Work defines life for many people. “What do you do,” is a question that comes early in a conversation with a new acquaintance. As a former human resources professional, I saw the far-reaching effects that layoffs had on employees. When work becomes the definition of who you are and the job goes away, a person loses more than an income and employee benefits. They lose part of their identity. When a Baby Boomer experiences layoff from a long-term employer, sometimes there is a sense of betrayal, a loss of trust and bewilderment in addition to the other losses.
That is what happened to Marta, who asked her real name not be used. Marta was laid off in June 2015 after 28 years with her employer when her company restructured its processes.
“I was in shock at first and even though I received a severance package, it was very difficult.” Marta struggled with her job search. After a career change, she recently accepted a position in customer service and hopes to work until she reaches an age to collect full social security benefits. “I took a pay cut; however, the benefits are fantastic and my hours are flexible, which is very important to me,” said Marta. Beyond the money and benefits, Marta also says she appreciates having restored her corporate identity and being part of a team environment. Last year, Inc. Magazine polled entrepreneurs about not being defined by their work or the businesses they founded.
Their responses included setting boundaries between work and home with dedicated time with no business interference and developing outside interests that are not work-related. One company president said by simply listening to family and friends talk about their day put his day in perspective and took the focus off his business.
Developing a strong and healthy emotional connection with people outside of work that can help provide meaning in life, and be a support if and when you have a sudden career change is the advice of another successful entrepreneur.
Developing a mindset that you are not just your title or occupation is important for Boomers with extensive careers. If titles and the status that goes with them are what experienced workers measure themselves by, then whatever happens at work seems more personal. As Maya Angelou observed, “I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life’.”