What To Do (And Not To Do) When A Friend Loses Their Job

Greg Hewitt
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(Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

(Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

(Credit: Emily Lucarz Photography) Greg Hewitt
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It usually comes in the form of a text or call from a mutual friend.

“Did you hear about (insert name)?  Yeah, he/she just got let go from (Insert Company).

I received a variation of this text recently regarding  a former co-worker, who was recently laid off from his job as part of a “structural reorganization of the company workforce”

Apparently, he’d been summoned to a small, quiet meeting room for what he thought was a fairly typical weekly status update.

Structural Reorganization?  That actually manages to make it seem almost pleasant, as if they were simply being asked to rearrange the office furniture.

It seems you rarely, if ever, hear the term fired anymore.  Probably for good reason.  Companies these days seem to prefer the more ominous, Terminated With Cause instead.

It does makes sense. Human Resource professionals have been busy over the past decade or so, coming up with some interesting synonyms.

Downsized is one you hear a lot. Scroll through your LinkedIn contacts and you’re sure to see that one repeated over and over.  It also implies that the employee was not at fault.  That the company’s hand was forced by economic forces beyond its control.  This usually won’t hurt your opportunities for future employment with another organization.

Workforce reduction is similar, yet it seems slightly more benign–soulless,  if you will.

Rightsizing is just wrong.  I’m not sure why,  it just is. And a little utopian as well.

Then again, it could be worse. Imagine the typical employee in Great Britain.  They’re  called into the boss’s London office on a quiet weekday afternoon and informed, very politely, perhaps even over a cup of tea, that as of that moment they are now….redundant!

Wow…There’s cold, there’s ice-cold and then there’s being reduced to redundancy.  (It is the UK however. I suppose it’s better than being sacked!)

Whatever you want to call it though, the end result is the same.  That job you’ve had, the one you’ve complained about from time to time as we’ve all done, the one you may have taken for granted on occasion, yet depended upon to feed, clothe and shelter your family, the one you may have even loved, is gone.

Just like that.

And in the end, you’re left carrying a small box of personal items out to your car.  Hopefully,  you’re spared the indignity of being shadowed like a thief on a perp walk, by a company security guard or grim-faced HR staffer.

The box is usually small, because your former employer will do you the enormous favor (or at least that’s what they’ll tell you) of boxing up the rest of your items for you to pick up at a later date, preferably late some evening or on a weekend when few of your former co-workers are around.  This is probably a good thing for everyone involved.

Which leads us back to my former co-worker pal who was just downsized from his company. What’s the first thing one should do in this instance?  Should you call or reach out to them or is it better to give them some space and let them process what’s just happened?

Pick up the phone and call them.  Even if you’re not particularly close.

Call.

Even if it feels awkward and you don’t really know what to say.

Call.

No matter what, the biggest favor you can do for your friend (or anyone in this situation) is to reach out to them in some fashion, to let them know that you’re thinking of them.

And, here’s the key—follow through with it.  Really do it!

Offer to buy them lunch so that you can meet and share some of your contacts.  Check with Human Resources to see if there are any positions within your company which might suit their skill set.  Do whatever you can, anything to get them out and moving around.  It’s corny and a cliché, but it’s also true.  Motion creates emotion!  Actions create reactions!  (Or at least that’s what the  Ben Affleck character in “Boiler Room” says.)

But most important of all, just be there to listen if they need to talk.  And chances are they will.  They’re probably feeling anxious, stressed, embarrassed and a little scared. They will if they’re human.  Letting them vent a little, (while keeping them from falling into the deep, murky waters of self-pity) will be a great gift you can provide them.

Whatever you do, just make sure you do something.

Because you never know.  Someday it might be you being summoned to that small, quiet meeting room office for what you thought was that weekly status update.

And if it is, at least you’ll have one person who will be willing to help.

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