”The Company Men” Is All Too Real

Many moviegoers will see themselves, and their stress, in the characters of “The Company Men,” a movie about unemployed executives starring Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones.


During the Great Depression (as opposed to the one we just narrowly avoided), the movies offered brief escape from troubles and woes. Watching Fred and Ginger glide across the screen was enough to put a smile on world-weary faces, if only for a little while.

“The Company Men,” which stars Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones, not only won’t put you in a better mood, it will zap you into the reality of the still-sluggish economy and the instability of the job market. Said one commenter on “The Company Men” page at IMDB.com, “Why would I want to go to the movies just to see what’s happening in real life around me? You go to the movies to escape real life and the stress that goes along with it.”

Indeed, many moviegoers will see themselves, and their stress, in characters whose work and lives have been pulled out from under them. Based on interviews TheLadders has done with career, psychology and family therapy experts, the characters’ varying responses are realistic and provide lessons in what to do — and not to do — when you are out of work and facing a possibly prolonged job search.

“The Company Men” follows a year in the lives of three men who are laid off due to downsizing at a major company. The movie examines how being out of work affects the men, their families and their communities.

This movie illustrates the increasing anxiety many job seekers feel as they struggle to first accept their situation and then proceed with what is often a grueling job search amid family and financial pressures. Experts say the gravity of this experience should not be underestimated.

“It’s a big challenge to your capacity to adapt, just like a prolonged illness is a challenge or going through war is a challenge,” said Michael Jolkovski, who has a doctorate in psychology and works as a psychologist and psychoanalyst in Falls Church, Va., and is a principal at Working Through, a consultancy focused on helping creative teams work effectively together.

Indeed, as a job seeker faces rejection after rejection, anxiety can turn into depression.

“We all feel stress, but the shift … to anxiety or depression typically comes when you start to experience feelings of hopelessness, and some of the things you used to enjoy you no longer enjoy,” said Kevin Skinner, who has a doctorate in marriage and family therapy and is an author and radio-show host. “And so you shift gears from, ‘I’m going to make it through this — I don’t know the answer, but I’m going to make it through this,’ to, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to make it.’ ”

One of the big mistakes the characters in “The Company Men” make is to deny — or even hide — the problem from the people closest to them. This can increase anxiety, say experts, because family members know there is something wrong but can’t help.

“Job seekers should talk to their [families] about the realities of today’s economy and about how a job search can sometimes take a long time. It may be difficult for them to realize that you may not be able to get a job tomorrow and that it may take prolonged effort over an extended period of time to get the right job for you,” said Sharon Reed Abboud, author of the book, “All Moms Work: Short-Term Career Strategies for Long-Range Success.”

Creative Thinking

As with the characters in “The Company Men,” it can be very difficult to unwind from such a negative spiral. Experts say it’s important to take care of yourself, especially to eat right, exercise and get enough sleep. They also say it can be helpful to adopt an entrepreneur’s mentality and to do some creative thinking.

“The mind has to change to the concept of, ‘It’s going to take me a while to find a job,’ ” said Skinner. “[Think,] ‘It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when I get that new job. And until then, I’m going to be hitting up against a lot of rejection.’ ”

Jolkovski agreed: “It’s sort of like the entrepreneur’s mentality, where people are doing something and the success is uncertain,” he said. “Just like certain salespeople — if they get a 1 percent response rate, then they’re doing well. They have to have the mentality to make 99 calls and say, ‘Well, there’s one more down,’ instead of saying, ‘Oh, I’ve been rejected 99 times.’ ”

In addition, in today’s market, your next job might not be the same as the one from which you were let go. It’s important for job seekers to think creatively and be flexible.

“Try and flip it around as an opportunity,” said Elizabeth Friedman, a clinical psychologist in New York. “For people who are very successful, change is usually a very positive challenge and, potentially, a very exciting thing. To do a job that’s a tiny bit different or even a lot different, but within your skill set in any case, that’s kind of nice.”

“The Company Men,” which was directed by John Wells, is set for wide release in the United States in January 2011.