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How to Talk to Your Family About Job Loss

What to say after a layoff and during your search for work


Job loss is extremely difficult and can be overwhelming, particularly when families are involved. Spouses and partners want to be supportive and help with your search; children look to their parents as leaders of the family but worry and extended family members are often perhaps overly curious and sympathetic.

Clear communication is critical with your family after a job loss to help ease their anxiety and provide answers to difficult questions. This way, they’ll know the family will be OK and back to normal sooner than later.

Here is our advice for what to say to your spouse or partner, children and extended family and friends immediately after you’re laid off and after an extended job search:

Your Spouse or Partner

This is the most important person in the equation, since he or she will be the person you most likely look to for support. After you learn of your layoff and have spoken to your HR manager to get the facts, especially on pay and benefits, it’s OK to take a few hours to process this change, but inform your spouse or partner as soon as possible.

Be calm when sharing the details of what happened, assuring your spouse or partner that you have — or will have — a plan and that the family will be fine.

After you’ve been laid off, your spouse may begin to give you advice on how to find a job. You may need to set limits on this type of “help.”

Be clear on how this person can support you. It could be allowing you to vent, empathizing, listening or just giving you space. It may help to ask what he or she needs as well.

Don’t make any immediate changes to your personal life. For example, don’t cancel paid trips, your Internet service or your cell phone service. A vacation could be good for you emotionally and you’ll need the Internet and your cell phone to help with your job search. What’s more, you want to avoid adding more stress in your home. There will be time to adjust your finances later as things unfold.

After you’ve been laid off, your spouse or partner may begin to give you advice on how to find a job and monitor your visits to online career sites. You may need to set limits on this type of “help.”

Figure out what you need and want from your spouse or partner. Some people are grateful for a lot of help; others want to handle things on their own. Have a composed, truthful conversation with your significant other, explaining how much help you want (or don’t want).

It often helps to give partners something constructive to do to help during this period. So let them reach out to their network, conduct some behind-the-scenes job research or proof your resumé, LinkedIn profile and cover letters.

Also, let your spouse or partner know it is perfectly OK to find people they can talk to about their concerns surrounding your search; this allows a bit of emotional freedom for both parties.

You may want to shield your spouse or partner from your worry, but it is important to not leave him or her in the dark. You are in this together. Let your significant other know the status of your job-searching activities — good and bad. You may also find that this releases some stress for you.

Your Children

It is critical to remember that with children, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Children pick up on their parents’ emotions and attitudes, so you must stay positive.

You should be open and honest, but you don’t need to provide all the details of the situation. The key is to let them know that the family will be fine.

With your partner or spouse at your side, inform your children immediately or soon after the job loss. What you say will depend on your child’s age. Very young children (age 1 to 5) don’t need to know much; elementary- and middle school-aged children may need additional information. For them, you could say: “Mom is looking for a new job and she will be able to spend more time with you in the meantime. We will be fine.”

If you have high school or college-aged children or grown kids in their 20s who are on their own, they’ll comprehend more so they’ll need more information, but not necessarily all the specifics.

If older children are worried about your not being able to pay for prom or college, don’t lie. Let them know that you will work together as a team and develop a solution. Update your plan if unemployment becomes extended or the impact of your job loss on your family changes.

Planned, but not yet paid for, vacations may now be staycations and some extra-curricular activities may need to be put on hold. But continue to schedule typical family activities — going out for cheap eats or having at-home family movie night, for instance.

Also, use some of your newfound free time to do things with your children (and spouse or partner) that you weren’t able to do when you worked. Your situation may be difficult for your kids, so try to offload stress with a bit of family time.

Your Extended Family (and Friends)

What you and your spouse or partner decide to tell your extended family and friends depends on your dynamics and relationships with them. These people are likely curious and want to help, so provide them with a brief explanation and then change the subject.

Have your response ready if you don’t want to talk about the job search. For example: “My company closed its office, and I am actively looking and networking. I am not ready to talk about my search at length, but will keep you updated. I appreciate your concern.”

After You Land a Job

Once you become employed again, thank all the family members and friends who helped — emotionally, spiritually and financially.

However you choose to express this — verbally, via email, in a handwritten note or through a small gift — is up to you. You may want to celebrate with your family, but be sure to show them gratitude for their support.

Going through a job search is a stressful period. Keeping your family and friends informed and at ease through it will be vital to ensuring a successful outcome.

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