July 10, 2012
Finding work is a family affair
"Matt, I hate to admit it, but I'm having a problem on the home front. I've been searching for a job for a number of months now, and my wife won't get off my back. She constantly tells me I'm not searching hard enough or that I'm being too picky about the types of jobs I'd consider. What should I tell her? I don't think she understands how tight things are out there."
Among all of the factors that might lead job seekers to be more vs. less successful in their efforts to find work, support from one's family can play a significant role. While rarely talked about in the open, I've had many job hunters discuss this issue with me behind closed doors or send me email messages like the one above, asking for my advice on how to handle the family drama that is often created when key breadwinners suddenly find themselves out of a job.
In some cases, I've seen families step up and be downright heroic in addressing the issue. Many spouses, for example, provide invaluable moral support or help out on the networking front by spreading the word about their partner's availability to their colleagues, neighbors and social peers.
In another inspiring instance, a client of mine said his whole family huddles every Sunday night to strategize and pitch in around the mission of "helping Dad find a new job."
The situation can take a nasty turn in the other direction, however. In several coaching sessions I've held with married couples present, I've seen spouses continuously belittle their unemployed husband or wife, accusing them of laziness, apathy or just plain screwing things up at their last assignment in a way that cost them their job.
I even had one person get divorced during his job-search process and ask me to serve as an expert witness who could attest that it was reasonably "normal" not to be able to find a new job within three months. Apparently, his wife had accused him of sabotaging his job search to try to get out of making support payments. (I wriggled out of that one, thankfully.)
At the end of the day, of course, most situations fall somewhere between these extremes. While I suspect that most people are fairly supportive of their out-of-work family members, the stress of prolonged unemployment can definitely lead to moments of tension.
Such situations are ripe for miscommunication as individuals manifest their underlying stress in different ways. Some will worry about the financial challenges and whether the bills will get paid. Others will stress about the stigma and how a family member's unemployment will look to the neighbors, or their parents, or to members of their church. And sometimes, as crazy as it sounds, tempers flare simply because the family routine is disrupted and the members of the household suddenly find themselves spending a lot more time together than usual.
So how can a husband, wife and/or family manage this dynamic more effectively?
Like so many things in life, the key is regular communication. Many conflicts of this kind are exacerbated by the failure to talk openly and share information about the issue. The husband or wife might be out job-hunting their keister off all day, but then fail to relay this information to their spouse. For all that person knows, their significant other spent the day walking aimlessly in the park, surfing the web at the coffee shop or hanging out at the corner bar.
As a result, the spouse might ask an innocuous question like, "Any new leads today, dear?" To a frustrated job hunter, this can sound like, "You need to report to me" or "I don't trust you" or "I don't think you're trying hard enough."
My advice: Talk. Share. Laugh together. Worry together. Openly discuss the challenge at hand, and make sure everybody knows the game plan and pitches in somehow to help the family be successful. This might involve sharing some of the job-hunting tasks (e.g., conducting research, networking with friends) or finding creative ways to cut costs until the missing income stream can be restored.
If you're the job hunter in question, make sure you constantly communicate with your family about the activities you're engaging in and the approaches you're following to create leads.
If you can find a way to circle the wagons and tackle this scary, uncertain time together as a cohesive family unit, it's going to be a lot easier than going it alone.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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