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Let’s start with the dry stuff: 2.5 million unemployed in the UK, still short of the 3 million hypothetical target. Number of vacancies stagnant. Long term unemployed on the rise. If you subscribe to the theory that employment lags economic recovery by about six months, then we shouldn’t see an improvement to job figures until the summer, which will only be reflected in statistics… exactly a year from now.

We know that unemployment can be soul-destroying for those concerned, their families and the ‘surviving’ colleagues. This short series will look at how you, as a leader, can make a positive impact. We start with the person at the centre of the issue… The Full Monty: Pretend workers may be doing something right… In the film The Full Monty, Gerald has been unemployed for over six months but still leaves home for ‘work’ every morning and keeps up the appearances for his wife. This is actually a fairly frequent scenario, although most unemployed drop the mask after a few days or when the money runs out. Every now and then however, a news story comes out of a long term ‘pretend worker’ who has used enormous skills and resources to conceal their fate. Why do they do it? According to Austrian social psychologist Marie Jahoda, author of Employment and Unemployment, having a regular work life is essential to retaining sanity at times of high personal stress. Maintaining social contact and a shared purpose is essential to mental balance. She argues that work provides this balance for five reasons:

  1. It requires activity
  2. It imposes a time structure which in turns makes leisure time valuable
  3. It forces us to experience relationships beyond family and immediate neighbourhood
  4. It clarifies social status and identity
  5. It provides meaning through activities and achievements

None of these reasons require paid work or employment. In our economy, employment is equated with work. This helps explain why the unemployed often lose their social identity, their sense of purpose and their enjoyment of their free time – on top of losing income. This is turns explains the deep shame and loss of face that many of us experience when facing the dole queue. It doesn’t need to be so: voluntary work, a challenging training or degree, or developing a new venture from scratch, are all work but not employment. So the consequence is pretty clear: if you or one of your family members/ colleagues is likely to be out of work for a prolonged period, then identify an area of work quickly and launch into it fully. This will help your long-term resilience and allow thinking space to consider your nextemployment role. Thanks to University of Michigan’s Prof. Peterson for retrieving this important book from obscurity. In my next entry, I will look at the short-term steps that the unemployed can take to boost their confidence and short-term resilience.


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