatives so they have the proper tools and professionalism to deal and interact with those affected by unemployment.
State workers who represent and are the face of the government on unemployment issues: when the volume seems too large some days and you get a little impatient, remember — you have a job in these tough times. Try to be more compassionate.
The experiences and empathy I have gained in this process will remain with me and hold me more responsible and accountable for my own actions. While I am thankful that my reserve parachute has deployed, I am looking forward to landing on my feet, on solid ground.
Laura Caille’s 14 years of experience in the HR profession have centered around recruiting, both domestically and internationally, and as an HR generalist, spanning various industries. Before being downsized, she was a senior HR professional at the specialty chemicals company, Rhodia Inc.