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22 Ways to Show Support for Someone Who Has Lost a Job

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Aid and Comfort

The current health crisis and related financial turmoil are resulting in sudden and head-spinning changes to daily life. Apart from the immediate health and safety concerns, the economic upheaval has so far left more than 25 million unemployed in the United States. If you are still employed, you can play a vital role in supporting others who are not so lucky. (If you're worried about your own job, be sure to check out these Tips to Prepare for a Layoff During the Coronavirus Crisis.)

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Get the Big Picture

Sudden financial shifts are jarring for everyone, but the hardest hit in a financial downturn are those who are most vulnerable to begin with, such as the underemployed, gig workers, and young entrants to the job market. Before the global pandemic, 78% of workers were already getting by on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis, and 40% reported that they could not afford an unexpected $400 expense. For many, losing their job now also means losing their health insurance in the middle of a pandemic.

Even for those with savings to pay their immediate bills, goals to pay off student debt or put money away for retirement get sidelined, travel plans are upended, and large purchases, like a new car or home, are often postponed.

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Assess the Emotional Toll

No matter what the socio-economic demographic, there can be fear about finding a new job, uncertainty about the effect on their future employment, depression and anxiety, and often a sense of deep embarrassment about getting laid off. Getting support from others when people are suddenly unemployed can make a crucial difference in their resilience and ability to rebound.

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Be Prepared

By helping a newly unemployed coworker, friend, partner or family member through this crisis, you not only provide essential support at an important time, but you also develop important skills and knowledge to see yourself through your own reversals of fortune.

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Develop Skills

Learning how to support others is an ongoing process. We get better at it the more we do it. In order to understand what skills you already have, consider how you have responded to others in distress over time and what you have learned as a result of these experiences. If your experiences as a helper have been positive, identify your strengths and think about how to bring them to this situation. If, on the other hand, you have had a tendency to avoid others, or over-promise and then disappear in situations, consider what could be different now.

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Watch Your Blind-Spots

Spend a moment considering your own ingrained ideas and beliefs about positive and negative consequences. Many people subscribe to what is called a just world hypothesis, which suggests that the world is a fair and orderly place. In this view, positive outcomes are the result of merit and moral goodness, while negative outcomes are the deserved result of inadequacy or lack of ethics.

If you believe that layoffs only occur when people are dead wood in an organization or due to the person's poor performance or effort, you will have a harder time offering support. In contrast, if you recognize that bad things can happen to good people, you are more likely to be empathetic. You might see the layoff as a result of extraordinary external circumstances or as an unfair outcome that is independent of the person's performance. If you recollect situations in your own life that seemed unfair or arbitrary, remembering that pain or hurt or confusion may help you to understand the emotional toll of being laid off.

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Counter Guilt and Paralysis

Another challenge to supporting those who are laid off is guilt or fear of not knowing what to say. If you have a job, but your friends or co-workers have lost theirs, you may feel some version of survivor guilt akin to those who have lived through circumstances that proved fatal to others. You may fear that they blame or resent you, and you may also fear associating yourself too closely out of some irrational fear of experiencing a similar fate.

Ironically, it is your appearance of indifference or your avoidance of others in painful circumstances that is more likely to result in resentment or estrangement. By identifying these irrational feelings and beliefs, you reduce their power to influence your decisions and actions. It may help you to recall times when your support was invaluable to a friend or loved one, or when your words of condolence offered comfort after a loss. When you see yourself as someone who steps up in difficult times, you are no longer paralyzed by helplessness and guilt in the face of crisis.

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Listen Closely

Take the time to really listen. If you know someone who was laid off, ask them to describe what happened. Talking about painful events can reduce some of the emotional burden.

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Show Empathy

Offer kindness. Say you are sorry that it happened.

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Stay Focused on Them

Keep your focus on the person you are speaking to and resist the urge to blame the company or employer.

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Ask About Their Needs

Be curious. Ask questions about what they need now, what next steps they are considering, and what helps them to cope with the situation.

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Include Them

Help them feel included by bringing them up to date on your life. Be sensitive in not complaining about your job.

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Tread Gently

If you are unsure about their employment situation, you can ask more general questions about how the current events are affecting them. This gives them an opening to disclose their employment status if they choose to take it.

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Be Present

Being present as a supporter includes initiating contact rather than waiting for someone to call you, keeping the commitments made, and checking in to see how people are faring over time. This is a good time to consider the golden rule, to treat others as you would have them treat you.

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Don't Back Out

If you make an appointment, whether online, by phone or in person, protect that time as a priority. Even if you feel a little anxious about the contact, don't back out.

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Be Generous

If you meet over coffee or a meal, make sure to pick up the tab.

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Accentuate Their Positives

Based on your knowledge and experience with that person, help them identify important skills and personality attributes that have served them well in their work life.

Related: 45 Job Search Tips From Experts

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Highlight Past Successes

If it seems appropriate, help the person recall what attitudes and practices helped them to rebound from other setbacks in their lives.

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Be Real

Don't offer false hope. Resist the temptation to offer vague promises of help if you have no intention of following through with those plans.

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Stay up to Date

Reading and watching news programming, particularly news sources that address financial issues, ensures that you have reliable information about current trends and new opportunities in the employment arena. You benefit by having reliable information for your own career endeavors, and you can offer these insights to family and friends who are seeking work.

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Keep Your Eyes Open

Collect ideas about options for volunteering and recreational opportunities that draw on the skills and interests of your unemployed friend, coworker or family member. It is easy for those who are unemployed to feel marginalized and to lose sight of their ability to contribute in meaningful ways. Volunteering or sharing interests with a new community of people reduces isolation, and ensures that they stay connected to their strengths, interests and abilities, and may even lead to a new job prospect.

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Become a Resource Expert

Become an expert on community resources such as job fairs, business development organizations, food banks, charitable agencies, low-cost medical and affordable child-care facilities. Similarly, become familiar with local, state and county government institutions that provide social services such as nutritional and financial support to individuals and families. You can help connect others who are vulnerable to these important public and private lifelines. In these unpredictable times, that knowledge may someday be necessary for your own well-being.

Related: 24 Ways to Get Free or Cheap Mental Health Care 

Carol Povenmire, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist with a practice in Pasadena, California.