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What do you say to a co-worker who has received a lay-off notice?

Most of us want to ignore that difficult conversation with a colleague who has received a termination notice. Or vent. How you react, to act with civility, depends upon your relationship and the laid-off person’s reaction to the announcement.

If you don’t have close ties, then the laid-off coworker probably doesn’t need to hear from you.
If you have worked closely, talk in person. It’s difficult. The focus needs to be entirely on the person who has been told he no longer has a job.

Gauge your coworker’s reaction to your initial comments. Some people react stoically; some are sad; some are angry. Most are in shock. This is a time to read body language. If it’s obvious the person is having a hard time talking without becoming emotional, then respect that and don’t talk on and on.

If you have close ties to the laid-off worker, offer to help any way you can. Offer to be on call for assistance. It can be as simple as she needs a book she left behind or she wants to talk because she misses conversations about the industry.

Tips to react as a compassionate and empathic coworker
Don’t be inquisitive if you haven’t worked closely with the person.
Talk face to face to read the person’s body language.
Ask “Is there anything I can do to help you now?”
Tell the person you will miss him or her.
Don’t turn the conversation to yourself; it’s not a time to talk about similar situations you’ve experienced.
Don’t offer empty platitudes such as assurance the person will find another job soon or this is actually a good thing.
Respect your coworker’s feelings. Don’t be aggressive about going out to lunch or helping carry out boxes.
Realize it can be very lonely cleaning out a cubicle so don’t abandon a good friend by ignoring him.
Contact the person later to continue the relationship. It’s a shock to leave the workplace and the usual conversations.

The only advice I found on this topic
How to talk to a friend who's been laid off


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A tough part of these conversations is that they tend to go to expressions of anger at the employer and/or manager. Civil in this time probably means listening without joining in the anger. Good to remember that this is part of mourning the loss. And that joining in the anger may be keeping them from moving on in their own process.

Being told you are no longer employed, at a job you really like, is one of life's low points. Since it just happened to me 4 weeks ago, I will share that the hardest thing to accept was the feeling that they "didn't need me and that the work/job I had done for 7 years was insignificant." Even though I knew I had done a good job (and was told that) the hurt was still deep and very real. Self-esteem takes a low blow when you are let go and replaced by "new and improved programs and methods." You want to shout "No one can do this job as well as I can" but you know that is not a realistic statement. So you put on a fake smile, you say your good-byes, pack up your cubicle, and then the tears start to drip as you drive out of the parking lot. The anger of loosing your job is replaced by sobs. Remember this when talking or comforting a fired co-worker or friend.

I'm sorry to see that it appears Anonymous missed the point of this post. This is about helping the laid-off employee get through the process in the way that works for them and not worrying about anger at an employer or manager. When I was laid off I was angry. If those who were close to me had not acknowledged my anger and shared their thoughts about the situation with me, it would have been a much harder situation to manage.

Being laid off can be similar to a death in the family -- no one's sure what to say, and fearing they'll say the wrong thing, they say nothing. It's one thing to vent to someone outside one's regular work circle, but I think it helps to have at least a bit of true understanding from someone within the regular work circle.

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