I work on the academic side of a division one athletics program, and we were hit pretty hard because of COVID-19. Most of our revenue is from in-person activities. COVID hit during the men’s and women’s basketball playoffs, so millions were lost when they were canceled. And our national championship winning baseball team had to forfeit their season. Naturally, the university is still adding up all the lost revenue, but it is well into the millions. And even with one cost-saving measure after another being put into place, it feels like my coworkers and I were watching a slow-burning fuse, waiting for the inevitable layoffs to be announced.
But the really difficult part of all of this was talking to my wife about it. Mel teaches at our children’s school, but between my university job and writing, I make the majority of our income and our health insurance is through my employer. Talk of layoffs and budget cuts were circling at my work. Some departments had already let people go. I was freaking out — I still am — but I refused to tell Mel about it. I was afraid to, honestly, because I didn’t want to look like a failure.
Please keep in mind that this is not me saying that if you lost your job because of COVID you have failed at anything; this is a bonkers, once-in-a-lifetime situation. What I am trying to say is that regardless of the situation, pandemic or otherwise, I couldn’t help but feel like if I lost my job and couldn’t provide for my wife and three children, that I would hold myself personally responsible. Unfortunately, I think that is a pretty natural feeling.
I don’t know where these feelings came from, but they were very real, and rather than discuss what was happening at work, and my fears and anxieties about the very real possibility of losing my job, I bottled it all up. And I have to assume that there are so many men and women out there struggling with the same exact feelings I am. Going to work each day, wondering if it will be your last, and feeling this deep shame that comes with the very real uncertainty that the company you work for may be forced to downsize.
This article is not some plan to rejuvenate your place of employment or a list of ways to help you stand out among your coworkers so you become irreplaceable. What I do want to stress is the importance of speaking with your spouse if you are facing the threat of losing your job. And I strongly recommend doing it now. Because here’s what happened with Mel and me.
She has asked me numerous times how things were going at work. She’d read the local news articles about how hard the university I work for had been hit financially because of COVID-19, and how the athletics department was probably hit the hardest. And each time she asked, I brushed it off. I told her we were fine, when in fact I didn’t know, and inside I was terrified and embarrassed, and I didn’t know how I could find the words to let her know that yes — I could lose my job. And yes, things were getting scary.
But I finally opened up to her. It was evening, our kids were in bed. I told her how scared I was and that I didn’t know what we would do if I lost my job. I mentioned how most universities were on hiring freezes, and that I’d probably have to seek a new line of work if I did find myself unemployed.
Naturally, Mel was nervous too. But then, we sat down and looked at the numbers. We looked at what savings we had and how long it could last. We discussed if the university would give us a severance, and we started looking at other job opportunities in our area that I might be qualified for. We looked at insurance through her work, and we discussed what it would look like if we needed to move, and if we could sell our house. We looked at unemployment, how to apply, and how much we would get and if it would meet our needs for a time. Mel looked into finding a better paying job, with better benefits, in case she needed to become the primary earner.
We didn’t finish this conversation in one night. It took us three evenings, actually, of coming up with a contingency plan in the event that I lost my job. It was a grim conversation that asked me to put my pride at the door and admit to my wife the very real possibility that I might become unemployed at any time. But it also helped me recognize that this wasn’t about me, but a situation that was out of my control.
Mel didn’t think less of me. She didn’t laugh at me, and although I think the conversation made her nervous, we both felt better after making a game plan in the event that I lost my job. It gave both of us a lot of comfort during a very unsettling time. So my suggestion is, if you are being faced with eventual layoffs, like so many are right now, sit down with your spouse and look at all the variables. Look at all the options. Obviously, it is not a fun conversation. But it is important.