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Person's job as much who they are as what they do More than a cheque

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A recent United Nations study suggests that unfortunately, the disease of affluence is spreading worldwide. This so-called disease typically refers to high blood pressure.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently sent many Canadians' blood pressure spiking by insinuating they're suffering from another "disease of affluence," one that prevents them from accepting just any job versus being unemployed.

Flaherty's controversial statement that "there is no bad job; the only bad job is not having a job" sent him reeling from the backlash. Yet, he was probably well meaning in that "you have to do what you have to do to make a living." However, even this statement is offensive to many people.

Frankly, I see people all around me doing what they have to do to make a living. I also see families stranded alone while a spouse goes off to a far-flung place to earn their living, seeing their families only once a month. And I do indeed see individuals taking a lower-paying job to keep the wolf from the door.

What bothers me about his statement and pending EI changes is that I don't understand why Flaherty wants to punish the masses when a small percentage of employment insurance recipients might be overusing the system. At the same time, where is the consideration for an individual who has been laid off due to lack of work, a disastrous corporate fire or an entire industry sector collapse?

The answer will not be found in punishing these individuals. Rather, the solution will be found in stabilizing regional economics and training people for new careers so they can once again be successful.

Flaherty's controversial statement is also being perceived as insulting to the various industry sectors that are striving to overcome being painted with that old and outdated "bad job" brush. The tourism industry, for instance, has been working hard to professionalize their job sector by ensuring employees are trained and certified in a wide variety of areas. Today's hotels and restaurants can boast about long-term employees, employer of choice designations, and awards for quality assurance. Individuals employed in these organizations are tremendously proud of their occupation and resent this continued degradation of their industry.

But why has this statement caused so much controversy? In my view, the reason for the backlash is that Flaherty is perceived to be stabbing people in the heart of their personal identity. That's right, their identity. Let's face it, when a person engages in long periods of study and certification in a profession -- be it technical and/or managerial -- and then works in the field for many years, their job becomes a major part of their identity. That's why someone who's unemployed has a hard time answering the questions, "what do you do or where do you work?" Instead, they stumble, mumble and blush as they struggle to respond.

Job loss hits us right where it hurts, not just the financial pocket but the emotional pocket as well. After all, our job is a signal to the world regarding our status in life. Our self-esteem is all wrapped up in our job. Our daily satisfaction and sense of accomplishment is, for the most part, wrapped up in our job. That's why job loss hits us so hard. It creates personal insecurity because your place in the work world has been lost. "Who are you?", becomes a burning question.

Not only that, when people become unemployed, they may feel they've lost control of their life and as a result, they don't know where to turn. Some find it embarrassing to report their job hunting activities on a weekly basis. However, keep in mind, employees pay into the employment insurance plan and in most cases, they are entitled to benefits.

On the other hand, I suggest that if someone has to take a lower-paying job, they should not be expected to apologize. Instead, focus on what can be learned from every experience. When coaching individuals in this situation, I have them focus on reviewing their previous job and searching out the many accomplishments they have achieved. Since most people take themselves for granted and are challenged to identify their accomplishments, I recommend looking for problems they have solved, people they have trained, or simply take pride in the fact they were a long, loyal employee.

At the same time, because self-esteem and a positive attitude go such a long way toward getting that next job, individuals need to look for other opportunities to build and sustain their self-esteem.

I suggest getting up each day as though preparing for work and continuing to dress well. I recommend becoming conscious of body language and posture as these characteristics display a person's mood, be it good or bad. Finally, it is important for people to catch their negative thoughts and to reframe them into something positive.

As mentioned earlier, one of the additional challenges where out-of-work professionals have difficulty in responding is that old standard question, "what do you do or where do you work?" In either case, I recommend answering the question by stating an occupation and/or stating the top three skills. For example, someone could respond by saying, "I excel at financial management, carpentry and/or human resources". While some people may be surprised by this answer because it isn't exactly what was expected, it really helps to retain one's confidence and helps to focus on what the person does well and what they like to do. When applying this strategy, body language, eyes and voice project much more positively.

While Flaherty might feel he has avoided the "affluence disease," I'm sure that he now recognizes he suffers from "foot in the mouth" disease and will be more careful when commenting in the future.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 2, 2012 H1

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