Unemployment Benefits (or How Not to Get a Job)

This excerpt is the first in a six-part series, reprinted with permission from an article I first published in the Society for Technical Communication (STC) Lone Star Community newsletter, Technically Write, April 2002.

Part I

No, I’m not referring to some kind of state compensation program, charitable assistance, placement services, retirement buyout, or severance package. I’m talking about the many intangible and often overlooked benefits immediately available to the unemployed person. And while I imagine that most of you in this situation are skeptical or assume that I must not be acquainted with reality, I am qualified to speak to the topic of unemployment, having been its victim—or beneficiary—a few times throughout my work life.

Laid Off—Again

It’s August 6, 2001. For just over nine months, I have enjoyed being a Technical Editor at Company C in Dallas. Yet I still mourn the loss of the previous nine-year investment of hard work, expertise development, close relationships, loyalty, and pride that I put into a career at Company A and spin-off Company B.

I was part of Company B’s RIF of August 2000. Intending to stay past my 15-year mark to retire under a special spin-off provision and retain my benefits, I was never less prepared for anything in my professional life. This layoff was not in my career plan; I had refused to acknowledge the possibility. To say I was devastated doesn’t begin to express it.

September and October 2000 were fragile days. But with the instantaneous outpouring of concern and support from friends and family, and with a strong market in the technical writing field, I soon moved on. It was relatively easy to find an opportunity that paid substantially better and allowed me to move into editing full-time.

But this Monday morning I sense that something is not right here at Company C. After confirming that layoffs are occurring one-by-one, I get the phone call to come to the Director’s office. And when informed that I was being laid off, the first and only concern I voiced was whether this meant I would not be allowed to borrow the video projector! They assured me that their agreement to lend me the office equipment to give a presentation at church was still good. My second reaction was relief at not having to drive to Dallas (an hour each way) every day.

Although the moment of termination is always surreal, I couldn’t help but contrast it with the same event at Company B. This was completely different in so many, mostly good, ways. Perhaps the way this layoff was conducted set the tone for me to view it and my ensuing experiences as ‘beneficial’ from the beginning.

But again I was unprepared to be thrust into this situation, and I knew how bad the local job market was now. However, with the last job search relatively fresh in my experience, I felt it would be easy to resume where I left off nine months earlier. Indeed, it seemed that a layoff was becoming an annual occurrence I should plan on.

The previous weekend in conversation with a friend about unemployment, I mused that when we have such involuntary free time, isn’t it a shame that we can’t avoid the panic and stress that seems inherent in scrambling for the next position? Why can’t we just relax and enjoy not working while we can?

Now I had been given another opportunity to do just that. Perhaps it was self-fulfilling prophecy, or was it truly a gift?

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