Monday, May 19, 2008

What To Say To A Jobless Person.

My sister, Jill, sent me an excellent article from the New York Times discussing the conundrum of how to converse with the growing number of people who are being laid off from their jobs. You can read the entire article here, but here's an excerpt:

American companies have shed 240,000 jobs in the first three months of the year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Business-page headlines announce layoffs by the thousands at major American corporations: 2,000 at AOL, 5,000 at Morgan Stanley, 4,000 at Merrill Lynch.

Despite the pervasiveness of the cuts, many people contacted for this article were unwilling to speak for attribution, citing confidentiality agreements or, simply, embarrassment.
In general, middle-aged professionals seem more anxious and demoralized than younger ones; men tend to be more buttoned-up than women.

When Janette La Vigne, an insurance company executive from Clinton Township, N.J., was laid off 10 days ago, she immediately told fellow lacrosse moms. The women were empathetic and bracing, particularly those whose husbands had been through layoffs, said Ms. La Vigne, who had been with the same company for 21 years.

“But the guys are speechless,” she said. “They don’t know how to handle it. Their body language says, ‘Eww, I’m so glad I’m not you right now.’ ”

Those on the sidelines are also uncomfortable, fumbling for a protocol, an etiquette to support their struggling neighbors, while also respecting their dignity. “As this has become more prolonged, friends are pulling away, probably because they think we can’t afford to go out with them,” said the wife of a former executive at a national apparel company, who asked for anonymity because the couple’s friendships have become strained. “They mean well. But I wish they would give us that option.”

Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown, explained the inarticulateness of the well-intentioned. “People feel caught between two conflicting concerns,” said Dr. Tannen, the author of “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation.” “You’re caught between the need to show you care and the fear of offending because you’re reminding them of something painful.”

I have to say that I was never embarrassed about losing my job. I told my wife on day one that I did nothing wrong, and that frankly, my bosses were more embarrassed about letting me go after 25 years than I was for being out of work. It's pretty clear from the tone of my blog that I have no problem discussing what happened.

That doesn't mean I WANT to discuss it with everyone. Last week, when I arrived at my son's daycare center to get him after school ( yes, we still have him in aftercare - it's a lifestyle choice to accomodate Spencer , and no, jobless people don't just go broke in a day!), one of my neighbors saw me and called out, "How's the job search going?"... This is in a parking lot with people walking by. "You know, I know a lot of people in my business... Maybe one of them can help you get a job!" I know the guy was just trying to be helpful, but I barely know the man. I have no idea how he even knew I am unemployed. I certainly didn't need him broadcasting my situation to the world, and I CERTAINLY didn't feel obligated to discuss it with him!

I have found that people DO want to be helpful, but by and large they have no idea HOW. The best advice I can give you to help me is to be DISCREET and CONCRETE. I greatly appreciate everyone's good thoughts and wishes, and I greatly appreciate any and all job tips. But please don't shout out your thoughts across a parking lot, and PLEASE don't ask me to call a friend of a friend who's not in the radio business about a job that may or may not exist.

When you lose your job, I'll be happy to do the same for you!

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