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What not to say to someone who has been laid off because of the Coronavirus

PUBLISHED 05.31.2020

The Collective Rising | Editorial Team

As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, millions of Americans have filed for unemployment. An estimated one out of six American workers are out of a job.

This upsetting statistic means that there is a high likelihood that you may know several people who have been laid-off.

The amount of stress people are feeling during this time is beyond overwhelming, which means that your well-intentioned words could do more harm than good, and make your loved ones feel even worse.

If you’re wondering how to best show up and support a friend, family member, or former colleague during this difficult time, read this article, so you know what not to say.

  1. “Why now? How did they tell you? Did you get severance?”

You may not realize this, but asking someone for details about their loss of employment is a boundary breach that may trigger shame and feelings of unworthiness. Instead of prying for information, ask less, and listen more. Let the person decide on their terms how much they want to share. It’s human nature to want to ask questions; however, by exercising restraint, we demonstrate that we prioritize their privacy over our curiosity.

  1. “You’re not alone and You’re not the only one who is unemployed right now.”

When you tell your unemployed friend or colleague that they are not the only person unemployed during the pandemic, you discredit their feelings and dismiss the severity of the situation they may be facing.

Everyone has a different experience when it comes to being laid-off. This phrase is well-intentioned; however, people experiencing hard-times want to feel like their loved ones care about what they are currently experiencing.

  1. “You have so much to be grateful for. Thank goodness it’s not … ”

Many times people try to be supportive by comparing something you are going through to a worse, hypothetical situation.

Take the effort to avoid comparison language during the time and stay away from phrases such as “Well, at least you have this” or “Thank goodness it’s not that.” 

A good rule of thumb is to try not to fix situations or contextualize within the framework of your mind – not everyone sees the world the same way you do. 

Also, when you use comparative language, you can make people feel guilty for experiencing whatever they are feeling. When you tell people to count their blessings in the wake of any life-changing loss, they feel as though we perceive them to be ungrateful.

  1. “When I lost my job…”

Many times we make situations that aren’t about us, about us. 

While we may wish to show solidarity by sharing that we have previously experienced a similar situation, we shift attention away from the person who has lost their job. Doing so puts them in a position of feeling as though they have to console us during their time of loss.

  1. “You’re going to be fine. You’re going to be totally okay.”

Instead of making uncertain and generic umbrella statements, try to specifically and directly acknowledge their feelings. Instill confidence in their ability to overcome their obstacles. For example, you could say something like, “I certainly have great confidence that you’ll figure this out and come out the other side on-top, but right now must be really scary. I am here for you and happy to support you; however, I can.” Most importantly, make sure your words aren’t trying to spin or fix the problem they are currently facing.


Now that you know what not to say follow these four rules to ensure you’re being supportive and staying attuned to their needs rather than focus on assuring your curiosity. 

Rule 1: Listen more than talk and share advice only when asked. 

Accept that you may not be the person your unemployed colleague or friend wants to talk to about this. And if they do talk, listen ― don’t offer your two cents about what they should do next. 

Don’t offer unsolicited advice. (say the previous sentence instead of: Only offer advice unless you are clearly asked to give advice). These are two very different forms of interaction: listening, reflecting, supporting, holding, and support; versus consulting, advising, and directing. My opinion is that you never start with the latter. You only go to the latter if you’re invited.

Rule 2: Acknowledgment is always better than silence. It’s better to bring up awkward and hard topics than not to acknowledge them. 

Rule 3: Share your professional contacts. If you feel comfortable doing so, offer to be of help to the other person. You can say something along the lines of “If there’s a contact you want me to reach out to, I would be more than happy to do so.”

Rule 4: Check-in on them more than once.

 Don’t see support as a one-and-done interaction. Support is an ongoing ritual. 

Make a note to check in on your friend/family member/former colleague every couple of weeks. You don’t have to write them a long message, but you can drop them a quick line just saying “checking in.” Doing this can make a world of difference in a person’s mindset and help them to feel less alone during this difficult time.

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