Sunday, September 27, 2009

Planning for, and Recovering from, Unemployment

In this presentation my intent is to give a brief description of an individual who has handled a lay off in a very proactive and productive fashion. I realize there are several fortunate and uncommon factors in this situation. Moreover I realize being laid off in these troubled times is often a very frightening, demeaning and sometimes immobilizing experience. In the current HR and corporate view of employee’s as human capital, or even wall street’s view of layoffs as being lagging indicators or cost controls that positively impact stock performance, there is a very dehumanizing, unsympathetic view, of the layoff victim. This is particularly devastating experience for IT individuals over 40 or 50 where there chance of finding a position comparable to the one they lost is dubious at best.

However, there are several qualities that can lessen the impact of a job loss in these troubled times. They include: devising a pragmatic lay off contingency plan; having, or developing, a proactive and positive approach; trying not to take the layoff as a personal statement of your incompetency or inadequacy; and finally trying to be patient and not panic no matter what other people or the media may say about your job possibilities. Also too much pride and inflexibility can also impair chances of being re-employed. In this presentation I will give an example of a situation that epitomizes many of these qualities and discusses how they worked to assist a friend in his successful effort to be re-employed.

“I went to see my old friend Raymond last weekend. Raymond was an exceptionally accomplished data base architect with over 25 years in the IT field, all at a large financial service company. As is often the case in the dismal days of the job market he was, Raymond was caught in a layoff. This was probably due to his relatively high salary, his age and comprehensive benefits, including fully paid medical benefits, a vested pension (a real rarity these days for an IT person), and a generous 401k match. However, Raymond has absolutely no debt, his wife has a very good job, and he has never lived beyond his means. More impressively, Raymond had mentally and financially prepared for his job loss. He did not display any anger, shame, remorse, denial or depression related to his former employer that could have impacted his re-employment efforts.

Raymond had been checking out other career possibilities for a person in his 50’s that could utilize his strong IT background. Within 2 weeks of being let go by his former employers he began a certificate program in medical computer coding. He did not sign up for unemployment because he is a full time student and because of his savings, his wife’s employment and his frugal life style he didn’t need it. Now, after three months of training he has several good job prospects as a medical coder. He may only make slightly more than half that he did at his former employer; but because of his somewhat frugal spending habits, his pension and his family’s ability to live on one income at least temporarily, his life style will only be effected by his life style.”

By closely scrutinizing Raymond’s situation, it is obvious that he made a realistic assessment of the possibility of being laid off, and developed a solid contingency plan. A key element of his plan included exploring optional career avenues where he may transfer the analytic, procedural, mathematical and other IT related skills that served him well in his previous career. His research, led to two new career possibilities: accounting and medical coding. On further research when he felt his lay off was imminent, he made a pragmatic decision to go towards the medical coding because the training was much quicker and opportunities were more plentiful. Also, due to his sense of self reliance and fortuitous financial situation, he did not, like most people who got laid off in this period, have to quickly apply for unemployment due to lack of savings and other pressing financial factors. Consequently, he was not subject to the scrutiny of the government and his receiving benefits might perhaps have been unethical or disruptive given his schooling. In other words, he did not allow his job loss effect his sense of self worth, which unemployment sometimes subtly does, or compromise his ethics or career change plans.

So why was Raymond able to be so strategic and cool under the pressure and stress of losing his long held position? Unlike many people who were intoxicated by the leveraged wealth and supposed unlimited growth of the previous ten tears, Raymond didn’t live on credit and saved a reasonable portion of his salary. So when the Wall Street and Bush, and to a lesser extent Clinton, Administration induced real estate and equity bubble’s burst, Raymond had already converted his 401k investments out of the stock market and into cash. Moreover, he and his wife, who had a great rental living arrangement, never jumped in to the then seemingly endless skyrocketing real estate market. Simply said, Raymond lived well within his means and thus was not seriously affected financially by the mortgage and financial service meltdown. Consequently, when he lost his job, which was a result of this meltdown, he was prepared psychologically and financially. Moreover, he never felt shocked and victimized like so many Americans who faced the prospect of a very uncertain diminished future. Furthermore, with strategic and realistic financial and career planning many people may still live comfortably, and perhaps more meaningful lives. However unlike the proactive and patient Raymond, and many prudent people like him, it may be a long and rocky ride to renewed financial and career stability for many American who have faced job loss in these turbulent times

In conclusion, and for future consideration, Raymond’s case of successively handling his lay off displays how to not experience many qualities and actions that can diminish the adverse effect of this often traumatizing situation. It was definitely not my intention to criticize or add “insult to injury” for the high percentage of laid off people who had not evolved a comprehensive plan to deal with sometimes inevitable negative consequences of being laid off. As I initially stated, planning, proactivity, a positive attitude, patience, and not living beyond his means all contributed to Raymond’s ability to successfully cushion and steer clear of most of the very painful effects of job loss. This doesn’t mean that Raymond didn’t experience some of the anxiety and uncertainty of being laid off, particularly that of people over 40 in the progressively outsourced field of information technology. However, understandable blame or a sense of victimization does not help these people in their efforts to withstand unemployment or the challenging effort to become re-employed. Nevertheless, our culture, and particularly the cultures of much of corporate America and Wall Street, often have a very short term perspective in their strategic planning and utilization of “human capital.” This is often dictated by the quarter to quarter demands of their investors and their sometimes greedy expectations of quick and large return on their investments. Finally, if this quick return and “trickle down” mindset is not changed to resemble the more long term perspective of most of the mature and emerging economies, particularly that of China, then the repeat of this nearly cataclysmic financial meltdown, and related job loss, is almost predestined to reoccur.