Lifestyle Loss: An Emerging Career Transition Issue
by Millicent Nuver Simmelink
Understanding lifestyle loss as a potential career transition issue is extremely important for today's career practitioners. Everyday, major newspapers across America announce new layoffs, reorganizations, mergers, offshore outsourcing or closings. Not everyone displaced is successful in locating a new position comparable in status, responsibility and compensation to their old one. Coping with the reality of this upsetting dilemma is not easy for clients or their families. Career professionals need to be sensitive to the emotional and financial ramifications of this loss. How we help our clients adjust to living with less while not giving up hope for personal and professional fulfillment during an economic downturn is a new challenge our profession must address.
Lifestyle loss can be defined as an involuntary change in one's standard of living due to diminished income and the removal of perceived status within an organization and/or community. The stress incurred by individuals experiencing this change is often overwhelming and depressing. An individual can assume the burden of responsibility for the difficult changes that will affect everyone in his or her household, including him/herself. This burden is sometimes too much to bear alone. Telling one's family that their lifestyle expectations may have to be trimmed in order for basic needs to be met is not easy. Giving up club memberships, refinancing or downsizing one's home, taking kids out of private schools or lessons, not renewing leases on luxury vehicles, eliminating expensive vacations, second homes, lavish personal entertainment, etc. creates an initial sense of denial, anger, embarrassment and frustration before the scope of the loss and its acceptance sets in.
A loss of self worth occurs if individuals are not able to resume providing the "stuff" and status they and their families were used to having within a reasonable amount of time. Relationships with spouses and children are also tested during this tense time of transition. It is human nature to get used to a certain standard of living. If it has never been previously challenged, it is easy to mistake the previous standard of living as an entitlement.
Career practitioners must be increasingly cognizant of the emotional dynamics our clients face. Reviewing some of the counseling literature on the grieving process, especially Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's work, may be useful in helping clients work through the stages of their losses so they can eventually move forward with a fresh and positive outlook. Clients will invariably mourn the loss of what was comfortable until they can accept the changes in their lives and view these changes in a positive light. Helping clients realize that they can continue to live well, if not better, with less and still feel good about themselves is an important goal. The career practitioner's role thus becomes that of guide.
The following recommendations are designed to assist career professionals work more effectively with clients who are confronting the emotional and financial stress associated with lifestyle loss.
- Be a good listener and allow clients to vent their anger, fears and frustrations within a safe, objective and confidential context. This unburdening will inevitably help clients "move on" in a positive and productive manner.
- Advise clients to get their financial house in order ASAP.
- Research and have on file a reputable referral list of local financial planners and credit counselors.
- Encourage clients to pay off all credit card debt if possible to avoid compounding interest and to put their cards away until a new budget is established.
- Be prepared to help clients decide how to discuss income loss and any necessary or anticipated lifestyle changes with their spouse and children.
- Clients may be concerned about how they will be viewed socially and how they should respond to uncomfortable questions like "why haven't you found anything you like yet?" Role playing responses to difficult questions may be useful.
- Suggest clients identify and prioritize non-essential lifestyle costs which can be minimized or eliminated to save money.
- Teach clients new ways to validate themselves by exploring avocational and volunteer interests.
- Teach clients how people can live very well for less. Identify resources on Voluntary Simplicity as a growing movement in American culture that might provide a new quality of life example.
- Review the stages of grief and adapt some of the techniques used in grief counseling to assist your clients in moving forward with their lives.
- Develop a carefully screened list of counseling support referrals for clients who may need specialized support in the areas of stress management, depression, marriage and family issues, alcohol and substance abuse, adult ADHD and diversity.
- Compile a list of community resources offering retraining opportunities or continuing education.
Losing one's job is never easy, but when that position's loss affects a person's standard of living and their sense of self worth, it becomes a serious issue. Lifestyle loss is a growing concern in our present economy. Effective career practitioners need to be ready to offer appropriate support and planning strategies should the need arise.
Millicent N. Simmelink is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice specializing in career planning, outplacement and workplace enhancement issues. Prior to founding Career Links in 1985, Millicent was the Assistant Director of the Office of Career Development and Placement at Oberlin College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (440) 331-4999.