Almost 17 million Americans filed new unemployment benefits claims in the previous three weeks during the COVID-19 crisis, and economists are forecasting another five million filed last week (through April 11).
While we have no data yet on how many of those workers are event organizers or were employed by companies that support business events, or hotels, or CVBs, we know that the collective job loss in the business event industry and overlapping sectors is massive — and that those who have been laid off feel the uncertainty of these times even more acutely. It’s stressful enough to lose your job during a healthy economy, but the emotional toll is no doubt greater during this pandemic.
Which is why psychologist Robert Leahy, director of New York–based American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, says your only two priorities when you find yourself out of work are to look for a job, and more importantly, to take care of yourself. Leahy, who is the author of The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry From Stopping You, shared with Quartz at Work six suggestions for what to do if you find yourself out of a job.
- Get past the shame ASAP. A sense of shame is often shared by employees who have been laid off, rather than assigning responsibility to companies that were unable to prepare properly for a downturn. If people can recognize that this period of unemployment will likely be only temporary, Leahy said, its psychological impact shouldn’t be “as devastating” as in past recessions. Shame is unhealthy on its own, he told Quartz, but it can prevent people from being open with family, friends, and people in their networks who might be in a position to help them find a new job.
- Limit the time spent looking for a job. Losing a sense of structure is a common feeling for everyone during this pandemic, but it’s particularly true for people who “have lost the rhythm of the workday,” Leahy said. He suggested that job-hunting should take up only an hour a day, saying that the task is inherently discouraging, and likely “the worst part of the day.” That hour should be spent in whatever way is most productive, whether that’s networking or searching for jobs online. Leahy recommends that you spend time exercising, eating healthy, socializing with friends, and on enjoyable hobbies — and consider volunteering. “If you volunteer, you actually have a job,” he told Quartz. “You’re not being paid, but you’re actually doing something that’s helpful, which is uplifting for most people.”
- Carve out a “worry time.” This seems counterintuitive, but Leahy said that it normalizes the worry. Tell yourself, “Of course, you’re worried, everybody’s worried. You have the right to feel worried.” Once you’ve validated your concerns, he said that there’s another question you should ask yourself: “Is this going to lead to any productive action?” Rather than allowing the “what ifs” to consume your day, Leahy said to write down your worries during the course of the day and evening, and schedule a “worry time” to consider how you might address each concern productively — including filling out paperwork for government relief programs. “Ask yourself, ‘Is there any productive action I can take today to make progress?’” Leahy suggested. And accept that the answer might be no and move on.
- Recalibrate your expectations. Leahy said that if you can see this period of unemployment as contained and “compartmentalized to a point a time” — like a sabbatical or the “time in between the last job and the next job,” you will have a more positive mindset. More of us should assume that we will have periods of being out of work and that our income will fluctuate, he said.
- Redefine yourself away from your work. There is a real loss of identity that comes with a layoff, Leahy acknowledged. But it’s also true that this period can challenge your belief that what you do for a living defines who you are or establishes your value. Think of your identity as a pie chart, he said, with your job being “one small piece of that pie.” With that as your mental framework, you can recognize your other roles in your family and community. Moreover, the “world expands” with this mental shift, he said. Perhaps this leads you to sign up for an online class to upskill, which could improve your chances of finding a new job or could lead to a career change.
- Reduce your “need state.” Take stock of what you really need in the way of material goods and how many intangibles you take for granted. Whether you’re employed or not, he encourages people to pursue all the things they can do for free — going for a walk, watching a video, reading, having fun with others — which can be grounding. “If you don’t need a lot of things,” he said, “you’re free to enjoy what’s simple.”
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.
PCMA has created a COVID-19 resources page to help event professionals find reliable information about the pandemic and to share events industry-related resources to ensure they are prepared now and in the future.