How to Support Someone Who's Newly Unemployed
February 1, 2019
When the U.S. government shut down in December, thousands of employees were suddenly left in a lurch—one day they were heading to their stable jobs, and the next they weren’t. Or, they were still heading to their 9 to 5 but without pay.
It was a temporary but abrupt shift, one that left furloughed employees frustrated, anxious, and considering giving up their long-held careers. And it left many of us at a loss for how we can help.
If you’re a friend, family member, or even a former customer to someone who’s suddenly unemployed, it’s easy to feel concerned and unsure of what to do. How do you support someone through that kind of shift? What do you say to someone who’s suddenly lost their livelihood?
The shutdown may be (precariously) put to rest, but the question lingers.
Supporting a friend through any sort of layoffs and unemployment can be tricky—you want to help, but aren’t sure how to offer it.
Or, maybe you’re worried about embarrassing your loved one.
There’s so much shame and frustration tied to unemployment that discussing it can seem almost taboo.
The key, experts say, is to ignore that narrative.
“Job loss is commonplace,” Jonathan Alpert, a New York-based psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days, tells Shine.” “There’s no need to tiptoe around the subject.”
What is needed, he says, is a willingness to help your friend on their own terms. Here, how to support someone who’s newly unemployed.
“Be empathetic,” Alpert says. “Say ‘I'm sorry’ and ask how they’re doing.”
Then listen—really listen.
“Identify with how they feel, validate those feelings, and avoid jumping to advice giving,” he says. “That may not be what the person wants or needs at the time.”
Even if you’ve been unemployed yourself, your detailed step-by-step of how you landed your current gig won’t help if your pal just wants someone to commiserate. And while you may think you know what’s best (say, taking a week-long hiking trip or signing up for a coding bootcamp) there’s a chance that your friend already has an idea for next steps.
By asking your friend how they’re doing, you’re giving them an opportunity to make their own voice heard—something that’s hard to come by during layoffs and unemployment.
Remind Them Why They Matter
There’s nothing like a layoff to make a person feel like a faceless cog in the machine. You know that’s not true—so make sure your friend knows it, too.
That might mean texting to say how you’re grateful for their friendship, or reminding them of their unique skills. A supportive email can work wonders.
Let Them Wallow
Let’s face it: It sucks to see a loved one in despair. But trying to get them to cheer up, says Alpert, is often misguided.
“One might have the tendency to be overly cheery and [say], ‘Don't worry, you'll find a job,’” he says. “That might come across as dismissive and really doesn't convey much understanding.”
Plus, it puts your needs above theirs—it’s hurting you to see them like this. Remind yourself that everyone’s allowed to feel their feelings and offer a shoulder.
Offer Your Help—If They’d Like It
Once the shock has worn off, feel free to volunteer any job-hunting skills you can offer. “Ask the person if they want to talk in detail about what happened and if they want to brainstorm ideas,” Alpert says.
And when they reply? “Respect their answer,” he says.
Your friend may already have a plan in mind, or just isn’t ready to rehash what happened. Try not to take a rejection of your services personally.
Make IRL Plans With Them
Without the daily interaction that an office or job site brings, unemployment can get lonely, fast. “Someone who loses a job might feel isolated and alone,” Alpert says. “Ask them to join you for dinner or other activities to get them out of the house.”
If their newly slashed budget’s a concern, plan something low-cost, like a run around the park or a home-cooked meal.
Donate Your Time, Food, or Cash
The government shutdown was unusual, sure, but it did highlight something all too common: that for many of us, a sudden loss of a paycheck or two can bring serious financial hardship.
Some federal employees were unable to make mortgage payments, while others weren’t sure how to feed their families.
If you’re fortunate enough to have food, housing, and rainy-day savings, consider helping out those who don’t.
You can find local volunteer jobs and food pantries online, or as a local community leader where your efforts would be best spent.
Think of it as supporting someone else’s loved ones or friends you haven’t made yet.