From empathy and understanding, to paying it forward.

By Stephanie Rosch

In June 2016, my world was turned upside down when I was laid off because the organization I was working for had a major deficit and lack of funding. I was the last one to be hired; therefore, the first one to go. It caught be by surprise and I was devastated. They day it happened, I went home sobbing and unsure of what to do next.

My initial thoughts when I found myself jobless were that I was going to lose my house and my livelihood. It was a tough time for my family as my husband was also unemployed, having been laid off 10 months earlier. With a mortgage to pay and no source of income, I knew my husband and I were in trouble.

This was not the first time my husband and I had experienced a disruptive life event. Between 2009 and 2015, my husband had been laid off four times, and I was laid off once due to multiple downturns in the economy.

In the days following, the initial emotions of panic and devastation were replaced with feelings of fear and disappointment. Sheryl Sandberg in her book Option B – Facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy wrote, “Not only does loss of income put people under tremendous financial pressure, it can also bring about secondary losses by triggering depression, anxiety and other health problems. Losing a job is a blow to the self-esteem and self-worth and can rip away identities.” It’s important for employers to know this and to consider offering outplacement services to laid off employees that offer coaching and support to help navigate the career transition process. A number of companies in Calgary offer outplacement services including Wendy Ellen Inc., Cenera, and Toombs Inc.

I wondered how many other people in Calgary were experiencing the exact same feelings and facing similar challenges. In a news article published in August 2016, it stated Alberta had lost 49,000 jobs compared to July 2015[1]. Calgary’s unemployment rate rose to 8.6 per cent[2]. It was difficult to imagine that I was among the close to 50,000 Calgarians looking for a job.

Where does one start when faced with such adversity? When I was unemployed once before, I was afraid to let even family members know about my situation. This time I was determined to accept all the help I could get. First, I turned to my family and friends. I was met with shock, empathy and understanding. The support I received was comforting and I felt less vulnerable.

Secondly, I reached out to my financial planner, Barbara. Barbara works as a Senior Financial Advisor at a major bank who had helped us over the years with our mortgage renewals. When we sat down with her, she said we were among dozens of couples she had seen who either had one or both spouses experience a layoff. Foreclosures and seizure of assets were becoming commonplace.

It was valuable to sit with Barbara and explore options on how to manage the situation. Since we were in good standing with our credit rating, she suggested that we apply to put our mortgage payments on hold for three-months. Barbara said, “Fill out a little paperwork and take a break from payments with no penalties.” It was a short-term solution to manage our cash flow (or lack thereof). Barbara encouraged us to view our situation as a temporary situation, and still plan for the future. I left the bank that afternoon feeling a little better.

There was little time for reflection and healing, I had to be emotionally ready to secure a new job. I wasn’t sure if my next opportunity would come from a referral or through the random application to a job online.

Another resource that helped me was a book that a friend had lent me called, It’s Your Move 4th Edition: A Guide to Career Transition and Job by Marge Watters. The words, “You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust the sails,” popped off the pages for me. The author acknowledged the challenges that come with unexpected job loss. Stress related to job loss can be debilitating. What I found useful was the step-by-step instructions in how to get started, how to write a resume, and how to prepare for an interview.

My plan to reconnect with as many people in my network and follow up on every referral I received kept me busy. Luckily after a few months, I was successful in finding a role at Vibrant Communities Calgary (VCC) as a Communications and Engagement Specialist. I started one day before the launch of the Enough for All public awareness campaign. It was an exciting time to be thrown into a community of emotionally engaged people working hard to reduce poverty in Calgary.

Around the same time I started at VCC, my husband was successful in finding full-time employment. Since then, I’ve come across many friends who have lost their jobs. One way that I have “Pay it Forward” is by helping them with their job search. I set up regular meetings to talk about their job search. With my background in Human Resources Management, I assisted them with resume writing, and building their networks. With the hope of making a difference I remained to be positive for them, even when they did not want to be positive.

For those reading this article, thinking about a career change or looking for a job, here’s an interesting website that can help: https://alis.alberta.ca/look-for-work/. In addition, the Calgary Public Library often offers a free Resume Development Course, for Calgary Public Library cardholders. (Membership cards are free if you are a resident of Calgary.)

Looking back, it’s hard to believe it’s been almost 11 months since that first day on the job and I’m only weeks away from my one-year work anniversary. Thank you to my colleagues who challenge and support me every day!

 

Stephanie Rosch is a Communications and Engagement Specialist at Vibrant Communities Calgary. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

[1] http://globalnews.ca/news/2867455/alberta-unemployment-rate-now-higher-than-nova-scotias/

[2] http://globalnews.ca/news/3581891/calgarys-unemployment-rate-the-highest-in-canada-for-a-year/

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