30 Sep 2021

How to support a friend who lost their job

5 minutes read time.

Key Points

  • Losing your job is like losing part of yourself. When a friend or loved one is going through a job loss, it’s important to reach out, without trying to “fix” the problem.

  • Allow your friend to grieve their job loss, to feel whatever they feel — pain, anger, confusion — and give them time to adjust.

  • One of the best ways to support a friend who’s lost their job is to help them find new ways to define themselves, beyond what they do for a living.

Somebody once said that everyone should know what it’s like to be fired from a job — probably someone who’s never been fired before. Losing a job sucks. For some, it’s like losing your identity. So, what do you do when your best friend tells you they are suddenly unemployed?

Of course you want to help. (Huzzah for being a good person!) But you might not know what to say.

Don’t let that stop you. There are a few simple ways to support a friend or loved one who’s lost their job.

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Offer support, not solutions

You don’t have to be an expert counsellor or job networker to offer support. Just do what you’re already good at: being a friend.

Don’t wait for them to reach out for help, either. Make the first move. When you talk, remember your top job is to listen. You don’t have to have answers. They need your presence more than your advice.

Arrange a time to chat.

Assuming they told you by text (which, let’s be honest, is likely with a lot of guys), try to move the conversation to a phone call — or better yet, schedule a time to talk in person.

Don’t settle for vague intentions of meeting. Put something on the calendar. For example, instead of saying, “Let’s catch up sometime,” you could say, “Let’s grab coffee this Wednesday at 9am.”

Or, “Can I call you tomorrow after dinner?”

In particular some guys find it easier to express their feelings side-by-side rather than face-to-face. If you meet in person, go for a walk or a drive. The conversation may flow more freely than if you sat across from each other, staring deeply (and awkwardly) into one another’s eyes.

Bottom line: it’s harder to procrastinate or avoid if you make a plan.

Be a good listener.

Listening is an acquired skill, but there are steps you can take to be a good listener:

  • Ask open-ended questions that invite more than one-word answers. Here are a few examples of what to ask someone who’s lost a job:
    - How is this impacting you right now?
    - What worries you most about the future?
    - What are some things you’d like to do?
  • Don’t overreact if your friend expresses strong emotions about losing their job — confusion, anger, grief (more on that below). Emotions aren’t good or bad; they just are. Reassure your friend it’s ok to feel whatever they feel, and that strong emotions in response to losing your job are normal.
  • You know that part of your brain that’s always thinking of what to say before the other person has finished talking? Give it the night off. Resist the urge to formulate your response while your friend is sharing how they feel. Listen to understand, don’t listen to respond. Even the occasional “mm-hmm” or “oh I know” can help. Experts call these little sounds “minimal encouragers” and they’re a key part of active listening.
  • Reflect back some of what you think your friend is saying (e.g., “I’m hearing that you’re really flat because of what’s happened, mate”). Not only is this a good way to make sure you’re really listening — it can help your friend feel heard.
Avoid offering solutions.

Ok, this is the toughie: it’s not your job to fix the problem. Your friend doesn’t need you to be their career coach. They need you to be their friend. The most important role you can play is showing them you’re in this together.

If you catch yourself saying things like, “What you really ought to do is…,” take a deep breath and change course. You could ask some more open-ended questions instead. If you’ve lost a job before, you could open up and share what it was like for you — the frustrations, anxieties, and maybe some of the more positive things you experienced too.

Again, you don’t need to prescribe solutions. Your friend’s experience may look different from yours. But knowing they’re not alone will help.

Man on a laptop helping a friend who is looking for a job

Allow your friend to grieve his lost job

Grief is the natural human response to any loss — whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a home, or yes, a job.

The connection between job loss and grief

There are several ways losing a job causes grief, though the experience varies from one person to another:

  • Loss of meaning or purpose
  • Loss of agency or control
  • If your identity was connected to your job, the perceived loss of yourself
  • Loss of social contacts and relationships

Many people blame themselves when losing a job, even if it had nothing to do with performance. Whether your friend was fired, laid off, furloughed, or their contract work dried up, it can lead to a loss of self-esteem.

Giving time to adjust after losing a job

There is no shortcut through grief, no set speed at which everyone works through the pain of losing a job. Allow your friend to grieve on their timetable.

Many of us worry that showing our grief will drive people away, because they won’t know how to respond. But remember: you don’t have to DO anything. Just be there.

It’s also important for your friend to process their grief before diving back into the job market. If they haven’t faced their sadness or anger, they might inadvertently bring these feelings into their job search. On the other hand, if they allow themselves time to process their feelings, chances are they’ll go into a job interview with positive energy and a renewed sense of confidence.

Helping them redefine themselves

Your job shouldn’t be the only thing that defines who you are. Nor should the lack of one. Yet as the weeks (or months) of unemployment pile up, some people wonder who they are anymore.

You can help your friend define themselves in ways that have nothing to do with the job they once held. For example, you could:

  • Make time to hang out. Catch a game together. Go on a run. Organise a bros-only camping trip. Include your friend in the everyday bits of life.
  • Join a club together. You could nerd out on metal detecting. Or go bird watching — it’s surprisingly relaxing. Or, you know, join an axe-throwing league. Find a hobby you’re both into and chase it together.
  • Encourage your friend to exercise. This is NOT about hitting a certain body weight or size. It’s about resetting your perspective. Just 30 minutes of physical activity can elevate your mood and ease depression.
  • Talk about something other than work. Make sure YOU don’t define your friend according to their job status, either. If you see them as more than that, chances are they will too.
Man talking to two friends about losing his job

How to keep checking in

Helping a friend who lost a job takes more than one conversation. Make plans to check in regularly, even if they seem to be doing fine. Keep asking open-ended questions. And remember: don’t make everything about their job situation. Have fun together, too.

Looking out for depression or anxiety

If your friend shows signs of depression or anxiety like increased drinking, using controlled substances, or a decreased interest in favourite activities, there may be something bigger going on. You may want to suggest (without prescribing) that they talk to a therapist — maybe offer to go with them. You could ask if they’ve spoken to anyone else about how they’re feeling. Or, if you know the benefits of therapy first-hand, share your experience with them.

Almost everyone will know the pain of losing a job at some point. None of us should go through it alone. If your friend is suddenly out of a job, you don’t have to “fix it” for them. But you can help, simply by reaching out and checking in.

I have no idea how I’m going to find a job at this point. It's really getting to me.That sounds really tough.

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