As a good friend and mentor put it after learning that he was going to be laid off, the hard part of learning the news wasn’t as much about the actual layoff as it was those awkward conversations that followed in the hours and days after news of the layoff started to find its way throughout the department, division, and company. As word spread, instead of reaching out to console him or offer to help, coworkers instead started to avoid eye contact or speaking with him at all costs. I’m not sure if it’s guilt over their not getting laid off right along with you or not knowing exactly what to say, but it’s one of the unpleasant aftershocks of being let go.
Do you cut all ties with the colleagues or do you use the layoff as an opportunity to build networking opportunities once you’re gone?
My friend decided to confront the situation head on. Instead of waiting for colleagues to come to him, he launched his own campaign. Shortly after the news was public, he visited informally with former coworkers one-on-one to reassure them he was going to be fine.
He joked around. When approaching a coworker, he might say something along the lines of "Just think, when you’re sitting in that eight-hour staff meeting, I’m going to be sitting on my deck drinking a margarita." His light hearted (while still professional) approach immediately took some of the edge off of conversations and also steered them in a positive direction.
When asked how they could help, he was able to clearly articulate the types of jobs, companies, and industries he is considering. He also asked that they keep him in mind if any leads cross their desk.
However, most layoffs are swift—you’re told your job ends today and you’re instructed to pack up your belongings. So, if you get the feeling that a restructuring might be possible, save a copy of your contact list or company directory. That way, if you have time to access it, you can identify the coworkers you really want to connect with before you make your exit. Or, if not, having the list will allow you to follow up within a few days with phone calls to those you were closest to and emails to everyone else to set the tone and let them know you'd appreciate their assistance.
Will my friend’s efforts pay off? It’s still too early to tell. But, based on the initial response, it seems like his approach has resonated well with his former coworkers. And, if nothing else, he’s making sure he maintains his network of former colleagues now that he’s officially exited the organization.
Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (www.courtingyourcareer.com).