The Laid-Off Life: Being The Change You Wish To See

Nancy Anderson
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"Unhappiness is best defined as the difference between our talents and our expectations."Edward de Bono
I have a friend (yes, I know, insert-joke-here). Let’s call her 'Betty'. Betty is not like us. Betty has a job. A good job. A good job in a fairly interesting industry where she doesn’t have to weld widgets or scoop up horse poop. She gets a paycheck every two weeks, not enough to make her rich, but she’s doing okay, thankyouverymuch. She has nice benefits and nice coworkers and a nice office. Betty’s job is awesome.

Except she hates it.

"I haven't been happy here for some time," Betty told me. "Aside from organizational issues, I feel that I'm not using all of my skills, have become detached from my industry, and can't [do work] that meets my standards. And mentally, it's bringing me down. I don't want to compromise my work ethic b/c I am so unhappy. I know I should be grateful to even have a job, but what good is a job that doesn't get the job done?"
In a nutshell, there’s the issue. In this most-trying of economic and employment times, we are trained to believe – no, we inherently believe – that the simple fact of having a job when others don’t should make us happy. "It could be worse", we tell ourselves. "At least I have a job. Who am I to complain?" I would imagine that every employed person in America knows at least one, and most likely several, people that are unemployed. Family, friends, until-recently-co-workers. They most likely have been avoiding an axe themselves, and may not even know it. And they probably have been privy to a conversation that goes something like this:
Employed person: "I hate my job."
Unemployed person: "At least you have a job, so stop complaining."
But the simple truth, as the truth often is, is that no, you shouldn’t be just happy having a job, even in the times in which we live, if that job is making you miserable. Now, I’m not condoning walking in to your boss’ office, handing in your resignation letter and telling him off (though that may make you feel a-whole-lot better). You’re going to need things like health insurance and retirement contributions and, you know, money for rent-and-groceries. And telling boss-man "You suck" probably won’t get you okayed for unemployment compensation. So, keep your job, but start looking for a new one. Immediately, if not sooner. Don’t be content, don’t be satisfied, don’t be miserable. There is no rule that says you can’t look for a new job if you already have a current one.

I’m not gonna lie, it won’t be easy. Just look at your friends who are unemployed; the job market sucks, jobs openings are still sparse, and the near future isn’t looking rosy quite yet. And you, currently-employed-person, will have your own special limitations:

Time is the big one. Working a full-time 9-5 job (anyone work those hours anymore? What would they call that movie nowadays?) is a hindrance to full-time job hunting. You work an 8-, 9-, 10-hour day at the office, and then expect to spend another 2-to-3 hours a night searching for a new job. And if you do get an interview, a) good for you!, and b) that’s gonna be some long lunch hour to get to an interview, partake, and get back to the office. How many times are you going to get away with that one? Time management better be top of your 'positive job qualities' list.

Secondly, you best also be a very stealthy, private person because the last person you want to find out that you’re job hunting is your current boss. Good luck explaining that one. I don’t have a lot of tips for that except be really freaking careful. Stay away from blind-box job listings that don’t tell you the name of the company. You’d be amazed how often the job turns out to be at your current company, or worse, turns out to be your job. Leave anyone at your office off your recommendations and references lists. Sounds like a no-brainer, but that’s the easiest way to get found out. Don't search for jobs while you're at work; you never know who's looking over your virtual shoulder. Make sure, if asked, you indicate that it is not ok to contact your current employer. And in your social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs – do not (NOT!) mention your job hunt and be careful with whom you discuss it: you never know who’s talking to whom.

And your primary stumbling block may actually be a potential employer. No matter why you’re looking for new work, no matter how horrible your current job is, no matter how dire your straits, a potential new boss may have a preconceived idea about you: you aren’t loyal. If he can leave that company in a lerch, he can do the same thing here. There’s a lot of time and money to be made and spent in hiring a new employee, and they want to know you’re around for the long haul. That’s a first impression you’re just going to have to accept. But this is the real world, and a potential employer will hopefully know that. People get tired, people get unhappy, people get disillusioned, people want more money and better opportunities, and a good boss will understand. Just be wary of the question you will most certainly get asked: “Why do you want to leave your current position?” Be joyous, don't be a jackass. No potential employer wants to hear you bash your current one. Speak well of your company, and your job. Say you just need a change, say you are looking for a better opportunity to move up, say you couldn’t pass up a chance to work at Wayne Enterprises or Mom’s Friendly Robot Company. Tell them you’re a better fit with them, but do not indicate you dislike, much less hate, your current job.

So, back to our friend Betty. Betty has a friend, let’s call her 'Veronica'. Veronica worked with Betty and had the same problems with the company that Betty did. And Veronica got out, got a better job elsewhere and is much happier. Betty and Veronica aren’t whiny and ungrateful. When employees aren’t happy, it’s usually something that permeates an entire office, at least on the rank-and-file level. There is rarely just one miserable employee. When it pervades a significant segment of the proletariat, the blame often falls upon the company, the supervisors, and the big boss. And it is a plague in this country: employers completely out-of-touch with the collective mood of the employees. And if they don’t know, nothing will change.

If I asked Betty and Veronica’s bosses, I would bet drachmas-to-doughnuts that they wouldn’t have a clue that their people were disgruntled. So why the disconnect? Happy workers produce more and this reflects well on their manager; unhappy workers make for low productivity and this reflects badly on the manager. This would lead you to believe managers want happy employees, right? You’d think it would be easy to tell if an employee was happy. So managers, tell me this... Do your charges look happy? Are they smiling? Are they happily absorbed in their work, sitting up straight, or are they hanging all over their desks? When they speak in meetings, are they animated or indolent? Do they welcome a challenge or shy away? Are workers unwilling to undertake new or difficult tasks? When telling them about things that are going on in the company, are they interested? Does everyone stop talking when you enter the room? Perhaps you are the problem.

Raises, bonuses, vacation days, 401(k)’s, and other incentive programs have been slashed, and employees with additional workloads for no increase in pay are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their current position, or just plain burnt out. And a manager may be so engulfed in crunching numbers or writing TPS reports or trying to keep their own job, they may not have a clue about the overwhelming gloom. Bad management can make a good employee dysfunctional. So why then don’t they see it? I would venture to say that it’s a combination of a boss whose eyes are closed to the problem and employees afraid to speak up about it in fear of losing their job.

So, maybe you are like Betty and Veronica. You’re underpaid and/or overworked. You’re no longer using your skills to the best of your ability. Your boss is an unreasonable taskmaster, or worse, absent. Your company discourages change and is happy with 'how we've always done it'. Co-workers are promoted over you. Office politics are making you not want to get out of bed in the morning. Your job is ill-defined. Your industry is passing you by. You just don’t fit anymore. You’ve outgrown your position. Promises are not being kept. You live in fear of your boss. You go home every night and cry into your pillow, complain to your cat how much you hate your job, and consider every day just not showing up for work.

My advice to Betty, and to you: If your job is making you miserable, don’t stay. Don’t worry about parochial guilt about being happy with what you have because others have it worse. Don’t be satisfied with the less-green grass. Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. workforce is underemployed; stop being a statistic. Start looking for that new, better position rightnow. Because if you don’t search, you will not find. And you will have made your bed, slept in it, and made it again. Every day. Workplace suicides are up nearly 30 percent since the downturn began. Workplace depression is an epidemic in this country today, and it’s a disease you can cure yourself. The cure? Get out. Get down off the horse and join us here in the poop. We’re here to help. Start slow, start smart, but for chrissakes start.

And the last thing you ever want to tell yourself is, "Wow, why didn’t I do this sooner?"

Michael Hochman
? Laid-Off Life on Twitter ? Laid-Off Life on Facebook

Michael is a Copywriter, Creative Marketer, and Broadcasting Professional still in search of full-time employment after 12 months of full-time job hunting, thanks to an "involuntary career sabbatical". A Philly native and Syracuse graduate, Michael will gladly accept any job offer you may have for him. Any. Really. Please give me a job??

"Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called everybody, and they meet at the bar." - Drew Carey

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