Right now, people across the globe are losing their jobs in record numbers. You might even know or be one of them. Sadly, I am firmly in the latter camp as the travel company I work for has been forced to close its doors after a successful decade because, well, no travel.
Losing any job in today’s climate is bad enough but losing the job you love is exquisite torture, it’s a bereavement. It is a loss that is expansive and angular in its growth, poking you endlessly with its sharpness. It is guilt you shouldn’t feel but can’t avoid and fear that settles in your bones like lead. You’re robbed not only of your income but, in many cases, your sense of self which can leave you understandably spiraling.
Many of us have fought and sacrificed for careers we adore. As a result, what we do for work makes up a lot of our self-worth. This is certainly true in my case where I was the first-ever hire at my organisation and, with the support of the most unreasonably talented team, we grew into a thriving phenomenon that positively impacted thousands of lives around the world. My identity is so intrinsically entwined with my role that I’m struggling to decipher who I am if not the person who runs that company.
I think of all the people working in aviation and how difficult things must be since the recent, near collapse of the industry. If you’ve been a flight attendant all of your life, how do you suddenly change everything about your lifestyle to fit into another field? If you’re a pilot and there are no planes to fly, what do you do? Of course, the answer to all of us is that we do something different. We adapt and we move forward, but this is easier said than done and it’s important that we take the time to grieve what was.
If someone you care about has lost the job they really love, it might be hard for them to communicate what they need. I know initially, I wrestled with a lot of shame around being unexpectedly jobless and I still have days where I feel completely untethered and lost. Of course, everyone’s different and will deal with things in their own way, but having support is crucial. Here are just a few simple ways you can show those you love, who are really going through it, that you care.
This seems obvious, but check-in with your people who have lost their beloved jobs. Try not to assume they will reach out if they need you, they may not. Try and let them talk about their loss without trying to put a positive spin on it straight away. Listen and respond with empathy instead of trying to provide solutions. Remember, this person is grieving and it’s healthy that they talk about how they feel.
Listen with compassion
We all like to think we’re uber-compassionate since we watched that Brené Brown TED Talk. However, many of us still lack the capacity to simply listen and hold space for others when they are hurting, so we jump in with suggestions and advice to alleviate our own discomfort. For example, I can’t count how many people have told me, “the good thing is that everyone’s in a similar situation right now,” when I explain my devastation at losing my job. Firstly, is it a good thing? Secondly, this is not a helpful statement and is similar to saying to someone who has just suffered a bereavement, “the good thing is, all people die.”
Compassionate listening is the practice of listening with the sole intent of reducing suffering for the person who is speaking. You don’t have to do anything, just let your person speak and allow them to be heard. Magic!
Ask if they want help with their next move
If you come across a job ad you think is perfect for your person, check to see if they’d like you to send it to them. Or if you know that your company is hiring, see if they would like you to look into any suitable vacancies before taking the initiative to speak with your boss. Although you may feel like it’s a really nice thing for you to do, it might not be what your person needs right now. They may be feeling overwhelmed and need a few days off from the job hunt or they may be shy about telling you that they are looking to move into a different field.
If you ask how you can help, you’ll be sure to not waste your time or theirs or risk upsetting someone who may already be feeling delicate. This is a great opportunity for you to help your person to feel included at a time when they may need it most.
Offer practical support
Can you write your person a recommendation on LinkedIn? Could you be a reference for them? See if there is anything you can do to help practically elevate their future job prospects. Avoid making false promises, but if you can teach them a new skill or look over their CV and make positive edits, this is all incredibly valuable support.
I know we’re all so used to avoiding face-to-face contact now, but simply meeting your person for a coffee can help to break them out of their routine and could lift their mood. Don’t fancy coffee? How about a walk in the park or having them around to yours for dinner? A change of scenery is really good for those who are feeling low, buried in job applications and spending most of their time at home.
This too shall pass and though COVID-19 has decimated industries once thought to be bulletproof, much is still standing. I believe if we stick together, give ourselves permission to be vulnerable and to lean on each other when things get heavy, we’ll all come out the other side OK.