Friday, May 3, 2013

When a Loved One is Suffering from Un(der)employment

I've been very open about the fact that my husband, David, has been unemployed and underemployed since he graduated with his PhD last May.  Over the past year, we've experienced the pain of un(der)employment firsthand and have had several uncomfortable situations with friends because of it.  We have great friends and family members, extremely supportive and loving, but they just didn't know the right thing to say or do having not been in a similar situation previously. If your loved one is suffering from un(der)employment, here are a few tips to being as supportive as possible.


Do: Spend time with him.

Don't: Plan expensive activities to do together.

Do: Invite her to all events including those that might be pricey, such as birthday parties, wedding showers, destination weddings, etc. (despite my previous advice). It hurts to be excluded, even if it's not likely you can attend.

Don't: Be upset if she declines the invitation. 

Do: Call him to talk, plan activities together, etc.

Don't: Be offended if he doesn't answer your phone calls or doesn't want to do things together.  Even if money is not an issue, depression often is with long-term unemployment/underemployment.  Your loved one may prefer to be alone.  Don't take this as a brush off or lack of care (and don't stop on your part).  It may hurt to have him ignore you, but it's most likely not intentional.

Do: Offer ways to come to events for a lower price.  For example, if you have a buy one get one free coupon for the restaurant you'll be having your birthday celebration at, offer to use it together and each only pay half.  Or for a gift giving occasion, let her know that her presence is gift enough (and don't open gifts in front of everyone).

Don't: Just offer to pay outright.  It will offend her pride and self worth which is already down from not being able to afford simple pleasures.

Do: Tell him you are thinking of him, praying for him, looking out for job opportunities, etc.

Don't: Completely ignore the topic.  Most likely it's a huge part of his life and it's awkward to pretend it doesn't exist.

Do: Offer to listen and provide a shoulder to cry on.

Don't: Be upset if she doesn't take you up on the offer.  Some people may want to talk and others might now.  Respect her wishes.

Do: Offer knowledge of places hiring, job search tips, and contacts you might have with potential employers. The vast majority of jobs (I've heard the number 83% thrown around) are gotten through some kind of contact, even if it's a friend of a friend of a friend.

Don't: Tell him what he's doing wrong on the job search, how he isn't looking hard enough, etc. It's possible he is doing things wrong, but approach the topics by offering the strategies she should be using instead of pointing out the unsuccessful strategies he's employing.  He's already feeling down, don't add insult to injury.

Do: Offer encouragement and prayers for a potential job/interview or the job search in general.

Don't: Say, "I'm sure you'll get it."  Or, "Of course they'll hire you." That makes it hurt all the more if she doesn't get it.  Along the same lines, don't say, "I'm sure you'll get something soon, " or "Just be patient, when the right job comes along, it will be worth it."  Because as well-meaning as you are, sometimes it's just not true.  (We've been hearing, "You'll get something soon" for a year.  It's lost it's meaning.)


  1. Great tips! We're in this place as well. :) Another one I would add is - Don't be afraid to reach out. I have been greatly touched by acquaintances who have reached out either to share their own stories of unemployment or just to ask how we're doing.

  2. Really excellent and helpful post! Is there a geographic location you're sticking to, and what would be his dream position?

  3. wishing you guys the best of luck! and thanks for sharing this list :)


  4. Great advice. I HATE being left out of things just b/c people think I won't go or can't afford something. Lots of good advice here. is another good place for lots of good job searching advice.

  5. Just as bad is when you interview and don't get hired and you hear "I am sure they already had someone in mind."


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