bad-19907_640If you’re out of work for a long time, it’s not necessarily your fault, says Ben Casselman of FiveThirtyEight, a polling aggregator. Casselman says his firm’s work shows that by far, the single biggest predictor of whether people will be out of work for a year or more is the state of the economy at the time they lose their jobs.

In some cases, long-term unemployment can lead to mental health deterioration. Fully 16% of the general population is affected by mental health, and for those in long-term unemployment, the figure is a whopping 34%. But those are just statistics; the long-term unemployed can write volumes about more than just the numbers: they can expound on their denial, anger, frustration, blame of others, fear, confusion, and many more such negative feelings.

Besides the obvious financial reasons basic to survival, people want to go back to work because working helps put order into routine activities, it elevates self-esteem, and it contributes to their view of their status vis-à-vis family, friends, society, and all social contacts. It also provides a time structure and a sense of collective purpose.

The solution starts with self-evaluation

This may sound obvious, but from my experience as a practicing career coach, I can attest to many situations when people are so deeply in shock that they cannot even come to terms with their unemployment at any level of logic, but they simply wallow in self-pity and cover themselves with layers of negative emotions. To assist clients with what should be their very first step after ending a job, I developed a tool called Self-Assessment for Reentering the Job Market.

Why such long-term transition?

When people unexpectedly lose their jobs, in most cases initially they are in shock. It takes a while to regain mental and emotional equilibrium. After that, people fall into one of the three categories.

  • Those who maintain an open mind and are willing to see a wide array of future employment possibilities. They see that they can potentially become independent entrepreneurs, open a business, or do something they always wanted to do but never had a chance to. However, this is admittedly a risky possibility, often requiring significant start-up expenses, and so most people are reluctant to take the plunge, preferring to stay unemployed.
  • Those who say that in the past, they were successful on the job and thus their future will continue being successful, provided an opportunity arises. They are not willing to consider much of a deviation from their past positions. In a bad economy, though, such a waiting game can take a long time to play out, especially when people forget that in the meantime, they have aged and a new generation is replacing them.
  • Last are those who wish to continue in their past profession but are open to making changes by learning new skills and adjusting to the newer requirements of today’s marketplace. For example, a worker whose career has been in information technology (IT) specializing in mainframes now shifts into IT security, an area much in demand nowadays. These are the people who will most likely be able to shorten their periods in transition.