Losing your job is terrible. Even if that job was the absolute worst and you hated it, suddenly being without work can be hugely anxiety-inducing, sad, and even traumatic. When you lose your job, you’re not only losing a source of income—you’re losing a professional community, a sense of purpose, a sense of professional (and maybe personal) identity, and a daily schedule with which to structure your day. In short: It sucks.
If someone you love just lost his or her job, it can be hard to know what to do. You want to be supportive, but figuring out what is actually helpful is easier said than done. In the best case, you make your newly unemployed friend's life a little easier; in the worst, you actively end up making things harder. The most important thing to do is to communicate: Ask your loved one what he or she needs, listen, and then keep asking. At times, he or she may want to vent; at others, he or she may want to avoid the subject altogether. Your job is to simply be there and do your best to help.
Read on for suggestions of simple, concrete things you can do to help out a jobless friend—and a couple of things you really shouldn’t do.
1. DON’T suggest expensive outings
Be aware that for the foreseeable future, your friend is likely going to have limited finances, and act accordingly. Don’t suggest going to expensive dinners, concerts, and vacations when you know those activities will pose a financial burden. Furthermore, don’t start offering to pay for everything. By all means, take your friend out for some drinks on you when s/he first loses the job, but then back off. While you might offer to pay for movie and concert tickets with only the best intentions, your friend might simply find it patronizing.
2. Come up with fun, inexpensive things to do
Just because your friend may not have a lot of extra cash doesn’t mean that he or she wants to check out of the social world. Invite him or her to do things that are cheap: make dinner together, have a picnic in a local park, or go hiking nearby. Also look for cool things to do in your city that are cheap or free; for example, lots of cities show free movies in the park in the summer. Take some snacks and a cheap bottle of wine, and it’s a party!
3. Offer to read your friend’s job application materials
All of us can use an extra set of eyes on job materials (like cover letters, CVs and résumés, and professional websites) to check for typos and areas that could use tweaking. Offer to read whatever documents your friend is working on.
4. Offer your connections
Do you know someone who might be a good professional connection for your friend? Offer to set up a meeting. Even if that person can’t offer your friend a job, he or she might have good advice about how to go about getting back in the work force and other useful contacts to pass on.
5. Stay in it for the long haul
After losing a job, it’s not unusual for someone to be out of work for months. So keep checking in with your friend, even after the initial shock of the job loss is over. Being jobless is going to get harder, not easier, over time, so make sure that your friend knows you’re still there to support him or her.
6. DON’T act like you’re jealous
Don’t say things to your unemployed friend like “I wish I had your free time” or “you’re so lucky that you don’t have to get up early.” You might mean well, but expressions like that are a slap in the face when you’re out of work. Of course, free time is awesome when it’s a break from your otherwise structured, purposeful, job-having life. When free time is imposed upon you, however, it can be a major burden and source of pain.
7. Sign up for a class together
When you’re looking for work, life can feel overwhelmingly unstructured and purposeless. If your friend is in this situation, suggest signing up for a class together. Community colleges and art schools often have fairly inexpensive courses open to the community. Something like this will give your friend something specific to work on, a schedule, and valuable time to hang out with you. You could go for something fun like a pottery class, or do something to add credentials to your CVs, like a class on basic web design.
8. Make sure your friend knows s/he’s more than an unemployed person
Losing a job can have a profound effect on one’s sense of identity: “If I’m not an X, then who am I?” So make sure your friend knows that there are other sources of identity and worth than what one does for a living—he or she is also, potentially, an artist, writer, spouse, family member, parent, runner, chef, intellectual, and on and on.
Ask your friend how he or she feels, and what he or she needs. And then really listen. Sometimes a friendly shoulder to cry on really is the best thing you can give.
Images: amanda tipton/Flickr; Giphy (6)