Layoff Cards – Unless You’re Stuffing Them with Money, Don’t

A few months ago, you might have read stories about a line of sympathy cards for the newly laid off. My immediate thoughts were along the lines of “That’s a terrible idea. The last thing I wanted after I was laid off was a card.” Except in more R-rated terms, because I was also a bit offended by the idea. Paying rent, utilities, and food on unemployment is exceptionally difficult, and pretty much impossible for anyone who is supporting others. If someone had given me a card, I would have preferred getting the $3.49 rather than it going to Hallmark.

Hopefully anyone who would buy and send someone a layoff card would have enough sense to know that a heck of a lot more support than a piece of paper is needed when someone loses their livelihood through no fault of their own. But I think out-of-sight is out-of-mind for a lot of people, so I can imagine for some the support ending at “I sent him/her a sympathy card.”

Here’s what I found (or would have found) helpful when I lost my job back in the midst of what everyone was calling “the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.” (How’s that for striking terror?)

Friends & Family

Invite him over for dinner. If the person laid off has a family, this may be less of an issue. But for a single person, the isolation that comes from no longer having an office to go to or colleagues to talk to during the day coupled with no one to talk to at the end of the day can be overwhelming. An invitation to a meal also helps alleviate the financial cost of preparing a meal, and it will probably be a better meal than your friend can afford right now (at one point, I got my monthly food spending down to less than $100. It was necessary, but it sure wasn’t healthy.)

Include her in social activities. Make it a point. Going to the movies? Ask your friend to come along. Going bowling? Invite your pal, even if she doesn’t want to actually bowl. Going to a nursery to pick out plants for your garden? Ask your friend to help you by offering an opinion. You know your friends. Be mindful what they would like or dislike. But remember, sometimes it’s just about being around others.

Don’t let him buy his own drink. This is one thing I never had a problem with. I always figured anyone offering to pay for a drink or a meal would push back if I insisted on paying my own way. After all, I’m sure they’d like to think people would do the same for them. A gracious “thank you,” is the appropriate response. But, some people will push back. Stay firm. As I told a friend who lost her job when I had picked up some consulting work, she did it for me when I was going through a hard time and would do it again, so what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t do the same?

Go visit her. My experience was that a lot of people didn’t realize that even the cost of mass transit was too steep on a limited budget. In New York City, it costs $2.50 for a one-way fare on the subway or buses. That’s was $5 spent on every outing that I wasn’t able to walk to (and I made some long walks to avoid the loss of 5 precious dollars). For people in areas without mass transit, their transportation costs include not only the price of gas, but car insurance. So, make a point of coming to see your friend. Happen to be in her neighborhood? Give her a call, and see if she wants to go for a walk. Got a DVD from Netflix she’d like? Use it as an excuse to see your friend (she probably got rid of her cable, so it will be welcome on more than one level). And bring a couple of sandwiches too!

Former colleagues/professional contacts

Connect with and write recommendations for your former colleague/direct report/boss/client/vendor on LinkedIn. I can’t stress enough how important this is. No matter your level of involvement on LinkedIn, it is a professional social networking website, and writing a recommendation for someone who just lost their job through no fault of their own and with whom you have a wealth of recent experiences to draw from is neither time consuming nor is it difficult. This is really the bare minimum one can do for co-workers hit by a layoff. For someone looking for a job or seeking consulting work, a LinkedIn profile becomes an important reference point, and recommendations allow HR professionals, hiring managers, and potential clients to see how well regarded a person is. An absence of recommendations – especially from recent colleagues and supervisors – would certainly strike me as odd. Keeping this in mind, I try to write recommendations for people as I go. While consulting, if I work with someone who impresses me, I write a recommendation. Most of the time I’ll get one in return. If someone I hire for freelance work impresses me, I try to connect with him or her to write a recommendation.

Hire former colleagues for freelance work. This one is obvious. If someone you worked with, for, or who reported directly to you loses his job, there’s a pretty good chance you are going to need to farm out some of that work. Why wouldn’t you farm it out to the people already judged to be competent to do these things?

Recommend former colleagues to others who are seeking consultants, new hires, etc. Another obvious one.

Refrain from lamenting about awful it is at work with so many colleagues gone. I’ve survived rounds of layoffs, and I’ve been laid off. Without discounting just how bad it feels to see talented and committed people lose their job and have to come back to work without their presence, while at the same time wondering if you would survive another round of layoffs if it comes to that, I think we can all agree that losing your job is worse. Much worse. So if that urge strikes, stuff it back down.

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What do you think about the Hallmark-ization of layoffs? Would you like to receive on of these cards, or would your reaction be similar to mine? What would (or did) you find helpful from friends and professional contacts if you were downsized?

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