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10 Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Just Got Laid Off

10 Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Just Got Laid Off


Alice Handley and Tania Khadder

Someone you know just lost their job. Yikes.

You want to be supportive. You want to help them see the positive side of their misfortune. You want to buy them a drink. And you should! But please, tread carefully.

The time directly following a layoff is a delicate one. Your friend will want your help, but they may not be so receptive to your wise suggestions or burning questions. The fact of the matter is, being laid off sucks. Your comments come from a good place (of course!), but you might be surprised at how they are construed by someone whose wounds are still fresh from getting shown the door.

Here are 10 things you shouldn’t say to someone who has just been laid off.


1. “Are you freaked out?”


Don’t put ideas into her head! She’s probably worried enough as it is. Very few people are truly thrilled to be laid off, and if they are they’ll probably go out of their way to tell you before you can even get a word in edgewise.

To be truly supportive, just be there for your friend to open up to you on her own terms and on her own schedule. Maybe a kind joke or an unrelated anecdote or a question about something innocuous (Weekend plans? Movies they’ve seen recently) would help lift their spirits.


2. “Do you know what you did to deserve it?”

Wow, talk about an insensitive comment. Think about it: what if he really did do something? Do you think he really wants to talk about it? It’s not like when someone breaks up with your friend you launch into a huge guilt trip about what he might have done or should have done to prevent it.

At the same time, many layoffs come out of the blue to people who were great employees and a valuable resource to the company, so there might not even be an answer in the first place. Unless you’re their direct supervisor, this just isn’t any of your business.

3. “You’re not unemployed, you’re funemployed!”

So cute and yet so out of touch with reality. Sure, unemployment might be fun when you’re 22 and have no real responsibilities. It’s quite a different story when you’re 54, have two kids in college, a mortgage and a chronic health problem.

For so many people, being unemployed is not an opportunity to do some volunteer work or self-discovery — it’s a very real and very frightening financial, emotional and professional setback. Cute, trendy sayings aren’t going to change that.

4. “Have you started applying for new jobs yet?”

You’ve got to give your friends time to breathe after a layoff. It’s a really big deal! She’s probably still reeling from the shock. Many people who have been recently let go from a job need days — even weeks — to really deal with what’s just happened to them. Especially if it was a job they really loved and identified with.

Give your friend time to breathe, process, and even grieve about what just happened to them before they’re ready to make a fresh start and jump back into the job search.



5. “Have you thought about temping?”

This insult is two-fold. If temp work is a little bit low on the career ladder for someone of their experience, they’ll be insulted by your suggestion. And if it isn’t, chances are they have thought about it already. They’ve probably tried. And there probably aren’t any temp jobs available. Your question is just a reminder of how dire the situation really is.



6. “Was it just you? Or did others get laid off too?”

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?

Sometimes, layoffs happen all at once. Other times, they happen on a rolling basis. Either way, the timing of your friend’s layoff probably has little to do with their own performance and a lot to do with the company’s budget and priorities.

7. “Have you filed for unemployment yet?”

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.

If your friend hasn’t volunteered information about unemployment insurance yet, just don’t bring up the subject. Better safe than sorry, right?


8. " I can get you a new job!" [and the job is totally inappropriate]

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.

9. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”

What about when life gives you credit card debt, foreclosure and a few steps back in your career? What should you make then? Lemonade and vodka maybe.

It’s nice of you to try and offer your friend a dose of optimism, but realize that cliché catchphrases may be interpreted as insensitive. It’s a lot easier to see the silver lining when you’re still gainfully employed, right? When you’ve just lost your job, sometimes all you want is a shoulder to cry on. Some situations just aren’t good, and there’s no way to spin it.


10. “Everything happens for a reason.”

What if the reason is that their boss is a nut job? Or that they are one of the older employees and therefore too expensive to keep on board? Or what if the reason is that they just weren’t great at their job?

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.



Tuesday, November 10, 2009