At the time of this writing, over 26 million Americans will have lost their jobs due to the pandemic—the highest unemployment rate since 1940. That number will be outdated by the time you read this.
Getting laid off is about more than losing a job. People also lose their reason for getting out of bed in the morning, accolades of the job, a sense of worth, self-identity and assurance of productive value. It's about missing colleagues with whom they associated on a daily basis, their desk and familiar routines. These losses are major, and they trigger profound grief.
Therefore, unemployed clients will need your emotional support even as they count on you for professional guidance. While each client's emotional distress level will vary due to wealth, age, life situation and other factors, there are things you can easily do to make them feel understood and to demonstrate you are there for them regardless of what life throws their way.
Where do you start?
- Ask good questions and really listen to the answers. When people lose their jobs, well-meaning family and friends will quickly offer advice on how they should feel. Distinguish yourself by asking clients to share their story so you can find out how they actually do feel.
Ask noninvasive questions like “What do you wish people knew about what you’re going through?” or “What things have people said that were helpful, and what have they said that was unintentionally alienating or even offensive to you?” Listen well and ask further questions based on what you hear.
- Get their agenda points on the table before your own. When you transition and start to talk about business, first find out the concerns that are top of mind for your client. Ask questions like “When you called me today, what were you most hoping I could do for you?” and “What worries you most about your situation, or what aspects (if any) just won’t let you rest?” and “What is the most immediate goal in your mind?” Get your client’s agenda points out on the table before your own and make sure you write them down together.
- Have an honest talk about finances. Your clients likely have savings due to your advice, even though less than one-third of Americans have an emergency fund with three to six months of living expenses. Yet being laid off requires that you be particularly frank about their financial condition. This includes both the emotional and the logical sides of the human equation. These reside in different parts of the brain, and your challenge is to join them together into a plan. You already have a start on the emotional aspects by the questions you asked in step No. 2. Refer to that list of fears, worries and goals, and say, “Now, let’s work together to address these.”
Lay out the facts of the client’s finances in logical fashion, using statistics, charts and graphs with easy-to-understand bullet points. Assess your client's level of knowledge. Then even though you have answers to propose, brainstorm with your client to discover strategies they would propose as well. Keep your client engaged in devising strategic tactics until you have developed a plan together for surviving this crisis. Be sure to ask the client if they are comfortable with the final plan, and when you have agreed, tell them what a pleasure it is to work with them in such a collaborative way.
- Be proactive about checking in. Job loss triggers grief, and grieving people don’t want to be a burden to others. Calling anyone, including you, to ask for assistance takes courage and the willingness to risk rejection, both of which are in short supply.
So instead of asking your client to call you, let them know they can call if they want, or they can just write questions down because you will be calling them. It is reassuring when they don’t have to debate whether to pick up the phone; instead you are there without their having to give it a second thought.
- Develop a list of resources you can send to unemployed clients
Educate your clients and their family members about some of the recent COVID-19 announcements designed to help weather the pandemic financially.
- The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history, pumping $2.2 trillion into the economy to support individuals and businesses. It also makes important changes to estate planning and wealth management laws.
- Department of Labor's page on COVID-19 and the American Workplace. On April 1, the U.S. Department of Labor announced new actions on how American workers and employers benefit from protections and relief offered by the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. Check here for fact sheets and FAQs on these bills.
- Equifax's Knowledge Center is a good resource to find unemployment information for your state relative to COVID-19, as well as other links to state-by-state Departments of Labor & Employment.
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce does a good job summarizing options for self-employed clients without work—from gig workers and independent contractors to small business owners.
COVID-19 caught most of us off guard and unprepared. Use this difficult time to serve your clients as a source of strength and stability. When you demonstrate that you understand their fear and grief and you know how to walk them through it, you have a client for life.