Telling your kids you’ve lost your job. Ouch.

Just when I thought the news from the job-hunting world couldn’t get any bleaker, I ran across this story on the Web site of the Detroit News. It’s all about how parents can best break it to their kids that mom or dad is no longer employed.

This is no easy task. Thinking back to my own childhood, I’m pretty sure I know what my reaction as, say, a 9-year-old would have been if my dad told me he’d just lost his job: Panic. And if my dad told me this during the holiday season? Complete panic.

I mean, who’d buy me that new Intellivision video game system (Yeah, I’m in my 40s. That was the cool video game system back when I was a youth) if my dad was out of work? I may have still entertained a thought or two at the age of 9 that Santa Claus existed, but I certainly wasn’t counting on him for the good presents. That was mom and dad territory.

Kids like to feel secure. It’s hard to feel that way if they know mom and dad are worried about paying the bills. Unemployment is tough on everyone, of course. But it can be especially troubling to the youngest members of the household.

The story I found, for instance, highlights the challenge of a newly divorced mom who recently lost her job in the publishing industry. She broke the news to her sons, and later had to tell the boys that they had to quit their guitar lessons.

The kids will survive this, of course. It’s not the worst thing to ever happen to a kid. Still, as I read this, I counted my blessings. I’m working harder than ever to make my monthly income goals. But I’m still making them. My two sons, who were sound asleep upstairs as I wrote this post, aren’t worried about having a lean Christmas. My wife and I have promised not to spend much on each other this year, but we will make sure our sons have a happy holiday.

The nation’s soaring unemployment numbers, though, are making sure that not everyone can say the same.

Does bailing out the big automakers make sense?

One o f my bosses — as a freelance writer, I have way too many of them — can instantly give you the latest depressing bit of economic news. I swear, he has an Associated Press feed wired into his brain. The Stock Market has just taken a dip? He’ll let you know before the Wall Street Journal can. Unemployment figures up? My boss is on top of it. Foreclosures rising again? My boss already has a memo ready to go.

I wasn’t surprised, then, when he stopped by my desk late last week to complain about the possible federal bailout of the Big Three automakers. He blamed it on me and all the other Obama-lovers who voted for the Democrats on Election Day.

You can read about the possible bailout here on the Web site of CNN. My boss is far from alone in wondering whether this is something the federal government should do. He’s still smarting over the government’s big $700 billion bailout of the housing industry. This new bailout has caused him to utter the dreaded “S” word, “Socialism.”

But here’s the thing: No one’s happy that the government is considering bailing out another industry. You can certainly argue that the Big 3 automakers brought their financial problems on themselves. Why weren’t they looking toward the future when they developed their product lines? Why haven’t they found some way to compete with the Toyotas and Hondas of the world? But all that doesn’t mean that the auto-industry bailout isn’t necessary.

Just look at it from an employment standpoint. The auto industry accounts for one out of every 10 jobs in this country. That’s a huge impact. What happens if the government allows the carmakers to go down the tubes? There aren’t a whole lot of manufacturing jobs left in the United States. Where are the displaced auto workers going to go?

So, yes, it is a drag that the government may be spending more money it doesn’t have to rescue another industry. But remember, the consequences of the government not doing this might be even worse.

Are workers doing too much at once?

My boss at the publishing company where I work was once the greatest ad salesman I ever knew. When I first began editing real estate magazines at the company, the main publication I worked on totaled about 106 pages every issue. If we needed two or three more ads to meet our numbers, my boss would get on the phone, make a few calls and get those missing ads.

It was a sight to see, or hear in this case. He could talk anyone into signing up for an ad.

Today, this same magazine, which I still edit on a full-time, part-time basis, generally runs about 52 pages. Now, the terrible downturn in the housing industry certainly has a lot to do with this. But … my company also make the mistake of adding a new title, and new duties, to my boss’ job description. Now he’s an assistant publisher, too. That means he has to attend meetings, hold meetings, plan conferences, work on our Web site, etc.., It’s left him precious little time to work on what he does best, sell ads.

It seems that many companies are doing the same thing to their emloyees. They’re making them do too many things at once, probably to squeeze more work out of fewer dollars. Problem is, employees who were experts at doing one job are far less effective doing several all at once.

There’s a great post about this trend over at the Office Meets Playground blog. You can read it here.  As workers, we have to be careful not to let ourselves get stretched too thin. I fall prey to this, too, sometimes signing up for freelance jobs that take too much time for the money. They always come back to haunt me.

The Brazen Careerist: The best reality show out there

If you look at the blogroll for this site, you’ll see Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist listed at the top. If you don’t want to move your cursor all the way to your right, just click here and you’ll get there.

Trunk’s blog has a lot of good career advice. It should: Trunk is a columnist for the Boston Globe and has written her own career book. Trunk is also a witty and engaging writer.

But, and I hate to admit this, what really brings me back to her blog so many times are the frequent posts about her personal life. It’s like a soap opera, or a really well-written reality TV show. Trunk has taken her readers through her days of marriage counseling, her resulting divorce, her romance with a stoic farmer and the subsequent breakup of that relationship. She’s detailed the highs and lows of her sex life. Sometimes she ties it all in to career advice. Sometimes, she doesn’t.

To see what I mean, check out this post. It’s about Trunk’s marriage counseling with her husband. It’s old, from 2007, but it’s an engrossing read. Then there’s this post, not as old, about Trunk’s divorce. I guarantee that if you read these two posts, you’ll stay for more. And, if you’re lucky, you just might learn a thing or two about boosting your career.

The demise of the office party

The holiday season is rarely festive at the publishing company where I hold down the full-time editing job that provides a little less than half my yearly income. For one thing, the publisher has never passed out holiday bonuses. The powers that be instead provide free coffee all year long and cheap pop. That’s not a lie: The pop machines dispense cans for 40 cents apiece. That’s a bargain. And to me, it might be worth it: I’m a big pop drinker.

Secondly, my employer does not hold any official holiday parties. Fine by me. I’ve never been a fan of forced socialize with the higher-ups. It’s not my thing. And finally, you can always count on getting the official memo on Jan. 2 — or whatever day people return to work — reminding employees to remove all holiday decorations from their desks. Ho, ho, ho!

Well, it turns out that my employer — which is actually a good one, despite the odd quirk or two — is far from alone in curtailing the holiday cheer. A story in the Chicago Tribune, which you can read here,  reports on a survey from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. According to the story, almost 25 percent of companies aren’t holding holiday parties this year. That number stood at only 10 percent last year.

It seems as if there are a lot of Grinches out there. Is a cutback in holiday parties, though, really such a bad thing? I don’t know about you, but while I like my office mates, I don’t really want to party with them. I’m a firm believer in keeping your friends and your co-workers separate. And if that means the end of the annual holiday party? So be it. I really don’t want to hear about the boss’ planned ski vacation anyway.

Want to waste your employees’ time? Hold a meeting

I’m lucky. I only have to go into the office one day a week. The rest of my time I spend interviewing sources, writing stories and pursuing freelance-writing projects from my home.

Businesses worry that their employees who work from home won’t be as productive as those who spend their days in the office. But I’ve found the opposite to be true. When I’m at home, I get far more done. There’s no chatting with my fellow workers. There’s no hour-long lunch break.

And, most importantly, there are no meetings.

I’ve long felt that meetings are the biggest time-wasters in the office. This belief is reinforced every time I go into my office. There are meetings about everything: health-insurance meetings, fire-drill policy meetings, new-product-launch meetings, planning meetings, forecasting meetings … It never ends.

I’m sucked into these meetings at times. I spend most of them watching the clock and imagining work piling up on my desk, my inbox filling with unanswered e-mail messages and my phone clogging with urgent voice-mail calls (or at least a request from my wife to pick up some bread on the way home from work).

Just how much time do meetings waste? According to this story in the New York Times, which references a study done by Microsoft, workers spend 5.6 hours a week on average in meetings. Worst of all is the fact that 71 percent of respondents said the meetings were a waste of time.

According to this newsletter, about 25 million meetings take place on an average day in corporate America. That’s a lot of wasted time.

So next time someone at your office calls for a meeting, pretend to be on an important phone call. Imagine how much work you’ll get done if you’re not stuck in that two-hour meeting on your company’s new e-mail system.

When someone sabotages your career, act fast

I work mainly from home, which definitely has its advantage. One of the best: I don’t have to deal with office politics. That happens when the office is located 40-some miles away. (I do work for a publisher, but I only go into the office on rare occasions. It’s nice.)

I was reminded of how much I appreciate this when I read a recent story in the Wall Street Journal’s online careers page.  The story, written by Sarah Needleman, focuses on the steps that workers can take when someone at their company makes unfounded accusations against them or tries to take credit for their work. You can read the story here.

What was most amazing to me is that there really isn’t much you can do when someone at work has it in for you. That’s a depressing reality. The Journal story rightly recommended that you immediately go to a supervisor if you suspect that a co-worker is spreading false information about you. The experts quoted in the story also recommend that you keep your cool if this happens to you. That’s good advice, but it’s not the easiest to follow.

The story also quotes a workplace expert who says that career saboteurs are actually more common in weak economies. This is because people feel more insecure about their employment. Insecure people may take unethical steps to maintain their positions.

The story is right that you have to go to your boss or supervisor when someone at work is smearing your reputation. At this point, I suppose, you have to hope that your boss is actually a good one and will do something about it. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

If my dad can change, so can you

Yesterday I wrote about the changing reality of work. Namely, there are very few people out there who can count on job stability. There is no guarantee that your job won’t be in jeopardy tomorrow, next week, next month, whenever.

I don’t mean to be a downer. So here’s a positive example: My dad.

My dad, who’s in his mid-60s, worked for 30-plus years at the same printing company in Chicago. Part of that time he spent as a typesetter. The rest as a proofreader, making sure that ad copy didn’t contain any typos, that everything on a page lined up properly.

His industry changed, though. He could see that his company — thanks to technology advances, mainly — was going to change, too. It was going to shrink, if not disappear altogether. So, in his early 50s, my dad left the job he held for three decades and began a new career, with the U.S. Postal Service. Today, he drives a mail truck to and from O’Hare and Midway airports. It’s a completely different job than the one he previously held. But he enjoys it. And he’s looking forward to a well-deserved retirement in just a few years.

The point of all this? My dad accepted a career change, when he was in his 50s.  That isn’t easy. But he did it. If he can do it, so can you.

I’m going through a bit of this right now. For years, I’ve made the bulk of my money through freelance writing for newspapers and magazines. Today, though, many of my formerly steady markets are drying up. A lot of this has to do with the crummy economy and low ad sales, of course. Some has to do with more writing jobs migrating toward the Internet where pay levels, unfortunately, are not nearly as high as they are for print media. I’m adjusting, though, too. And though it’s taking me more work to make the same amount of money, I’m making it through this tough economy.

Don’t despair because the work world is changing. Adjust. It’s all any of us can do.

Feeling insecure in your job? Get used to it

As someone who makes his living primarily from freelance writing, I sometimes get burned out of the endless hustling to find new assignments, to meet my income numbers each month. Sometimes I wonder if it’d be easier to find a stable, 9-to-5 office job.

But then I remember, there aren’t that many stable office jobs out there.

I was reminded of this last week, when a friend and I took advantage of what promised to be the last warm day before a typically frigid Midwest winter arrives in full force. We were out riding our bikes, when my friend told me that the company he works for — which proofs computer software for hidden glitches — is in danger of losing its biggest client. He also told me that his wife, who works for a large bank, is worrying about her job these days, too. Her department is being swallowed by another at the bank, and there may be a few too many employees once the changeover takes effect.

He was nervous, sure. But he wasn’t panicking. His logic: He and his wife have been lucky. So far, they’ve been spared the economic turmoils so many families are facing today. And, he added, there’s no such thing as a secure, job-for-life anymore. So what’s the point in spending every day worrying about whether you’l have a job tomorrow. If something happens, they’ll deal with it, he said.

That seems to be a healthy attitude to have today. Just look at the recent unemployment numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can read the grim news here, but the gist is that the national unemployment rate in October hit 6.5 percent, a 14-year high. Employers shed 240,000 jobs in the month. When you factor in discouraged workers, those who’ve given up trying to find new jobs, the rate jumps to 11.8 percent. Those are scary numbers.

But as my friend said, you can either spend your days bemoaning these numbers or you can prepare yourself for the truth that, yes, you might lose your job. The best thing to do? Keep that resume’ up to date. Keep your eyes open for other job opportunities. And if something for which you’d be a perfect fit does come up, even though you do have a job, don’t be shy about applying  for it. There are no jobs-for-life. That’s the new reality, and it’s too late now to change that.

Great Post on Investing In Yourself

The Simple Dollar has a great post up about the value of investing in yourself. At the beginning of any career search, the most important thing I think anyone can do is take a personal inventory of what could be improved to make you the best candidate for the job of your dreams. Do you need an investment in yourself? Could you spend a little time, money, or effort and improve your chances? Not all investments are financial. Researching your field is free and could pay off big time. Taking the time to spend a little more effort on your appearance shows that you not only care about yourself, but about the impression you make. What investments could you make today to make yourself more appealing to a future employer?