Holiday Sanity Tips for the Out-of-Work

With a number of web working friends out of work, I’ve had a chance to see the full gamut of reactions to holiday season unemployment over recent weeks. Unemployment is daunting at the best of times, but at this time of year, with an expensive holiday season looming and job markets winding down, it can be extremely disorienting.

Our reactions to being out of work depend on our personalities and our lifestyles, and also whether we want permanent employment, to run our own businesses, or to freelance or contract for others. My own response is usually to hit the panic button and remain in that state until I find work. But my friends have taken different approaches to their new-found “free” time. Here’s what I’ve learned from them.

1. Don’t Panic

In direct opposition to my approach, my calmest out-of-work friends aren’t panicking. Instead, when they were laid off from work, they took stock: a survey of the personal finances, a review of the job market, some discussions with friends working in their field. They were quickly able to understand their own position, and to realize that they probably weren’t going to get new ongoing work in the next month or so.

A couple of them immediately secured small, one-off jobs through contacts and off their own bat, primarily as a way to keep motivated and active within their industries, rather than as a means to earn solid income, or to establish a long-term approach to their careers. But that cash will come in handy in the low-key, workless days of early 2011.

2. Think in Terms of 2011

Having accepted that they probably wouldn’t secure permanent work — or even see any jobs they really want to apply for — until next year, each of my friends has formulated a rough plan for how they’ll approach the coming months. Some are taking time to visit family interstate; others are focusing on personal projects. All of their plans see them starting serious job hunting around mid-January at the earliest.

Setting these medium-term plans has taken the pressure off most of my out-of-work friends. As I mentioned, those with immediate financial concerns are seeking small jobs that will generate ready cash in the interim, mainly through their social and professional networks, rather than job sites. But all of them have some sort of plan for 2011, and that’s helping them to relax right now.

3. Manage the Rest of 2010

Six weeks lie between most of my contacts and their concerted efforts to find new, career-advancing work. That’s a lot of time to ponder unemployment and, for some of them, reflect on being made redundant.

The friends who are feeling the most disoriented about their unemployment are those who wake up each morning and see the day stretching out, long and empty, before them. Those who head straight for email and their social networks to “stay connected”, instead seem to wind up feeling even more like they’re on the outside, as they read musings from their busily employed friends and scour the very quiet job listing sites for nonexistent opportunities.

The secret seems to be to maintain a sort of structure around each day. My more relaxed friends have something to do every day, whether it’s running errands, catching up with friends, attending meetups for interest groups, or simply going to band practice. These daily events provide the structure around which they fit in the rest of their lives: researching opportunities, networking, and so on. This structured approach seems to be keeping them engaged, and gives them a sense of perspective.

4. Research, Relax and Reflect

With a rough medium-term plan in their heads, and weekly or daily commitments in mind, my out-of-work friends can allow themselves to research and reflect without fear that they’ll begin to feel depressed or panicky about being out of work. They even seem able to let themselves relax, which is something I struggle with whenever I’m out of work.

These guys are using their networks and contacts as starting points for ongoing research about potential opportunities, fields and specializations that might interest them when they start job searching more seriously next year.

They’re contacting past colleagues and friends about the types of work that are on offer, and the work we’re currently doing. They’re getting ideas about where they could take their careers, and where they’d like to work next. And they’re researching the possibilities offline and online — setting up automatic job searches on employment sites, updating their LinkedIn profiles, building their social network connections and researching the information they’re getting from industry contacts.

In short, they seem to be using these slow, pre-Christmas weeks to incubate ideas, feed interests, and formulate inclinations that might help them find satisfying, fulfilling work, rather than grabbing the first thing that comes along next year.

5. Reconnect With Contacts

OK, so the job market might be slow at this time of year, but the social scene is at its busiest — and my out-of-work friends are making the most of it. They’re in touch with colleagues, friends, industry contacts and others, catching up for lunches, drinks and coffees as they reconnect with  those who know what they’re capable of, and might help them navigate the employment market and eventually find work.

They’re doing what those of us who work full-time have little chance to do: re-establishing valuable connections, and putting out feelers that might lead them beyond “work” to their dream job (or something like it) in 2011. The silly season makes that easier in some ways: many workplaces are slowing down, there are more group meetups, and people are eager to talk.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens for my currently out-of-work contacts next year — and how they survive the coming weeks — but right now, most of them seem calm, confident and enthusiastic. What tips can you add to help those without work stay sane through the slow festive season?

Image by stock.xchng user tzankov.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req.):