Some Jobless See Layoffs As A Chance To Have Fun

By: Bonna Johnson
The Tennessean

September 7, 2009

The morning Cory Holder was laid off from her job as a technical recruiter, she went home, slipped on exercise clothes and went to a yoga class.

"I'd always wanted to work out in the middle of the day," said the 30-year-old Brentwood woman, who's been out of a job since April. "I felt free."

In the weeks that followed, she hardly looked at a single job opening.

She slept in, became a regular at the neighborhood pool, traveled to a Phish concert and went to the Florida beach for two weeks.

Yes, millions of Americans are distressed about being unemployed, but a few of the jobless are embracing their layoffs and buyouts as a time to enjoy life for a while before rejoining the cubicle life.

Kept afloat by savings, spouses, severance, unemployment checks and sometimes their parents, these mostly 20- and 30-somethings are traveling, volunteering, going back to school, doing home repairs and generally just chilling.

The world may call them unemployed. They prefer to see themselves as "funemployed."

"I know that people like us are few and far between," said Holder, who considers herself lucky to have a husband who can pay the bills. "But this is probably the only time in my life that I'll be able to get away with this."

Resume holes a concern

"Funemployed" is defined by the Urban Dictionary as "the condition of a person who takes advantage of being out of a job to have the time of their life" and "a happy time in one's life when one is not employed."

The term has been around since at least 2004 but took on new life as the recession deepened and job losses mounted. It has popped up on Twitter and in national publications all summer long.

But even some of those having fun while jobless admit to a few second thoughts.

"Part of me is a little worried about what employers will think when they see a big lapse in my work history," said Nashvillian Jon Nowak, 27.

Laid off by Midas Records in May, Nowak went home to Massachusetts for a friend's wedding and turned the weekend getaway into a nearly monthlong sojourn. Over the summer, he followed Phish the same band Holder went to see around the country for 10 stops, and then went to Europe for three weeks.

"I mooched off everyone I knew," said Nowak, who had enough in savings to get by. "I slept on couches, hung out."

Nowak went on his first job interview a little over a week ago, and the interviewer didn't seem too concerned about his extended break. How were the Phish concerts, the would-be employer wanted to know.

Some don't see the fun

"There's nothing wrong with stepping away and being able to think about where you want to go and what you want to do in life," said Bob McKown, president of XMi Human Resource Solutions.

"But if you're away for too long a time, there will be concern from (an employer's) perspective about why; and is there something going on," McKown said.

A six-month break is probably long enough, he suggested. Take more time off than that, and you'll get a lot of questions during the hiring process, said McKown, who is also president of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.

A national study released last week shows that the concept of funemployment remains very much the exception as statewide jobless numbers hover above 10 percent.

Indeed, this recession has deeply shaken and traumatized many of the jobless like no recession ever before, plunging them into financial and psychological despair.

"We think this is a mental health epidemic," said Carl Van Horn, director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. "People are reporting high levels of stress, depression, feelings of helplessness and anger. They're having trouble sleeping, they're avoiding social situations and in some cases there is increased substance dependence."

Two-thirds of respondents in the Rutgers survey said they were depressed; and more than half said they had to borrow money from friends or relatives to get by after losing a job.

The notion of "funemployment" just does not ring true, Van Horn said.

"The positive thing out of this is that you see a resoluteness and perseverance in these people," Van Horn said. "They're looking for work and not giving up even though there's no reason for optimism. They haven't given up."

Time for recharging

The time off for Kai Lane, 37, has provided a much-needed respite after years in stressful jobs as an engineer and claims analyst. She was laid off by General Motors in April, about the same time she was diagnosed with adrenal exhaustion.

"The long hours had caught up with me," Lane said. "I was near my breaking point."

She's been nursing her way back to health with long naps, a healthier diet and a lot of sitting still.

Before, she'd rush through breakfast to start her morning commute from her parents' home in Bordeaux to Spring Hill. Now, she pauses to soak up the sun after picking up the morning paper. Often, she finds herself at the kitchen table sipping tea and watching the birds outside.

"I'm taking the time to notice small things," said Lane, who may wait another month or two when her severance pay runs out before she starts looking for a new job.

Friends tease her about being lazy. She tells them she's recharging and exploring her creative outlets, including photography and being a DJ.

For interior designer Katie Vance, getting laid off has allowed her to do many things she never had time to do before. After losing her job with an architecture firm in May, she spent a month in Alabama doing volunteer work. She's traveling to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver later this month to visit high school friends for a few weeks.

The East Nashvillian also has taken up an exercise routine using kettle bells and ran her first 5K in August. She has enough time that she's even training for a triathlon.

"Those were all things that were hard to do when I had a job and was working late," the single 27-year-old said.

She knows she's fortunate that freelance work and unemployment payments are helping her get by for now. If push came to shove, her parents would help out as well.

"I have drive and ambition, but there's just not a lot of jobs out there," said Vance, figuring she might as well enjoy the leisure time and not stress out over the economy.

Not just for the young

Funemployment is not just for the young and carefree either.

After 14 years with the Bridgestone Firestone tire plant, 52-year-old Michael Goods got laid off in March. He's been having the best time ever, according to his wife, Damita Goods.

The Inglewood man traveled to Europe to visit his adult children, remodeled the dining room, plays golf a couple of times a week and is thinking about writing a book about his life in the Navy.

He has attended Cub Scout meetings and baseball practices and visited the park with his four young children. He finished a master's degree in management and human resources in July. And he has two more DIY projects to tackle.

"I've started feeling human again," said Goods, who plans to eventually go back to work in his new field.

The last few months, though, have given a glimpse of a fuller life to a man who had never done anything but work.

"I've been enjoying myself," Goods said. "I wish I was a person with financial means. I could get used to this."