Fear Based Messaging Sells—But Sure Doesn’t Help

Last night I watched “Unemployment and the 99ers” on 60 Minutes, a story about those who are still job hunting as their extended unemployment benefits (99 weeks) are about to end. I’m sure they got great ratings—and even better pass along viewership–because this kind of story allows everyone to bond together in the “it isn’t fair” camp.

The story featured people in Silicon Valley “the high tech capital many hoped would be creating jobs” and characterized the group as “those who thought they had done everything right” eg got a college degree, saved for retirement and are now unable to find work in their ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.

While there is certainly no disputing that we are in a difficult economic period not only in our country but the world, this story reinforced the idea that employees are being victimized without providing any context. Are these people in dire economic straits because they were over-extended before they lost their jobs? Were they good performers for their former employers? Was it the right business decision to let them go?

When statements like “she has only had 4 interviews in 2 years” are made, I wonder how many jobs she has applied for. Is she qualified for those jobs? Are her expectations realistic? Is she willing to be flexible? How much time is she dedicating to job hunting, networking, etc? In other words, what control has she exerted over her situation? Only then can we draw any rational conclusions about this woman’s situation.

I’m not saying there isn’t real suffering occurring for many qualified, hard-working people who are actively job hunting and unable to find comparable work in a timely manner. However, job loss is at least partly a reaction to consumer behavior. We have made doing business more expensive and are now having to deal with the consequences whether we like it or not.

Rather than ratchet up worker’s fears about what might happen to them or provide “evidence” that they’ll never find another job, why aren’t we hearing stories from companies who are innovating in this economy? What about the successes and growth areas in the economy? How about the fact that many of the most successful companies are created in a down economy—and they need skilled workers?

Wouldn’t it be more helpful to hear how others have managed successfully through a job loss than to hear that “Silicon Valley, the capital of American innovation, has a new creation: revival meetings for the unemployed”?

Amanda Mitchell is an executive coach and strategist specializing in helping senior executives deal with disruptive drama within their teams. An advertising agency veteran, she experienced first-hand the business implications of corporate drama both with her Fortune 500 clients and within the Manhattan ad agency she led. She founded Our Corporate Life (www.ourcorporatelife.com) to help executives solve the problems no one wants to deal with. She has been published in Bloomberg Businessweek, and quoted in Fast Company, CNBC.com, and Monster.com. She lives in New Jersey with her family.

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