(2-minute read)

There’s been a lot written about how to act and negotiate when you’ve been laid off, but little about how to interact with a work friend or colleague that’s been let go. This column speaks to what you can do to help.

Layoffs are seasonal. The first season happens in the fall, typically mid-late October through the first week of November. The second season begins in January and lasts through early February. There is no mystery to this seasonality. Layoffs during the fall take expenses off the books before year-end without coinciding with the holidays. Winter layoffs happen when an organization needs to turn up cash quickly and a leaner workforce with fewer year-end bonuses achieves that goal.

There is a vast range of behaviors that determine how companies deal with layoffs. Lately, we’ve seen some stellar examples of management treating former employees with dignity, respect, and, in some cases, generosity. On the other side, there are plenty of slash-and-burn examples – most notably the recent layoffs at Twitter.

If you have a friend or colleague laid off, it’s natural to feel uncertain about what to say. The questions I hear repeatedly are

Should I reach out?

Anything specific I should say?

Anything I can do?

The answer to all three questions is – YES.

Let’s get into each question and discuss how you can support your work friend.


Should I reach out?

YES. Unless you’ve been laid off before (it’s likely to happen at some point in your career), you have no idea how isolating it feels. What tends to happen is that colleagues will quickly self-select into one of two camps. The first is the “run for the hills; I don’t want to know you” camp. The person laid off never hears from those people again. The second is those who show up and want to help. You want to be in the second category.

Here are some guidelines for reaching out in ways that matter.

  1. Speed matters. Reach out quickly. Loneliness sets in fast.
  2. It’s not about you. Give your colleague space to let them talk about their experience. A common trap is to fill empty airtime with your complaints about management. That’s not helpful- the person no longer works at the company.
  3. Allocate adequate time. Your first conversation may be extended or short. There is no way to know, so make sure you have scheduled the time to talk when you reach out. You don’t want to end the conversation with, “I’d love to keep talking, but I gotta jump on a call…..”


Anything specific I should say?

Yes, again. The keyword here is specific. Calling to commiserate and complain about management makes everyone feel good for 10 minutes. Be helpful in the following ways.

  1. Listen closely– what does your friend need? At any given time, this could be space, time to talk openly, receive advice, require a sympathetic ear or need a sounding board for ideas. It’s important to read the tone of the conversation and meet your friend where they are at that moment.
  2. Get practical. The wound of being laid off will eventually begin to heal. Listen for a shift in your friend’s tone. Is this the conversation to ask if they are ready to consider the next step? If so, ask about their ideas, how they are thinking about their next move and their timeline.
  3. Offer specific help. Tell your friend where your skills and connections lie. You won’t be able to do everything, but you will excel at some things. Be prepared to deploy specific skills and relationships in support of your friend.


Anything I can do?

  1. Don’t micromanage. You may have strong feelings about the direction of your friend’s career, but the bottom line is that it’s their career. The decisions about their next steps are theirs alone. Your value-add may include making introductions, reviewing resumes or acting as a sounding board.
  2. Be clear about when you will check-in. If the person laid off was a close friend, set up a weekly check-in. Let your friend decide what schedule works best. What ex-employees gravitate to is stability. When you offer a plan, you set up a structure of touchpoints that is familiar and welcome.
  3. Don’t make assumptions. Even if your friend is committed to a direction one day, it’s not a given that this will be the case later. Before making introductions, check in to ensure that your friend is still pursuing a specific direction. You are an asset when you help them move forward, so it’s essential to ensure you are both moving in the same direction.


Being a supportive and proactive work friend when a colleague gets laid off is a gift.

Many people don’t like to reach out because they feel they’re bothering the other person. Trust me; you’re not annoying your colleague. If you listen, offer specific help and anchor predictable conversations, you will become the best friend a laid-off person can have.


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