Whether/how to interact with laid-off teammates
September 27, 2017 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, two of my colleagues were given notice as part of a re-org. Unfortunately, there are only three of us in our regional office, and I will be staying on. What's the best way for me to proceed during their wrap-up period?

Their last day is Friday and they have been given instructions on how to transition their files, equipment, keys, etc. Their severance is dependent on their following those instructions and not causing trouble.

Our boss, who is based elsewhere, encouraged me to work from home for the rest of the week. I did today, but I have mixed feelings. I don't want to make things more uncomfortable for them, but I don't want them to feel hurt or unacknowledged, or that I'm avoiding them. I'm not actively involved in their wrap-up and only tangentially involved in their projects, so while a debrief would probably be helpful it feels super awkward to ask for one. I also have one project stupidly saved on my desktop instead of in the cloud that I'd love to have access to before Monday.

(Adding to my guilt, I only feel sad/awkward about one of them - the one less likely to actually be in the office during regular hours. My relationship with the other has been hot and cold, I will not really miss them at all, and I've been told they are not taking the news well.)

If you've been in this situation on either side, I'd love your advice and/or warnings. Is it more compassionate to just stay away? It feels cowardly, but maybe it's for the best, or maybe I'm rationalizing this new plate of beans.
posted by Sweetie Darling to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've been in the situation of the person laid off. I had a couple colleagues make a point of calling me afterward and/or going to lunch with me a week or two afterward. It was really nice, not that awkward at all, and helped underscore that there were no hard feelings for anyone. It's tough to go through - please reach out, especially to the one you felt close to. They may appreciate it. If you aren't sure, leave a message on the office phone at a time they won't be there to pick up, and tell them you'll get in touch in a week or so to plan a lunch, coffee, or beer.
posted by Miko at 6:10 PM on September 27, 2017 [8 favorites]

When I was laid off, the last thing I was thinking about was who was in the office.

If I were you, I’d stay home and avoid what’s going on, especially if you’re not really close and staying in touch with them. (Even then, I’d still stay home, to be honest.)
posted by crankyrogalsky at 6:11 PM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

If your boss encouraged you not to go into the office, and the entire office is just the two of them packing up, then yeah, probably not a great idea to go in. But if you feel that you could vouch for them when they are applying for new jobs, and you have their personal email/personal phone #s, I would send a quick note saying, "Hey ___, I'm so sorry this happened. I wanted to let you know that I would be happy to be listed as a reference for you if you're asked for one in the future." I reached out like this to a few coworkers who were laid off, many years ago, and they seemed to appreciate it. Also, this is likely just a temporary bump in the road for them -- for all you know, they will end up at a company where you want to work some day, where it will be important for you to be on good terms with them -- and it's good to have those people in your network rather than interview at the company and feel awkward about reconnecting.

If you don't feel that you could vouch for them, don't promise to be a reference, of course, but it won't hurt anything to send a quick email wishing them well.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 6:15 PM on September 27, 2017 [11 favorites]

Just as a data point... I remember very VERY clearly who was decent to me when I got laid off and who was avoidant/rude/treated me like a leper. These things have a way of coming back around. These people are going to be at other companies in your industry and area soon. They may be asked to give internal references on you if you apply where they've gone. Treat them as you would want to be treated.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:22 PM on September 27, 2017 [23 favorites]

Been on both sides. First, it is not your fault they are being laid off. You did nothing wrong and have no reason to hide. In my opinion, by not coming in for say a few hours one day before they go, it is saying that you did not like them.

I would go in, express sympathy to their plight, ask if there is anything you can do to help, if appropriate, offer to be a reference and exchange personal contact info. You never know when your paths will cross again and unless one or both of them are total assholes, there is only upside in being nice the next two days.

Also, you have a built in excuse for coming in. Go in to collect your project from your desktop and ask if they want to grab a bite for lunch. Maybe you will learn something about the company that you did not know or from a different point of view.

To me, this is more about human decency than about corporate politics.
posted by AugustWest at 6:56 PM on September 27, 2017 [9 favorites]

When I was last laid off a few people texted me to ask if they could do anything and I appreciated that. A while after I was invited to an outing with the rest of the team (no managers in attendance) and I still remember people who gave me a hug or bought me a drink and said "wow, that really sucked, I hope you're okay." I don't recall who wasn't particularly supportive.

A couple of times when someone was let go in a *very* shitty way several coworkers took them out for lunch or drinks.

On the other hand when someone difficult is let go, everyone stays polite and says "I'm so sorry, good luck," (but not "call me if you need a recommendation and let's get lunch") until they walk out and then there's a collective sight of relief.

I think it does matter where your boss is coming from in advising you to work from home. If there's an expectation that there might be some sort of drama, perhaps that's good advice.
posted by bunderful at 7:11 PM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I literally have a note in Evernote of everyone I've ever worked with who has been laid off. I check up on them regularly on LinkedIn and by email. Now I have contacts at dozens of companies that do what we do in our area. One of those did turn into a job offer (that didn't end up working out, unfortunately, but came close). Keep in mind that people are often getting very significant severance packages these days (50K or more) so a layoff may actually be a blessing for those affected if they get a new job soon.
posted by miyabo at 7:34 PM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Go in, if you want to stay in touch tell them, and if you want to socialize ask them if they want to get drinks on the last day after work.

Besides that just be decent to them. No need at all to stay home.
posted by zippy at 7:54 PM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't want to make things more uncomfortable for them, but I don't want them to feel hurt or unacknowledged, or that I'm avoiding them.

I have been the laid-off party twice. I think it's fine to stay home and let them wrap up in peace (though not obligatory), but avoiding them completely and pretending it's not happening until after they are safely gone is wrong, in my opinion. When I was let go from my last job, I was sad enough about being forced out of a position and company I had loved, but it was horribly compounded by the fact that every single person in the office immediately stopped communicating with me once the news was delivered, even though I stayed on for another week or so packing up my desk and winding up projects. Literally NO ONE, not even those from my immediate team, reached out to say so much as sorry, or that really sucks, or we'll miss you, or even good luck, at a place I'd worked at for more than five years. Maybe they were told not to, who knows, but fuck that. It was one of the more humiliating and demoralizing memories in my professional life thus far, and completely changed how I thought of the company I had once been a huge champion for.

I don't think you necessarily need to take them out for lunch or drinks or anything like that (unless you want to, especially with the person you're closer to), but even a quick email or text simply acknowledging their departure and that they did good work for the org (assuming they did), wishing them best of luck, etc. would go a long way. It sure would have for me.
posted by anderjen at 8:31 PM on September 27, 2017 [11 favorites]

Being laid off is awful. Compassion is free. Please reach out to the people you are fortunate enough not to be.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:59 AM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree that reaching out to your former co-workers is kind and thoughtful, but under no circumstance should you reach out to ask questions pertaining to the work they did prior to their being laid off. They will likely be busy searching for a new job and will be in no mood to spend time helping smooth the transition caused by their non-voluntary absence.
posted by Aha moment at 10:59 AM on September 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all. I ended up working from home the rest of the week but emailed the "good" coworker, letting her know that I was sorry to hear the news and offering whatever support she needed (or to not be the office if that would be easier for her). I got a nice note back in return and feel like I did the right thing.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:31 PM on October 3, 2017

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