What Not To Say To Someone Who Loses Their Job

It may have been entertaining when Donald Trump used to declare, "You're fired!" to contestants on "The Apprentice," but, in reality, there's nothing fun about being fired from a job

Although unemployment has improved considerably since the bleak COVID-related spike in 2020, the jobless rate still stood at 3.6% as of June 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Included in that number are 2.1 million employees who are still out of work because their employers went out of business during the pandemic. 

But, when you're the one who has been handed the pink slip, it's not very comforting to know that you're one of millions. According to the American Psychological Association, "a large body of research [shows] that unemployment is linked to anxiety, depression, and loss of life satisfaction, among other negative outcomes." Job loss is more than just the loss of income. Our self-esteem, identity, and socialization skills are closely tied to our careers. When all of that is suddenly taken away, our mental health suffers — and, often, marriages and families do, too.

Being the family member or friend of someone who has just lost a job isn't easy, either. You don't want to say the wrong thing, but avoiding that person can make them feel even worse. Knowing the best way to be supportive is key to helping someone through one of the most challenging times of their life. 

Don't tell an unemployed friend to look on the bright side

Although it's natural to want to make someone feel better after a devastating job loss, avoid putting a positive spin on the situation. As experts explained to Best Life Online, saying "at least" phrases like, "At least you got severance pay," or "At least you have your health," minimizes the person's feelings and may even make them feel guilty about being angry or sad.

Likewise, it's not helpful to point out how lucky your friend is not to have to work long hours or put up with their old boss. Being let go is a demoralizing experience, no matter the circumstances. Plus, your friend may be in a financial bind without a regular salary to depend on. Asking, "Did you see the signs you were going to be fired?" may make your pal feel clueless.

HuffPost UK reached out to the Twitterverse to find out what other responses are inappropriate to say to someone who's been fired. Among them were those tired platitudes "When one door closes, another opens," "You'll look back on this and laugh one day," and "Everything happens for a reason." Also cited were "You'll find another job soon," (which may not be true) and "Why not start your own business?" (Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.) 

To sum up: If you've ever seen your positive messages printed on throw pillows in Home Goods, don't repeat them to someone who just lost a job.

Offer support and practical help to someone who has lost a job

Though it may be difficult to approach a friend who has lost a job, it's important not to shy away from the subject. Experts tell HuffPost that talking to trusted people can help an unemployed person feel less alone. They suggest opening the conversation by saying, "I'm so sorry. How are you feeling?" Then empathize with those emotions, and share your own experiences if you've been through something similar. 

Depending on the situation, your friend may actually be happy or relieved to be leaving their job. In that case, it would be appropriate to say something like, "It sounds like this is a positive change for you." Don't flood your friend with questions about how it happened or what their plans are. They may need some time to process the situation and figure out their next steps. 

In the meantime, Chron recommends being proactive and finding concrete ways to help. If money is tight for your friend, you could give them a supermarket gift card. Spend a day going over online job boards or updating their résumé. If you happen to have contacts in your friend's industry, reach out to them. If your friend has young children at home, The New York Times suggests offering your babysitting services for an afternoon. Or plan to get together regularly so that your friend won't feel isolated. 

Your support can help your friend gain the confidence they need to move on from a job loss.