The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on the global economy, affecting everything from the restaurant and tourism industries to major industrial production chains.
As a result, millions of people around the world are facing redundancy, job insecurity and income loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the UK, one in 20 people have lost a job because of coronavirus, according to a YouGov poll, while almost one in 10 have seen their hours reduced.
In the US, more than 22 million American have lost their jobs in the last four weeks as the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the US, according to government figures.
When a colleague, friend or family member loses a job, it can be difficult to know what to say. It’s likely you’ll want to provide support and help them out, to the best of your abilities, but you don’t want to be pushy or downplay what they are going through. So what should you do?
“Try to avoid pithy statements, as they can sound insincere,” says David Price, workplace wellbeing expert and CEO at Health Assured. “Certainly, don't say anything like the following: ‘It's time for a new start’, ‘at least you got some experience’, ‘it’s not the end of the world’ and ‘it’s not just you, loads of people get fired every day’.
“These can come across as a bit condescending. You don't know how this person feels. To them, this could be the end of the world, and breezily telling them it'll be fine could hurt.”
It’s particularly important not to trivialise what the person is going through. Losing a job can be deeply traumatic for multiple reasons, including the loss of income, security and status, as well as the anxiety of not being able to pay rent, a mortgage or provide for your family. Job loss can have a serious impact on self-esteem, too.
Even if they didn’t particularly enjoy their job, suddenly losing income is extremely stressful –particularly as fewer companies are hiring at the moment because of coronavirus. By putting a positive spin on things, you may end up minimising what they are going through.
“Fundamentally, you need to remember that this is likely a difficult moment for them,” Price says. “Don't make too much of a huge deal out of it but acknowledge what has happened. 'I'm sorry to hear the news' is good, keep it as simple as possible.
“Ask how they feel. Ask if they want to talk. They might, or they might not, the important thing is to offer to listen.”
And remember, if they lash out, it’s most likely nothing to do with you. They may be worried about how they will pay their rent or bills, or wondering how they will support their family or put food on the table. Someone who has lost their job is likely to be frustrated, upset and anxious – and it’s perfectly normal to feel like that.
“They probably have a lot of anger in their system right now,” Price says. “Treat any outbursts with compassion and confidence.”
You may want to try and help the person find a new job, either by providing a contact, helping them network or rewrite their CV. This kind of support can be invaluable, but it’s important to give people the time and space to come to terms with their job loss before you try to provide practical help. In the immediate aftermath, most people will be dealing with the shock of losing a job.
Ultimately, the best way to support someone who has lost their job is to listen to what they have to say. Make sure they know you want to help, but only when they are ready for it.
“When things go wrong, most people need a compassionate listening ear to vent into. The stress and anxiety that comes with losing a job can make emotions run high,” Price says. “Offering someone an outlet, allowing them to get some of that emotion out is by far the best way to extend a hand and help them out.”