5 Things Not to Say to People After a Job Layoff
After a job lay off, you may be quiet, or you may want to talk to a lot of people. I had a lot of conversations with people. I mean, let’s be real, I had the time and I was in shock. Some things people said to me were insightful and kind. Other things were cruel and thoughtless. I put together a list of the top five things you should never say to a person after a job lay off, if you want to keep them as friends or help them feel good about themselves.
- “That means something even better is right around the corner!” It may be true, but when someone is wondering how they’re going to pay the bills, the sunny horizon cliché is just that, a cliché. Avoid clichés.
- “You were lucky to have that job as long as you did. You won’t get another like that.” Not only is that response extremely discouraging, but you don’t really know if they’ll get another job like that, especially if it’s not in your field. It also really, truly, honestly implies that you feel the person was just that: lucky. Who wants to be told they got their job, where they put their heart on a daily basis, because of luck? Anyone? Even if someone finds their job by “luck,” it took a whole lot more than that to keep it as long as they did.
- “Take some time off to decide what you want to do.” In an ideal world, this would be possible, but rare are the people who work for fun and not for the income, so taking time away is a luxury not everyone can afford. If someone can afford this, they’ll do it; if they’re not doing it, there’s a reason that doesn’t need to be pointed out, as most people don’t want to be put in the position of having to say “sorry, but my highly-personal financial situation doesn’t allow for a gap in income.”
- “Have you thought about trying a new field or starting over?” This isn’t the worst thing you could say after a layoff, but still, don’t say it. When someone’s job hunting and can’t get something right away, trust me, they’re thinking about what they can do. Change fields? Go back to school? Entry-level? None of them are pretty, and they get exponentially uglier the longer someone had their prior job or the longer they are out of work. When you’re 40 and worked in the same job for 20 years then are finding that a new job in your longstanding field is difficult to secure, the idea of starting over as a receptionist for minimum wage is not attractive.
- “Why aren’t you just taking anything that you get offered until you can find what you want?” Let’s look at it this way. Your resume says high-level management for 23 years, on a one-page resume because that’s all you’ve done. Then you take a minimum-wage job just to get a paycheck, which then goes at the top of your resume. See where this is going? The answer is self-explanatory if you just picture this on YOUR resume. (And let’s just say, taking a minimum-wage job that’s 40 hours a week, removing any opportunity/time you may have to job hunt for the job you really want, need, and are qualified for, is not optimal. How do you get out of that situation once you put yourself in it?)
My biggest advice when you run into someone after a lay off is to just listen. Don’t judge. Don’t give unsolicited advice. Try to be encouraging, even if you aren’t feeling it. And maybe even the worst thing to do? Ignore their plight and/or act bored when they mention it. You talk about your work, right?
To unemployed people seeking work, that IS their work. It may not be exciting, but when you talk about your latest meeting or a crazy customer saga, it’s not really any more interesting than them telling you about the strange interview they just had or the person who wanted to pick their brains and set up a plan, then hire someone else at a cheaper rate to implement that plan.
Employed people don’t corner the market in work stories, and acting as though a person’s job seeking situation is old news is a super-great way to make them feel even more obsolete than they already do. After a job lay off, it doesn’t mean they lost brain cells or intelligence or the ability to join a conversation; it simply means they aren’t being paid to do what they know how to do.
If you are being paid to do something you want to do, be glad. It can happen to anyone, and while I hope the unemployment rate continues to drop, the fact remains that there will always be people out of work. They are our friends, our family members, our neighbor. Depression amongst unemployed people is higher than the average and while it’s not your fault if someone does experience depression, your commentary can help be a bright spot to their day.
If you’re dealing with the fallout of a lay off right now, be kind to yourself. Money may be tight, but don’t neglect your health and well-being. Stay on top of your dietary choices and get some exercise. (Adding weight gain to your list of worries is avoidable!) Find people who are kind and compassionate and if they offer you help or are available to hang out with, take them up on it. Minimize the time you have to sit and wallow and worry. If you want to be alone, then be alone, but if you need help, reach out and talk to people.
Getting a job may take more time than you want or expect, but it doesn’t mean you’re any less of a person than when you had that income or title. As important as those things are, self-worth is MORE important. Don’t undervalue that, and if someone makes you feel like you’re less worthy, find someone else to spend your time with. (And maybe tell them why you’re doing it. People don’t always realize what they’re saying and may suddenly give themselves a virtual head-smack when they learn what their responses to you are implying.)
Are you dealing with a job lay off now, or have you in the past? How did you deal with it, or help someone you know get through it?