With job loss, we lose basic human needs

Job loss can cause us to lose many of the basic needs that contribute to our mental wellbeing. It’s these unexpected losses that contribute to the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty we often experience during unemployment. 

The “career transition” industry, at best, fails to properly acknowledge these challenges. At worst, it actively chooses to prop us up with platitudes and affirmations instead of digging deep and helping us to thrive in a vulnerable situation.

This is part 2 of our series on understanding why we feel the way we do when losing a job. Part 1,talked about the profound impacts of job loss, the lingering effects of unemployment, and introduced us to the secondary benefits we gain from going to work every day. 

Job loss takes away structure, social contact, and purpose

As we discussed last time, going to work provides us with all of the basic needs that humans require for good mental health and wellbeing. It’s the immediate removal and denial of these secondary benefits that make the experience of unemployment particularly difficult. Processing these losses can feel overwhelming, like it’s impossible to get organized and start planning to find a new job.

Let’s look at each element in greater detail to understand how and why we feel the loss of these so greatly.

Structured time

Psychologist Marie Jahoda, suggests our participation in institutions like school and work shape our collective experience of time. As a result, we’ve become accustomed to having our days scheduled and filled with planned activities.

When that structure is taken away, it has the potential to impact our wellbeing.

Collective purpose

People have evolved in tribes and communities, where our purpose was to ensure the collective survival of the group against outside forces. It’s difficult for people to do without that feeling of being needed by or useful to other people. Without this, we begin to feel purposeless and isolated. 

We can seek out these feelings of collective purpose through participation in our non-work communities- where we live, worship, or play. We can also create these feelings of purpose in supporting each other through online communities and peer-to-peer support.

Volunteering is a well-known path to employment, skills development, and most importantly, it rekindles that sense of collective purpose. It’s also a largely untapped resource for job seekers.

Social contact

As many of us have experienced over the last 24 months, being with family can be wonderful.  However, it cannot replace the regular and shared experiences with contacts outside of our immediate family. It’s outside where we gather more and new information about the state of the world, learn about others and their ways of life, and learn to exercise our judgement when faced with various uncertainties of the outside world. Jahoda calls this ‘‘enlarging the social horizon’’.

Social status

Our perception of ourselves is influenced by how others see us within society. It’s a key part of how we construct our identities. While unemployment is a similar experience to being retired or in school, it has a very different impact on our self-concept. For those experiencing unemployment, there is a tendency to define their condition as “not employed”. This overemphasizes a “negative identity” or “non-status”, along with feelings of isolation and stigmatization.

Ongoing activity

The industrial revolution and the information age promised that we would all live a life of leisure. Thankfully, this isn’t the case. Being active, even by earning a living, is better for our mental wellbeing than doing nothing. Experiencing unplanned job loss creates a vacuum of activity that feels like we’re standing still. 

For many, using this opportunity to create lifestyle goals, like starting or maintaining exercise routines, playing sports, or taking online courses, helps rebuild this sense of being active.

Contributing to the discussion of job loss

We want to help the millions of job seekers looking to make sense of their situation while navigating an unfamiliar space. You are not alone in this- it is a common and shared experience. It is a human experience. 

In the past, shame and stigma were attached to unemployment, but here’s a somewhat positive takeaway from the global pandemic: with the increase in unemployment, there has been a decrease in the shame and stigma surrounding it. Now that the world is more open to a conversation on unemployment, we want to be one of the leading voices keeping your head above water.

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