Encouraging the Unemployed

A helpful hand to those out of work

by Constance B. Fink

Even though you may not have personally heard the words “Your services are no longer needed” or “The company is downsizing” or “You’re fired,” chances are you know someone who has.

The impact of one pink slip reaches far beyond the individual. The spouse, who may not have been involved in the working world and its ever-changing skills, may feel unprepared to look for a job. Children may be required to compromise activities or other things due to budget constraints. Friends from the workplace feel empty because a daily relationship has been abruptly snatched away. The church and neighborhood wonder if the family will have to move to take another job.

Coping with unexpected job loss is like coping with death. Similar emotions are experienced: shock, anger, sadness, guilt, grief. The jobless person may feel betrayed or abandoned by his employer and everyone else, including God. In this vulnerable time of loss and transition, your friend will remember who stood near and who turned away.

Here are some suggestions.

Don’t keep asking, “Have you found anything yet?”

Do talk about hobbies, interests, and relationships.

When dealing with a major loss, a person can easily withdraw from everything and everyone. A big part of life has abruptly stopped. Your friend needs time to grieve. However, when one area of life is lost, other areas play an important role in keeping him motivated and energized. Look for opportunities to help him keep connected to these.

Don’t forget the spouse. Don’t keep asking the wife, “How is your husband doing?”

Do give opportunity for the wife to express her feelings. Give her time apart from her spouse. Take her out for lunch. Invite her over to your house for coffee. Encourage her to share her personal fears, concerns, and needs.

Oftentimes the details of unemployment (insurance options, unemployment benefits, financial adjustments) and looking for a new job (phone calls, searches, resum├ęs, interviews) consume much of the couple’s conversation and time. As opportunities open and close, the accompanying emotions of hope and disappointment feel like a roller coaster ride. Trying to remain emotionally stable and spiritually focused are additional stresses not only on the individual but also on the marriage. It is important for husband and wife to have an encourager, a sounding board, someone to walk with them and help them regain perspective as needed. Individual expression is vital for the health of the marriage.

Don’t give advice by saying, “You may have to take just any job. Anything would be better than nothing.”

Do give encouragement. Remind the person of his strengths and contribution to your life.

The jobless person has a measure of shame and embarrassment. Be careful not to rub salt in an already painful wound. Think before you speak, and check your comments to be sure they are not laden with guilt or humiliation. Even though your motive may be to prompt ideas for options, insensitive advice often adds pain. As a way to protect himself, the unemployed person will begin to share less with you. Instead, keep the door of communication open. Unless he asks you for advice, don’t give it. Give him time to reassess his strengths, abilities, and skills. This unexpected turn in his life may be part of God’s plan to redirect him.

Don’t push. Don’t force your unemployed friend to be where you think he should be or to do what you think he should be doing. Don’t say, “I’ll pick you up at 8:00 tomorrow morning to drive you to the unemployment office.”

Do offer support. “I am praying about your job interview next week. If you would like someone to go with you, I am willing to tag along.”

Each person deals with the loss of a job in different ways, depending on background, emotional foundation, spiritual perspective, physical health, and other stressors at the time of the job loss. Be careful not to expect him to respond the way you would, or did, in a similar situation. Rather, meet him where he is, and walk with him on his path.

Don’t expect the unemployed to accept invitations to events where he will need to spend money.

Do include him and treat him.

Unemployment often causes a person to become practical — only buying necessities. Small things, once enjoyed regularly and possibly taken for granted, are now special treats: ice cream, a movie, eating out, or pizza delivered to their home. Look for opportunities to give something simply for enjoyment.

Don’t think that all his time must be spent looking for a job.

Do encourage him to play.

Sometimes the unemployed person feels guilty if he takes time to play. He may think that each minute away from the job search is lost time. On the contrary, time away — especially physical activity in the fresh air and sunlight — is healthy for the body as well as for the mind and heart. Invite him on bike rides and walks. Offer to help him with yard work. In physical exercise, specific hormones are released for emotional well-being.

Don’t distance yourself from the unemployed family before they move away. Don’t say, “They may not be here anyway in a few months, why ask them to. . . .”

Do stay connected to them.

Everyone in an unemployed person’s life struggles to accept that a move may be inevitable in order to find employment. As a way to protect from the inevitable pain of losing the relationship, friends may begin to detach from the unemployed family simply in anticipation of a move.

Pulling away comes in different forms: fewer phone calls, more superficial conversations, infrequent social gatherings, exclusion from church or community activities. But emotional distance adds to feelings of rejection and abandonment. The unemployed person is not only dealing with these from his workplace but also may be feeling them in his personal relationships. Be different from the others in his life. Instead of responding from your heartache, focus on what is most helpful for your friend. Look for opportunities to reaffirm your connection and strengthen your bond.

Don’t give false hope by saying, “You’ll have something better.”

Do remind him of God. Instill confidence by reminding him “God will always be with you” and “God will always provide for you.”

There is no guarantee of a better job, a better home, a better boss. Be careful to not raise expectations for something you have no assurance of. No one, except God, can guarantee the future. God’s character, revealed in the Bible, is sure and unchanging. He guarantees that He will keep His promises to His children. Will you stand with God, close to your friend?

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