Your husband calls you on the phone, “I’ve just lost my job.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Oh, my God.”
That’s probably in the worst Top Ten conversations you’ll have with your spouse. Probably below the “I’m leaving you for my secretary twenty years your junior,” but certainly above “We can’t afford to put on that new addition you wanted.” I’ve had that conversation twice with my husband. It’s actually not as bad the second time because, sadly, once you lose your job, it’s a possibility that is always lurking on the perimeter of your life.
Once you have the initial conversation, you move into discussing the details; most importantly, what is the severance package? This is extremely important. It will dictate whether you can continue indefinitely with no lifestyle changes or if you go right to stocking up on mac and cheese. After that, you discuss what is the immediate plan, what kind of job will he look for, do we have to move, when do we tell the kids.
My husband and I have found that there are five things we have done that have made the transition into unemployment and back into gainful employment easier. First, we tell our kids immediately that their dad has lost his job. Second, we tell everyone we know what has occurred. Third, we treat the job search as a full-time job. Fourth, we are honest about our feelings while being supportive of each other. There will be lots of ups and downs. Last, we have always viewed temporary unemployment as a gift.
We tell our children why their dad was laid off and what it means for them. For example, we will cut back on spending but they are not to worry about finances. We will have food on the table and a roof over our heads. Their big concern has always been “Will we have to move?” We promise them we’ll do our best to stay where we are but if we do move we’ll all be together and that is most important.
Being laid off is difficult on the children regardless of the age. Even little ones can feel the stress. We have found that being honest about the layoff from the beginning is the best policy. It keeps the lines of communication open.
We also tell everyone we know that my husband is looking for a job. We tell them how they can help us. We ask everyone if they know anyone at the companies my husband is interested in finding a job. We have always found that people want to help. Often times, someone has been through it themselves and they have a pay-it-forward attitude. At some point in time, someone helped them and therefore, they want to help you.
My husband and I continued to go out, entertain modestly and accept all invitations. You must keep yourself out in your community for your own mental health and to keep people thinking about you. This also helps to keep everyone behaving normally and you don’t begin to feel isolated.
The experts will tell you to take some time off, come to terms with the news, decompress. My husband has always jumped right into the job search. We tighten up the finances and announce the news to everyone. Being laid off is nothing to be embarrassed about. One of the best ways to find a new job is to network. People want to help you.
If your severance package includes an office at an outplacement agency, use it! Go everyday at the time you used to go to work. This keeps the job seeker focused on the search and not on household duties. This allows the spouse, for example, a stay at home mom, to continue to run the household in a normal way. Schedule in the kids’ school events and things you might not get to do when employed, but go to your outplacement office each day. Join networking groups, in-transition groups, and alumni groups. Any place that is going to get you networking is a possible job opportunity.
The spouse of the laid off person can aid the situation by being sympathetic, not accusatory. She should try to be upbeat but honest about her fears. She must recognize that looking for a new job is a full time job. The unemployed spouse cannot successfully look for a new job if he is expected to watch children or run errands.
Lastly, temporary unemployment is a gift. The person is being given the gift of time. There is now time to figure out any changes he might like to make. If you’ve always wanted to move, now is the time. Do you want to start your own business? Do you want to make a career change?
Originally Published in The Doings Newspaper in Hinsdale, IL