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Writing to Your Unemployed Friends and Acquaintances

I have written a lot about writing condolences to people who have experienced a serious loss–deaths in the family and environmental tragedies.

But recently I caught part of a KUOW radio program The Conversation, which focused on Unemployment Etiquette. I realized that messages to those who have lost a job can be just as sensitive and awkward as those to peope who have experienced a death. Losing a job can be the death of an identity, financial stability, and a predictable future. And we are writing to the person who has died.

So what should we say to those who have lost a job? Here are a few don’ts:


  1. Don’t ask about their job search. When they have news, they will let you know.
  2. Don’t talk about how bad things are where you work, especially if they lost their job there. Working in hell may be preferable to not working at all. Don’t complain.
  3. Don’t give advice unless asked for it. Offer your services as a proofreader or sounding board, and then be patient.
  4. Don’t criticize. Even if you know your coworker would not have lost her job if she hadn’t insisted on arguing with the new boss, keep quiet. What’s done is done. Besides, you can’t be certain.
  5. Don’t invite your unemployed friend to meet for lunch or dinner or to join you for an expensive drink or social activity–unless you can treat without either person’s discomfort.
  6. Don’t express judgments about how your friend is handling the loss. Unless you are walking in the same heavy shoes, you can’t know how it feels. And even if you have experienced such a loss, recognize that all of us respond differently when our job and professional identify are ripped away.
  7. Don’t stop communicating. Your friend or former colleague is not dead–just unemployed.

Follow these brief dos:

  1. Show you care. Communicate with the person without any motive.
  2. Ask how they are feeling and what they have been doing.
  3. Offer to help.
  4. Invite the individual to low-cost and no-cost events. Warmly receive both acceptance and rejection of your invitations.


Try a message like one of these by email, social media channels (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.), or a handwritten note or card:

Hi, Jacob. I miss your smiling face at work. You were the person who brightened my day with a quick analysis of Lost or a detailed analysis of the budget. It’s not the same without you.

I hope everything is going as well as can be expected. If there is any way I can help you take next steps, let me know.

Keep me posted!


Hi, Isabella,

Hello from all of us in financial accounting! We are getting together next Friday night at Daniel’s apartment to watch the fireworks from his rooftop, and we want you to join us. Do it! We promise not to talk shop (too much) or ask you annoying questions. The gathering starts at 9.

Give me a call if you would like to ride with me. I would love to catch up with you.


Dear Cullen,

I just wanted to write to say hello and let you know I am thinking of you. You left ABC while I was on vacation, and it was distressing and sad to return and learn you were gone. I miss working with you.

If you would like to attend my monthly HR networking meeting, just let me know. I would like to have you come as my guest. We meet the second Tuesday of the month.

Please call or email me. I look forward to hearing from you.


Hi, Renu! What’s happening? Text me when you are going to be in the city so we can take you to lunch.

Stay sane!


Dear Emma,

Please accept my condolences–if that is the right word–on your job being cut. We knew the axe was going to fall on some of us, and I am very sorry yours was among the jobs eliminated.

Whatever your feelings about leaving ABC, I hope you recognize you are a star. You always did whatever it took to get the job done well, and you shared credit for the success with your team. Wherever your next opportunity takes you, your employer will be fortunate.

If I can provide a reference or help you in some way, just ask.

I want to stay in touch, and I’ll check in with you next month.

Hi, Gregor. I have been thinking about you since you left ABC last month. I imagine your leaving was quite the surprise–I know it shocked all of us. You are the most passionate, expert environmental engineer on the planet. We were all stunned and saddened when we heard you were among the people let go. You are missed!

I imagine that looking for a job in this economy isn’t easy, even for someone as talented as you. Please let me know if I can do anything to help. I am good at interview practice and negotiating offers, so please think of me for those tasks in particular.

Once a month I come to your part of the city for a staff meeting. I will call you before next month’s meeting to see if we can meet for coffee.


Claudia, how are you? I want you to know I am thinking of you as you deal with unemployment. I know your situation is not what you were expecting, and the financial impact must be severe.

I am still walking at lunch if you would like to join me. I promise to be a good listener if you want to vent or cry.

You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Write. Call. Care. Express your good wishes. Offer help. Deliver on your offers. Those are ways to communicate with people who have lost jobs.

What would you add? Please share your wisdom.

Syntax Training


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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

8 comments on “Writing to Your Unemployed Friends and Acquaintances”

  • oh my gosh! These are wonderful tips. I had lost my job about four months ago and my mother would not stop nagging me about getting another job…..”Did you turn in your application?” Have you been looking?” Uhhhh, no mom I haven’t been looking for job, because I want to get kicked out of my apartment with no money!” (*sigh*)

    Sometimes, people will rub in your faces that they have a job and you don’t. This is a wonderful list, thank god I started my own writing firm about two months back. Now people are asking me for applications! 😉
    (content writing service),


  • Thank you Lynn! I am an Employment Counselor and have some experience in speaking to people about their current employment situation. This posting and the tips you share are really wonderful and uplifting. I couldn’t agree more that we all experience the loss of a job differently. Even as a professional in the field of career development I realize it is important to be supportive and encouraging without being judgemental or over-bearing. You’ve underscored this so well!

  • Thank you for so many good examples of how to express kindness in words, Lynn.

  • Excellent suggestions, and wonderful examples. Thank you for posting this – it’s certainly timely.

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