By: Revanche

10, no, 11 Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Just Got Laid Off

September 1, 2009

Note: It’s official. The iPhone is smarter than I. At Starbucks, while I struggled to get away from the we’re-gonna-charge-you T-Mobile hotspot, struggled to connect through the AT&T hub, and then find my username and password, the iPhone had quietly hijacked my single 2-hour daily session and was merrily checking email. All. On. Its. Own. It didn’t even need to log in!! Jerk!

As this recession plods on, this list may become relevant or useful in your life. (I surely hope not!) But if it does, now you too can avoid foot-in-mouth disease!

Courtesy of WomenCo’s Alice Handley and Tania Khadder:

1. “Are you freaked out?” [Duh. I mean, unless you’re truly close to this person and know they won’t be freaked out by the suggestion that they should be freaked out, and you can’t tell if they are … don’t put that out there.]

2. “Do you know what you did to deserve it?” [I’ve got to wonder if people really ask this. Honestly? If you must know the probable cause, try “Do you know what happened?” Maybe.]

3. “You’re not unemployed, you’re funemployed!” [Patronizing as all get out. Just DON’T.]

4. “Have you started applying for new jobs yet?” [They probably have. I should hope they have. But even if they haven’t, still reeling from the shock, I’d just be annoyed at the implication or pressure. But I’m contrary and prefer to be responsible on my own terms, not under pressure.]

5. “Have you thought about temping?” [Same as above.]

6. “Was it just you? Or did others get laid off too?” The authors say: This question implies that your friend’s layoff is palatable (or not) depending on who else got laid off at the same time. Does it really matter? What if it was just your friend? Do you really want to remind them that they were the only person at their company who was considered expendable on that particular day?

[Personally, maybe because the axe is falling everywhere and I knew my particular situation had zero to do with my personal performance or worth, this didn’t bother me as much.]

7. “Have you filed for unemployment yet?” Authors: This presumes that your friend is even going to be applying for unemployment in the first place and that he’s actually eligible for it. Remember that some people have a hard time admitting that they need outside assistance. It’s hard enough for some of us to accept that we need help (or god forbid, “charity”) in the first place, let alone having to talk about it to other people.

[Eh. As a PF blogger, if a fellow blogger brought up a layoff I’m sure this would be the first we discussed. Well, that or the emergency fund. As a finance-obsessed layperson, my friends know that I’d be concerned for their financial well-being.]

8. ” I can get you a new job!” [and the job is totally inappropriate] Authors: While the sentiment is appreciated, you’re presuming that the person you’re talking to is totally desperate for a job. A former Director of Marketing probably isn’t interested in waiting tables, and a pastry chef probably wouldn’t want to apply for a job in the Human Resources department.

While it’s definitely good to keep an eye out for your friends, don’t assume they’ll do just anything for a living. If you want to help, make sure you’re aware of what your friend wants before you start reaching out to contacts.

[Again, sort of duh.]

9. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” “And when life takes away my lemons?”

10. “Everything happens for a reason.” Authors: To the person being laid off, no reason seems like a very good one — and right after a layoff, it’s not easy to adopt a more long term, philosophical approach. Once the layoff has had time to sink in and the layoffee starts taking steps to get back on their feet, they might be able to see the bigger picture. Until then, be sensitive to their grief and understand that the situation is not ideal. End of story.
[Again, cliches = patronizing.]

My absolute least favorite? 11. You’ll be fine.

Whatever happened to “I’m sorry to hear that, is there anything I can do for you? Do you want to talk about it?”

I’ve heard every single of the above platitudes more than once, and my reaction is basically degrees of annoyance. After a while it stops mattering but still, folks who haven’t had time to digest their new circumstances aren’t going to take it all that well. And if you’re a friend, they deserve a little more thoughtfulness than the drivel most people spout.

Now, do excuse me. I’ve run out of cookies and I desperately need more.

6 Responses to “10, no, 11 Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Just Got Laid Off”

  1. I never know what to say. At least now I know what NOT to say. As well as your helpful suggestion of what you would like to here.

  2. Sense says:

    oooh, thanks. my aunt and uncle both got laid off recently and I’m always at a loss as to what to say to make them feel better: sadness? optimism? a combo? this will help!

  3. I’m embarrassed at my grammar error… :/

    here = hear.

    If life takes your lemons and doesn’t give you anything else? That sucks.

  4. Revanche says:

    stackingpennies: It’s still hard to know what to say because it depends entirely on the person and their mood. I went from fatalistic, to grumpy, to resigned, to pretty thrilled, regularly. I settled on
    “thrilled and prepared” after a while, but not everyone can say that being jobless is “better than being in THAT den of horrors.”

    I figure you’re safe with the “that sucks” and “do you want to talk about it” or “is there anything I can do? Read your resume?”

    Sense: Just be there for them if you can. Keep in contact with them, not necessarily to find out how the job search is going. Jollying tends to annoy the crap outta me, but it might work for them if they like to be helped out of a bad mood.

  5. LOL!! I love this one in particular: “I can get you a new job!” [and the job is totally inappropriate]”

    Geeee thank you sooo much, I’ve always wanted to sell [landscaping projects in a recession; insurance to the uninsurable; underwater baskets] for 29 cents an hour plus commissions!

    The horror of it is, people actually say this!. The first time someone inflicted this one on me, I was nonplussed. What can you say? The person is trying to be helpful, so you have to be polite. I guess. But how do you say, without sounding like a spoiled, arrogant little twit, that you’re not interested in transitioning from your $70,000-a-year university job built on a set of arcane skills to driving the tourist train at the zoo?

  6. Revanche says:

    Funny About Money: Foot in mouth disease seems to be rampant these days. 😉

    I’m sure they mean well, and that some people who are laid off are in the sad position of having to take ANYthing they can get, but it still seems a little boggling to think that makes sense.

    I guess it’s the equivalent of “how can I help?” = “this is how I know how to help.”

    Either way, we DO sound like spoiled brats in declining 🙂

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