Unemployment’s Ugly Sibling: Underemployment–What To Do If You’re Underemployed

You’re lucky to have a job, except you don’t feel lucky. Perhaps you work parttime but need full-time work. You may have lost your job and found a new one, but now work for a low wage that barely pays your monthly expenses. Possibly you leap from one short-term temporary job to another, as if you’re navigating slippery river rocks toward a riverbank that never gets closer.

You may have grabbed an entry-level job for which you’re overqualified thinking it would be temporary, but now find it hard to drag yourself to work. Perhaps you’re a parent who wants full-time work but can’t accept more hours because you can’t afford or find childcare. Possibly you just graduated and can’t land a job that pays enough to pay down schooling debts.

Welcome to underemployment, unemployment’s ugly sibling.

Coronavirus was and is an employment game-changer. With unemployment insurance claims now soaring past three million and the pandemic’s end date not in sight, experts predict large numbers of employees will find themselves underemployed for years, particularly if they worked in a job sectors impacted by reduced demand.

If you find yourself underemployed, here’s what you can expect and what to do about it.

You face months of income below your “distress threshold” and probably won’t regain your former financial footing for a year or more. Cut every expense you can and explore available sources of aid; by acknowledging the situation and taking control you help settle your panic.

If your career formed a large part of your identity or sense of worth, you may travel an emotional trajectory that starts with shock and denial and moves into feelings of depression, anxiety and anger. You might feel betrayed by an employer who apparently no longer considers you an essential member of their team. Without the social support your work family gave, you may feel personally untethered. If you now lack a workday structure, you might find it hard to remain focused and instead adopt a few bad habits.

As you may fear, underemployment can lead to unemployment, as you won’t be able to update your resume with positions of increasing responsibility or advanced skills employees receive from on-the-job training.

Moving forward — You’ve learned life can change on a dime and that’s the bad news and the good.  Decide you will survive and be a viable candidate for the job you want when things turn around again, because they will. Decide what you can and cannot control and put in place fixes where you can.

Don’t hide your underemployment, because doing so cuts yourself off from job leads and the support your friends and other can give. Let your professional network and peers know you’re looking for your next job and ask that they keep an eye out for you. You may land a job before it’s posted.

Make sure your profile and resume clearly capture your strengths and show what you offer an employer. Actively cruise indeed.com and LinkedIn and apply for interesting jobs. Consider whether you need to pivot to a different type of position. Widen your focus to employers now hiring, such as those in supply chain management, IT services and food and product distribution. Learn what skills these employers seek in applicants and acquire those skills by taking advantage of the free online courses offered by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and EdX (which features courses from MIT and Harvard).  Microsoft.

You may worry you’ll never regain your career footing. You can and will.

© 2020, Lynne Curry

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Solutions” and “Beating the Workplace Bully” and www.workplacecoachblog.com. Curry is President of Communication Works Inc.  Send your questions to her at lynnewriter10@gmail.com or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.


3 thoughts on “Unemployment’s Ugly Sibling: Underemployment–What To Do If You’re Underemployed

  1. For the past twenty years, I watched and experienced underemployment become the accepted norm. Here’s why. It does not matter what an underemployed or unemployed person does or says. They will absolutely be berated by the fully employed people they know who can not and will not believe that there are not enough jobs available for everyone who wants one. The fully employed become the caretakers of the under and unemployed, or they simply desert them. In both cases, the under or unemployed person becomes morbidly depressed and anxious, and even mental health personnel will berate them when they try to explain that they have done everything possible to land full employment, but simply can not achieve it. Even “free” or “low cost” mental health providers, who find themselves in the same position, will ultimately lash out at the under and unemployed, accusing them of not trying hard enough or using job scarcity as an excuse for being irresponsible or something like it. I know, because it happened to me, and it happened to my younger sibling, who died. There are still people in my immediate family who deny that my younger sibling’s “accidental death” was clearly not accidental. This is so destructive that I can not be in direct contact with those members of my own immediate family. I know another family to whom this almost identical set of events occurred, and their situation is the same as my family’s. The obliteration and annihilation of peoples’ lives has been occurring in other parts of the globe forever, and many people of the “developed” world have spiraled down into the same level of subsistence living as the people of the third and second worlds. You might call it karma, but what it really is, is called greed and ignorance. Humans will not believe that very bad things can engulf them and the people closest to them until they experience it for themselves. How the world will choose to either acknowledge or deny massive class distinctions between the fully employed and the under/unemployed remains to be seen, but given the dire consequences of global warming (too much carbon, not enough oxygen), most notably the creation of over carbonization of the atmosphere by massive wildfires and continuing space launches, it almost doesn’t even matter what happens to the employment situation. With a pandemic that now behaves exactly the same as the first wave of the 1918 flu, and no globalized strategy for its containment, the world could experience the same level of mass die off (conservative estimates of the total number of deaths from the 1918-1920 global flu are 10 million deaths). With this chaos, the fragile will continue to be ignored and the unseeing lucky ones will forget this ever happened in 10 years. The fact that under/unemployment has been ongoing and increasingly destructive for the last two decades, and is only sporadically addressed by the media, points to more of the same until the situation “corrects” itself in a manner that no human can foresee. Ecosystem Earth will have the last say, and it doesn’t look good for the human race.

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