More Than Just a Hug: Gifts for the Unemployed Take Off

When a friend or loved one loses a job, it's hard to know what to say or do. Recently-unemployed individuals are likely going through a difficult time emotionally, and a face-to-face consolation isn't always what they need. With a distance-is-best philosophy in mind, some companies are helping people find unique ways to offer their condolences and support to someone dealing with a job termination.

The idea of sending well wishes to laid-off friends and family increased in popularity after the start of the recession, according to greeting card company Hallmark. Hallmark spokesperson Jaci Twidwell says that starting in 2008, the company began getting requests from its store managers and concerned consumers for cards that could appropriately address such a sensitive issue.

The Kansas City-based company isn’t alone. With 14 million Americans out of work, companies across the nation are tailoring products and services to help console this market.

Hallmark now carries seven types of cards applicable for the jobless person in your life, which it began stocking in 2009. Ranging from humorous to heartfelt, Twidwell says the cards are appropriate for everyone facing unemployment, from a laid-off co-worker to a spouse who was recently fired.

One card in the Shoebox humor section features a cat on the cover saying, "Sorry to hear about your job." On the inside, the cat asks, "Is there anywhere I could hack up a hairball? On a former employer's head?" Another card, designed for people who may be feeling a bit more sensitive about their situation, reads "Losing your job does not define you. What you do about it does."

"The lighthearted ones are not meant for everyone," says Twidwell. "But consumers really like the card to say the type of thing they don't want to say right in front of the person. They just want to let them know they are thinking of them and are here for them."

Twidwell says that for now, seven different types of unemployment-related cards is enough, but that there will be several new cards launching in 2012 to replace the current ones. The cards cost around $3 each.

In Okemos, Mich., a small company called Bee Inspired has also gotten in on the trend of unemployment-related encouragement, and now offers a box of inspirational quotes for individuals facing job loss. Called "Bee Inspired to be a Success," the box is filled with 90 hand-rolled scrolls of quotes from great coaches, entrepreneurs, athletes, inventors, and people who are famous for overcoming obstacles, says owner Sue Dickinson.

In the last year, the gift box has become the company's best-selling gift item, and although Dickinson won’t disclose sales numbers, she says the company has almost sold out of the product and must now order in bulk to keep up with demand. Customers for the success-themed box are mostly women, ages 23 to 58, who are buying for the professionals in their life that are facing job-market challenges.

"It really takes the guesswork out of what to buy someone facing this challenge," says Dickinson. "Nothing you say can make their problems go away, but you're giving them something they can use as they are going through the process of polishing themselves up again."

The Bee Inspired boxes cost $28.95 and can be shipped throughout the country. Several local gift and card shops-- including Hallmark-- in the Okemos area have begun carrying them as well.

Don’t Overlook Face Time

But even if the sentiment behind a card and a gift box is the right one, Nicole Williams, connection director for LinkedIn, warns it's possible the recipient may feel your energies could have been better directed in a different way.

"It's going to mean a lot to them that people are reaching out and acknowledging that it's tough, but there's a chance the unemployed person will feel like, 'Hey, those three bucks you spent on that card, you could have just bought me a coffee and given me a pep-talk,'" says Williams. "Instead of just sending something and then falling off the face of the earth, allow a gift or card to be the impetus for a conversation, and include a message offering to help them out in any way possible."

The majority of people facing job loss would prefer a face-to-face meeting, according to Williams, however, it's got to be a great feeling to get something in the mail that isn't a bill.

"People are really identified with their careers, and there has been a stigma in acknowledging these kind of career let downs. It's good to acknowledge that these things are circumstantial, and not a reflection of a person's talent or ability," she says.

But helping someone focus on their talents and abilities after losing a job is worth more than anything else you can offer, says David Lewis, president and CEO of OperationsInc., a human resources consulting firm.

Lewis, whose firm specializes in training individuals in getting back into the work force, says that more people are purchasing training courses as gifts for friends or family members who have been laid off.

"About one third of the business we have seen this past year are people buying a course for someone as a gift" says Lewis. "It's an expensive gift, but it's a very practical one. What we learned in 2008 is that a lot of job seekers won't spend the money for this type of course no matter how badly they may need it. But of course you understand why-- at this point in your life, you're pinching every penny."

The course, which focuses on resume writing, networking, interview preparation, and the utilization of sites like LinkedIn, costs $750 for individuals, and $400 for a group.

But even if a course like that isn't in your budget, Lewis says that no matter what type of gesture you make to a loved one or friend looking for work, the important thing is to keep a positive attitude.

"The truth is that finding a job in 2011 is a lot different than it was three years ago, or even one year ago. A card is great, anything is great, because whoever lost their job is probably going to be scared to death."