How to Support Someone After a Layoff

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 24, 2021
4 min read

Job loss is a traumatic experience. Like other types of loss, people who lose a job often experience grief. So, how can you support loved ones after a layoff?

Being laid off from an undesirable job can be relieving. However, losing a job that you loved, you've been at for a long time, or you needed can be a traumatic experience.

Five stages of grief. While the stages of grief originally described someone with a terminal illness, they can also explain grief when experiencing many kinds of tragic loss. The Five Stages of Grief are:

  • Denial or disbelief of the layoff
  • Anger or frustration about the job loss
  • Bargaining with yourself or others to change the situation
  • Depression as a result of the layoff
  • Accepting the new reality after job loss

These stages aren't guaranteed. People cope with job loss in their own ways and at their own rate. However, these stages can provide a framework to understand a person's grief and how to support them.

Listen and follow their lead. To be a supportive ally, you need to listen. Listening to their concerns, ideas, and feelings will give them a comfortable space to grieve their layoff.

However, following their lead doesn't mean agreeing with everything they say or do. Instead, it would be best if you critically listened to the person. Listening will help you challenge unrealistic self-criticisms, assumptive thinking, and logical distortions.

Critically listening to the person will ensure that you follow their lead and encourage them to not let their grief overcome them.

Don't ignore what happened. Acknowledging the layoff will help stir the coping process. Acknowledgment doesn't mean "have a lengthy discussion about what happened." Instead, it lets the person know that you recognize their job loss.

To acknowledge, keep your words and actions simple. For example, a hug, loving word, or act of kindness can be enough to show the person you're there for them.

Tell them how you can help. "Let me know if you need anything" is a kind phrase but not as helpful as you may think. Instead, let the person know exactly how you can help them. For example:

  • If you're well-connected in your community, offer to help their job search whenever they're ready.
  • If you like to cook, invite them over for dinner.
  • If you want to be emotionally supportive, offer to listen whenever they're ready.

Being vague about how you can help makes it harder for the person to ask for assistance. However, by offering a specific kind of help, you can provide them a clear-cut option in this time of uncertainty.

Moreover, knowing what you can help with will be more sustainable for you. It's easy to give too much and burn out. Offering specific help will make it easier to support more freely.

Help maintain relationships. Losing a job has many emotional impacts. It can feel hurtful and shameful, which can lead to self-isolation. But, loved ones and social relationships will keep that person grounded in reality.

However, don't immediately throw parties and go out to clubs. Instead, listen to the person's needs and create routines around them. For example, invite them to a regular lunch, family outings, or neighborly walks. Start small and give them the space to nurture their relationships.

Reclaim their identity. When feelings of self-doubt arise from a layoff, remind the person that their job status doesn't define their identity or self-worth‌. Remind them of who they are. Talk about the person's beliefs, skills, talents, and what people appreciate about them. Keep their sense of self grounded.

Start exploring their next steps during the downtime. The neutral time between a layoff and the next steps is essential. This time is uncertain. But, you can help the person explore life outside of their past job.

You can talk about what they want to do. Explore the person's interests, skills, and aspirations. They may not know what they want to do, but these discussions can kickstart their next steps. During this time, you don't need to provide answers. Instead, help the person bounce ideas around and find new experiences.

Just ask. If your loved one was laid off and you don't know where to start, just ask them. Be upfront about their needs. There's no harm in asking.

The person may also need you to be upfront and ask. They may be unsure about what they need, and vague offerings of help may not help. Instead, asking head-on will encourage them to reflect on how they're feeling and what they need.

Show Sources


Harvard Business Review: "How to Help a Colleague Who's Been Laid Off."

Next Avenue: "How to Comfort Someone Who Just Lost a Job."

Stanford Faculty Staff Help Center: "Coping with the Emotional Impact of a Layoff.

University of Colorado Boulder: "The Five Stages of Grief."

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