Job Loss: The Family Conversation

Job loss is one of the most stressful events you’ll experience in your lifetime. It’s extremely difficult and can be overwhelming, particularly when it comes to sharing the news with your family. 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 overly curious and sympathetic.

Feeling sad, angry or embarrassed in the wake of a layoff is perfectly normal. So is feeling like you have no idea how you’re going to share this news with your family, friends and network.  However, leaning on your inner circle for support will help you get through the tough days ahead.

The people in your life will react in many different ways, depending on how resilient they are in the face of stress and fear of loss. 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 rather than later.

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, it’s OK to take a few hours to process this change but inform your spouse or partner as soon as possible. This is part of the “go slow to go fast” approach.

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.

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.” Often, the people in our lives tend to want to fix things for us, when really all we’re looking for is someone to listen. Career advice will be flowing from all sources, but it may be inaccurate, out-of-date or even detrimental to your campaign.

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).

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

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 and communication is critical. Let your significant other know the status of your job-searching activities – the good and the bad. You may also find that this releases some stress for your entire family.

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 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 you 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.

Also, use some of your new-found 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. Keeping a watchful eye on your spouse/partner, your kids and yourself will be a critical component to keeping stress levels tolerable as you drive toward the outcome you look to achieve.