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Downsizing and Other Dirty Words

We don't, fortunately, hear as much today about downsizing as we did in the past couple of decades, but, rest assured, it still happens.

About 10 million jobs were lost to downsizing between 1980 and 2000, and downsizing didn't stop at the turn of the century. Downsizing typically occurs in companies that hope to cut costs and improve performance—often to please their shareholders. They often leave behind them a trail of damaged and demoralized former employees.

Downsizing is a current term, but it's not much different than layoffs, job elimination, managed reductions, or good, old-fashioned firing. And if it happens to you, chances are that you'll have a difficult time dealing with it. So why is it that our jobs are so important to us? Sure, we get paid for doing our jobs, but there are a lot of ways to make money.

The psychology of how we identify with our jobs is fascinating and may shed some light as to why many people are so traumatized when their jobs end.

You Job and Your Identity

Think about meeting somebody for the first time at a cocktail party, your church, a school function, or a friend's house.

You strike up a conversation, introducing yourself and perhaps your spouse or partner. You might talk about the party or other event, move on to the weather, and ask about each other's kids or other family members.

Before long, however, it's almost a sure bet that one or the other will ask, “So what kind of work are you in?” or “What do you do?” Our jobs give us a sense of identity. To go from having a job to not having one can leave a person not knowing where he stands.

Imagine that you teach history at a small college in New England. Your entire life may well be tied to the life of that college. The other faculty members and their families are your friends—sometimes they seem more like family. Your social life revolves around concerts, plays, parties, and other events associated with the school. Your kids go, or plan to go to school there, and your spouse volunteers at the child-care center. You even attend services at the church on campus.

One day, you learn that enrollment has dropped enough so that a position in the history department must be eliminated. And, guess what? Being the newest professor, you're out of there. You not only experience the loss of a job, but many other losses, as well.

Your relationships with friends still employed at the college may change. You may not feel like attending plays and concerts there for a while, which will affect your social life. If your kids were going there tuition-free because you were a faculty member, you may have to rethink college plans. Suddenly, you're likely to feel as though you've been cut adrift. No wonder you feel angry and depressed.

A job loss can, in a minute or two, make a person stop feeling like a breadwinner and start feeling like a burden. Job loss tends to be especially difficult for a person who is the primary, or sole, earner for a family. When not dealt with positively, job loss can cause feelings of isolation, fear, anger, loss of status, worthlessness, and depression. You may feel ashamed to tell your family and friends that you've lost your job. You might feel as though you're no longer a respected member of the community.

Try to be frank and honest about your circumstances, and don't make excuses for what happened. Remember that many other people—probably some of your own friends and family members—also have lost jobs due to downsizing or other circumstances. Look to the people who care about you for support and guidance. Who knows? Maybe one of them will have a hot tip on a job opening.

More on: Family Finances

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Personal Finance in Your 40s and 50s © 2002 by Sarah Young Fisher and Susan Shelly. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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