5 minutes read time.
Dr. David H. Demmer, Senior Clinical Psychologist
Job loss is tough and can really impact someone’s sense of self-esteem.
If your friend or partner is going through a job loss, make sure to acknowledge how it may affect their mental health.
Allow your friend or partner to grieve their lost job and be there to chat with them when they’re ready.
You’re at a party, barbecue or picking the kids up from school. You get introduced to somebody new, and you get asked the same thing every time: “So what do you do for a living?” As a society we put so much emphasis on our jobs and careers that when someone goes through a job loss it can really knock their self-esteem.
Job loss can occur for a whole range of reasons — many of which are outside of our control (especially in the current climate). Contract work can dry up, companies downsize, or people are forced to take early retirement. Despite being out of our control, these circumstances can really affect a person's self-esteem. If it’s happened to a friend of yours, or your partner, it can be hard to know what to do. But there are ways to help be there for someone going through job loss.
A job loss can impact different people in many different ways. But research shows that our job satisfaction is deeply connected to our mental health. This means that when someone loses their job, it’s totally normal for them to find it tough to cope.
Jobs provide structure to our days. They force us to get up in the morning (even when we really, really don’t want to) and, pretty simply, they give us something to do. A good job helps us feel like we’re contributing to society and doing something worthwhile.
When that disappears, it can be difficult to keep a sense of purpose, especially if someone’s career has been a significant part of their identity. This can combine with a feeling of helplessness, especially if the wider industry is suffering or job applications keep getting knocked back. Your friend or partner may feel like there’s nothing they can do and that there's no point in doing anything anyway. This sense of a lack of control and autonomy can quickly lead to deteriorating mental health.
When someone loses work, they obviously lose income. Financial stress is another cause of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
The loss of financial security can make everything else in life feel a lot more stressful. Something that was previously fun — like an invitation to come have a few drinks with the guys — can now become an invitation for stress and anxiety if money is tight. This may even lead your friends to withdraw from friendship groups, meaning you’ll have to work a little harder to reach out.
This can get even more complicated when it’s your partner. Money issues are often a point of tension in a relationship, even with both partners employed. When one of you loses their job, it can make the situation even worse. Make sure to be there for your partner and understand that this is a stressful time.
Experts say it’s important to grieve the loss of a job. It might sound strange, but grief is a totally normal response to job loss. Think about it, they’re losing a connection to friends and colleagues, they’re losing structure and finances, and sometimes even a way of life.
By giving your friend or partner space to grieve their lost job, you’ll be able to help them better in the long run.
So your friend or partner has gone through a job loss and you’re worried that they may not be taking it well. First of all, good work in noticing the signs and being there for your person. Noticing there might be an issue is half the battle.
But the next question is what can you do? It’s important to check in with them and make sure they’re ok. This might feel awkward or difficult but don’t worry, your friend will thank you in the long run. So how do you even start a conversation like this?
Sometimes it can help to do all this while exercising or on a walk. Having something else to focus on can make the whole conversation feel a lot less intimidating. It’s been shown that men open up more during shoulder-to-shoulder conversations, which is why having a chat while going for a run (or something similar) can be so effective.
When chatting it’s important to move past the everyday platitudes — things like “whatcha been up to?” or “how are you?” Instead, ask open-ended questions that allow you to drill down into what they’re going through (e.g. “How have you been coping with whole job loss thing? You doing ok?”). Ask clarifying questions and just be there to listen. Remember, you’re not there to solve the problem and telling them to just “start job hunting” may not be the best solution – chances are they’ve already started.
Acknowledge how they feel and share some of your own worries. Being vulnerable yourself can really help someone open up. It’s always nice to hear that whatever their feeling is most likely pretty normal.
If you’re starting to feel out of your depth or you realise that maybe your friend is really struggling, suggest that they seek out professional help. When dealing with job loss, some people may think they can’t afford to see a psychologist or get the mental health support they need. But this isn’t always the case. There are often free or low cost services available to help people in exactly this situation.
There are a few things you can do to help build your friend’s self-esteem after a job loss. It’s all about reframing their mindset and helping them see they are so much more than just a job.
Volunteering is a great way to give purpose back to someone who’s feeling a little adrift after losing work. Suggest to your friend that the two of you sign up to volunteer for a cause you both care about. It’s an amazing way to give back to the community and can return some of that structure missing due to unemployment. And hey, you might find volunteering benefits YOU as well.
Encourage your friend or partner to keep looking after themselves. Taking care of yourself physically is great for self-esteem and nothing beats those sweet endorphins you get from exercise.
Find a sport or physical activity you both enjoy — it doesn’t matter if it’s running, pumping iron, or ping pong — then schedule in time to do it together. Even though they have lots of time, a workout might be the last thing on an unemployed friend's mind. But a little bit of encouragement can go a long way and by making a weekly commitment with a friend (i.e. you) it becomes a lot easier to get stuck into a fitness routine. Position this as a great opportunity to get fit now that they have a little bit more time on their hands.
Making time for friends and family is also important. Try to organise hang outs with your wider friend group that don’t necessarily cost a lot of money. A group hike or a day at the beach can be a great way to hang out in a way that won’t leave a friend who’s struggling with their finances feel left out.
The best you can do for a friend who’s lost their job is to remind them that they are so much more than what they do. A job should never define anyone. By checking in with your friend and giving them a gentle nudge you can really help build back their confidence and make the most of what can sometimes feel like a pretty crummy situation.