In the past 6 months as a coach I have seen individuals transition from grief, shock, panic and despair, through adaptation and acceptance, but increasingly (in the last weeks only) to the slight beginnings of optimism, even from those who had to deal with the out- of- the- blue shock of losing their jobs. This is not to detract from the reality of everyone's situations. I am absolutely not doing that. Pensions and property values have been slashed the world over, bills still have to be paid and life savings are dwindling wherever you live. Out of work young adults are returning to the family home, with other unforeseen consequences, plus a myriad of other things too numerous to mention
What I am saying is despite all of these clearly negative experiences, it is amazing to observe a shift in response. People still claim, somewhat surprisingly, to see an unexpected "silver lining" in their circumstances.
I talked to an HR Director in the hospitality sector last week and he maintains that the response to his company's offer for employees to voluntarily reduce hours or take extended vacations has been very positive. "Employees seem to be jumping at the chance, even to take an unpaid sabbatical." he stated.
I wondered if my observations were regional. To test the water I put a mini-poll out on LinkedIn and found that the international responses did actually coincide with my own personal and local experiences. Yes, there was residual anger and unease about the future, but for most people there had been some very positive outcomes. Those that have opted to take reduced hours or were forced out of the job market, have now found that once they cut their cloth to match their new, reduced budget, they are enjoying a slower paced life.
So what are the overall benefits can individuals see in this dark cloud?
- people have more time and energy to spend and share with their families and partners or nurture other close relationships
- people enjoy waking up in their own homes and eating proper meals
- some are travelling - perhaps on a budget, but getting to see new places now they have time
- others are studying, renewing old qualifications or learning new skills
- some are volunteering
- almost all said they were focusing on their health dealing with weight or exercise issues
- many said they are taking up the hobbies they had always wanted to, or picking up old ones
- others are enjoying the extended vacations or sabbaticals - they had simply never been able to take the time out of the office or workplace before
- some are working from home or looking into new business ventures
- many said they hadn't been happy in their jobs anyway
Paul, a Customer Service Manager from Minnesota had his working week reduced to 4 days in January wrote " I initially panicked, wondering how we would survive financially. But then I realised I had been working 50 hour weeks, maybe more for years. With a 32 hour week ironically my hourly rate is probably higher than it has been for a long time! "Christophe, was laid off in the chemical sector in Belgium earlier this year and as a gifted linguist is using his period of unemployment to add to his skill set by learning Dutch. He is also supervising the remodelling of his house himself, something he really enjoys, but would have previously outsourced to an architect simply through of lack of time. The upside of Michael's period out of full time employment is feeling fitter, healthier and weighing in 14 pounds lighter! He is spending time with his wife and kids, as well as playing some golf. With a long career in the IT sector he is working from home as a consultant and looking at joint ventures and start ups.
Shawna from Oregon describes herself as recovering workaholic. " For me, being laid off meant the opportunity to not be in an airplane all the time, the chance to work on home improvement projects that were too big to do when I had a full time job. .... "She explains how she wanted to get beyond the pain points " I typically chose to feel that since I don't want to regret the things that happened, I can always use the events to learn from and get stronger. That doesn't make the event positive or negative - it just means I re-tell the event as a positive so that I can work with it, instead of against it."Marina from San Francisco added "If I had not been laid off recently I would have missed out on some wonderful and necessary things. "
Will this feeling of enjoying the moment last? I have no idea. One discussion the recession has generated is the perennial chestnut of work/life balance. I think we have all been profoundly changed by what has gone on around us - hopefully for the better. It will be interesting to see if when economies do pick up, whether we will have learned any useful lessons, or we will all drift seamlessly back to our old ways.
It seems that a year ago, we might have had more money in our pockets but perhaps we were less well off in other ways. Somehow, are we seeing that now?