My Husband Lost His Job, And Then He Lost His Drive
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Dear Annie: What, if anything, can one do about a loved one who has been out of work for so long that he has given up? My husband had a great 20-year career with a big company, where he was promoted eight times (ultimately to executive vice president, reporting to the CEO, at age 44). Then, about a year ago, the company reorganized, new top management came in, and he was laid off. At first he tried to find another job, but for the past few months he has grown more and more depressed, and now he isn't even looking anymore. His severance pay is running out, and we have two kids in college. Still, his state of mind worries me more than our financial picture. Is there anything I can say to help him get going again (without nagging)? --Just Mary

Dear Mary: I'm sure you're not the only one wondering. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' official unemployment rate, now hovering around 6%, is the number of people looking for a job and doesn't include "discouraged workers"--those who have become so frustrated trying to find work that they've dropped out of the labor market altogether. "In some parts of the country, it's taking so long for people to find jobs that we've had to give our own consultants special training in how to prevent clients from giving up," says Sherry Cadoratte, president for North America at outplacement giant Drake Beam Morin ( "Trends right now are more dismal than we've seen in a very long time." She adds, "When someone is out of work, it does become a family issue. As the spouse's anxiety builds, it can create even more pressure on the unemployed person and contribute to a downward spiral." Gulp.

So what can you do? First, be aware that isolation is the enemy. If your husband is no longer contacting employers or staying in touch with the network of acquaintances he's made over the years, he needs to reestablish those contacts--and having been sunk in a funk for months, he may need professional help to get motivated to do so. "I know this sounds self-serving, coming from an outplacement counselor," says Alan Kramer, managing consultant at DBM's New York City office, "but even just one or two sessions with a career coach could really help. It's all about job-hunting techniques, presentation, and focus." One assignment Kramer gives clients who are deeply discouraged: "Write down five anecdotes describing things you did well in the past and enjoyed doing, whether work-related or not. This sounds simple, but it helps people recognize that they have succeeded at things they liked"--the first step in believing it could happen again.

If your husband won't consider talking to a coach, gently suggest another possibility: "Find a job seekers' club and encourage him to go to a meeting. Most churches, synagogues, and community centers have them. The great thing about them is, you can look around and realize, 'Hey, it's not just me.' You're not alone with this problem." What if he won't see a coach or join a group? Enlist a third party to help you persuade him, says Kramer: "In every family or circle of friends, there is someone whose opinion counts and who is close to the situation--but one crucial step more removed from it, emotionally, than you are. Who holds sway with your husband? Ideally, it should be a friend or relative who has been through a tough spell of unemployment too--which these days is not hard to find."

Bringing your spouse out of his shell may be slow going, Kramer warns, but "once someone gets out there again and starts the process, small successes begin to happen--he makes an interesting contact, an employer returns his phone call, or whatever it might be. These can be energizing, if he concentrates on the positive and does more of what led up to it." To keep that fragile optimism alive, Kramer has two tips for you: "Resist the temptation to keep asking how the job hunt is going. Don't ask every day. And don't discuss it when your kids are around. Get in the car and take a drive, if you have to. That way, if he needs to vent, he can."

Dear Annie: I went to an out-of-town conference with my boss, with whom I'd become fairly friendly over the years. On the last night he got extremely drunk (I practically had to carry him back to his hotel room from the bar) and told me some very personal things about himself, including way more than I want to know about his alternate lifestyle. Now he tries to act as if nothing happened, but I'm totally uncomfortable working with him, and I'm worried that it will also affect my performance review. Should I bring it up, or just look for another job? What would you do? --No Thanks for Sharing

Dear NTS: It's entirely possible that your boss is acting "as if nothing happened" because he was so deep in his cups that he doesn't even remember baring his soul. In any case, says executive coach Jon Spera, a principal at JMS Partners in Phoenix (e-mail:, "it was not appropriate for him to put you in this uncomfortable situation, but I can't imagine why it would have any bearing on your performance review. Seems to me this falls into the category of lessons learned from a bad boss--or at least a good boss behaving badly." Nobody's perfect. Since you always got along well with him before, can't you forgive him this one misstep and try to put the whole episode out of your mind? Difficult as that may be, changing jobs right now (what, exactly, do you plan to tell interviewers about why you quit this one?) would probably be a whole lot tougher.