Practical tips for supporting coworkers and loved ones through job loss.
It’s common to feel overwhelmed, shocked, or unsure how to act when a coworker, friend, or family member loses their job. Many of us worry that we’ll say or do something “wrong.” Still, we wish we could do something to help others when they lose their job.
With preparation and thoughtfulness, you can offer helpful support and possibly make a positive impact on someone going through job loss. Consider the suggestions below for supporting someone who lost their job (and yourself) through the experience.
When supporting someone who lost their job, it’s important to do our best to try to understand their experience first. (What you’re feeling deserves attention as well, and we’ll discuss strategies for coping with your feelings later in this article.)
Learn about the impacts of job loss
Becoming more knowledgeable about common job loss experiences can help you be more thoughtful in your interactions with someone who lost their job. Suggested actions:
Check out resources that describe the common experiences linked to job loss.
Review personal accounts of others’ experiences with job loss (explore blogs, podcasts, etc.).
Although there are common impacts of job loss, each person experiences job loss uniquely. Suggested actions:
Consider that not everything you learn will apply to your coworker, friend, or family member.
If you’ve personally experienced job loss, remember that their experience is likely to be different from yours.
If they are ready, talk to the person to best understand their unique situation and any support they might want.
Losing one’s job can be an isolating experience. Reaching out to someone who lost their job can help them feel less isolated. If helpful to you, below are some suggestions about navigating these interactions.
You may worry that bringing up their job loss could upset them. However, thoughtfully reaching out can be a way to tell them you care. Examples:
“I’m so sorry to hear you were laid off.”
“I’ve been thinking about you since you shared the news.”
“I can only imagine what you’re going through.”
“You’ve been on my mind a lot. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”
After acknowledging their job loss, offer support. Be specific about what you are offering instead of offering general support. Statements like, “Let me know if I can help” may be less helpful, because the other person may not know how you can help. Think about whether you can offer emotional, practical, financial, or other support. Examples:
“If you want to talk, I’m here to listen. Text or call anytime.”
“I know someone who’s hiring. Let me know if you’re interested.”
“Budgeting is my favorite hobby. I can share some resources if you’d like.”
“Please feel free to list me as a reference. I’d speak your praises any day.”
“If you want some alone time this week, I can host your kids for a playdate.”
Some people will readily accept your support, while others may not want or need support from you at this time. Their desire or need for support may also change as time passes. Be responsive to their needs. Suggested actions:
When you reach out, consider giving them permission to not reply. For example, “Don’t worry about getting back to me. I just want you to know I’m thinking about you and want to help if I can.”
If they don’t share much about their situation, hold off on asking questions or pushing the conversation. Instead, tell them you remain available for support if things change. For example, “Please don’t hesitate to reach out if things shift on your end.”
If they share more about their situation, consider engaging more deeply in the conversation.
To offer meaningful support, it helps to truly listen to what the person shares with us. This involves setting aside our thoughts and feelings to fully attend to the person who is sharing. Suggested actions:
Do your best to focus fully on the conversation. Remove sources of distraction. If you become preoccupied by thoughts, gently guide your attention back to the conversation.
Ask open-ended questions (that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”). For instance, ask “How have you been doing?” rather than “Are you doing okay?”
After you ask a question, allow time for the person to respond at their own pace. Do your best not to quickly jump in.
Limit talking about your experience, unless the person asks.
Summarize what they’ve shared to give them the chance to clarify. For example, “It sounds like you’re really worried about finding another job.”
Consider how what they’re experiencing makes sense, given the situation and share that. For example, “Of course you’re worried after what just happened.”
By losing a job, people may also lose a part of their community. You can support them by staying connected. Suggested actions:
If the person who lost their job isn’t a part of your personal life, consider asking for their personal contact information. Be sure to reach out within a month or so to connect.
Invite the person to spend time with you. Choose low-cost activities, like walks, picnics, or free art shows.
When connecting, consider limiting work talk, though you don’t need to avoid it entirely. For instance, if they ask how your week was, you could say “Work was so busy this week. Also, my niece started walking!”
It’s common to have any number of unpleasant thoughts and emotions related to a coworker, friend, or family member’s job loss. If you survived layoffs at your workplace, you might feel guilty or fearful. If you’re the friend of someone who lost their job, you may be concerned about their well-being. If you’re a family member, you may worry about finances. Regardless of your unique situation, it’s important to take care of yourself too during this time. Suggested actions:
Practice self-care to help you manage stress and cope with the challenges you’re facing.
Seek support from people you trust (not the person who lost their job), by sharing your thoughts and feelings about what’s happened.
Practice self-compassion. This is a difficult situation, and you’re unlikely to say or do everything “perfectly.” Offer yourself kindness when you stumble.
Learn ways to cope with stressful transitions at work if you’re distressed about changes happening at your workplace.
Take active steps to address worries about your job or finances. Consider sprucing up your resume or saving money (if you can). At the same time, remind yourself that you aren’t currently experiencing job loss.
Do your best not to assume the worst. Know that people typically recover from job loss.
It can be very stressful to watch someone we know go through job loss, especially since there isn’t a magic formula to “save” others or ourselves from job loss. However, offering kindness, support, and community can make a significant difference for someone going through job loss. Remember to offer yourself the same kindness and seek support since you’re also coping with change, uncertainty, and concern about someone in your life.