The past two years have been a challenging year for many and circumstances have made it even more important for us all to stay connected and be willing to support those around us. Losing a job is always a crushing experience, but losing a job when jobless claims have reached record highs can be especially traumatic.
Job loss, or reduction in hours and income can be hard to talk about – especially if your job is left intact. It can be an awkward, murky and guilt-ridden conversation to navigate. When we’re faced with such information, it can be tempting to offer words of optimism or to look for ‘silver linings’; like pointing out how the crisis is temporary, and the economy will one day recover… But it’s often better to ignore these impulses. Still, there are ways to reach out to unemployed friends and make the experience slightly less awful.
- Empathise and validate
Often our first urge is to help our loved ones to solve the problem because if we can do that then they will stop hurting, right? Wrong. Often, the first thing that is needed from a friend when you are hurt or upset is to feel heard and understood. Empathising is a vital first step and it is relatively simple. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how they feel, then say: “That must make you feel [insert emotion]”.
Validate that worrying is normal. Validate the questions your friend has about the future, about their retirement funds, and their rent. Validate the loss, no matter how ambiguous it is.
Use this time to provide clear emotional support – “sorry, that’s really hard” or “that must be upsetting for you”.
The message communicated should be something along the lines of… “of course you’re upset, of course you’re anxious, of course you’re worried, of course you’re confused”, and “that makes sense to me, I can understand that”.
- Be person-centered
There’s a great deal of evidence suggesting that using language that is quite controlling or directive in nature can often leave people feeling less optimistic and more helpless.
The degree to which ‘supportive comments’ acknowledge and explore the distressed person’s emotions and experience (as opposed to ignoring or reframing them) can have a big impact on a person’s resilience, self-esteem and wellbeing.
- Be patient
Show compassion through patience. This is not the time to be judgmental or pushy. Just because what they lost was a job, and not a person or pet, doesn’t mean they have not experienced loss.
- Affirm and support
When the time is right, offer to help. Assist in brainstorming about new opportunities and how to get there. Perhaps encourage the person to make a list of their skills and accomplishments, assist them in practicing for interviews or in writing a CV. And always remember keep the individual, their feelings and needs, as your central focus.
If they’re struggling to reach a point where beginning the job search seems possible, encourage them to reach out for professional assistance. Which brings us to the last tip…
- Seek help
If you, or someone you know, is struggling to get back on their feet after losing their job or due to changes in their work schedule, frequency or security, we stress the importance of seeking help.
Losing a job suddenly can often bring a kind of grief that individuals may need support from a professional to move through it.
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