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Career Q&A | Karla L. Miller, Special to the Washington Post.

Laid off? Secure a safety line

Q: I am a government contractor. My program's funding was cut in July, and I knew then that I would be losing my job. I was laid off in the fall. Is there any help for me? I am currently out of work and face losing my insurance and my house.

A: Locate the nearest lifeboat. I hope you started looking around for new employment the moment you heard about potential funding cuts or layoffs. If you haven't found a job by the time you're cast overboard, grab the best one nearby. This is no time to be picky about rescue vessels.

Secure a safety line. If you're laid off, apply for benefits at your state unemployment office. Consider tapping your retirement accounts; it may be worth the tax and early-withdrawal consequences. And don't let your health insurance lapse. COBRA is pricey, but under the Affordable Care Act, you can find other options for coverage at

Jettison dead weight. Cut all nonessential spending — now.

Drop or weigh anchor? If you own your home, you won't lose it overnight — but you may discover it's not worth hanging on to. A good real estate agent will, free of charge, walk you through your options: short sale, government assistance, renting, even bankruptcy. If you are a renter, line up temporary crash space, or look for someone willing to pool resources with you. Low-income housing and government assistance are available but have long waiting lists.

This advice might make me sound like a delusional cruise activities director on a Niagara-bound barrel. The answer you really need — a sure-fire way to find another job — I don't have. But this will help: Network every chance you get. Join communities on Monster, CareerBuilder and LinkedIn. Chat up connections in your neighborhood, school or place of worship. When you feel yourself sinking, reach out to your fellow castaways for support.

And now, as I go on furlough for the holidays, I wish you a happier new year in which all we have to worry about are clueless bosses and noisy cube mates.

Hiring friends takes firmer boundaries

Q: I am at home recovering from a long illness. I pay several aides, all relatives or friends, to come help me for a few hours a day with home care and light housekeeping. I show my appreciation by rounding up their hours to give them extra money; occasionally treating to lunch or a movie or a small gift; and offering them their choice of downsized items from my giveaway pile. However, I am unprepared for their endless attempts to extract more from me. I regularly deal with the following: "That looks delicious. Is it?" Or, "I'm hungry." And the one that really puts me in an awkward position: picking up an item that's not in the giveaway pile and asking, "Can I have this?" I have responded using humor, avoidance, non sequiturs and the occasional tall one.

I am tired of dealing with this. If I tell them how uncomfortable their comments make me feel, however, I risk losing their help.

A: Behold the dangers of mixing business and personal relationships. Your hired help seems to feel entitled to a paycheck plus the freedom to mooch off the boss without fear of being fired.

Can you replace your ham-handed helpers with professionals? I realize that kind of aid doesn't come cheap, even if covered by long-term-care insurance or Medicare/Medicaid — but consider what you're already paying in extra wages and gifts. An Internet search for "home health care agencies" or a conversation with your doctor might turn up affordable part-time options.

If you simply can't afford professional help or can't bring yourself to "fire" your team, you're going to have to firm up your flimsy boundaries and replace the random rewards with a more consistent system. In short, start treating this as a business arrangement. You are paying them for their time.

Consistency is key. It may seem obvious to you that occasional treats are where the freebies end — but to your aides, it may seem normal to ask for more than has been offered, especially if they're … let's say, "not well brought up."

To "That looks good" or "I'm hungry": "Oh, do you need a break to go get yourself some lunch?" Or use your "treat" funds to stock up on snacks. And stop the giveaways. Put away the pile and tell your helpers you're done downsizing for now; repeat as needed.

After you've recovered, host a thank-you party, with gifts if you like. If you're feeling generous, you can then direct your helpers to any remaining goods, clearly labeled for donation, in the newly reappeared giveaway pile and tell them they may have first pick before the charity truck arrives the next morning.

Laid off? Secure a safety line

01/05/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 6:55pm]
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