Losing job can have emotional impact

Published 10:12 pm Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mike Hewlett has been a union man for four decades. If he hasn’t seen it, it hasn’t happened yet.

So a layoff is hardly anything new for this local union president. That’s why he understands how tough the next month can be for those who don’t have as many years under their belt.

“It is a bad situation, especially during the holidays. It’s worse for most of these kids. Most of them have not gone through it. I’ve gone through it several times. It never gets easy, especially for the young,” Hewlett said.

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That’s why the union is standing there for its members with more than simply economic help. There’s a psychological factor to a layoff. Hewlett has seen that and the union wants to help.

“We’re working with them in every way, to try to work them through it,” he said. “During a layoff, you have to watch for divorces and things like this. There is a lot of pressure on a family.”

The best action for someone going through a job loss, even if it is temporary, is to get a good, solid sounding board, Sallie Schisler, an area licensed drug and alcohol counselor, recommends.

“There is a temptation when things seem hopeless, to try to comfort ourselves with chemicals and substance abuse can be one way that grief and despair are manifested,” she said. “That is ultimately a dead end.”

But the feelings of grief are justified, the counselor says, because the workplace is as valid a way to develop positive relationships as family and church.

“Our workplace is also an extended family,” Schisler said.

There are symptoms an individual can look for that can be signs that psychological challenges are imminent, such as changes in sleeping or eating patterns, even overspending.

“The best thing is to be alert and watchful, not pushing it down and thinking it will get better,” she said. “It is a time for self-care.”

Layoffs are never easy, experts say, but they can be easier to cope with if the workers can get advance notice.

“If everybody has a clear sense that this is going to happen, there is a time period to grieve,” Dr. Rick Wilson said. “If you walk in one day (and are laid off) that’s a shock of not having a job. For men, our identity is tied up in our work. We feel responsible to care for our family. If you look at the future and know something is going to happen, you are able to grieve it in advance. It gives you a time to prepare emotionally and realize that I am going to wake up and not go to work.”

Wilson is the director of employee assistance and the pastoral counseling center at Cabell Huntington Hospital. Cabell’s employee assistance program works with area businesses to provide counseling when a company has a layoff.

Both Wilson and Schisler advise employees to take advantage of any programs their companies offer at this time and to understand it’s natural to feel an extreme emotional turmoil.

“Our work provides our identity,” Schisler said. “It is a huge piece of who we are and it’s learning to understand we are valuable with or without that job.”