"Financially, unemployment was a bit of a concern, but I had the time of my life." That quote, from advertising copywriter Kenny Kamerman, 33, may seem strange, even misguided, but it's typical of a new demographic in today's recessionary environment known as the "funemployed."
According to urbandictionary.com this is "the state of being without a job, yet having lots of time to enjoy fun activities during otherwise normal working hours." Essentially, it's a way for twenty and thirtysomethings to use unemployment as time to kick back, try something fun, and temporarily reject the confines of a 9-to-5 job. While it's hard to measure the total number of these people (since statistically, they are indistinguishable from the 8.4 per cent currently unemployed) career experts say the funemployed are those who actively embrace their unemployment, even prolong it. Nationally, this group is a headache for all political parties, since they stop working and earning money, although they still can. "These are people who decide to take a break for a bit," explains David Logan, who wrote about the issue in his book Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization . "They say corporate life sucks, and I want to take time off. I'm tired of being a cog in a machine."
Finding herself suddenly jobless after working as a manager of a travel company, Cory McCormick, 38, decided putting off looking for work. At first, she was upset and surprised at losing her job, but then she started to enjoy it, she says. Her down time extended from several weeks to a current total of 10 months, as Ms. McCormick decided to pursue leisure activities that she'd rarely had time for. She volunteered at the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario and planted a vegetable garden with hot peppers, snap peas, squash and zucchinis. Last winter, she spent three months travelling around Asia with her boyfriend, stopping off in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. When she returned, she was able to slow down her spending and extend her unemployment by renting out her condo, moving in with her boyfriend and collecting unemployment insurance. "At first I was upset about losing my job," Ms. McCormick says, "but then I started asking myself 'what new opportunities does this open to me?'"
Ms. McCormick's story is typical of the funemployed, explains Mr. Logan, executive director at University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. Indeed, the trend is spurred on by changing attitudes towards work, says Karyn Gordon, a workplace and youth consultant. Young people today are less likely to see work as their raison d'être. They are happier to stay jobless because they don't base their self worth on their job, Dr. Gordon says. "Generation X and Generation Y see work as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. They prioritize play much more than their parents."
That attitude suits Mr. Kamerman's profile: He preferred to play ultimate Frisbee on Vancouver's Kitsilano beach rather than actively look for work. Not that he didn't make job search calls, but working on his tan was more important than full-time hustling. For about five months, the ad copywriter used his free time to exercise, slim down and lose 40 pounds, and eat more healthily by cooking at home. Financially, he lived on savings and EI. When money was low, he considered returning to the type of work he'd done in college, such as landscaping and bricklaying. In the end, he wasn't forced into construction work, since a former colleague offered him another advertising job after he moved to Toronto. "I partied, had fun and enjoyed life," Mr. Kamerman explains. "You can't really worry about it because eventually you'll find something, whether it's bricklaying or another line of work."
If that seems remarkably relaxed for a situation that many find extremely traumatic, it's partly a result of Mr. Kamerman's easygoing temperament, but also a reflection of the changing economic environment. According to StatsCan, the percentage of those in temporary or contract work has increased from 5 to 7 per cent of the total labour force in the past decade. When they are not working, many of these contract workers use their out-of-work time for side projects. Some, like Tyler Davidson, 31, prolong their "funemployment" for elaborate hobbies, like building "an exploding pot roast," (a prop for a play) he says. Although the Toronto resident returned to work in April, he stayed happily jobless for six months by living solely on his savings. "I wasn't in a big hurry to get a job because I didn't really need one," he explains. "Free time is more important to me than having nice stuff."
Mr. Davidson's attitude partly stems from his lifestyle priorities and financial resources. Yet it also speak to wider demographic shifts. He is one of a growing number of Canadians who put off settling down, marrying and having children to their 30s, even their early 40s. Without kids, this group can live a Peter Pan existence, downsizing their lifestyle when required. "Because they are able to cut their expenses right down, they find it easier to enjoy unemployment," explains Barb Kofman, who runs CareerTrails, a Toronto employment counselling service.
And society's attitudes have changed too, explains Barbara Moses, a career and life consultant and author of What Next: Find the work that's right for you . As short-term unemployment has become more widespread, it's become more socially acceptable, she says. "There isn't the stigma to unemployment that there was 15 years ago," she explains.
Indeed, neither Mr. Kamerman, Ms. McCormick, nor Mr. Davidson ever experienced any prejudice toward their funemployed state. While some of Mr. Davidson's friends were happy to have jobs, others longed for a similar lifestyle of leisure. "I got to read the papers, drink coffee and do whatever I wanted to do when I wanted to do it," explains Mr. Davidson. "Some of my friends were pretty jealous."
Special to The Globe and MailReport Typo/Error
Follow us on Twitter: