A variation of this post was originally released in April 2020.
Layoff news feels constant these days, and it’s highly likely you’ll know someone who will lose his or her job.
I have personal experience with a surprise departure, and seeing so many go through it now has made me reflect on that time. When I shared my news with others, a few common reactions stood out as helpful, while others were… less so.
Everyone had good intentions, but some seemingly kind words had the opposite effect on me. We all want to support each other, and thoughtfully considering your words may be one small thing you can do to help.
A big caveat: the reasons behind a layoff may be all business, but being laid off is inherently personal. I can only share how I felt during my own experience, and certainly, the current environment has made these situations even more complex.
That said, here’s what I got.
3 Things Not to Say When Someone You Know Is Laid Off
“It’ll work out.”
While meant to inspire confidence and positivity, when the news is still stinging, general platitudes fall flat. You’re forcing someone to say “oh yeah, it’ll work out” when they may not feel that way just yet.
Even if the person gets her dream job that pays twice as much the very next day, she’ll still have to deal with the feelings and emotions that come with no longer working at a former employer. Starting a job search unexpectedly, leaving beloved coworkers, and missing the old routine are natural concerns that will take precedence for most.
I agree with the core idea—this can be the impetus for something greater. Just take care not to dismiss feelings with vague sentiments.
“I can’t believe they did that to you.”
This reaction was common during my experience, and I found it unhelpful in two major ways.
First, making the decision was possibly difficult and painful for the employer too. No one relishes the opportunity to be involved in this kind of situation, and hopefully, it was done as professionally as possible. Even if it wasn’t, when people reacted this way, it made it more difficult for me to show compassion in response to a crappy situation.
And second, this reaction made it very tempting to engage in negative thinking and sh*t talking. Going down that path is never productive. Forget the employer and focus on the person and how she’s feeling.
“I thought you were doing so well.”
Uh, me too? The intention is to compliment, which is kind, but didn’t feel that way when I heard it.
In the same vein as before, this invites a lot of negativity. It made me feel like I needed to defend the decision as reasonable and confirm that I was valuable, leaving me in an awkward position.
3 (Better) Things To Say to Someone Who Has Been Laid Off
“That happened to me, too.”
Sharing similar experiences connects us, and oddly enough not a lot of people talk about being laid off, though the current climate is changing that.
I made a conscious decision to be open about my experience. I wasn’t yelling it from the rooftops, but when asked, I tried to be transparent and authentic as best I could.
Hearing from others helped me to feel like it wasn’t personal or an insurmountable setback. I hadn’t talked to anyone about being laid off before this, and hearing from others showed me that it’s more common than I had thought.
“When you’re ready, let me know what I can do to help.”
Of course, only say it if you mean it. When I heard this from someone who genuinely cared, it went a long way. In a situation where there may be little the person or anyone can do, this kind of support felt tangible.
It’s especially nice to note that your support is there whenever that person needs it.
If she’s fortunate enough to take some time to consider next options, this is a great opportunity to do so. In that case, your help might not be needed right away. But it’s reassuring to know that you’ll be there when the time is right.
Honestly, this is all I really wanted to hear.
It can be awkward to share and hear this kind of news, and you might not have experience with it.
Yet, often, all the other person wants is for you to acknowledge that yeah, it’s a crappy situation. You don’t need to share a pearl of wisdom or have an insightful response. Just respond with compassion.
Supporting Others During a Hectic Time
None of us can have the perfect answer. Words that are helpful for one person could grate on another.
It’s also a fine line between giving space for emotions while remaining positive.
In place of anything good to say, just focus on listening. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.