What To Say to Someone Who Just Got Laid Off
Tracy Dalgleish, PhD, a clinical psychologist and relationship expert, explains this can be due to our own internal experiences. For instance, we may desire to know the reason someone was laid off, or we may have experienced something similar, and a loved one's layoff triggers our own difficult experience. Furthermore, everyone has different ways of handling the news of being laid off, and licensed clinical psychologist Nina Polyné, PsyD says it's important to respect someone's emotional process.
Given this, it's no wonder we may feel stumped as to what to say when someone gets laid off. Still, offering support is very important. Dr. Dalgleish notes that community and connection helps the person know that they are not alone in what they're dealing with. She adds that signs that someone needs support in dealing with a layoff include increased sadness, flatness, or anger in their disposition.
If they stop engaging in things they usually would or talk in a way that shows they feel hopeless or feel their future is bleak, those can also be signs of struggling. If you spot any of these signs (or even if you don't because, again, everyone deals with things differently), here's how to best support someone who just lost their job.
What to say when someone gets laid off and how to support them
1. Ask how they feel
As a starting point, Dr. Polyné recommends asking them how they feel about the layoff. You can say something like: "Thank you for sharing this news with me. How do you feel about it?" She explains this is because they may have feelings that are not normalized after a layoff, such as happiness or relief. In other words, don’t assume you know how they feel.
Instead, Dr. Polyné advises offering a non-judgemental space for them to express whatever emotions are coming up for them. Your job? Be an active listener and validate their experience. For example, you can say: "It's understandable that you are feeling [surprised/overwhelmed/sad] about the layoff. It sounds like you didn't see it coming, and I remember you sharing [insert something they might have shared about how they liked their job and/or worked really hard]."
2. Ask what they need
Knowing how someone would like to be supported after a layoff is like trying to read someone's mind. This is why Dr. Dalgleish says the best thing you can do is ask them what they need. Furthermore, she says they may not know what they need, so offering some options can be helpful. For example, you can ask them if they need space to process independently, words of encouragement, or help problem solving and figuring out the next steps.
3. Consider their love language
If you know how the person receives love (aka their love language), Dr. Dalgleish says that can help find ways to support them. For instance, if someone's love language is acts of service, delivering them their favorite coffee or a homemade meal would make them feel loved and cared for. Or if words of affirmation are their thing, send them a text to let them know you're thinking about them. And if you don’t know how they prefer to receive love, Dr. Dalgleish advises asking them.
4. Practice empathy
Throughout your interactions with them, empathy is one of the most important relationship skills to practice. "Empathy requires you to put away your own opinions and judgments and enter into the experience of the other person," Dr. Dalgleish says. She explains that may sound like saying empathetic statements like "I can imagine how hard this must be for you" or "I'm sorry this happened to you." If you have trouble thinking of what to say to show empathy, Dr. Dalgleish suggests asking yourself what thoughts and feelings they may be having and what fears are showing up for them to help put yourself in their shoes and better understand what their mental and emotional states.
5. Don't dismiss, minimize, or invalidate their feelings
What not to say is equally as important as what to say to someone going through something challenging like a layoff. While you may have the best intentions in trying to make them feel better about the whole situation, there are some things that people often say that are not helpful. For example, Dr. Dalgleish notes that saying something like "it's not that bad" or "at least you received a payout" dismisses and minimizes their feelings. And the same goes for statements that invalidate how they feel like "there are bigger things to be upset about."
6. Make them feel included
"Layoffs can feel like rejection, so finding little ways to offer inclusion could be helpful when the person is ready to engage socially again," Dr. Polyné says. For instance, if they shared that one of their needs is a fun distraction, planning an outing together can be supportive. To make them feel even more included when you're spending time together, Dr. Polyné adds that it can be nice to share with the person why they are special to you and an important part of your community. Remember, the goal is to make them feel included and remind them of the value they have to offer overall, not just at work.
7. Don’t be afraid to bring up the topic
After receiving the initial news of the lay off, the grieving and processing doesn't end there. It can often take some time to get to the other side of things. During this period, Dr. Dalgleish says people often fear bringing up the layoff again because they don't want to upset the person who lost their job, but she advises against this. Here's why: "Please know that asking your loved one about something hard doesn't mean that you are going to send them spiraling—it's actually the opposite," she says. "It allows them to feel less lonely and alone in this time of struggle."
With that in mind, Dr. Dalgleish recommends saying something like: "I was thinking about what happened with your lay off and I wanted to check in with you. It's okay if you would rather not talk about it, but I wanted you to know you have been on my mind."
8. Just be there
If you're still stumbling on what to say to someone who got laid off, know that just being there is one of the most supportive things you can do. Some people have a tendency to give the person who is struggling some distance to process the painful experience or lean away in fear of "bothering them," Dr. Dalgleish says. While some people may need that space, she emphasizes that others may need to know they are thought of and cared for during this difficult time.
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