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  • Writer's pictureSteph

What to say (and not to say) to someone going through a layoff

Updated: Jun 7

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How to be a friend with an unexpected job loss

When a good friend, work bestie, or family member is dealing with a layoff, it can be tough to know what to say or do. You care about them and want to be there. When in doubt, speak from the heart, do a lot of listening, and know that your presence alone can make such a positive impact. Here are some of my favorite ways to offer support:

Just reach out

Think back to a difficult time in your life and think about who showed up and was there for you; it means everything. When someone goes through a layoff, it can feel like you're walking on eggshells not wanting to say the wrong thing. Trust me, by reaching out at all you will offer immeasurable kindness. Feel free to keep it simple, with something like: 'I've been thinking of you and don't know what to say; I just want you to know I'm here for you."

Stay in touch

After making initial contact, you might wonder when to connect again. Touch base whenever you think of them, even if it's just to say hi or send a funny gif. You may feel uncomfortable if you are still at the same company. Rest assured, we cherish our work friends since we see each other so often. Remembering them with a text or phone call as the weeks/months go on will bring much joy, support, and comfort.

Just listen

Ask how it's going and just listen. Try not to offer solutions; this is an evolving time with a lot of emotions. Listen, support, encourage, and just be a friend. Refrain from giving advice; there are often other factors at play with finances, family, relationships, and extenuating circumstances they may not be disclosing.

Stay grounded

Equally, do not push them to do anything rash. It can be hurtful and financially detrimental to suggest taking extreme measures. As tempting as it may be, try not to share your wildest pipe dream and how you've always wanted to chuck it all, cash in your savings, and go live on an island. The person who just lost their job is sorting through a wide variety of new ideas, plans, and concerns for their finances and personal fulfillment. Let them have the time and space they need to reset and recalibrate with calm, thoughtful action.

Encourage self-care

The emotional and physical toll of unexpected job loss can be substantial. Arrange to go for a walk together, grab a coffee, or bring your favorite pet to visit. Taking time to rest and restore is critical during this time, equal to job searching when they get to that point. As a coach, I have seen far better outcomes when a job search strategy includes self-care and often a faster time to secure employment. We need our energy, sleep, and strength. Be open about mental health and well-being

Our personal identity is tied to work and, for most of us, our daily routines revolve around our jobs. It can be jarring to suddenly not have a place to go in addition to the very real financial stress of a layoff experience. Be on the loving lookout for signs that your partner/friend/family member may benefit from a professionally trained, compassionate listener in the form of a therapist or mental health counselor. Better yet, create a comfortable conversational space proactively by casually making it known that you believe in holistic health & wellness, that you understand this is a major life interruption, and if ever they'd like help in finding therapeutic resources you would be happy to help. Many severance packages also come with access to free or reduced-cost therapy, behavioral health, or EAP resources.

Make it okay to get a part-time job

My recommendation for anyone in between jobs is to obtain a part-time gig with a nice boss - for so many reasons including the paycheck, interacting with people, a sense of community, adding structure to your week, the chance to try something new, and reminding yourself that someone has just hired you. Registering with a temp agency is also a good option. Sometimes, people feel embarrassed to seek part-time work and what's worse is when those close to them make them feel bad about it - or inaccurately perpetuate a myth that 'a job search should be your full-time job'. I do not believe in the latter; the job market is such that everyone needs breaks and taking a part-time job gives you confidence, keeps you motivated for your full-time job search, and minimizes resume gaps.

Refrain from giving career advice

I know this one is hard. Share job leads, opinions, and introductions only when asked. Really try not to offer career advice and instead encourage them to work with a coach. A lot has changed in hiring and this pandemic market is unprecedented. Your friend is likely considering many different options and/or starting a job search for the first time in years. My heart breaks when anyone receives and acts on bad career advice; doubly so when this person is in between jobs. Similarly, I see partners/parents/friends oversimplify the hiring process and it ends up making the job seeker feel worse. Just be a supportive friend or family member, and encourage them to connect with an experienced coach.

Stay optimistic

Above all, only share positive news about hiring - or talk about something else. It can set job seekers back weeks or even months to hear friends, partners, and family members comment on how awful the job market is. The truth is people can get hired at any time. It is a tough market right now; everyone knows this. Instead, what we need in times like this are support, resilience, and perseverance, coupled with effective job search strategies, tangible job leads, great introductions to hiring managers, and some good old-fashioned luck. It takes an immense amount of effort to get (and stay) motivated to job search; please only be supportive.

Your kindness means everything

It's common for people to retreat during a job search and more so after a layoff experience. Be the one who courageously and compassionately reaches out to offer friendship, love, and support. Your goal is not to solve anything, but rather to be there to listen, encourage, give them a great big hug, and remind them how awesome they are.

Sending wishes for everyone to find new amazing jobs soon.

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