What to write when someone has lost their job

Updated May 14th, 2020 in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic. Your best friend, a lovely neighbour or a member of your family has just been fired or made redundant. It’s no secret, so you want to show them you care. You won’t find any greeting cards in the local card shop saying “bad luck on getting sacked” or “sorry you were laid off from work.”

Coronavirus update: many more people are grieving for their lost jobs, incomes and self-confidence at this time when many countries are still on lockdown and self-employed people, especially, are suffering greatly. If this applies to someone you know, you need to tailor the following advice given our current circumstances.

So what do you write in an email or private social media message? Here are some thoughts you might like to consider…

For a list of all 12 articles in this series on how to write well to people dealing with loss, bereavement and other life sadness, click here. 

Don’t try to cheer them up by writing about the future – yet

Much as you want to tell them there is life after job loss, if it has only just happened they won’t have thought much about the future other than the fact it looks pretty bleak right now.

Someone who has just been given a diagnosis of cancer, or has just been told their partner is leaving them, will find any attempt at cheerfulness on your part trite and insensitive. The same applies with the loss of their job. The initial reaction, at least, is shock and realisation of immediate impending change – for the worse.

Write for someone who is grieving for their job

For someone who has never lost a job or been made redundant, to talk about “grieving” over job loss may seem like an overly emotional reaction. But it isn’t. People dealing with job loss face the following, and a number of other issues, that dig deep into personal, social and practical thoughts and feelings:

Loss of income: not as serious for someone who is young, healthy and single without a mortgage, but for someone supporting or co-supporting a family and lifestyle with few or no savings, it’s serious. Especially if the person concerned is the sole bread winner, job loss can cause utter despair. The thought of going on benefits, welfare and whatever provisions are available in the country concerned always seems trivial when you’ve been earning a good salary or wage. For some living in a country where there are no such provisions, the picture becomes more bleak.

Loss of future: for an older person who has been made redundant because they have become too expensive (and their employer can get a younger person to do the job at half the salary) things can look pretty miserable. Although a new employer isn’t allowed by law to discriminate on age grounds in some countries, in others it happens. And it also happens in countries where it is  against the law … you’d be surprised at how these regulations can be “gotten around.”

Loss of face: many people place a lot of pride in being employed in a “good” job and if they lose it, they feel not only disenfranchised but emotionally sterilised. You often hear stories about people who can’t face telling their friends and family they have lost the jobs and pretend they’re still working, driving off or taking the train, killing time and returning at the usual hour each day rather than admit the truth. OK, that may be an extreme reaction, but job loss hurts pride. Bigtime.

Loss of self-confidence: this is a really tough one. No matter how good you know you are at what you do, the fact that you have been “let go” tells you (usually for the wrong reasons) that you’re not good enough. Or, you’re not good enough any more. Either way it’s a hard one to recover from.

Loss of direction: this comes later, after the initial shock of job loss has passed by. Often it acts as a catalyst for more positive thinking – see below.

What to write for someone in the early stage of grief

So, as you’ve seen above, at this point in your friend’s or relative’s job loss process we’re dealing with a huge and potentially long-term damaging sense of loss and grief.

The last thing you want to do is express anything reflecting it back to yourself, e.g….

Couldn’t believe that you’ve been made redundant! Was truly shocked by it.

(Since when has this issue been about you?)

Your job as a friend or relative is to help raise their morale a bit in that early stage, without raising the (other) F-word – the Future. At this stage, you could try messages like this. NB: please remember to adapt these messages considering social distancing / isolation at this time (2020.)

So sorry to hear your news. Thinking of you at this difficult time.

XXX told me of your departure from Company YYY. Let me know if you’d like a quiet chat over a beer; it would be great to see you.

Just heard about your loss. Give me a call when you’re ready for some lunch and a chat.

Heard your news and hope you’re OK. Can I give you a call in the next few days? Would be great to chat and catch up.

What to write about the future later, after their job loss

Later on, once the initial shock and grief have worn off a bit, your friend or relative will move into the next phase.

“What the **** am I going to do now?

Here is where what you write can help enormously

Of course, you need to be aware that emotions are still going to be raw and bruised. Especially if you are still comfortably employed, for you to try to be too helpful and in effect take charge of the person’s immediate future, will be as useful to them as a chocolate teapot.

The last thing you want is for them to think you’re being pushy and condescending, so writing them messages like …

Come networking with me next Thursday so I can introduce you to some great contacts. Will pick you up at 06:30. Have you had new business cards done yet?

My cousin’s wife’s brother has a plumbing business and might need someone like you. Have given him your phone number and told him to call you tomorrow.

I’ve made an appointment for you at great new recruitment agency in town – Monday 09:30. I’ll come with you if you like! 

…is a real no-no and will probably annoy them. Thee’s nothing worse than a busybody, no matter how well meaning they are.

A better way forward is to suggest an idea gently with – perhaps – a bit of lateral thinking and focus on aspects of their skillset and personality they may not have thought about before, written in messages like this – e.g. …

Great to hear you’re enjoying your redundancy pay-off! Want to meet up and brainstorms ideas for your next move?

Have you ever thought of retraining in (whatever) to augment your employability in (whatever field)? Just a thought… 

I gather that (company name) are looking for people like you right now. Are you ready to take a look at new options?

I really think your CV could do an even better job for you. If you agree, may I help you to fire it up a bit?

Have always thought you’d be a perfect (name of job here.) Have you thought about it? If not, would you like to meet for coffee and discuss it?

Many people I know have thanked job loss because it has triggered an idea for their own business – and it has worked. Want to throw some ideas around on that?

I know you were a senior (whatever) but I also know you’re a brilliant (whatever – hobby). Have you ever thought about developing that into a business?

Whatever you write to someone who has lost their job, be sensitive

This is more important than anything else, really.

Understand that job loss is more than loss of income: to many people it means loss of status, loss of confidence, loss of face and much more.

Then, adapt the messages you write (and ultimately speak) accordingly.

And this way you will be able to help sensibly and practically and friends and family who may be unfortunate enough to suffer from this awful predicament.

What advice would you share with people who have just been fired/sacked or made redundant?

Please contribute to this discussion.

For help on how to get back into the job market and secure the job you really want, check out this category here on HTWB.