The COVID-19 pandemic brought a lot of unfamiliar concerns along with it. Suddenly our normal, everyday decisions—like whether we should visit a friend or head to the grocery store—have a lot more weight to them.

Beyond wiping down groceries and stocking up on hand sanitizer, many people were saddled with newfound career fears and struggles. 

You’ve likely heard the alarming statistics. One analysis of 20 countries found that 38 million people had filed for unemployment insurance. 25% of adults in the United States say either they or someone else in their home has been laid off as a result of the pandemic. 

Where you used to listen to a friend complain about their toxic boss or lazy coworker, you now need to figure out how to be supportive through layoffs and job loss. 

As with anything, there are right and wrong things to say. Here are some tips for communicating with friends and loved ones who are dealing with major struggles in their careers. 

1. Give them time to process and vent.

When someone you love is going through a hard time, it’s tempting to jump right into “fixing” mode. You think you’re being helpful by telling them they’re better off without that job anyway or by filling their inbox with listings for open roles.

Your efforts to pitch in are well-intended, but they can also be completely overwhelming to someone who was just blindsided with bad news.

So, resist your urge to start flinging suggestions, recommendations, and directions their way and instead sit back and let them vent. Releasing their stress in this way can be a valuable coping mechanism for them. 

Practice active listening to demonstrate that you’re tuned into all of the grievances, frustrations, and concerns they’re sharing with you. This includes:

  • Avoiding interrupting 
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Asking open-ended questions

All of these ensure that the other person feels like they’re being listened to, and it’s way better than cutting them off to offer yet another suggestion they aren’t ready for. 

2. Be mindful of your own venting.

Even if you aren’t facing layoffs or dealing with an employer that’s on shaky footing, you likely still have the occasional complaint about your work life—from your lengthy to-do list to that meeting that should’ve been an email.

Remember to read the room. Your friend who was just let go or whose company shut down probably isn’t the most suitable audience to listen to your tales of your annoying coworker.

Of course, you’re entitled to a good vent session every now and then too. Just make sure you choose the right person to complain to, or you’ll risk coming off as completely tone deaf and insensitive. 

3. Avoid trying to compare or relate.

I know how you feel. I’ve totally been there. That same thing happened to me.

Sound familiar? Those sentiments are tempting to rely on. We think they show solidarity and provide encouragement to people who are facing tough times. But in reality, they can be frustrating and disheartening.

“What you are doing is, one, making it about you and, two, minimizing the uniqueness of the person’s experience,” writes Peg Streep in a piece for Psychology Today. “As a general rule, in a situation like this, if the first words out of your mouth begin with the pronoun ‘I,’ the chances are excellent that you aren’t displaying empathy.”

4. Ask how you can support them.

Once you’ve given someone adequate time to process and come to terms with the experience, you can put some action behind your words and figure out how you can support them in making their next move.

Open-ended questions like, “How can I help you?” or “What can I do?” seem helpful, but they actually require the other person to put in a lot of legwork.

Instead, try to get specific with your offers to pitch in. Asking something like, “My friend mentioned that her company is actively hiring right now—would you like me to get some more information?” or, “My neighbor is really well-connected in your industry—do you want me to introduce you?” is far more targeted and easier for that person to act on.

They can accept your offer (or not), without having to invest mental energy into figuring out what specifically they need from you. 

5. Keep checking in.

You’ve probably been on the receiving end of empty promises like this one when you were dealing with something hard: “I’m here for whenever you need me.” 

And what usually happens next? You don’t hear from that person again—or at least not until the storm has passed.

If you really want to demonstrate support and empathy for a friend who’s dealing with job loss or other career struggles, you need to make sure to check in frequently. 

You might not be able to do anything for them, but even a simple phone call or text every now and then that says, “Just checking in on how you’re doing this week!” will help them feel supported, encouraged, and like they aren’t riding those waves alone. 

6. Practice patience.

Losing a job can be a traumatic experience. Think about it: In one fell swoop, that person lost their income, their benefits, a big piece of their identity, and regular contact with colleagues they had bonded with. 

Even more than that? In a time of mounting uncertainty, something that was comfortable and familiar was taken away from them. 

In one review of thousands of research papers, it was discovered that employees who are fired never actually return to their prior level of mental well-being. So, telling a loved one, “It’s time to move on…” or “Get over it, already…” isn’t going to be helpful. Give them the time they need to heal and figure out what’s next.

You can’t fix everything, but you can offer support

It’s tough to see someone you cherish go through a challenging time, but love doesn’t only exist in fair weather. 

Use this as your guide to support a loved one through their career struggles in a way that’s supportive and encouraging, but not pushy or overwhelming. 

After all, you’d want and expect that same level of care and consideration from them.

Kat Boogaard
Kat is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer who focuses on careers, productivity, and self-development. She has written content for The Muse, Trello, Atlassian, QuickBooks, Toggl, Wrike, and more. When she's not at her desk, you'll find her spending time with her family—which includes two adorable sons and two rebellious rescue mutts.