We all know someone who lost their job due to a circumstance they didn’t foresee or welcome. It can be heartbreaking to watch, and we don’t always know what the best path forward is in supporting someone during this period. A good start is to try and see the world from their perspective. When you are used to being employed, and then suddenly aren’t (due to lay-off or an illness), you lose an important part of yourself. Your usual routine and daily constants are interrupted; you no longer get up with purpose and schedule (showering, grabbing breakfast and a coffee as you head out the door). You no longer have part of your identity; you cannot with conviction say to others "Oh, I work in..." or "I am a..." when meeting people socially. You cannot share anecdotes about your workday, or have it be central to the conversations it usually is (like with a spouse in the evenings), or feature your current work when you are introduced to new acquaintances (while out socially or at a family event). You lose a part of yourself you didn’t know was there, and it hurts.
What this illustrates is without the constancy that is their working life. your loved one may feel very adrift, purposeless and irrelevant. This also means that additional challenges in their day will have more time to wreck havoc in their minds; it may be harder for them to find something meaningful to engage their brain in and push out the worry, stress and noise that comes with being off work (especially if there is an illness involved, or financial pressure). They may find themselves in a place where they have no routine and are unable to summon their best selves because they are feeling scared and lost. In this place of vulnerability it's easy to lose sight of the fact that being off of work is not a permanent circumstance; it feels as if the world has gone on without you and really doesn't care ("they never even called me to ask questions...I guess my work was not that important after all...").
This is part of the process of grieving a job (especially if the individual really liked their work and how it made them feel). It follows similar steps to the bereavement process by bringing on denial, anger, bargaining (which may come across as passive aggression i.e. “I’m FINE!”), despair (hopelessness) and then acceptance. As with the bereavement process, every one crosses the threshold of each step in their own way and time and this process cannot be rushed. What is left for those supporting someone going through this process is to be compassionate and empathetic. Don't offer solutions or sentences that start with "at least" (“at least you can look for a better job, I am stuck in mine…”). Don't paint a silver lining for them (“You’ll find something even better! Maybe it’ll have a better commute!”). Just listen and let this person know they are not alone, that you are there for them and that you care about how they are feeling in this moment in time.
It does get better, and when someone who has recently lost their job is surrounded by empathy and loving-kindness it can make a very big difference in reaching acceptance...perhaps not in the moment, but in time.
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I believe in giving back to others in many tangible ways. When I learn something new, or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website. You can always find my latest blog entries here, on Facebook or Linked In.