Update: The recession and friends who lost jobs

A ten p.m. phone call is not dire, but in our house, it's lateish. When the voice on the end was a former colleague whom I'd not spoken to in a year, my stomach dropped.

"Today was my last day", "Marylou" told me, "and I did not see it coming." She was the sole Human Resources manager for a branch office of a vast  multinational telecommunications company. Her job moves to a group of remote managers.

She reminded me of the three friends who lost their jobs the first week of 2009. Where are they now, four years after that first crack of recessionary thunder?

C., 55, works in corporate banking. She landed first at a consulting firm, and was then hired by one of the firm's client banks. 

She recalls the first six months of 2009 as a "mad scramble" that felt precarious, despite her advanced degrees and executive experience. She is working 60+ hour weeks; though she keeps saying this has to end, it has not. While I believe some of that is due to her own very high standards, the culture rewards this behaviour, and will take every hour she's giving. Her role has been "expanded"– no promotion, but more responsibility.

During last summer's vacation, she worked so much from the resort that, on her return to work, she requested a reduction in vacation time taken–but her husband says that's not the point, and refuses to book again unless she promises to be present.

M., 60, lost her job at a nonprofit when donations dried up, worked lightly for the past four years as a subcontractor, applied for dozens of jobs, and got some interviews but not an offer, until December. 

She applied to a posting on a job board, defying conventional wisdom about the "hidden job market" being the only one to pursue, and was hired on a one-year contract. The organization is her dream employer, and she's having a stimulating, fulfilling time. She's hoping to be asked to work on projects when the contract ends.

She has health benefits through her partner's job, but must exert discipline to replace retirement savings that she spent during the four lean years.Of the three, she was most financially affected. 

J., in her late 40s, was laid off from a corporate job in technical sales. She went to work briefly for a friend of mine who has a small business, but it didn't work out. J. was more of a researcher than a closer, and they parted ways after fewer than six months. J. then spent her life savings to train to be a luthier. (She's not even a musician, but always loved woodworking.)

After nearly two years' study, she is now a modestly-paid apprentice to a master builder. But I should add, she has no dependents and is content living on very little.

These trends are their reality: contract work, performance by one person of a role that used to be done by two or three others, and the strategy of finding work that cannot be done by offshore outsourcing. (Though guitars can be built anywhere, the musicians who order from J.'s atelier want direct involvement in the process.)

J. is happier than before; M. has regained her happiness after years when she often felt depressed and lost hope that anyone would hire her at her age, and C., though exhausted, takes pride in her achievement.

And Marylou? Marylou did something prescient. While at the corporation, she used their flextime policy to pursue, though part-time study, a certification in an entirely different line of work (medical aesthetics) as a hedge.  

The company permitted compressed work hours, she paid tuition. She already has an offer from a busy salon near her home, which she will use to tide the family over if needed.

But Marylou is also negotiating for a better severance package. At 43, she anticipates making at least two career changes over her remaining working life, and plans to invest in more education.  

The Passage will close for the next two weeks 
for spring break; 
see you April 2!


LauraH said…
I wish the very best for your friends. Having retired two years ago, I'm so glad to be out of the struggle and anxiety of 'work', especially acute in these times.

On another topic, thank you for suggesting the book All About Colour by Janice Lindsay, I'm thoroughly enjoying it. In return, may I suggest The Antidote-Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman...thought provoking.

Enjoy your spring break. My witch hazel is in full bloom, very cheering!
Susan B said…
Thanks for this, Duchesse. The world we grew up in, where you stayed with one company or career for a lifetime is gone (even more reason that we need a better system of health care coverage here). I'll have been with my company for 20 years next week, but I don't take anything for granted. At this point, I don't have time to study formally for a career change, but if I were "downsized," I'd think seriously about changing my line of work.
Mardel said…
I wish the best for your friend. Agree with LauraH about being glad to be retired even though I took early retirement due to life circumstances and planned to go back to work. Now I am happy to find other, unpaid, occupations, that are more fulfilling.

I admire your friend who followed her passion and is happier with less.
materfamilias said…
Although cautionary in some ways (we should all be conscious of what could happen), these stories are inspiring. Women of a certain age are demonstrating their resilience and proving their marketability. The conventional story has changed, is changing, although I acknowledge that many still drift or spiral downwards into poverty after losing jobs.
Enjoy your well-deserved break!
LunaStitches said…
It's inspiring to see how others have coped. I have a state job in my field, moderate pay, but recently reduced by about 10% due to increases in portions of health insurance and retirement I pay. Have not seen a pay raise in about 8 years.

We were shocked when my husband lost his job last spring. Out of work for about a month, he is now working as a contractor, well-paid, but considerably less so than before and with no paid leave.

Our son just graduated from college, we paid for all as we made too much to get ANY kind of tuition assistance (he received a merit scholarship that helped). Ironically, now with our somewhat reduced circumstances, we could probably get more college aid!

Your post serves as a warning to me that I should shore up my skills and think about how I will pursue other opportunities should I get the boot. Still have about 10 years before retirement.

Sorry for the long comment, blah, blah...
Although your friends went through some hard times, it does seem like they are happy and doing okay.

I was laid off last November and I am struggling to make a career change. I have made it difficult for myself as I don't wish to return to Bay St. and I don't want to go back to the traditional law firm setting. I feel guilty as well, as I have two small children to care for, mortgage, bills, etc. so I worry that I am being selfish in taking some time to find a job that I actually like doing (as opposed to doing something just to pay the bills). I am nearing 40 and the thought of another 10 years spent doing something I dislike was extremely depressing.

Best wishes for a wonderful spring break.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: I too am glad to be out of the intense competition, though I still work with a handful of longtime clients.

But on a positive note, another friend, Stu, had serious health issues and became depressed. His manager at a large tech company told him to take however long it took to recover and he would find "a juicy, mind-bending problem" for him to work on when he was ready. He did so and Stu is back, firing on all cylinders. That kind of compassion is remarkable.

Thanks for the book suggestion, too.

Pseu: I have a number of colleagues let go after 20, 25, 30 years. there is little security anymore.

Mardel: Great that you feel so fulfilled. Some women I know are wondering what they would do with themselves, while others are counting the days to retirement.

materfamilias: Four years without a job is very tough. M. thought it would be months, and the need to cash in her savings has dismantled some cherished plans. To me, J. is inspiring- she was so brave to make that change, and C. is clearly exhausted. I'm not quite so inspired by her, but I do admire her professional acumen.

LunaStitches: Please, make long comments! Your remark is important because these changes take place for many women, in the context of children's and partner's needs.

Louise: C. is in fact a lawyer who moved into corporate governance. Another TO woman lawyer I met is leaving the big firm to gradually take over her father's small practice (he will retire); she wants more of a life. A third went to work for a union, she said the work is interesting and the day ends at 5:30.

Unknown said…
You have very interesting and resourceful friends. J's story is particularly inspiring. It's unbelievable what people have gone through the last several years.

I lost my own cherished job in 2002 due to a severe case of tendonitis in both hands (years of keyboarding) that took several years to heal. Since then, I tried pursuing a career teaching Computer Science only have to give it up for good, in 2004, when the tendonitis flared up again after taking two intensive programming courses. After that, I pursued a career in financial consulting at what turned out to be the worst time in recent financial history. The stress nearly killed me. Stepping back from that failed business, I took a year off to explore personal style, then, last Fall, tried an MA program to teach English. It wasn't a good fit at all.

To date I've accumulated 174 unidts of higher education in achieving my original BA plus additional graduate course work after 2002 to retool for the above goals. My husband has only 160 units and he has a Ph.d in Physics!

Meanwhile, in tandem with my style quest, my husband got interested in sewing and has developed a passion for designing and sewing his own clothes. Now that I'm out of that horrible (for me) MA program we're free to pursue a much happier business goal: we want to offer Martin's tailored shirt/vest etc. designs as patterns for the home sewing market. It's great fun, with tons of stuff to learn, and we can do this forever.

The moral of my story is that it is really, really important to aggressively save early in your working life because you may have to retire earlier than expected due to circumstances beyond your control. While it may sound easy enough to retool and re-enter the economy on a different and possibly better path, this is often no easier than it was to launch your original career.
Duchesse said…
Susan Partian: It is rare for anyone to make a switch as dramatic as J.'s. Occupational change is far trickier and a bigger risk than taking what you do to a new sector, or moving to a "cousin", such as a friend who was a secondary school teacher (of special needs kids) and became a corporate educator.

Making and selling patterns sounds like it combines your love of aesthetics with, if not physics, plenty of geometry.
Unknown said…
The mathematics involved in pattern making is actually quite advanced -- equivalent to the mathematics involved in sheet metal drafting. It has to do with surface intersections of cones and cylinders. It's kind of like geometry but more accurately referred to as surface topology.

You can probably tell we're having a ball :).

My sense of aesthetics is near zero but I am learning, despite the challenges. Martin seems to have a real design flair.
Emily said…
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