How To Respond When A Coworker Is Laid Off

fashion unemployment, fashion layoffs, job loss, career transition, career reboot, laid off in fashion industry

Have you ever been in a situation where someone you worked with got laid off? What do you do? Do you reach out to them or wait for them to contact you? If you haven’t experienced this yet, you probably will at some point in your career. People get let go from jobs for all kinds of reasons. In this article I am going to share with you what I have learned in my own career about how to handle this situation and give you some tips on how to keep in touch and build your network.

This subject can be very touchy. You hardly ever hear anyone talk about this topic.  There is no clear etiquette on how one should respond in this situation. Being laid off is a taboo topic for many people. There is a stigma around the idea of anyone being let go from their job. Oftentimes people assume the worst. The person must have been doing something wrong or not meeting expectations. That can sometimes be the case, but there can be many other reasons that have nothing at all to do with the person’s abilities. Now that I have personally been on both sides of this turn of events I want to share with you what I think the ideal response should be.

We couldn’t cover every possible angle on dealing with a job loss in just one post! This article is part of a 6 part Fashionable Career Reboot blog series. If you want to learn more about how to make the most out of a job loss, you can read the entire series by going to the bottom of this page and clicking on the article you are interested in. If you know someone else who would be interested in this article or blog series please feel free to share! You can also join the conversation on our Facebook group called PickGlass Fashionable Careers. See you there!

Don’t Place Blame

As mentioned earlier, there are many different reasons one might get let go from a job. Sometimes there is a massive layoff, or a company is downsizing and has to merge divisions. You can’t take it personally. The company is just trying to save money in order to keep profitable. They can only afford to employ so many people. 

Another situation might be that the person was not able to adapt to new technology or wasn’t able to keep up with the workload demand. Or perhaps they just weren’t jiving with their team or supervisor. If you are one of the lucky ones to stay, you will probably know several good people who get cast aside. That is never a good feeling.

Bearing witness to this situation might make you feel awkward or unsure how to respond (if at all!) depending on your relationship with that person.

Don’t Do Nothing Out Of Fear

Of course, one option is you can do nothing and most likely never hear from them again. This is a huge mistake and a lesson I learned way too late in life. I am ashamed to say that for many years early in my career, when co-workers were let go, if I was not close friends with them I did nothing. I didn’t know them well, so I saw no reason to get friendly now. 

Truth be told, my main fear was that I would make them uncomfortable if I reached out to them. I didn’t know what to say. Maybe the person that got let go wouldn’t want to hear from me because it might make them feel worse or embarrassed. Had it been me, I wouldn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me.

Twenty years later into my career I found myself laid off. There was an upper management shift and my new boss merged divisions. They kept their original team in place, and my job was eliminated. I hugged my co-workers, packed up my things, and headed home. 

What I Would Learned

Over the next few days I was warmed by the many text messages I received from co-workers. They told me how sorry they were and offered to help in any way they could. These did not feel like pity hand outs or insincere messages. I was surprisingly comforted by their thoughts and wishes. 

Over the next month I reconnected with these and many other coworkers. Many helped to connect me with other people they knew at other companies. And after what felt like a hundred coffee dates and phone calls with friends of friends I was able to secure a long term freelance job.

After going through this experience myself, I can attest that the warm wishes and outreach of my ex-coworkers was welcomed and very much appreciated. I only wish I had done the same in the past for others.  For that reason, I want to share with you what I have learned and how you can make the best out of this type of situation no matter what side of the table you are on. 

When Is It Appropriate To Reach Out & When Is It Weird?

If you were good friends with this person, you might feel more comfortable reaching out and offering your support. But what do you do if you did not have a relationship with this person outside of the office? 

I know it can feel awkward to reach out to ex-coworkers, especially if you are not super friendly with them outside of the office. Here is my rule of thumb to follow when deciding whether or not to reach out.

Rule of Thumb:

YES —> If you regularly interacted with them on a monthly basis.

No —> If you are only acquaintances and have not shared much more than a friendly hello when you passed them in the hall.

YES —> If you ever worked on any major projects together that you can vouch for their work ethic and capabilities.

No —> If you never worked with them or interacted with them in a work capacity.

YES —> If you always found them friendly and of good character.

No —> If you have worked with them but would not recommend them to others.

How To Reach Out

In today’s world there are plenty of ways to connect with people. When a coworker leaves, I recommend these three options as a way to contact them:

  • Send a text if possible. People don’t tend to stray far from their phones. If you do not have their phone number ask one of your other co-workers who does. Text also allow the receiver to give quick, short responses. Sometimes if they receive an email they might feel obligated to write a longer response and may not feel up to. Attach your own contact card to make it easy for them to reply back to you when they are ready via multiple platforms.
  • The second option is email. Again, don’t feel bad if they do not respond via email. It is not uncommon for one to not check email for a while. Especially after a situation like a lay off. Be brief and offer optimism, complements, and give them your contact information. This way the ball is in their court.
  • As a last resort, you can turn to LinkedIn. I say last resort only because many people to not check their messages on LinkedIn regularly and is it quite easy to not get a response for months if at all.

What To Say

Keep you message short and sweet. The purpose is to let them know you care and that you are thinking of them. It is NOT to rehash the details of what they are going through. When in doubt, ask yourself: How would you feel if someone sent you this message? Below are a few tips for what to include in your message.

  • Let them know that you will help them in any way they need. This puts the ball in their court. They will tell you what they want or need when they are ready. 
  • Do give any compliment you can in regards to the experience you have had working with them.
  • Offer your main contact information so that they have other ways of communicating with you in the future.
  • Don’t be a gossip asking them to relive the events by asking “what happened?” If they want to give you the details they will.
  • Don’t ask them what they are going to do now. This sounds like the end of the world scenario and they may still be reeling with the recent events and not thought everything through. 

Getting let go from a job is never a good feeling. Hopefully this article has given you so key insights on how to handle it. In the future, if you do find yourself in a situation where coworkers have been let go, you can use this article as a guideline to reach out and respond to your coworker with compassion.

Fashionable Career Reboot Series

fashion unemployment, fashion layoffs, job loss, career transition, career reboot

If you found this article helpful, or know someone who would, I encourage you to read and share the entire Fashionable Career Reboot Series. It covers everything you need to know about making the most out of a job loss. You can read and share the entire series here: