Overcoming the Unemployed 'Stigma'

unemployedBy Michael Froehls, Ph.D., author of "The Gift of Job Loss"

In the movie "The Company Men," several managers get laid-off. One of them is afraid that the neighbors will find out. He dresses up in the morning, and then leaves home in a suit, only to return for dinner as if coming back from work. Apparently, he perceives the social stigma of unemployment to be higher than the many negative consequences of his behavior -- living a double life, missing opportunities within his network, and the inconvenience and inefficiency of scheduling an unproductive day. In short, a behavior that is emotionally destructive, wastes time and does not achieve positive results.

Let's take a closer look at the issue of social stigma. It comes in two parts -- and either one or both might apply to you:

1. Your own perception:

You blame yourself for job loss. Or you feel like a victim. Either way, you are in shock. You might even think that your worth as a human being has declined. You believe there is social stigma attached to your situation without even knowing whether this is the case or not.

2. The perception of others:

People might look down on you. Yes, for someone who has never experienced job loss and doesn't understand today's job market, unemployment is your fault.

The good news is that you can largely overcome both issues. Once you conquer your own fear and act accordingly, you will also raise the probabilities of overcoming any negative perception of others.

How to overcome your own negative perception

1. Understand the facts.

Losing a job is nothing unusual during your 30-40 years of work until retirement. You have to expect it. Your risk of being dismissed is independent of your level of hierarchy, education or skills. Even your performance might not matter. If a merger happens, or a cost cutting program eliminates your unit, your job is history. Bad luck. Don't blame yourself. Move on.

2. Don't view yourself as unemployed.

Don't call yourself "unemployed." View yourself as somebody "between jobs," somebody who is given time in exchange for losing a job. You might not even know at the time of lay-off whether employment, self-employment, or something else is in your future.

3. Use your time strategically.

Don't just apply for jobs and watch TV the rest of the day. Use your time wisely. Perhaps, you would have better job prospects if you were certified in your field? Go for it. Want to check out a different city with better opportunities in your area of expertise? Your time has come. Always postponed becoming fluent in a foreign language? Learn one now. Never had the time to shed unwanted weight? Put in the effort now. The options to use your time to lay the groundwork for your personal and professional future are countless. The benefits could be amazing. By staying active, you are less likely to feel sorry for yourself. You acquire new skills and become a better job candidate. Your energy and emotional well-being will show in the confident way you act in front of others. This includes the HR managers who will be impressed by you.

How to overcome the negative perception of others?

1. It does not matter -- disregard the noise around you.

Who cares what others think? Whether you are unemployed, belong to an ethnic, religious or political minority, or whatever perceived shortcomings you have, there are always people who look down on you. Disregard them. You can't please everybody. And should you come across companies that do not like to hire unemployed applicants, view it as their loss.

2. Change the perception of others through your actions.

Notwithstanding the above, you will be surprised by how you can turn social stigma into admiration, even inspiration. If you use, let's say, a few months of your time between jobs to invest in your job skills, get healthy, help a charity, and enjoy a long-postponed dream vacation with your spouse, you will be surprised at how others now might perceive you as smart and driven. Why? You were strategic and used your time wisely, while others just waited for better things to come. Your positive attitude plus the results achieved will make you a stand-out job candidate.

In sum, don't let perceived or real social stigma of unemployment weigh you down. Your attitude and actions can help you overcome your own negativity and the views of others. Your odds of landing your desired job have just gone up.

Michael Froehls, PhD, is an independent management consultant and former global executive. He is the author of "The Gift of Job Loss." After losing his job during the recession, he used his time strategically by traveling, learning, and spending quality time with family. See www.thegiftofjobloss.com.

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