Wednesday, July 31 2013
Unemployed and Older, and Facing a Jobless Future
John Moore/Getty Images
Applicants waiting to meet prospective employers at a job fair in New York City. Those over 50 who lose their jobs confront the possibility of never working again.
By ALINA TUGEND Published: July 26, 2013 232 Comments
I WAS recently talking to a friend at a party whose husband — in his 60s — has been unemployed for more than two years. While there are many challenges, she said, one of the hardest things is trying to balance hope with reality.
She wonders how to support him in his continued quest to find a job in his field of marketing and financial services while at the same time encouraging him to think about what his life would be like if he never worked in that field or had a full-time job again.
“I wanted to move to what I thought was a healthier place. I wanted to turn the page,” said my friend, who asked to be identified by her middle name, Shelley, since she didn’t want to publicize her family’s situation. “He saw it as vote of no confidence.”
For those over 50 and unemployed, the statistics are grim. While unemployment rates for Americans nearing retirement are lower than for young people who are recently out of school, once out of a job, older workers have a much harder time finding work. Over the last year, according to the Labor Department, the average duration of unemployment for older people was 53 weeks, compared with 19 weeks for teenagers.
There are numerous reasons — older workers have been hit both by the recession and globalization. They’re more likely to have been laid off from industries that are downsizing, and since their salaries tend to be higher than those of younger workers, they’re attractive targets if layoffs are needed.
Even as they do all the things they’re told to do — network, improve those computer skills, find a new passion and turn it into a job — many struggle with the question of whether their working life as they once knew it is essentially over.
This is something professionals who work with and research the older unemployed say needs to be addressed better than it is now. Helping people figure out how to cope with a future that may not include work, while at the same time encouraging them in their job searches, is a difficult balance, said Nadya Fouad, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Psychologists and others who counsel this cohort need to help them face the grief of losing a job, and also to understand that jobs and job-hunting are far different now from how they used to be.
“The contract used to be, ‘I am a loyal employee and you are a loyal employer. I promise to work for you my entire career and you train, promote, give benefits and a pension when I retire.’ Now you can’t count on any of that,” she said. “The onus is all on the employee to have a portfolio of skills that can be transferable.”
People in their 20s and 30s know that they need to market themselves and always be on the lookout for better opportunities, she said, something that may seem foreign to those in their 50s and 60s.
If a counselor or psychologist “doesn’t understand how the world of work has changed, they’re not helping at all,” she said. “You can’t just talk about how it feels.”
In response to this concern, Professor Fouad and her colleagues have drawn up guidelines for the American Psychological Association to help psychotherapists better assist their clients with workplace issues and unemployment. It is wending its way through the association’s committees.
Of course, not everyone who is unemployed and over 50 is equal. For some, the reality is that they need to find another job — any job — to survive. Others have resources that can allow them to spend more time looking for a job that might have the salary or status of their former position.
In the first case, Professor Fouad said, “You need to decide what is the minimum amount of money you can make and how to go about finding it.” In the second case, she said, it’s necessary to examine what work means to you and how that may have to change.
Is it the high social status? The identity? The relationship with co-workers? It is important to examine these areas, perhaps with the help of a professional counselor, Professor Fouad said, to discover how to find such meaning or relationships in other areas of life.
Sometimes simply changing the way you look at your situation can help. My friend Shelley’s husband, Neal, who also asked that I use his middle name, said the best advice he received from a friend was “don’t tell people you’re unemployed. Tell them you’re semiretired. It changed my self-identity. I still look for jobs, but I feel better about myself.”
He also has friends facing the same issues, who understand his situation. Such support groups, whether formal or informal, are very helpful, said Jane Goodman, past president of the American Counseling Association and professor emerita of counseling at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.
“Legitimizing the fact that this stinks also helps,” she said. “I find that when I say this, clients are so relieved. They thought I was going to say, ‘buck up.’ ”
And even more, “they should know the problem is not with them but with a system that has treated them like a commodity that can be discarded,” said David L. Blustein, a professor of counseling, developmental and educational psychology at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, who works with the older unemployed in suburb of Boston. “I try to help clients get in touch with their anger about that. They shouldn’t blame themselves.”
Which, of course, is easy to say and hard to do.
“I know not to take it personally,” Neal said, “but sure, I wonder at times, what’s wrong with me? Is there something I should be doing differently?”
It is too easy to sink into endless rumination, to wonder if he is somehow standing in his own way, like a cancer patient who is told that her attitude is her problem, he said.
Susan Sipprelle, producer of the Web site overfiftyandoutofwork.com and the documentary “Set for Life” about the older jobless, said she stopped posting articles like “Five Easy Steps to get a New Job.”
“People are so frustrated,” she said. “They don’t want to hear, ‘Get a new wardrobe, get on LinkedIn.’ ”
As one commenter on the Facebook page for Over Fifty and Out of Work said, “I’ve been told to redo my résumé twice now. The first ‘expert’ tells me to do it one way, the next ‘expert’ tells me to put it back the way I had it.”
Some do land a coveted position in their old fields or turn a hobby into a business. Neal, although he believes he’ll never make as much money as in the past, recently has reason to be optimistic about some consulting jobs.
But the reality is that the problem of the older unemployed “was acute during the Great Recession, and is now chronic,” Ms. Sipprelle said. “People’s lives have been upended by the great forces of history in a way that’s never happened before, and there’s no other example for older workers to look at. Some can’t recoup, though not through their own fault. They’re the wrong age at the wrong time. It’s cold comfort, but better than suggesting that if you just dye your hair, you’ll get that job.”
Readers’ Comments: Is there a moment when people over 50 who don't have jobs should give up looking, accept their fate and find other ways to make life meaningful?
Wednesday, July 31 2013
Reinvented in His 60s, After 26 Jobless Months
Rob Bennett for The New York Times
Baby boomers who lose jobs still have to look much longer than younger workers to find employment. It took 26 months for Michael Blattman, shown here in 2009, to find another job. But now, he says, he has realized a longtime dream.
Published: July 29, 2013 298 Comments
When I last wrote about Michael Blattman, it was August 2009, he was 58 years old, and had been unemployed for 18 months. Like a lot of baby boomers during the Great Recession, he had worked his whole adult life and could not believe this was happening to him.
“Since I was a little kid I wanted to be a professor in Europe,” said Mr. Blattman, who is doing just that in Germany. Here he is in front of a clock shop in Wiesbaden.
From 2001 to 2008 he was vice president of a student loan company making about $150,000 a year and also taught a few business courses at the University of Maryland. He had an M.B.A., had been previously employed by the Federal Reserve and G.A.O.; and executives in his field said he was well regarded and quite good at what he did.
The loan company gave him a $188,000 severance package, so he felt he would be fine financially. “I’d thought I’d find another job quickly and actually wind up ahead,” he said then.
Not hardly. By the time I wrote about him, he’d sent out 600 résumés and had just three interviews — two by phone. It was not until March 2010, 26 months after being let go, that he finally got a job (at $75,000 a year, half his former salary) working for Merrill Lynch as a financial adviser. “I did well by focusing on people in my position who needed to preserve what was left of their savings,” he said in an interview last week. “I’d been in their shoes.”
What Mr. Blattman went through during the economic collapse was more extreme than the typical boomer who lost a job, but not that much more.
The unemployment rate is lower for people in their 50s and 60s than younger workers, but once they lose a job it takes them a lot longer to find one. And even with the improvement in the economy, there has been little change since the worst of the recession.
The average unemployed 55- to 64-year-old who got a job last month had been out of work for more than 11 months, versus 6 months for the average 20- to 24-year-old.
In June of 2007, when the economy was still humming along, the gap was smaller: 5 months of job searching for the 55 to 64 year olds and 3 months for the 20-24-year-olds.
At the worst of the economic downturn, it took an average of 13 months for a 55- to 64-year-old to find work, versus 7 months for a 20- to 24-year-old and 9 months for those 25 to 34. “Basically, the older you are, the longer it takes,” said Steven Hipple, a Bureau of Labor Statistics economist who provided the data.
After I wrote about Mr. Blattman, he was featured on an NBC special about boomers facing hard times, which was anchored by Tom Brokaw. About a month and a half later, he got the job offer from Merrill Lynch.
He stayed there about a year, and then had an offer for a full-time position with the University of Maryland, which has programs at military installations all over the world. He now teaches business courses at the Army base in Wiesbaden, Germany. “It’s my dream job,” he said. “Since I was a little kid I wanted to be a professor in Europe.” He won’t say how much he earns but says it’s five figures and “considerably less” than his position with the student loan company paid.
When the economy was healthy, he hadn’t been hesitant about changing jobs. But this time, he said, he was losing sleep over telling Merrill Lynch. “I’d been out of work so long, I was very, very grateful that they’d hired me.”
Mr. Blattman, who is divorced, said he has made a good group of friends in Germany and loves teaching soldiers. “They’re so motivated and so appreciative about being able to take college courses on the base.”
When I interviewed him in 2009 about life without work, he was filling his time writing two novels, one a thriller about a consumer loan officer, the other a romance between a 58-year-old unemployed man and a waitress who was a Holocaust survivor. (As they say in the novel business, write what you know.)
He told me that he gave the second book a happy ending because despite what he’d been through, he’d always been a big believer in happy endings.
Though he hasn’t been able to sell the novels, and his savings will never be what they were, he considers himself lucky. “I’m having a happy ending as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I feel useful again.”
Friday, July 26 2013
Small business: SMEs hiring staff By Gill South , New Zealand Herald Tuesday Jul 23, 2013 Shona Grundy, CEO and co-founder of Trigger Happy This week's columns describe the scary but exciting task of bringing on board new people for your business often at a time when you have no HR experience whatsoever and their contribution is crucial. You have big dreams for them as you have for your business. Their skills and ideas are going to add to what you have created and you hope they will fall in love with your brainchild as much as you have. One of the recurring pieces of advice from this week's businesses is to take your time and choose carefully. Don't hire in a knee jerk fashion because mistakes are expensive and can even bring a new company down. We hear from the experienced businessman Brett Wells, a director of the music business, Rockshop who has been through 26 years of hiring employees. His key criterion is his staff must be musicians. It's a non-negotiable. For the start-up, Trigger Happy, about to launch its exciting new platform for iPAd, TOON HERO, after two rounds of funding it has gone from four to 18 staff in the space of a year or so. CEO Shona Grundy says it has been an extremely steep learning curve on recruiting and branding the company for employees and others. And when you are launching such an ambitious business, there is not really room for juniors. SMP COMMENT: Small businesses that don't have an HR function should seriously consider bringing in an outside consultant. The idea of taking on your first few employees is daunting. Seek good guidance on behavioural interviewing which will help you figure out if your candidate is the right one for the job.
Monday, July 22 2013
The Secret to Feeling Energized at Work? Autonomy.
Imagine there was something you could add to your car’s engine, so that after driving a hundred miles, you’d end up with more gas in the tank than you started with. Wouldn’t you use it? OK, that product doesn’t exist, and maybe never will. But there is something you can give your team that will have the same effect: interesting work.
Most of us think of interest in our work as a luxury — something that is pleasant but unnecessary, like chocolates on your hotel pillow. But it’s not a luxury, it is, in fact, a powerful motivator. Research shows that finding what you do interesting and believing it has inherent value is likely the single best way to stay motivated despite difficulty, setbacks, and unexpected roadblocks. Additionally, interest in your work doesn’t just keep you going despite fatigue, it actually replenishes your energy.
In their studies, psychologists at California State University gave participants a task to work on that was particularly draining, and then varied whether the next task was difficult-but-interesting or relatively easy-but-dull. They found that people who worked on the interesting task put in more effort and performed much better (despite being tired) than those who worked on the boring task – even though it was actually harder than the boring task.
In another study, the researchers found that working on something interesting resulted in better performance on a subsequent task as well. In other words, you don’t just do a better job on Task A because you find Task A interesting – you do a better job on follow-up Task B because you found Task A interesting. The replenished energy flows into whatever you do next.
So how can you make work more interesting for your team, especially when it actually is tedious or uninspiring? The experience of choice. When people feel a sense of autonomy — when they have some say in what they do and how they do it — they find naturally find whatever they are doing to be much more interesting (autonomy, as it happens, increases creativity, too).
And while true autonomy in the workplace can be hard to come by, the feeling of choice can be created fairly easily, using these three tips:
Liberally share your goals.
First, and most obviously, your team needs to understand why the goal they’ve been assigned has value. Too often, we tell people what they need to do, without taking the time to explain why it’s important, or how it fits into the bigger picture. Don’t assume the why is as obvious to your team as it is to you and be sure to repeat the message often.
Allow your team to dictate their personal processes.
Allowing your team members to tailor the way they work to their preferences and abilities will also give them heightened sense of control. Some people like to do lots of prep and detailed planning before tackling a project, while others prefer a more in-the-moment, spontaneous process. Some want to check in with you frequently for feedback, while others feel that too much feedback disrupts their flow and feels like micromanaging. Ask your team members about the approach they prefer, and then – if possible – respect that preference. If you can’t give them total free rein, try giving them a choice between two options for how to proceed. If even that is not possible, skip directly to the next tip.
Offer choice, even on the peripheral matters.
If you have to assign both the goal and the method for reaching it, try creating the feeling of choice by inviting your team member to make decisions about more peripheral aspects of the task. For instance, if everyone has to attend weekly team meetings to improve communication and collaboration, you can have team members take turns deciding what the topic of the meeting will be each week, or even what kind of lunch will be ordered in. Studies show that these more peripheral decisions can create the feeling of choice, even when the choices aren’t particularly meaningful.
Take time to reflect on how you might be able create a greater sense of choice in your own workplace using these methods. You’ll make the work more interesting, and wind up with a team that has a lot more gas in the tank.
How about you?
How do you replenish your energy when working on something difficult?
Sunday, July 14 2013
1. Foster Teamwork
“The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I.’ And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I.’ They don’t think ‘I.’ They think ‘we’; they think ‘team.’ They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but ‘we’ gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.”
Peter Drucker, Management Consultant- Drucker makes an interesting point when he says that leaders don’t train themselves not to say “I.” He’s implying that leaders innately work with others and let the team get the credit. They don’t force themselves to say “we.” “We” is natural for them, and it’s the way they’ve always thought.
It’s been said by many people, including a few U.S. presidents and theologian Benjamin Jowett that:
“There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
It can be toxic for an organization to have an “employee of the month” or a “who gets credit for what” attitude. You work as a team when you don’t care who gets the credit.
So the next time you see someone with a resume that states, “I accomplished x” or “I did x,” it should send up a few warning signals.
2. Encourage Growth in Others
“Great leaders love to see people grow. The day you are afraid of them being better than you is the day you fail as a leader.”
Jack Welch, Former Chairman and CEO of General Electric
Another similar quote from Welch:
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
Some companies follow the motto: “hire for character, train for skill.” You hire people that are eager to learn and are very “raw.” They don’t have a ton of skills; but as a leader, you teach them, and they become better. They grow with your company and contribute to its success.
You see this with football coaches. In football coaching, it’s almost unheard of for someone with no experience to be hired as the head coach of a team. Most people start in a low level position (i.e., video coordinator, quality control assistant, scout, etc.) and gradually move up if they become successful in their roles. Sometimes it takes more than thirty years before they finally get a chance to be the head coach.
The same can occur in business. George Bodenheimer is the former president of ESPN. He started out working in the mailroom of ESPN. It would have been very difficult for him to rise to the presidency if he hadn’t had a boss who wanted to help him grow and succeed in the company.
If you’re a leader, you should heed Welch’s advice and help your employees grow. If you don’t want them to grow, preferring that they stay in their current positions, then, in Welch’s mind, you’re failing as a leader. You might have a great employee waiting to be a star, but if you don’t help them grow, you’ll never see it. Worse, they might leave the company to go to an employer who will help them grow.
Employees are like seeds. It’s the leader’s job to plant the seeds, water them, and watch them grow. Neglect the seed and it won’t grow. Leave it once it becomes a plant, and it will die. So nourish and help employees grow. It’s part of being a leader.
3. Boost Employee Self-Esteem
“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.”
Sam Walton, Founder of Wal-Mart
Employee attitude is so critical that it can’t be overemphasized. It trickles down from employers. Your business isn’t optimized if you don’t optimize for employee happiness.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll have dozens of people criticize you. Customers, current and former employees (whether you know it or not), and family and friends may give you constructive criticism. It can be stressful to hear or read, and it can be easy to pass on criticism to employees. But it doesn’t help. As a leader, Walton advises that you should ensure employees have high self-esteem in their job.
Leaders should make employees feel good about themselves. Constantly criticizing and pointing out the flaws in an employee is a sure fire way to decrease morale and performance. Richard Branson says that leaders should “never criticize” their employees and “always look for the best in people.”
4. Take Care of People
“Really in technology, it’s about the people, getting the best people, retaining them, nurturing a creative environment and helping to find a way to innovate.”
Marissa Mayer, Former Google Executive and Current CEO of Yahoo!
I’d expand Mayer’s comments to include all industries, not just technology. No matter what the job is, leaders always want to look for the best people and then take care of them.
A business is just a group of people working on various creations and inventions. It’s all about the people. They are the lifeblood of the business.
When you’re leading a business or an organization, you’re leading people. It makes sense that leaders need to take care of their people. Many leaders work to have relationships with their employees. Taking them out for coffee and getting to know them better is common among leaders. Taking care of people is an important element in being a leader.
5. Coordinate, Aim for a Goal
“Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating those who work with me and aiming their efforts at a certain goal.”
Walt Disney, Co-Founder of The Walt Disney Company
Getting people on board, aligned, and in the right places is vital for an organization. If each person is going in a different direction, it can be like a disease in an organization.
Keeping people coordinated and aimed is a continual process. You’re the luckiest leader in the world if this happens by default. Two ways to ensure people are coordinated and aimed is setting milestones and being with each employee to see how they work.
Also, make sure people enjoy what they’re doing. If people aren’t passionate about the business and love what they’re doing, they are more likely to be going in a different direction and susceptible to becoming disengaged.
Inspiring people is another great way to get them coordinated and aiming for a goal. We’ll get into inspiring employees shortly.
6. Be Willing to be Misunderstood
“Inventing and pioneering requires a willingness to be misunderstood for long periods of time.”
Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon
This isn’t an excuse for being a jerk to employees. To colleagues in your industry, sometimes an invention is at first misunderstood before it becomes a revolution. So if you aren’t willing to be misunderstood, you may never be a pioneer in your industry.
A good example of a willingness to be misunderstood as a business leader is Netflix. It was a totally unique way to receive movies. In the late 90′s, if you wanted to rent a movie, you’d have to go through your cable or satellite provider or get one at Blockbuster or something similar. Getting rental DVDs via mail was unconventional. Undoubtedly, Netflix needed to be willing to be misunderstood. They were pioneering and attempting to change the way people watch movies.
7. Get People to Follow You
You earn leadership by what Anne Mulcahy calls “followership.” “I think sometimes we forget that we’re not actually anointed leaders, we actually have to earn it and we have to have people that trust us and are willing to follow. I think that really is the differentiator between great leadership and average leadership.”
Anne Mulcahy, Former Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation
There’s a similar quote from Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo:
“Leadership is hard to define and good leadership even harder. But if you can get people to follow you to the ends of the earth, you are a great leader.”
Even if a leader is anointed, it doesn’t mean that they’ll have followers. The leader needs to gain the trust of the followers. It has to be earned because not many people will mindlessly follow a leader.
Have you ever been on a trip or hike and there’s one vocal person who gives direction and tells people everything that’s going to happen? I have, and I was reluctant to follow that person – to the point where the other people got annoyed with me. I wondered, “Why is this person the leader of the group? Why should they tell the group what to do?”
This scenario frequently happens in the workplace. A person is given a promotion to lead 50+ people, and there is an initial skepticism. Employees may ask:
“Why did the company choose this person to lead us? I think __ was a much better choice!”
“This person was a terrible hire; I can tell already. I’m not going to work for them.”
“This person isn’t qualified for the job. I’m more qualified than they are. Why should I follow someone who knows less about my job than I do? They know nothing about this industry!”
This is why leaders need to earn leadership. People won’t blindly follow someone.
It’s important for leaders to know their followers and clearly communicate why they’re doing what they’re doing. This will help gain the trust of followers and thus earn them the position as leader.
8. Inspire People
“Leadership is getting people to work for you when they are not obligated.”
Fred Smith, Founder and CEO of FedEx
A quality of great leaders is being able to clearly articulate ideas and get people excited and inspired about them. It’s not selling people on an idea, it’s inspiring them.
Getting a person to work with a leader when they’re not obligated is more than just inspiring them. It’s about ensuring people have fun. Employees at Google can work at dozens of other places, but they choose Google because of the culture and challenges.
Many charities get people to volunteer for them by promoting a noble cause. They say that if you donate, you’ll be spending your time working toward something greater than yourself. This inspires people to take a few hours to work for a charity promoting a cause they believe in.
One of the most popular stories of a leader inspiring another is when Steve Jobs recruited John Sculley to join Apple. Jobs asked the famous question:
“Do you want to sell sugar water all your life, or do you want to change the world?”
These inspiring words helped lead Sculley to Apple.
9. Understand Reality and Give Hope
“The role of the leader is to define reality and give hope…
“I’ve paraphrased that quote. I don’t want to wind up like Napoleon. But what is very hard when you’re in a leadership position is to get reality and to define it.
“You have so many competing forces, whether it’s the business issues you’re facing or people giving you different perspectives.
“And it takes a winner to say, here are the reasons why you should have hope, here are the pragmatic reasons, here are the aspirational reasons why you should have that hope.”
Ken Chenault, CEO of American Express
You have multiple people telling you how the business is doing. It’s the job of the leader to understand what the reality is and then give people hope.
Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO of Facebook, likes to keep equilibrium in his staff. When the press is praising Facebook, he’ll remind staff that they’re not as good as the press says. When the press criticizes Facebook, he’ll remind staff that they’re not as bad as the press says. Leaders must define reality and give hope.
10. Be a Good Listener
To be a good leader you have to be a great listener. Brilliant ideas can spring from the most unlikely places, so you should always keep your ears open for some shrewd advice.”
Richard Branson, Chairman of Virgin Group
You don’t gain insights by talking. Ideas can come from anywhere, so it’s important to keep your ears open to new ideas and insight.
Leaders need to be good listeners for everyone, from customers to employees to business colleagues. They need to listen to what other people say and not just hear it. Branson even carries a notepad with him so he can take notes on what people say.
Listening also helps a leader get multiple perspectives. When making a decision, a good leader always listens to a number of different people. They know they own the final decision but always make sure they get input from multiple people.