Should you contact a colleague who has just lost his job?

When someone you work with loses their job or is fired, it can turn their life upside down. But the ripple effects of this destabilizing event can also impact you and all who worked alongside them. Someone you saw and talked to every day was there one day and gone the next.

Immediately after a co-worker loses his job, you are faced with a choice or two: do you contact them? And if so, how do you do it sensitively?

The answers depend on your relationship. It might feel awkward to reach out when you’re still working with the company and they aren’t, but it’s good to step outside of yourself and put yourself in their shoes.

Here’s what unemployment experts and therapists advise you to consider before reaching out to a former colleague:

If you’re co-workers, it is very likely that they will really appreciate your message. This is when they need the most support.

Just because the job is over doesn’t mean the relationship has to be, if you’re really friends.

“People can feel an even greater sense of betrayal if the people they’ve worked very closely with suddenly shun them,” career coach Bryan Creely said. Creely once suffered a layoff while working as a corporate recruiter, and a colleague he worked closely with helped him feel a little better by messaging him.

“It took him a bit of time, but he reached out to me later and said, ‘Hey, you’re really great to work with. You were one of the best. I’d love to get a spot in my team for you. But if I can offer any help, I have a great network of people I can help you connect with,” Creely said. “Even though I didn’t need his help with networking, just… acknowledging that I was appreciated helped me.”

“People can feel an even greater sense of betrayal if the people they worked closely with suddenly shun them.”

– Career coach Bryan Creely

Friends reach out to each other in times of need, and losing a job can be an isolating and humiliating experience. This is when your work friend needs to know you’ll be there for them. If you’ve worked closely with someone, Creely said, you should contact them within a few days. Waiting two months is bad form.

“If you consider this individual a friend and would like to remain friends, I would recommend that you contact him,” echoed Shannon Garcia, psychotherapist at Wellness Counseling States in Illinois and Wisconsin. “It’s a pretty big life event to ignore if you’re planning on pursuing a friendship even though you’re no longer working together.”

Keep your message brief, then follow their lead. “A simple ‘I’ve been thinking of you’ can go a long way,” Garcia said. “It opens the door to more conversation if they want to, but if they’re not ready to talk in depth, you don’t nag them with questions about it.”

You can also offer to have a drink or dinner.

“One thing that happens when you lose your job is that you also lose all your work friends. For a lot of people, it’s been an important part of their social life,” said Ofer Sharone, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who studies career transitions and long-term unemployment. “I think offering to just hang out socially can also be an important form of support.”

Sharone noted that if you make this offer, you should keep in mind that money may now be a big concern for your former colleague and also offer free options, such as a walk or a meeting place in a park.

If you’re somewhere between an acquaintance and a friend, there are times when you should probably wait a bit or stay quiet.

If you weren’t close to the person who lost their job, Garcia said it could depend on whether or not your message was received.

“One way to figure that out is to put yourself in their shoes. If you lost your job and didn’t hear from that same person, how would you feel? ” she says. “Your answer will tell you a lot about your relationship and what they can expect from you as well.”

If you’re in that relationship category, wait a day or two for “the dust to settle” before reaching out, Garcia said. Creely said waiting a month to contact someone in your wider network is “probably okay.”

But whether you’re close or not, don’t wait too long and dwell on the why or how of the termination.

Not knowing how to bring up the fact that someone lost their job can keep you from reaching out. But don’t get bogged down in the details if you want to be supportive.

Even if you’ve heard that someone’s job loss was a performance-based dismissal, Sharone warned that you, as an outsider, almost never really know the details of what happened , and that shouldn’t stop you from reaching out in most cases. “I guess you don’t know the whole story,” he said.

Instead, if you want to send a tactful message of support, focus on what you know about them. “If you’ve worked with this person for a while, you know something about their value and what they can bring. Focus on that,” Sharone said.

Reaching out may seem awkward, but it’s worse if you don’t recognize the elephant in the room. “Avoid toxic positivity at all costs,” Garcia recommended. “Saying things like ‘Everything happens for a reason’ is just not helpful and doesn’t validate what the individual is going through. Losing a job sucks. It’s OK to just say that. “

Creely recommended acknowledging that you’re reaching out because the person lost their job, without going into specifics.

You might say, “Hey, I heard you’re no longer with the company. I’m sad about this…I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy working with you. If there’s anything you need or would like to talk about, here’s my phone number,” he said. “That way you don’t necessarily say, ‘Hey, I heard you got fired. “”

Sharone simply suggests asking “How can I best support you?” and see what they say.

If they want help with their job search, know that one of the most helpful things you can do is introduce them to people in your professional network who could help them find a new job. This is because after a person has been out of work for six months they are considered ‘long-term unemployed’ and research shows that it becomes much harder to find a job.

“The faster you can help someone come back[to the workforce], the more likely they are to avoid being trapped in long-term unemployment,” Sharone said. “That’s why I say you don’t have to wait. You can reach out right away and try to offer support.


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