How to handle your colleague’s layoff

Q. Maybe this isn’t the right question to ask the job doc, but it is a work question. We have been through one layoff here, and it was horrible. Everyone knew it would happen but no one thought they might be the person affected. So they were shocked. Then no one knew what to say to them while they were here packing. A few of us were talking about what the right thing to do is – so what is the right thing to do?

A. Layoffs are tough on all involved, and I really appreciate the fact that as “survivors”, you care about the people affected. One of the challenges of lay offs is making the decision on which positions will be impacted. Management is charged with the task of identifying positions based on business needs, which can be eliminated. The painful part comes when there are real people in those positions. Companies with solid business practices create very concrete selection criteria for which positions will be eliminated and how decisions will be made when there are multiple people in similar if not identical roles.

There has always been discussion on whether it is better or worse for employees to know about a pending reduction in force. It can offer the opportunity for people to consider what might happen and prepare. It can also freeze the work force so that nothing happens until the reduction is complete. There are no perfect plans for imperfect situations. Everyone needs to know that in harsh financial situations, anyone can be impacted. And organizations who are concerned about how people are treated, allowing for individual dignity, and helping employees deal with the impact of job loss will fare well over the long term.
After people are laid off, they may find it very difficult to talk to any colleagues. Having to pack in public can be humiliating, and some people need space. Others may find some support appreciated. You need to use your judgment, and recognize that even if you get a less than warm response initially, it isn’t about you. I think a comment of “I’ll call you” would be welcomed, as long as you do follow through.
When you do call, be prepared to listen, and to offer to help. You don’t need to know the details of who said what, or how much severance is involved, or add what you feel was right or wrong about the action. Your support comes from offering to be there as they move forward. Also, continued offers to review a resume, sending job leads, or offers to introduce them to people will prove invaluable to your former colleagues.
The economy and the marketplace are volatile. Work place relationships don’t need to be. Most of us have many years to work in close knit industries, and “small worlds” so being supportive is good for us all.

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