Coping with bombshells like ‘Don’t come Monday’

By psychologist Angie Willcocks

“Call after Christmas” and “Don’t come Monday”.

After years in a resources boom, it’s hard to believe miners are hearing phrases like this. But even in Australia, we’re not immune to workplace doubt, uncertainty and downsizing. As one Mining Family Matters reader wrote this month: “It’s become a common trend over the last few months, among our friends and fellow ‘casual’ working miners, to get what has become affectionately known as CAC (call after Christmas) or DCM (don’t come Monday), both of which put a massive spanner in the works. In seven years of mining this has never come up before…”

Although we don’t like to think about it, much of our life is pretty uncertain at any given moment. Most of us organise our lives to ensure as much predictability and control as possible. As humans we thrive on a sense of security – and our families, friends, home and work usually provide this. Things can get pretty tough emotionally when we’re unsure about any one of these areas. And because work affects so many other areas of our life (like financial security of our families) workers with insecure or uncertain work arrangements are likely to feel stressed and anxious. Symptoms like muscle tension, irritability, shortness of breath, headaches, sleep difficulties, appetite disturbance and excessive worry are common. Close relationships are likely to be negatively affected, and research shows that workers who feel insecure about their employment and often unhappy at work and less productive (not surprisingly!) Obviously it’s not good for this to be a long-term arrangement, and it’s ideal for both worker and employer if the situation becomes more secure sooner rather than later.

Plan of attack

In the meantime, here are some tips to cope emotionally with job insecurity or uncertainty:
  • Most employers are aware about the negative impact of uncertain work arrangements on their staff, but it's still worthwhile speaking up to your manager or HR department about the impact the work insecurity is having on you personally. You don't have to moan about it, just let them know it's not ideal for you and you'd prefer things to be different. This is important for employers to know, and speaking up can help you feel more in control.
  • Financially, be as prepared as possible for uncertainties that might arise. Don't take on new expenses if you can help it, and seek financial advice to simplify your budget if necessary. Make sure you have all the right insurances (see a broker if you're not sure what you should have). These insurances won't cover your work uncertainty, but they will cover any other stressful surprises that might come up.
  • Set personal goals that you can strive to reach regardless of what is happening at work. This will provide a sense of control over your life. For example, use this as a time to lose that 5kg you've been wanting to drop, to build that cubby house for the kids, clean out your shed or learn a new skill.
  • Plan ahead as much as you can. For example, plan a weekend away that you'll be able to afford regardless of your work situation. It's pretty fashionable at the moment to get away with the kids to a nearby caravan park for a couple of nights. Use this getaway as something to focus on and look forward to with your partner or kids.
  • I know I say it all the time but WATCH YOUR THINKING. It's relatively easy to go from “I hope I get my contract renewed next year” to “Oh my god what if I can't afford to feed my family?!” This sort of thinking won't do you any good. If you notice yourself feeling very anxious or panicky check in to your thinking - I can pretty much guarantee you'll be thinking of the worst case scenario and getting yourself in a state about it.
  • Work on your self talk. If you listen to your thoughts you might notice some that say “I won't cope” or “I won't be able to handle that”. Competent and confident people don't say anything amazingly intelligent to themselves in stressful or uncertain situations. If we could read their minds we'd see some pretty boring and repetitive phrases like: “I'm ok, I'll get through this”; “One step at a time” and “No matter what happens we'll find a way to make it work”. It's not about sticking your head in the sand, just calming yourself down so that you're not too emotionally overwhelmed to make sensible decisions when you need to.
  • Distraction is a useful strategy when there's nothing you can do about the problem you're facing, and the problem is time limited. For example, if you're waiting for a call about work and you're having trouble stopping thinking about it, the best thing to do is to get stuck into an activity that absorbs your mind so there is no room for thinking.
  • Look after yourself physically. Stress takes its toll on the body even when we're not aware of it. Don't let the stress of job uncertainty lead you to bad eating and drinking habits - you'll only end up feeling more out of control over time.
  • Finally, stay positive but realistic. Make sure you keep your eyes and ears open and keep your resumé up to date and looking good so you're ready to go when the next opportunity comes up.

Forced to look for a new job? Here’s our careers specialist Therese Lardner’s advice on how to do it right.

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