Five things to tell a friend who's just been laid off
"Guess who just lost their job."
Since my friend Dawn and I had been talking just yesterday about the fact that her company had been bought six months earlier by some faceless conglomerate, and that her boss is never in the office anymore, I jumped to the wrong conclusion.
"They canned your boss!"
A sickening silence on her end of the line suggested the other possibility.
Then she started crying.
This has happened half a dozen times to me in the last year, as friends, neighbors, even my boyfriend have gotten the ax. Over time, I've developed a five-prong approach to talking them off the ledge.
Sympathize: In the first hours after the bad news, nobody wants to hear upbeat, optimistic pep talks. That's for later. Right now they want a pity party. Host it for them. Tell them how shocked you are, how horrible this news is, and how sorry you are for them. Agree with them about how their company is run by asshats who will truly be sorry when they try to do that job without them. Commiserate. Let them rant. Buy them lunch. Or buy them drinks later on tonight. When the sobbing turns to sniffles, then inform them that they have every right to wallow in self-pity -- for 24 hours.
Put it in perspective: My friend is married to a man who makes good money, so she's not going to be losing the farm without her income. Her kids will still eat and she can still make the car payment. When my neighbor, a single mom who worked in the residential housing industry got laid off, I had to reach a little further for a positive perspective, but I still found it. The impulse of the newly laid off is to assume their whole world has just ended and they'll be living in the gutter in a few months' time. This is never the case. Remind them of their job history, their education, their skills, and not least, their friends and family, who will all step up to the plate if need be.
Strategize: What are the details of their layoff? Did the company lay off individuals or eliminate whole departments? Who were their allies in upper management and can they help them slip into another position at the same company? How long do they have? How much unused vacation time do they have? Are they getting a severance package? Have they created a household budget yet and do they have any ideas about where they can cut back? Help them see that, in fact, there are lots of options out there. Were they working on a side project that could generate some actual income? Maybe now's the time to push that particular envelope. Talk out all aspects of this situation with them.
Offer your help: Sometimes all your friend really wants is a shoulder to cry/vent on. Be available to them when they need it. Maybe you have some specialized skill that can help them find another job; Zap up their resume? Get their website up and running? Get them signed up for Linkedin or other social media for networking? Even offering to watch their kids while they go on job interviews can be invaluable. Be generous with the connections, too. Offer one up if you have one top of mind. Promise more down the road. Find news they can use and forward it to them: updates on unemployment benefits and COBRA are particularly useful right now.
WalletPop 'em: All of my newly-unemployed friends get a quick link to WalletPop in their next email from me. We have any number of posts on the topic of unemployment and job searching, but in particular we have Aaron Crowe, an unemployed journalist who shares his deep knowledge of all things career-related with readers and listeners. WalletPop is also your first stop for ideas on how to budget your money, how to save your money, how to wring the most out of your household budget, and how to otherwise make it through this (d)recession with a little left in the bank.
Did I leave anything out? Throw me your good ideas in the comments section below.