Career Guide

What to Say When a Colleague Has Been Laid Off

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Do you ever struggle with what to say to someone who has been “downsized”? Here are five tips from Jenny Schade of JRS Consulting, who has interviewed more than 1,000 people in the midst of turbulent organizational change:

  1. Acknowledge the situation and offer to help. The most uncomfortable part of a job loss is the elephant in the room — the person who has lost his job may not want to volunteer the information and the other person is at a loss for what to say. By saying, “I was sorry to hear about your job. Anything I can do to help?,” you’re addressing the situation and immediately offering your support. That moves the conversation beyond the job loss and toward a supportive action.By the way, don’t assume you can’t do anything to help just because you don’t have a job to offer. You might offer to review a resume or you may “know someone who knows someone” and can help make a connection.
  2. Take your cues from the person with whom you’re talking. If he or she changes the subject, let it go. But if he or she wants to talk, be ready to listen and offer support. Just reflecting the other person’s feelings can feel very supportive. For example, if your friend tells you, “Waiting for them to announce who was staying and who was going was the worst part,” you could respond, “That uncertainty sounds really stressful.”
  3. Focus on listening but be sensitive about asking too many questions. Asking, “How many job interviews do you have lined up?” can sound intrusive. It’s fine if your friend volunteers information but don’t ask questions that may make him or her feel stressed.
  4. Limit surprises. Your friend has already experienced the unexpected   don’t throw a surprise going-away party. (I know someone who experienced this!) It’s fine to organize a goodbye lunch if your friend would like that, but be sure to ask first.
  5. Keep in touch. Sometimes the worst part of losing a job comes two months later when not much is happening. Invite your friend to lunch (and be sure to pay!) or send a supportive note saying he or she is in your thoughts. 

By Jenny Schade, president, JRS Consulting. JRS Consulting helps organizations dramatically increase attraction among customers and employees. Jenny Schade has interviewed more than 1,000 employees while guiding organizations through turbulent change. Get more tips from the free JRS newsletter.

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Jenny Schade


  • This is a VERY TIMELY MESSAGE! Thanks for sharing!
    You don’t need to wave at the person when they box their stuff up! 🙂 But people need to understand that when a door closes, another door might not always open up. Sometimes its up to us to open our own door, or build cut a door for ourselves.

  • Well said, Zack. I just had dinner with a friend last night and was telling her about my post above. She said, “This kind of information is really needed. My friend was laid off last week and I said to her, ‘Just wait, this will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you.’ My friend didn’t like my comment at all — it actually made her feel worse.”

    Even when we have the best of intentions, we can say the wrong thing. As you describe above, this is a time to open our door and be especially sensitive to our colleagues.

  • my company just laid off 8 of my colleagues yesterday. it was such a shock i had no idea what to say as my manager was giving me the news.

    i didn’t say anything yesterday and today i found myself in this wierd spot, having “i’m still here” guilt or something and not quite sure how to tell them that i was sorry, etc…

    so i literally googled “what to say to someone who’s just been laid off” and your post came up and it really helped me formulate my interaction with them; listening but not discrediting (oh things will be fine!…i hate it when someone says that to me discrediting my worry), offering help, and proposing to keep in touch.

    thank you.

  • Freeflow 78, I’m glad to hear my comments were helpful. The “I’m still here guilt” you described is very normal. It’s actually a form of survivor’s guilt and is a common reaction. Lay-offs are difficult for everyone. You might find my recent article in PRSA’s Strategist helpful. It’s about “Putting the Pieces Together: Managing Beyond the Restructuring.” It’s written from a manager’s perspective and talks about survivor’s guilt. Here’s a link to the article:

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