Support, reality can help older workers cope with late-career job loss

November 4, 2013 by Kathy Quirk, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

The older you are, the harder it is to get a job if you're unemployed. In 2013 the average length of unemployment for workers over the age of 50 was 53 weeks, compared to 10 weeks for teenagers, according to the United States Department of Labor.

Helping who lose their deal with that reality is a challenge for professionals, says Nadya Fouad, distinguished professor and department chair in educational psychology. Counselors need to find a balance between encouraging people to continue their job searches and accepting the reality that their future may not include a fulfilling, well-paid position, she says.

Fouad, quoted recently in the New York Times on the psychological issues facing older, unemployed workers, says the response to the article was "absolutely heartbreaking," as many elders shared their own stories of fruitless searches and subtle .

"Thirty years ago you chose something you were interested in and matched it to a career and there you were for the rest of your life." With globalization, recession, technology and downsizing, that's not true anymore.

"The social contract has changed," she says. Older workers believed that if they were loyal to their employer, the employer would be loyal to them. However, today's younger workers no longer expect to stay in a job until they get their gold watch, Fouad adds.

In addition to having different expectations, older workers may find it harder to get back into the job market. Employers may see older workers as overqualified, expensive, or not worth investing training time in because they may retire soon. "Age discrimination isn't legal, but it still occurs in subtle ways."

Despite the challenges facing the older and unemployed, few psychologists think it's important to integrate work-related issues into their practice, says Fouad.

Fouad did a presentation on the topic of and mental health at the American Psychological Association (APA) national conference, and she worked with colleagues to draw up proposed APA guidelines to help psychotherapists better deal with workplace issues and unemployment. She's also starting research into the factors that influence career decisions in mid-life.

She advocates for psychological counselors to be better trained to deal with job-related issues, particularly those affecting .

"In America, we identify with work," says Fouad. "Losing a job can be shattering, akin to getting a divorce. If psychologists don't understand the link between unemployment and mental health, they're not going to be able to help their clients. We need to be much more aware of these issues that impact people's lives."

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not rated yet Nov 04, 2013
I am nobody special as many of my bosses like to remind me. I have a BA degree in international studies. That allowed me a military career in the reserves. I have a second BS in Mathematics, Economics, & Comp Sci. I have an MBA in Econometrics & Comp Sci. That allowed me a career in data processing and eventually three certifications. I was briefly unemployed in 1990 & '95 for 5 mos ea.(age 48). I finished my second MS in Quality Eng Mgt in '96. That allowed me a career as a quality engineer, and a test engineer and another certification. I was unemployed in '99 for two months (age 52), and again in '01 for four months (age 54). I was unemployed in '09 for three months (age 62), and in '11 for five months (age 64). I read and keep current in my career fields (systems, software, quality, math) so as to remain competitive. I expect to stay employed until 2017 or so. I would then look forward to substitute or part-time teaching in any of my chose career fields.

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