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My 37-year gig in corporate America came to an abrupt halt earlier this summer when I was laid off from a large dysfunctional company we'll call "DysCo". For background, check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Today in the 4th installment of "Corporate Life in the Rearview Mirror", we deal with the inevitable consequence of modern business: seeing your colleagues, friends, family members, and neighbors getting laid off.

Even when the handwriting on the wall is in two-foot block letters, and the Grim Reaper's pacing the halls, and we know that our number will probably be called this time around, nothing really prepares us for the dreaded moment. We're asked to report to some conference room on another floor. Someone will meet you at the elevator and walk you over.

Uh, oh. This is it. Your heart pounding, you grab a pen and some paper, try to compose yourself, and head in for your execution. Your boss is there, along with some hand-puppet from "human resources" and you get your "package", since there's never any transaction that can't benefit from a bunch more paperwork. Stunned, you return to your desk to prepare your laptop and Blackberry for surrender.

Already, the whispers start within earshot. Once laid off, no matter how important or valuable or well-liked you might have been, you're dead meat. Like it or not, the shunning has begun.

Like the recently deceased in the movie "Beetle Juice", the recently laid-off inhabit a different world. Our grief at having our job, our livelihood, and our identity torn from us is real, palpable, and distressing to others. Nobody wants to risk the possibility that our malady is contagious.

As with the recently bereaved, nobody knows what to say. Yes, the greeting card industry has stepped up to help fill this void, given their success in the condolence card market. Still, there will be occasions when you encounter a recently laid-off colleague, friend, or family member who could really benefit from your compassion. So: what can you say?

Please follow along below the cloud of despair for your intrepid and recently laid-off diarists suggestions on things to  to say, and things not to say.

Things To Say


"I'm so sorry."

This universal statement of empathy is fine all by itself and always the proper thing to say. With a hug, it's even better. Much better.
"I can't believe it. After all you've done, I never imagined they'd let you go."

This is nice, as long as you don't lay it on too thick. After all, many fine people get laid off. The week I was let go, I was one of hundred of people just in part of the US. I'm sure that they were all smart, hardworking people who gave the company their best effort but were nonetheless tossed into the volcano.
"Please feel free to use me as a reference."
This is always welcome, especially as company policy at DysCo and many major companies is the they won't provide any references at all for their laid off employees. All they will give out is dates you worked there, and your title. This is what happens when Human Resources is run by the attorneys. So, yes, offering to serve as a reference is a wonderful gesture.
"My brother-in-law/neighbor/room-mate/daughter works at [name of a competitor] and they've been looking for new people. I'd be happy to give them a copy of your resume and maybe they can get you in to meet the right folks."  
This is a nice gesture, but keep in mind that you can't guarantee that third parties will follow up. Still, if the laid-off person wants to find a new job, they will appreciate leads that might not be found through traditional sources.
"Listen, give me your personal e-mail address and a number where I can call you. I'll give you a call at home next week. Let's get together for lunch, my treat."
This is great... if you really intend to follow through (see below for the flip side...)

Things Not To Say


"Well, this might actually work out well for you. Now you can take the whole summer off!"
Uh, no. Whatever's next in my career will require that I put every ounce of energy into finding - or creating - a new job. This is not my idea of a vacation. Indeed, if I'd planned a costly vacation, I might have to cancel it.
"Well, you know what they say... when one door closes, another door opens."
I'm sure this comment is well intentioned, but really? What if the door that closed was a trap door, and I fell through and broke both ankles? Sometimes when one door closes, you wander for ages getting other doors slammed in your face. This sort of upbeat platitude isn't very helpful.
"You had to have known this was coming, right?"
Well, there's no right answer for this. Either I did know it was coming, but I'm still - foolishly - reeling from the shock, or I didn't know it was coming, but everyone else did, in which case I'm a chump... A chump without a job.
"Oh, my God! How in the world are we going to get the ABC Manufacturing report done without you? We were already up against the wall on schedule!!"
Well, that's really no longer my problem, is it? If DysCo wanted me to finish it, they could have let me stay. If they want me to come back and work on it, they know how to reach me about a contract employee deal. But the way I'm feeling right now, I'd probably tell them to go pound sand.
"Listen, I'll call you next week. We can get together for lunch."
Please don't say this unless you mean it. One thing that the newly laid-off learn right away is who our real friends are. Sadly, most of the folks who helped us haul our stuff out to your car will never call us or e-mail us. It's nothing against them, just the way things work.
"At least your husband/wife still works, so you'll be okay."
I know, I know... you're looking for that silver lining, but the problem isn't our spouse or their job. It's our creditors who still expect to be paid. We know that things could be worse, but right now, they're bad enough.
"With your skills and credentials, you'll have no trouble finding a job! I'm not worried at all!
This sounds good, but having been laid off before, some of us know full well that even in the best case, it's likely still a matter of months at best before we find another position. If we're "seasoned" employees, it will take even longer. You might not be worried, but we are, and with good reason.  

Whatever you do, please don't shun the recently laid-off. Their condition is not contagious. They're just like you, only grieving and in pain.

Speak from your heart. If words aren't your thing, take action. Meet up with them. Treat them to lunch or or a movie. Treat them to a day at the spa, a trip to the beach, or ballgame. Offer to watch their kids or to help with their resume. Offer them the use of your lakeside cottage for a weekend. You'll think of something.

My hope is that you'll spare no mercies where the newly laid-off are concerned. We're all in this together.

Originally posted to cassandracarolina's fossil record on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 01:51 PM PDT.

Also republished by Retail and Workplace Pragmatists - Members and Editors.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Twice since Nov 2008 (8+ / 0-)

    second time was supposed to be July 31, but in their 'wisdom' postponed it til Oct 31......

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 01:56:55 PM PDT

  •  I'm retired, but I got fired... (8+ / 0-)

    ...three times before I landed the job I retired from.

    WRT support, I was rather put out that the people I thought would be the most supportive, namely my fraternity brothers, treated me like I was a leper. I belong to an engineering fraternity, and the rush made a big deal about professional networking.

    Yeah, right!

    Suffice it to say that I do not pay my "voluntary alumni dues", nor do I interact much with my fraternity brothers.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:04:05 PM PDT

    •  It's disconcerting to see how others (6+ / 0-)

      shun the newly unemployed. When you do call someone back at your former place of employment, they'll say "Oh, I was just about to call you!!" but that's likely not the case. Nobody calls or e-mails, except your true friends.

      One thing that's been very nice, though has been contact with other laid off DysCo folks who are starting their own companies as I am. There's a great fraternity and sharing of experience and expertise that is bringing out the best in all of us as we arise from the ashes of that dysfunctional place.

      Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

      by cassandracarolina on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:09:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm envious! (5+ / 0-)

        I shall relate how one of my "brothers" treated me while I was working for the City, after I had been employed there for almost 20 years. He was a higher-up in CDOT, and was going past my cubicle to see my then-deputy commissioner, a man who was openly hostile to practically the whole bureau. His response when he saw me was to say "You're still here?! Hey Don, JeffW's still here?".

        This asshole was my roomate, and we had been friends. He had gotten me interested in civil engineering.

        He later took a job as a commissioner of another City agency, where he got into some hot water. He's now working for a consulting firm.

        Oh, and just a slight criticism about the term "laid-off". I've always associated it with the possibility you'd get called back if things improved. I personally prefer calling it fired, but YMMV.

        Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

        by JeffW on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:18:54 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  JeffW, what a bunch of jerks (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cassandracarolina, JeffW, lonespark

      One would think that an engineering fraternity would have a job bank, where employers would list jobs for the members.  I belonged to a professional society once that had something like that.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:57:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  They didn't... (3+ / 0-)

        ...and my alma mater had an alumni employment office, but the only people hiring for sure at that time were contractor working in Arab countries, and even though I'm non-practicing, I am Jewish. Happily, the City was looking for someone to be a traffic engineer in 1983, and the rest is history.

        Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

        by JeffW on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 03:19:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  CC (7+ / 0-)

    Very well written - especially examples of what people should and should not say.

    "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

    by bcdelta on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:05:03 PM PDT

    •  Thanks, bcdelta... I got my start with these bits (5+ / 0-)

      of unhelpful advice years ago while dealing with infertility. People said the most unbelievably unhelpful things ("Just relax; you're trying too hard"... "Our friends adopted a baby and then the wife got pregnant a month later!"..."Lemme know if you guys need any help with that, ha, ha!"..."Well, if it doesn't work out, you can travel and do all kinds of things you'd never be able to do with kids").

      I'm sure that people "mean well" when saying the things they say, but I hope this helps ease the awkwardness and gives people ideas on how to truly help.

      Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

      by cassandracarolina on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:13:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  LOL (3+ / 0-)

        It's always people with jobs or that do not have your given problem that have tons of advice, but they never seem to wish to help.

        On the job front - I've had all sorts of people giving me unsolicited and inaccurate advice, but when you ask them to introduce you to a hiring manager they disappear.

        When I got cancer I did a lot of research and had a lot of people trying to push me into additional surgeries and other stuff after I determined that this was not the best course of action.

        At the end I had to get very aggressive with them before they would stop.

        I also had to make logical arguments with data to shut them up.

        Then good friends who never saw me in the hospital would try and make it seem like it was my fault that I hadn't come to see them and I was unemployed to boot so not easy to go out and see people when you don't have cash.

        I just ignore it now though, but funny how some people try to cram their opinions down your throat when you're getting you posterior kicked.

        "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

        by bcdelta on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:22:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wow, bcdelta - it never ends, does it? (5+ / 0-)

          People offering unsolicited medical advice really need to shut up. What might have worked for (or appealed to) them might be unsuitable or even lethal for someone else.

          The only time that I offered someone some medical advice was a former employee who had been having back pains. No doctor would take his complaint seriously, as he played basketball and other sports that they said were the cause of strain. My primary care physician at the time was a rheumatologist and a fabulous diagnostician. I suggested that this person pay my doctor a visit where it was discovered that he had spina bifida - undiagnosed in his first 30 years of life!

          Still, that's the exception rather than the rule. Unsolicited advice is worth every penny you pay for it.

          Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

          by cassandracarolina on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:30:19 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Glad your employee (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            cassandracarolina, lonespark

            got treated.

            So much pain can originate in the spine + it's key to walking - I guess this is why good doctors are so key to our system.

            I wonder if med school/university were more affordable if one wouldn't see more enter the profession that were really into healing vs. making big bucks???

            It's ended for me as people are now leaving me alone, but we'll see what the future holds.

            "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

            by bcdelta on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 04:29:08 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Many of the same things can be said to those (5+ / 0-)

    that didn't get the position after working so hard to get the interview....

    Ask me how I know????

    Earlier today, I posted:

    "I was lead candidate for a permanent position yesterday.  The person that they are going to make an offer to had Assembler experience in addition to the 'required' Cobol.  So, unless this guy fails the background check, I'm not getting the job.

    The other job that I was qualified for, I won't even get an interview for.  The stupid ass reason is that I've never used a tool called Panvalet before.  The company says it's non-negoitable - yet they want at least 10 years experience in COBOL and DB2 and start on October 1st - in the middle of almost no-where Iowa.  Maybe it's better that I didn't get anywhere with them???"

    •  You raise a really good point, nchristine (5+ / 0-)

      As the newly laid off and the long-ago laid off know all too well, the road to a new job is littered with disappointment. When I first graduated and was still living at home for a few months, my dad and I were both unemployed concurrently. Every day, my mother would ask whether we'd found a job (as if we'd withhold that information!), what was taking so long (a recession, maybe?), essentially implying that we weren't trying hard enough.

      Don't ask your freshly-laid-off person how their job search is going. They'll let you know. They have all the urgency they need. They could use a true friend, a bit of diversion, a hug.

      Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

      by cassandracarolina on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:33:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I've run into that as well.. (3+ / 0-)

        ...where people start riding you as if you aren't trying.

        They just don't know how tight the economy is.

        "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

        by bcdelta on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 04:40:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Sorry to hear this, nchristine. :( (4+ / 0-)
  •  Always hard to know what to say. (6+ / 0-)

    My father-in-law was laid off a number of years ago, before my wife and I married. He's always been a computer engineer, the industry was tightening painfully in our area, but we still saw him every few weeks.

    A great number of awkward silences over dinner. He used to complain my job was never good enough, then he was suddenly out of one. In a way in was kind of empowering (call it in-law syndrome), but he still had a mortgage, car payment, etc.

    Really awkward.

    "The less time you have, the more you need to use it wisely." - Cpt. Avatar, Starblazers

    by DeathDlr73 on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:30:49 PM PDT

    •  It is awkward, for certain (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DeathDlr73, JeffW, bcdelta, lonespark

      and it gets harder when there laid off person is, let's say "seasoned", and everyone knows that companies aren't exactly scooping up people in that demographic.

      You'd think that things would get easier given how many people are out of work these days. Everyone must know someone who's either lost a job or been unable to find a job, both through no fault of their own. But there's still a great awkwardness about how to interact with these folks without getting "unemployment cooties" from them.

      Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

      by cassandracarolina on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:40:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oh, gods, this is so spot-on (8+ / 0-)
    Once laid off, no matter how important or valuable or well-liked you might have been, you're dead meat. Like it or not, the shunning has begun
    .

    THIS was what pissed me off so much that I sat down and wrote a novel called...Layoffs.  It blew my mind that people I chatted with every day, joked with, sometimes lunched with, and so on, never called, never said, "Oh, hard luck, that's awful."

    That feeling of being a social pariah really bothered me, Introvert of the even though I regularly win the Nobel Prize for being an First Class.  Yes, I'm an introvert but I'm not a misanthrope!  I do appreciate some human interaction from time to time.

    Luckily, I've got a great family.  It's true that you find out who your real friends are after you've been laid off.

    The layoffs did teach me a couple of things:  (1) NEVER work as hard for a company as you would for yourself.  (2)  The people you see and chat with every day at work are NOT your friends!  They're business acquaintances.  They won't be there when you need them.

    And yeah, even though you're expecting it, a layoff still feels like a belt right across the jaws.  I despise corporations for treating people like Kleenex.  I wish we had single payer health care so people could start their own damn businesses, with the hours THEY choose, and with all the profits going to themselves.  We were constantly urged to "work smarter and harder" and to have "stretch goals" but it never translated into high raises.  We were lucky to even get 2 or 3 percent.  A couple of years we didn't get raises at all, so everyone went to the Christmas party and ate as much as they dam' well could.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 02:54:36 PM PDT

    •  Wow, Diana in NoVa, you got all that right! (7+ / 0-)

      People might think that with all that companies have done to their employees, that a layoff would just be one more in a series of indignities. It's not! I's WAY beyond that, and it brings all of that back into focus.

      WHY did we work so hard?
      WHY did we believe their crap?
      WHY, even though we saw this coming, does it hurt so much?

      When I was let go, my idiot boss, trying to be "helpful" said that, if I wanted, I could drive home right then and there and someone would send me my stuff. As if!

      I paused for effect and looked here and the nitwit from HR squarely in the eyes and said, in drippingly caustic tones:

      "With all due respect, when you give someone bad news like this, the last thing they should be doing is getting behind the wheel of a car. Even if they're not feeling suicidal or homicidal, they're clearly too distraught and distracted to drive. It would be a damned shame for the company to have an accident or a fatality on someone's last day of work."
      They looked at each other sheepishly and one of them said:
      "Gee, I hadn't thought of that."
      No, they hadn't thought of much of anything except the numbers.

      Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

      by cassandracarolina on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 03:04:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sure (4+ / 0-)

        There's no more loyalty at most corporations so one has to look after themselves.

        And greed is a big part of this.  Don't know what they teach in MBA programs, but it's not good.

        "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

        by bcdelta on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 04:45:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  This: (5+ / 0-)
      The people you see and chat with every day at work are NOT your friends!  They're business acquaintances.
      This is true whether you leave voluntarily or not so much. Since I left my employer I have kept up with 2 people, and not ones I would have expected. And when I say "kept up," I mean that in a pretty loose sense.

      It's good to know who your real friends are, and mostly they aren't at work.

  •  So glad you brought this up (5+ / 0-)
    "At least your husband/wife still works, so you'll be okay."
    I'm the wife who still works.  DH worked in IT for 20 years and was laid off more than once.  He always bounced back until 2009, when everything was going to shit and he was closing in on 50.  It just wasn't worth it anymore.  We are still afloat, but our income and standard of living have been slashed dramatically.

    Probably the saddest thing for me was getting kicked out of our UU church.  We couldn't fulfill our pledge for the year after the last layoff, and they pretty much cut us loose even though we offered to do volunteer work instead.  Yeah, WTF?

    You learn a lot about people and the world when you lose your financial safety net, most of which is disappointing.  No platitudes here, just my best wishes!

     I can think of no more stirring symbol of man's humanity to man than a fire engine.     -- Kurt Vonnegut

    by SteelerGrrl on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 03:24:01 PM PDT

    •  Wow, WTF indeed! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SteelerGrrl, lonespark
      Probably the saddest thing for me was getting kicked out of our UU church.  We couldn't fulfill our pledge for the year after the last layoff, and they pretty much cut us loose even though we offered to do volunteer work instead.  Yeah, WTF?
      That's simply unacceptable! If anything, the church should help those in need get back on their feet, not toss them out!

      This is interesting indeed for those "small government morans" who think that the private sector can just step in and take the place of government safety nets.

      I am so sorry, SteelerGrrl. Nobody deserves to be treated as you guys were.

      Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

      by cassandracarolina on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 03:39:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cassandracarolina, lonespark

        It was especially ironic since I was already active in homeless ministry.  In a way I'm glad they outed themselves as phonies so readily; it saved me investing any more time and energy.  

        BTW I still visit a different UU church occasionally.  I have nothing against the denomination.  No plans to do any more "joining," though.

         I can think of no more stirring symbol of man's humanity to man than a fire engine.     -- Kurt Vonnegut

        by SteelerGrrl on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 03:49:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  You (3+ / 0-)

      really do learn who your friends are when times are tough.

      "And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue; They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space" Khalil Gibran

      by bcdelta on Tue Aug 28, 2012 at 04:46:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  What the fucking hell? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cassandracarolina, SteelerGrrl

      I have dealt with UU churches that are less than welcoming to poor folks.  Mostly due to privileged oversight, not that that makes it much better on the receiving end.  But that is so many steps beyond into suck...

      "As scientific knowledge advances, it does not mean that religious knowledge retreats." - horse69 on the bnet recon C&C board

      by lonespark on Wed Aug 29, 2012 at 05:31:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wow... flashback to MY being laid off! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cassandracarolina

    And in accurate and agonizing detail.  And nobody was hiring women of my age.  I found some part-time jobs that lasted for a little while, but as of last year had to start taking Social Security early because after six years of part time jobs (like clerking), no one's hiring an overaged female computer geek -- because, like, you can't know anything about computers which magically appeared fully formed at the time our current crop of 20 year olds were birthed.  Forget Core Wars, Vax, mainframes, midis, card punching and all the years of coding and hardware and software experience.  Forget the fact that I'm able to learn and support over 200 different software types.  Just look at my aging face and poor fashion sense and put me in the "retire it" bag.

    They even kept a guy who had severe health problems and slept on the job (you could hear him snoring all over the Pit.

    Oh.  Bitter?  Me?

    Geh.  Thought I'd gotten over it, but I think I haven't.

    Anyway, thanks for the diary and the well-made points and thanks for a little space to allow me to rant.

    •  Sorry to reopen old wound, Cyberwizard (0+ / 0-)

      I recall my first years of computers in the workplace with punched cards and punched tape, and having to traipse over to the computer room and plead with the passive-aggressive guy on duty to run my program.

      I am glad to be working for myself now as I try to bridge the gap between employment and Social Security. Lots of us aging baby boomers would be glad to exit corporate life in a more graceful manner than being summarily laid off and having to be out of the building the same day, forever. Some companies offer their senior people a reasonable buy-out, extending their benefits for six months or a year, and letting them leave in honor rather than disgrace. But the Bain MBA kids probably have a real laugh over that. Just lay 'em off. No need to even give them 2 weeks pay in lieu of notice. Screw 'em!

      Some drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle. -- Woody Allen

      by cassandracarolina on Thu Aug 30, 2012 at 09:04:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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