In a perfect world, we would obviously all love our jobs. We would jump out of bed every morning — no snooze button necessary — ready to put on our best business casual and be the first one to hit the office. We would gel easily with our colleagues and supervisors and never get into an awkward spat with other people on our teams. We would rise seamlessly through the ranks at our current organization, too pleased with the company’s mission and too fulfilled by our work to ever consider circling back to our resumes and applying to other jobs.
Sadly, this isn’t always the situation. Unless you’re the rare lucky case, you’ve had imperfect moments on the job — and your friends have too. As a result, you may be the one your BFF comes to after an especially tough workday. It’s not always easy to know what to say when someone is struggling, especially when it comes to something as vital as their source of support.
We checked in with experts for advice on what not to say to a pal who’s habitually unhappy in their work. Keep scrolling for their anti-recommendations.
1. “It will probably blow over.”
If your friend is miserable at the office, don’t minimize their feelings or brush off their concerns as temporary. Instead, counselor, coach, and healer Anahid Lisa Derbabian encourages you to take the time to listen and to understand what they’re going through. When you tell someone that their worries are bound to pass, what they might hear is that you don’t think that what they’re dealing with is substantial enough to merit a thoughtful conversation in the here and now. And we know that’s not how you actually feel!
2. “I’ve been there! Here’s what happened to me … ”
Your first instinct might be to try to draw from your own experiences with a less-than-ideal job or to share an anecdote with your friend that will remind them that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but coach and consultant Jane Scudder advises against it. “You’re probably doing this in an effort to normalize the situation or empathize with your friend, but what it can actually do is make this about you, when it needs to be about [them].” There may come a time when your friend asks you to share your personal journey out of a crummy gig — but in the meantime keep it to yourself.
3. “If I were you, I would stay for the benefits.”
Naturally, a reliable health insurance plan or 401(k) is nothing to take lightly, but suggesting your unhappy pal stick around in a potentially unhealthy workplace simply because you find the benefits attractive may come off as judgmental. It’s up to them to decide whether the pros outweigh the cons in their current job. Plus, as author and coach Bernard Charles points out, benefits can change with political or other shifts. “Comments like these keep your friends and loved ones playing small,” Charles reminds us. “Any job that exhausts you, sucks the life out of you, or expects you to hand over your proverbial kidney isn’t worth it.”
4. “How is the job search going?”
Assuming your friend has been unhappy with their current employment situation for a while, you might find yourself tempted to regularly touch base about their prospects. While that could be read as genuine concern, it could also strike a nerve in your likely stressed loved one. “If they had a [new] job, they would have told you,” says Maple Holistics HR manager Nate Masterson. “They don’t need a reminder that they’re still unemployed [or searching for alternatives]. This conversation is at the bottom of their chat-with-my-friend list.”
5. “You should just be grateful for the job you have.”
Gratitude is important, but it doesn’t have to come at the expense of your daily happiness. “Being grateful doesn’t mean ignoring pain and unhappiness,” adviser Candice Thomas notes. “It doesn’t matter if your friend’s job seems like the greatest job on Earth. That’s your perspective, not theirs. If they are unhappy, there’s a reason for it.” Your role should be to listen openly to their frustrations and to encourage them in whatever steps they want to take next.