Job skill for the times: coping with a layoff
Keys for pink-slip recipients include directness, dignity, and forward motion.
A few days before Thanksgiving last month, Patricia Lewis's boss called her into his office at a community bank in Sarasota, Fla., to deliver some bad news: He was eliminating her job as marketing director because of tight budgets.Skip to next paragraph
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After adjusting to the initial shock, Ms. Lewis e-mailed the news and her résumé to friends and contacts who could be helpful in a job search. The response from many was gratifying.
"I received condolence e-mails," says Lewis, a single mother with two sons in high school and college. "I received several social invitations and lots of encouragement from a core group." But from others there was only silence. "Those I haven't heard from, I wonder – were they real friends? Was it me, or just my job, that was our connection? Or are they too embarrassed? My true friends are here for me, and it is not at all awkward with them."
As pink slips proliferate – 533,000 in November alone – those who are suddenly unemployed appreciate solace and support. Yet friends and co-workers are often unsure about what to say or do to help.
"If a friend or colleague receives a pink slip, don't dismiss it or make a remark such as, 'Buck up, you'll soon find another job,' " says Talane Miedaner, founder of LifeCoach.com. "Instead, listen carefully to what they are saying. Let them know that you'll help in any way you can. A positive thing you can say is, 'It's not personal. You know times are tough when great people like you are getting laid off.' This reminds them that it isn't that they weren't good enough, but is simply a matter of tough economic times."
Three weeks ago, those challenging economic times cost Karen Hatfield of Appleton, Wis., her director-level job when the paper company where she worked trimmed its salaried workforce by 15 percent. "I have gone through the range of emotions, from being really ticked off at being ousted to feeling a strange sense of freedom," she says.
To friends she offers this advice: "I truly appreciate your sympathy and, more than anything, your support. Please don't pity me. I've had some down moments, but I'm not hiding at home crying my eyes out. Don't avoid me. I'd love to get together for coffee. I'm very interested in contacts you might have, even if they don't have an open job. Networking is a good thing."
Jerri Barrett, marketing director for the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology in Palo Alto, Calif., suggests taking someone who has been laid off to breakfast or lunch and sharing your contact list with them. "Someone I worked with when I was laid off years ago did exactly that," she says. "Thanks to him, within two months of a layoff, I had two job offers from recruiters in addition to two offers I got on my own. Offer yourself as a reference. And don't forget about the person after the initial contact. Make a point to keep reaching out to them."
But reaching out requires tact. One unemployed man wants friends to refrain from asking how his job search is going. David Wolf, a workplace-communication consultant in Ocala, Fla., cautions well-meaning friends to avoid excessive sympathy, revengeful or mean language about the boss, and the urge to give advice. And Michael Kitchens, a professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., says, "Do not suggest that you know what they are going through and how they feel. Even if you lost your job, you did not have their exact same experience. It is fine to share your experience, though. If you know someone who has lost their job, your best strategy is to simply be their friend."
how to help the newly jobless
Jenny Schade, president of JRS Consulting, offers these tips for talking with people who have been laid off.
•Acknowledge the situation and offer to help. By saying, "I was sorry to hear about your job. Anything I can do to help?" you're moving the conversation beyond the job loss and toward a supportive action.
•Don't assume you can't do anything to help just because you don't have a job to offer. You might offer to baby sit while the job candidate goes to an interview, or you may know someone who can help make a connection.
•Be sensitive about asking too many questions. Asking, 'How many job interviews do you have lined up?' can sound intrusive. Avoid questions that may make him or her feel pressured or stressed.
•Take your cues from the person with whom you're talking. If he or she changes the subject, let it go. But if he or she wants to talk, be ready to listen and offer support. Never underestimate the value of being a sounding board. It's not necessary to offer advice. Just reflecting the other person's feelings can make them feel supported.