Unemployed should reach out to friends

When you’ve been laid off, people tell you lots of things you need: You need to network. You need to go back to school. You need to volunteer.

Liz Luttrell-Feder

When you’ve been laid off, people tell you lots of things you need: You need to network. You need to go back to school. You need to volunteer. You need to stay positive.

But the newly unemployed will tell you there’s something else they need: a friend.

“It’s essential,” said psychiatrist James Margolis, director of the Sutter Counseling Center in Sacramento, Calif. “People are losing their jobs, their homes, their families, their self-esteem. They definitely don’t want to lose their friends.”

April Roscoe of Folsom, Calif., lost her job of three years as a corporate wellness manager at a 24-Hour Fitness. The news came quickly: a manager’s cryptic morning e-mail, a conference call, and then it was over. She refers to that day in January as “D-Day.”

“They told us over the phone. It was shocking. I’ve never been through that before,” Roscoe said. “It’s a blow to the ego. You don’t take it personally, but it hurts.”

Her friends have become a lifeline.

“I’m open and honest with my friends, and I try to surround myself with good attitude. It’s easy to fall into that negativity,” she said.

It can be as simple as a cup of coffee, a lunch date or a phone call. When friends lose their jobs, staying connected is key.

“That’s been a big help,” Roscoe said. She and her friends combine coffee chats, movie nights and networking events to share notes and leads or just to blow off steam. She’s also met new friends outside her circle and even has a mentor who helped direct her job search.

“Meeting new friends is huge. I’ve joined a lot of networking groups,” Roscoe said. “Sometimes, it’s ‘How’s your job hunting?’ Other times, it’s good friends getting together to take your mind off of it.”

Friends can do much to provide comfort, support and practical aid for those looking for work.

“This is a really good time for friends to help their friends keep work in perspective. Work is what you do, it’s not who you are,” said David Kaplan, chief professional officer at the Virginia-based American Counseling Association.

“In our culture, we tend to over-identify with our work,” he said. But it’s “only one part of your life. Friends can help you focus on the big picture.”

Jerri Barrett, who has survived three layoffs in a 20-year career in high tech and marketing, has been on both sides of the table, as a friend lending an ear and one who had to lean on friends.

Now a marketing director at the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology in Palo Alto, Calif., Barrett jokes at speaking engagements that she’s probably been laid off more than anyone in the room.

But that first layoff more than 10 years ago taught her “how important it was to ask people for help.” As difficult as that can be sometimes.

“Part of it is pride. You’re embarrassed. You take it as a personal rejection. But it’s just that you’re the wrong person at the wrong time,” said Barrett, who also writes on job hunting, marketing and other issues at her blog, markether.blogspot.com.

When Elizabeth Luttrell-Feder of Gold River, Calif., lost her job as a career counselor in January, she turned to her friend Debbie Martin to get her through the tough times.

After all, the two have been friends for more than 20 years, first meeting as co-workers at Rancho Murieta Country Club in Calif. Their husbands have been buddies since childhood, and the couples gather for birthdays, wedding anniversaries and the occasional Sunday barbecue.

Martin, of Elk Grove, Calif., said she was eager to help, maybe too eager at first. It took her some time to realize what Luttrell-Feder needed.

“I felt I had to solve the problem, but people don’t want that,” Martin said. “You have to be a really good listener instead of fixing, so that they’re validated in how they feel. The sooner they can accept those feelings, the better they can feel.”

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