Sensitivity Training Regarding the Unemployed

April 21, 2009 at 8:49 pm (Housewife Life)

People on FaceBook, and most people in general, have been pretty cool about the fact that my husband just lost his job.  This happened nearly a month ago, was a complete shock, and is nothing short of catastrophic once you consider that he is the sole breadwinner in the family…and it happened despite awesome performance reviews. Some number-cruncher somewhere thought his job would be better done by a non-American, or by someone half our age they wouldn’t have to pay as much to. In any case…our family has been hit pretty doggone hard, and it’s a story that’s becoming more and more common in this country right now.

This post doesn’t deal with the multitude of people who have been cool to us, but with the people who have unwittingly been jerks. This is for the now de-friended guy whose first reaction was, “Well, it’s your own fault because you refuse to leave Pittsburgh…I protected myself, you should have been better at protecting yourself.”  This is for the relatives with the paid-off houses and steady jobs who complained during Easter dinner about needing to change around their investments…never mind that we’ll have to cash our retirement fund out in order to SAVE our house, and even then, it might not work, and then we’ll also have NO retirement. This is for the people who are avoiding us completely now, or not acknowledging the hugeness of this to our lives, or can’t bring themselves to be even the slightest bit positive about anything at all. (Apocalyptic talk and “when will the rapture come, already” talk does NOT help right now…)

It’s a sensitive thing, and people don’t always know how to respond. Here are some tips about what people in our boat NEED from others at times like this.

  1. DON’T complain about your job or your finances, if you still have a job and a house and are less than bankrupt, or if you’re not truly terrified about meeting the basic necessities of life.
  2. DO say something sincere and sympathetic, which acknowledges how large the loss is, and how massive the fear is.  Even an “I’m so sorry” is better than someone who says, “Oh, it can’t be that bad.”
  3. DON’T avoid us. We need to know that people still care about us, not to be treated like lepers. This wasn’t our fault, and even though we understand that seeing it hit someone you know makes your own situation feel more precarious, this is absolutely the wrong time to pretend you don’t know us, if you care about us. Just a call to ask, how are you doing, means a lot.
  4. DO ask if there’s any way you can help. If you say this, it doesn’t mean we’re going to ask you for money, because we’re not. Just offering to get us out of the house, talk to us and check up on us periodically, send us silly internet jokes, keeping your ears open for job leads we might fit…this is the kind of help we’re most likely to ask for, if we ask at all. It’s the offering that counts.
  5. DON’T offer unsolicited advice that’s ridiculously obvious. When I recently told someone I had a job interview, I was asked, “Do you have a nice outfit to wear to the interview? And will you have clean fingernails?” Please. It implies I’m stupid, or a slob…and it ended up being pretty hurtful when I’m sure that wasn’t the intention. Of COURSE we know when and how to apply for unemployment, of COURSE we know to look for jobs every single day. We’ll be sure to ask for what we need in terms of advice!
  6. Take your cues from the jobless person when it comes to gallows humor. My husband and I have been laughing ourselves silly some days, crying on others. Try to test the waters before joking. Most times we’re receptive, but there are days when it could really smart. The process is an emotional rollercoaster, so being sensitive to that helps a lot.
  7. Cut us some slack on the small stuff. We really can’t care as much right now about re-gearing our Warcraft characters, returning school notes on time, sending out photos of the kids to relatives, forgetting to return phonecalls or e-mails that aren’t job-related.  Some things are going to slip when your family is in total upheaval. Solving the job thing, and maintaining mental and emotional health for everyone in our household, is literally our ONLY concern at the moment…and that takes a lot out of us.
  8. Recognize that we have to be careful about our finances right now. Don’t ask us to go in on a group gift, don’t make us feel bad if our kid can only give a $5 bill as a gift at a birthday party.  Don’t ask us to attend something that costs money, and for corn’s sake, if you’re a charity who calls us and asks for money, if we SAY there’s been a job loss…let the matter go without a scripted rebuttal. Realize that if we go through with a birthday party or a vacation, it’s because it was already planned, paid for, and non-refundable.

The unfortunate thing about offering this list is that the people who NEED to see this, likely aren’t the ones who are going to read it. More likely than not, you’re one of the people who has been very encouraging, has laughed with us, has expressed sympathy, has sent us a job lead. And we thank you for that more than can possibly be expressed.

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1 Comment

  1. Family Continues to Decline « HeidiWrites said,

    […] month of being unemployed, though, not for lack of trying. People have been taking to heart our “Sensitivity Training For Dealing With the Unemployed,” and that’s been nice. We are, though, starting to understand why the first thing people tend […]

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