Dawn R. Norris, Ph.D.

The Next Step

Jingle Blues

Holidays can pose unique challenges for unemployed people.

Posted Dec 22, 2016

As the holidays approach and families gather, unemployed people may encounter new and unique challenges that go above and beyond those they already face.  There are two I’d like to write about today - “the money thing” and reminder cues during family visits.

The Money Thing

The holidays can be tough when you don’t have a job and/or can’t spend much money on gifts.  The messages we get from media and even short conversations with friends can make us feel like we have failed if we don’t buy multiple, expensive gifts for each family member.

But expensive gifts aren’t in the cards when you’re unemployed (and maybe not even when you are employed).  What to do?:

  • Recognize these cultural messages for what they are – a corporate attempt to increase business profits – and remind yourself that they are nothing more than that.  Businesses are interested in making money, not your personal well-being.  
  • Try “activity gifting.”  This type of holiday celebration emphasizes doing activities and sharing experiences together instead of exchanging bought or material gifts.  How does it work?:
    • Each person should create several slips of paper containing their name and something they would like to do together with everyone else during the holiday get-together.  
      Doing business/Hilary Perkins/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/no changes made
      Source: Doing business/Hilary Perkins/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/no changes made
    • Place all paper slips in a bowl. 
    • Each day/afternoon/hour, a new slip is drawn until every person has had a chance to engage in one of their selected activities with the family.
    • (If desired, those who can and wish to provide a material gift can add low-cost gifts or make gifts.)
  • Purchase “combined gifts.”  Ask several family members to combine their available funds to buy one joint gift for each family member so that everyone’s money goes further.  For example, a few years ago, my siblings and I pooled our money to buy my parents a gourmet meal subscription.
  • Each person should create several slips of paper containing their name and something they would like to do together with everyone else during the holiday get-together.  
    Doing business/Hilary Perkins/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/no changes made
    Source: Doing business/Hilary Perkins/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/no changes made
  • Place all paper slips in a bowl. 
  • Each day/afternoon/hour, a new slip is drawn until every person has had a chance to engage in one of their selected activities with the family.
  • (If desired, those who can and wish to provide a material gift can add low-cost gifts or make gifts.)
Doing business/Hilary Perkins/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/no changes made
Source: Doing business/Hilary Perkins/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/no changes made

Reminder Cues  

We live in a society that tells us where we end up is due to our own efforts or talents.  To some degree, that is true.  Unless you are born with a large trust fund, you are unlikely to succeed (by any definition of the word) without effort.

However, there are many large-scale, historical factors outside of our control that shape our lives.  Historical events affect who we become and what we can and can not do. For example, during World War II, the draft led businessmen and factory workers to become soldiers, and homemakers to become factory workers. 

More recently, as outsourcing, technological advances, and the pursuit of massive company profits have led to layoffs, many hardworking people became unemployed or underemployed through no fault of their own.

The problem is that families sometimes just don’t get it.  They don’t see these (often hidden) external factors that influence our lives.  Sometimes they may ask outright “Why don’t you just get a job already?  It can’t be that hard.”  

Other times, these messages are more subtle.  These reminder cues are quick statements based on taken-for-granted assumptions that remind us we “don’t belong” or are “the odd one out.”   They are usually not intended to be hurtful; in fact, most people don’t even realize they have given a reminder cue. 

During the holidays, simple words can remind us that we don’t have a job, and/or that others may judge us negatively for that.  For example, when Uncle Bill remarks to Uncle Stan “Isn’t it a relief to take time off from work during the holidays?”, it reminds you that you are unemployed and that others assume that people have jobs.

In these circumstances, it can be helpful to:

  • politely remind others that they are assuming everyone is employed or has equal access to getting a job, and that that may not be true.  For example, if you once worked in customer support and those jobs are no longer available in your region because of outsourcing, it may take time to find an equivalent position (through no fault of your own).
  • tell others that it makes you uncomfortable to be reminded of your unemployment.  You don’t need to dwell on it, but go ahead and mention it.  Again, with reminder cues, most of the time, others don’t even realize that they have said something that may be hard for you to hear. 

I hope these tips help you and your family members understand some of the extra challenges that occur for unemployed people as the holidays draw near.  May you have a joyful holiday season and a great start to the New Year!