How to lift up your laid-off friends

There’s practically no wrong way (or time!) to reach out to someone who has been laid off; they’re almost certainly going to be happy just to hear from you.  But there’s also an option to be a super-awesome supporter 🙂

By now we likely all know someone who was recently laid off and, understandably, we want to reach out in a respectful & effective way.  Often, though, we may not be quite sure what to say.  Or, worse, we procrastinate getting in touch and then later feel awkward about writing a ‘belated’ short note of support.

Today I realized that fitness classes –  one of my ‘happy places’ – are actually instructive in this context!  Many of them have movements delineated as “Level 1” “Level 2” and so on, with level 1 being the minimal but important foundation (showing up and making even a small effort).  When reaching out to others, just the basic action itself (level 1) is meaningful and worthwhile!

So with that said, here’s how I think about ‘levels’ when it comes to messaging someone who’s been laid off:

Level 1: Say something. Anything. And at any time!

Hey, just wanted to let you know I miss you, and I’m really sorry about the situation!

I can’t imagine that any laid-off person is going to be ungrateful if your wording isn’t super-eloquent.  And I practically guarantee you they’re not going to turn up their nose because you wrote 6 weeks vs. 6 hours after they were axed. They’ll just be happy to hear from you, period. In fact, maybe even waiting a bit is a smart move — especially if you weren’t especially close — since laid off folks can get deluged with well-wishes initially but then weeks later… crickets.

Level 2: Explicitly ask how (and when) you can help

Hi, [name], I’ve been thinking of you! Please let me know what I could do that’d be most helpful right now (or later)!

Note that this is a small but significant improvement over the more generic-sounding “I’m here if you need anything” or “Happy to help in any way I can”… because it’s more actionably worded:
– It encourages vs. just casually welcomes the person to request help
– It invites them to be specific about what they need
– And it also makes it clear that you’re eager to help… even if they just want space now and help later!

Level 3: Describe specific things you have valued about that person and/or suggest how you can help them

Hey [name]! I’m really sorry about this crappy layoff situation. We all miss you and were reminiscing about how awesome you were for our team. You did such an incredible job retaining the [x] account with your smart, actionable ideas. And your presentation skills were amazing; I’ll never forget when you pitched to [exec] and got immediate approval for that huge project when no one else could win her over!

I’m happy to write you an endorsement here about any of that, or even encourage [exec] to write one for you… would that be helpful? I also have some high level contacts at [other great company], let me know if you’d like me to connect you with one of them! Or just tell me what I can do for you, even if it’s just taking you out for drinks or mini-golfing or something; I’d love to see you!

I personally always found notes with specific examples to be really heartening because this accentuated that I was, indeed, a valued member to the team due to particular skills I brought to the table vs. just a nice person or someone who “worked hard”, etc.  Future employers will care a lot about the former, not so much about the latter, and being reminded that we are future-employable is great for peace of mind 🙂.

You can choose any of the above options depending upon your relationship with the person, the expected incremental impact of your help, and, yes, the amount of time and energy you have at the moment.

Just write something! Simply knowing that you thought of them will often make someone’s day.  (Hmm, that probably applies well beyond the layoff context as well, but I digress!)

Ah, but where to send the message?

LinkedIn is usually a safe and reasonable option in this space, but here are some other options:

  • Text:  Company directories may include phone numbers of employees who opted in to publishing them.  
  • Email:  You can often find someone’s email address via their web site if they have one or even via a plain web search.
  • Social media:  e.g., Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, or Instagram DM.  Do check whether the respective account is active vs. dormant, though.  A message sent to, say, an IG account that hasn’t been updated in 4 years is unlikely to be read.
  • Friend:  “Hey, [mutual colleague/friend], do you know a good way I can get in touch with [person]?”

And lastly, after sending a message, realize that there’s a huge variance in what (and when) you could hear back!

You might receive a heartfelt outpouring of emotions (from confused to sad to angry), a brusque “Thanks”, or even nothing at all.  Know that this is more of a reflection of that person’s current state of mind and energy level vs. what they feel about you or your note.  Take comfort in knowing that you did a good thing (thank you! 🙂)

If you’ve been laid off, you almost certainly have your own take on all of this!  Does the guidance above match your preferences?  If not, how would you encourage folks to reach out?






4 responses to “How to lift up your laid-off friends”

  1. Laura DeCook Avatar
    Laura DeCook

    Great post! When I was laid off, my friend sent me cookies. I will never forget how much that cheered me up, just to know someone was thinking about me (and the cookies were delicious).

    1. Adam Lasnik Avatar

      Laura, that sounds like a smart and kind friend. Who doesn’t love cookies? (and the kind gesture associated with sending ’em!)

  2. Christiane Avatar

    This is a heartfelt and helpful post. It’sa good read for a friend of someone going through the loss of a job as well as other types of loss— your insight and suggestions are relevant to many types of loss. I wish I could be a connection, but since I can’t, I’ll be a cheerleader. I know you were valued and amazing at your job, and I believe an opportunity will again present itself and you’ll be a huge asset to another company. Sending virtual hugs!

    1. Adam Lasnik Avatar

      Christiane, thank you for the kind words on my post and your thoughtful encouragement (and virtual hugs)! And really good point about this being more generalizable advice 🙂

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