Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
November 25, 2008

What to Say When a Colleague Has Been Laid Off

Do you ever struggle with what to say to someone who has been “downsized”? Here are five tips from Jenny Schade of JRS Consulting, who has interviewed more than 1,000 people in the midst of turbulent organizational change:

  1. Acknowledge the situation and offer to help. The most uncomfortable part of a job loss is the elephant in the room — the person who has lost his job may not want to volunteer the information and the other person is at a loss for what to say. By saying, “I was sorry to hear about your job. Anything I can do to help?,” you’re addressing the situation and immediately offering your support. That moves the conversation beyond the job loss and toward a supportive action.By the way, don’t assume you can’t do anything to help just because you don’t have a job to offer. You might offer to review a resume or you may “know someone who knows someone” and can help make a connection.
  2. Take your cues from the person with whom you’re talking. If he or she changes the subject, let it go. But if he or she wants to talk, be ready to listen and offer support. Just reflecting the other person’s feelings can feel very supportive. For example, if your friend tells you, “Waiting for them to announce who was staying and who was going was the worst part,” you could respond, “That uncertainty sounds really stressful.”
  3. Focus on listening but be sensitive about asking too many questions. Asking, “How many job interviews do you have lined up?” can sound intrusive. It’s fine if your friend volunteers information but don’t ask questions that may make him or her feel stressed.
  4. Limit surprises. Your friend has already experienced the unexpected   don’t throw a surprise going-away party. (I know someone who experienced this!) It’s fine to organize a goodbye lunch if your friend would like that, but be sure to ask first.
  5. Keep in touch. Sometimes the worst part of losing a job comes two months later when not much is happening. Invite your friend to lunch (and be sure to pay!) or send a supportive note saying he or she is in your thoughts. 

By Jenny Schade, president, JRS Consulting. JRS Consulting helps organizations dramatically increase attraction among customers and employees. Jenny Schade has interviewed more than 1,000 employees while guiding organizations through turbulent change. Get more tips from the free JRS newsletter.

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