What to Say, and Not Say, To Someone Recently Laid Off

I’ve been on both sides of the lay-off equation now, and neither is particularly easy. Obviously, retaining a role in an organization is the “better” outcome, but it’s hard to know what to say to folks impacted by a reduction in force making interactions awkward and uneasy.

It doesn’t have to be this difficult so here are some tips for reaching out to friends and co-workers transitioning to a new next step.

  • Treat laid off co-workers with the same dignity and respect you’ve always treated them.

Being laid off can feel very lonely.  Co-workers don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything at all often avoiding impacted employees.  If co-workers continue to work in the office during a transition (as some companies offer as they look for new opportunities) treat them the same way you’ve always treated them.  Say hello, grab coffee, ask about their kids, etc.  You won’t catch the “Lay Off Disease” by including them the same way you did before their role was eliminated.

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone impacted, but take care in how you do it.

I had a co-worker type the following via IM: “Hi, just checking in on you, you doing okay?” to which I replied, “I’m doing well, how about you?”  She replied that she was doing well, and that was the end of the interaction.  If you are going to wade in, don’t stop when your big toe hits the water.  If you are checking in on someone because they are impacted, don’t be afraid to say that you heard their role was eliminated.  I had another long term co-worker reach out and say the following: “I’m really sorry to hear you were impacted.  If there is anything at all I can do, please reach out.  Actually, I was just at XYZ company, and there are some great folks there and they are hiring.  I think you should definitely reach out to them.”  He then went on to give me the names of former employees from our current company that now work there.  They are folks I know, and I immediately reached out.

  • Make a firm offer to help, or don’t make one at all.

In my example above, I had a co-worker offer to help, and it was pretty generic, but he followed that up with something I could actually action – a company hiring that has employees that used to work at my current employer.  That gave me an in, and also made me feel hope.  If you can offer an ear, do that, and don’t worry that you cannot offer more.  Don’t make some nebulous “I’m here if you need me” kind of offer.  That puts the burden back on the person laid off, and trust me, they are dealing with enough.

  • Be very careful offering advice.

On this one, my recommendation is to not offer advice.  No one knows what anyone else is going through, or has going on in their personal life.  Advice is presented from the point of view of the person giving the advice.  Telling someone to start a business, or go work for a non-profit while good intended may be too much for someone also processing the news of an elimination.  Perhaps that is a great path for someone, but jumping in to solve early on can lead to overwhelm and frustration.  Let the impacted person take the lead on exploring possibilities.  If they bring it up, get curious about what they are thinking.  They are in the lead, you are there to reflect and listen.

  • Empathy is key.

Many of us have been through a reduction, and many have gone on to offer great contributions to other organizations.  That can be helpful to know.  Being with someone who has experienced the same event lets us know we are not alone. Empathy is feeling with someone.  It means being willing to tap into the emotions you also felt in a similar situation.  Being laid off is a loss, and many folks process through the grief cycle.  Be with them through those stages knowing they may move through them multiple times before coming to acceptance.

  • Be careful about sharing too much about your own similar experience.

As I noted above, empathy is key, but be careful not to hijack the conversation or project your own emotions and feelings about your own past circumstance on to the other. Let your friend or co-worker take the lead here.  Let them identify their emotions, and don’t make them wrong for what they feel.  If they feel humiliation, as I did, let them.  They know what they feel, and whether or not you felt the same is not important right now.  Do reassure them that what they are feeling is understandable.  Receive what they say, and listen.  It is one of the greatest gifts you can offer.

Experiencing a loss is never easy, and we are rarely ready with the best possible response, but there are a few ways to make an interaction less awkward.  Listen, let the impacted person take the lead, if you can, make a firm offer of help with actionable information, and continue to engage.  What people need in this situation is an ear and understanding, and each of us can offer that.

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I’m Gonna Make it Afterall

It’s been years.  I used to journal everyday.  It was my morning routine, along with coffee and a run.  Now, my journals are packed up, and some even gone.  But today I need to journal.  You see, I got laid off on Thursday.  To be fair, I kind of knew it could be coming, but I’ll be honest, it doesn’t change the hurt and upset.  At first, I was “fine.”  Later, I wasn’t.  Shame was holding my hand, and hell, I jumped into its lap.  I fell asleep telling myself I wasn’t good enough.  I know that line well.  If I didn’t know better, I’d say I was born believing it.

There is no amount of preparation for a moment such as this.  A loss.  We don’t beat vulnerability to the punch by scripting out ahead of time how we will handle it.  The last 48 hours have been an interesting ride, and the story I have been making up and telling myself is all about how I am not good enough.  Afterall, if I was, I would not have been laid off.  Oddly enough, I am writing this while on work travel for the job I was just laid off from.  I am fortunate.  The way my company works is that transitions take time, and employees are given support and resources.  I am using my time to pause and reflect.  I also grabbed my copy of Rising Strong by Brene Brown, and threw it in my bag – a smart move for sure.

I am on page 26 and already feeling better, and perhaps even a bit, dare I say it, optimistic.  This line has taken my breath away:

“When you’re on your path, the universe will conspire to help you”     ~Paulo Coelho

Corporate America is not my dream.  Yes, it’s been good to me.  I have done some amazing work during my 20 years here.  I have met incredible people, grown up, expanded my worldviews, and provided for my family.  But it’s not my dream.  It’s not who I am, not completely anyway.  Sure, it’s been a part of my journey, but I am more than my career up to this point.

What I want to do is to support our middle school girls.  I love that age group.  I want them to know that their stories matter.  I want them to know that they matter.  I want them to know that they are more than this moment, and that it is okay to struggle.  I want to provide them the permission they may not be able to provide for themselves. Lastly, I want to support them as they build a safe place to fall.

I actually already have a program.  I created one 2 years ago, and implemented it at our daughter’s school.  But I wasn’t brave enough to go beyond her school where I am close with the administration, and I knew I had their support.  I was sort of in the arena, but not totally.  I was playing it safe to a large degree.

I’ve thrown out every reason why I can’t take the leap.  We are saving for college, retirement and a rainy day.  9 times out of 10 this whole argument with myself comes back to money.  Am I saving enough?  It’s scarcity thinking, and it has kept me so small. It is so limiting which is fitting considering it is scarcity thinking: “Don’t be too big, you’re not that good.”

But what if…

What if this sudden change is the universe conspiring with me, not against me?  What if just maybe this is my moment?  What if my desire to create a community for girls is more important now?  What if I’ve made my last PowerPoint deck?

I’m writing this blog on a plane.  Best I can figure, I am over Lake Erie.  It is so peaceful and quiet.  I am letting my mind open, and allowing myself to be brave enough to dare to dream.  I don’t have to decide today my next steps so I’m letting my thoughts flow, and it feels good.  There is a bit of hope here, and writing that line brings me to tears.  Yesterday at this time, I was vacuuming which is my go-to in stressful moments.  I also recall grabbing a large trash bag and throwing out anything questionable sitting in the pantry or fridge. Bleach, a vacuum, and black trash bags are my closest friends in moments of struggle. Thankfully, I now recognize this behavior and know a fire has ignited, and there is some personal work to do.

I don’t have answers yet, but I have a glimmer of something equally important.  It’s name is Possibility.

The Unscripted Weekly: Islands, Food, Saving Money, and Saving Children

The Unscripted Weekly features links to various articles I have come across in my travels across the internet.  Feel free to share your own internet journeys, and thoughts on these articles in the comments section.

Looking for that perfect getaway?  Maine may have your answer.  Check out this island complete with a mansion, tavern, and chapel.  It’s for sale for a cool 8MM.

And while we are enjoying the thought of living on a private island, why not enjoy food and drink as well?  Here are this year’s summer food trends, and they look delicious!

Sometimes it’s just too hot to enjoy the outdoors.  Netflix has us covered.  Check out what’s trending, and get the popcorn ready.

Saving money can feel like a full time job, but there are simple ways to save money. Check out these tips on how to stretch your money without feeling like you are missing out.

Last but definitely not least is the story of 2 young men who quit their full time jobs to teach students in Nigeria at a camp for refugees fleeing the attacks of Boko Haram.  It’s a heartwarming story about making a difference in a very difficult situation.