Coronavirus Pandemic Impact on the American Worker: Part I

  By Dr. Frank Burtnett  |    Thursday July 27, 2020

Category: Expert Advice, Trends

The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and resulting effect on the American workplace have resulted in records levels of unemployment, the likes of which have not been seen in years. Individuals across multiple sectors are now the statistics they never thought they would be. Even those remaining employed have had to deal with the reality that their work and personal security might be challenged before this crisis passes.


A professional counselor or psychologist working with a client who had experienced job loss or furlough or one whose existing employment situation was fragile enough to produce stress and anxiety would likely engage that individual in developing a set of coping behaviors or strategies designed to minimize or neutralize any negative emotions brought on by this abrupt end to employment or the tenuousness of their existing situation. Similarly, the search and staffing professional may be required to consider similar strategies in helping both active and passive candidates in any transitions that lie before them. 


An important ingredient in the establishment of rapport and trust with any candidate for employment is the ability to understand where the job seeker is in their personal career situation and the factors that brought them to that place. For one who has experienced job loss or termination this may be particularly important. If the candidate is attempting to rise up, dust themselves off and move forward---a sympathetic and understanding search and staffing professional may be just what the situation demands. Existing workers in many sectors live under the “could I be next” cloud, a factor that must be considered by them and anyone helping them.  


Current Circumstances are Different


The starting point for all career and employment transitions---regardless of what caused it---requires that one know where they are, where they would like to go and the variety of options that will take them there. 


In an edition of the Career Mechanic several years ago your author focused on the factors (i.e., poor performance, substandard productivity, conduct, etc.) that typically trigger termination---behaviors that represent almost sure-fire delivery of the dreaded pink slip. These factors and others are addressed in a chapter on job loss, termination and other dilemmas in in my book, Career Errors: Straight Talk About the Steps and Missteps of Career Development, Second Edition, (Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group).


What is unique about the current employment situation in America is that it’s not strictly a matter of individual performance. The culprit in many situations is the pandemic and the chain reaction of the economy to the crisis over the first half of this year. The impact for many was totally unexpected. In any time of downturn or cutback, there is the added threat that things will never return to what they once were.   


Challenges Face All Job Seekers and Changers


It has always been true that varying candidates for job change face different challenges during the relocation and transition process. That “truism” still applies, but the challenges may require reordering because of the unique circumstances. The successful rise out of unemployment for some may simply be the “reopening” of the America shut down by the pandemic. Furloughed and terminated workers will simply return to the jobs they left and life will hopefully return to some form of “normal.”


Regardless of the circumstances, individuals engaged in any employment transition are required to address a number of challenges as they seek employment or change. Those challenges are offered below:


Personal Challenges


Changing jobs or securing employment is work--- hard, intensive, time-consuming work.  Success in any career or job change will require a commitment to the process, followed by the creation of a search and transition plan that is appropriate and achievable. 


Social Challenges


Family, friends and work colleagues should be viewed as allies in the job change process and their support and assistance sought during this time.   Job seekers who withdraw socially from these support systems and networks are rejecting a valuable source of encouragement and validation.


Psychological or Emotional Challenges


Job loss---even the threat of it--- or the inability to fulfill one’s personal ambition can produce a distinct level of stress and anxiety.  Registration  for and acceptance of unemployment compensation and other forms of assistance can produce a similar effect on one’s self esteem and care should be taken to ensure that mental health is given as much attention as physical health.


Learning and Cognitive Challenges


Candidates seeking career growth, mobility and maintenance may have to face the reality that additional education or training could stand between them and where they would like to be in the world of work. In this fast-paced, changing world in which we live and work, yesterday’s job skills are often obsolete today. The global workforce must invest in the concept of lifelong learning as a challenge that is here to stay.


Economic Challenges


The loss of a paycheck, insurance and other employment benefits almost always require lifestyle adjustments. Similar challenges exist for the working individual who feels that she or he is not being compensated at a competitive level for the work they perform. Bottom line: Any “belt tightening” that has been necessitated during the throes of the pandemic may need to be kept in practice until reemployment or employment security is once again achieved. 


Times Demand these Challenges be Addressed


This is by no means an exhaustive list of challenges that face the job seeker or changer. It does, however, represent the types of challenges that need attention during the transition process. Challenges impact people in different ways---from being non-existent to presenting major impediments to the overall career development process. A plan for addressing them must first include a means of identifying their presence and then designing coping or confronting strategies for minimizing or eliminating their impact. Successful will stand a better chance when this happens.


Note: Future Career Mechanic bimonthly articles in EMInfo will address the “new normal” that candidates and search and staffing professionals will experience because of the coronavirus pandemic.


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