What to Say to a Colleague Who Has Been Laid Off

If you have a colleague who's been laid off, they may need some help coping with this sometimes very tough break. You can help them get reoriented quickly and not suffer "layoff syndrome", the big gap in a person's life created by suddenly losing a job and having no idea what to do next.

The problems

Layoffs confront people with some quite serious situations, particularly if they're unprepared for the layoff:

Lack of direction: Confusion about what to do next is a typical scenario. "Find a new job" may be obvious, but it doesn't really say much in practical terms. It's a very vague, nebulous objective in the midst of what may be difficult circumstances. Recently laid off people may see more trees than wood for a while, unless helped out.

Coping with the situation: Lack of money and financial commitments, combined with lack of preparedness, are a tough combination. This is usually reasonably manageable, but takes some tough calls and patience.

Lack of options: Some people are laid off with almost no other job skills. They find it hard to adapt to a situation like a layoff, where the only work they know is not available.

Lack of experience in the job market: It's common that people who haven't gone for a job in 10 years find themselves suddenly out of work, and quite out of date in their job hunting skills. They don't know how to position themselves in the job market, or how to use portable skills.

These situations are quite enough individually, let alone collectively, to shred a person's self confidence. Most people who've been hit with a layoff experience at least a few of these conditions.

How to help

Your friend will need to be introduced in stages to the way out of the mess. Each of the above points may need to be dealt with separately, to allow time to adjust and get a clear picture of the situation:

Lack of direction: This problem is more dangerous than it looks. Going looking for a job with limited options is usually not a good idea. Persuade your friend to see a professional recruiter, or a network associate with some job leads.

Coping with the situation: This boils down to some very limited choices. The only real choice is to stay solvent. A person who's been laid off must be very careful about any commitments. Tactfully suggest what you consider best, and see if you can find some good ideas or alternatives to improve the situation.

Lack of options: Retraining is an option, but it's not the only option. A career upgrade is possible, too, if the person has the qualifications to do further study and obtain useful certifications. Alternatively, related work, using current skills may be possible.

Lack of experience in the job market: The safest approach is full job application and interview training and practice. People without experience in the current employment market are at a serious disadvantage. You may be able to give a lot of useful pointers.

Most important: The personal support and encouragement will always help, greatly.