It’s been a tough time with layoffs across Twitter, Stripe, Lyft, Zendesk, Meta, Amazon, GoTo and more. Within the industry, almost everyone knows someone who has been impacted by a layoff – if they weren’t laid off themselves.
If you’re on the safe side of the fence, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with ‘survivor’s guilt’. Or if you know someone from another company who was impacted, it’s common to feel like you want to help but are not sure how. Here are a few things you can do:
1) Reach out, and simply be there.
Someone who has just been laid off is likely going through a tangle of emotions: sadness, frustration, anger, and feeling lost. On the other hand, shock, numbness and other delayed reactions are also very real. This means they could be fine one moment, but not fine the next. The 5 stages of grief aren’t linear – they can happen all at once, and everyone processes them at a different pace.
Since few people know what they need, the best reach-out is non-pressurizing. It could be as simple as “Hey, I heard about the layoffs at Company X. Just wanted you to know that I’m thinking of you. Hope all is well.”
Chances are the other party will be glad to hear from you – yes, even if it has been years since you last spoke! It’s a big help simply knowing that others are available to support, if or when it’s needed.
Do make time to (e-)meet, or simply pick up the phone for a good old audio call. When all of us are time-scarce, your time and energy are the most valuable thing you can offer.
2) Ask questions before trying to help.
It’s easy to automatically jump to solutioning: sharing job links, offering referrals. But is this really what the other party wants at this time? Not everyone might be looking for a full-time job immediately.
Some might want to take a break, spend time with family, pursue further studies, make a career switch, take part-time/remote work, travel, start a business… the alternatives are endless. Remember, there’s also a real possibility that someone could be relieved or even happy about being laid off!
Try taking a step back to ask the simple, but important, questions. You’d be surprised how few people actually do this.
- “How are you feeling today?”
- “What do you plan to do now?”
- “I would love to help however I can. Is there anything I can do for you?”
- “How did it happen?” – learning to talk about it is part of the healing process.
- “How are the people around you taking it?” – this can help you gauge what kind of support they have (or lack).
- “What’s the one thing you wish people would do more of or less of?” – give them the opportunity to voice any discomfort with how others are responding, which in turn can guide your own response.
- Finally, “What kind of jobs/connections/recommendations would be most useful for you right now?” – we tend to assume that someone wants a role closely matched to what they held before, but that might not be true.
In reality, most people who are employed feel uncomfortable talking about a layoff with someone who was affected. Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Option B about how we tend to tiptoe around trauma survivors and avoid awkward topics. You can do better! People appreciate having a safe space to express themselves freely.
3) Write them a LinkedIn recommendation.
If you have ever worked with the person in question, one of the best things you can do by far is to write them a LinkedIn recommendation.
It only takes you 5-10 minutes, but will go a long way as they look for jobs and network for opportunities. In fact, this continues to pay dividends in the months/years to come.
The next time they are hiring for their own team or starting their own business, a game-changing future team member or business partner might be reading YOUR recommendation to decide whether they would like to work with this person!
You can do this on your own initiative without them requesting for it. Here’s where to write a LinkedIn recommendation from someone’s profile, and here are some great examples for different working relationships.
4) Share a support group, or start one.
This could be a Whatsapp / Telegram / Facebook group, or Slack channel. If you’re not aware of a strong support circle, ask around – or simply start one.
Yes there are many, but every group will find its own niche members. During a difficult time, more support is better, not less. People can always exercise the option to mute notifications or leave the group.
5) Leverage your network – thoughtfully.
If you work in a company that’s in good shape, offering to refer someone if they are keen on a role at your company can be the most straightforward way to help.
However, the indirect referral (Person A/you connecting B with C) often opens up the most possibilities. The most valuable are 1:1 messages sent specifically to individuals you know are relevant.
Ideally, these individuals would also be well-placed to make a decision. If your network isn’t strong in your friend’s area of job search, get creative.
Within the same company, a Marketing Lead can still submit a quality referral for a Solution Architect – as long as you can equip them with the right information.
Based on your recommendation, most people would be happy to submit a referral for acquaintances twice-removed. Of course, leverage this thoughtfully as the reputations of 3 parties are at stake: the referrer, the person being referred, and your own.
That said, trust your instincts. If you think a conversation between two people could be meaningful, even if they are not in a position to help one another directly, make the connection – you never know where it might lead.
Even if someone doesn’t get a job or interview, you might by accident catalyse new career ideas, a mentor/mentee relationship, or even a great housing recommendation. Who knows? After all, a good conversation seldom ends on the same topic where it began.
6) Arrange a fun get-together or activity.
Barbecue? Potluck in the park? Board games? A beginner-friendly group sport, like beach volleyball? A fun gathering that has nothing to do with the layoff is a great way to: a) take people’s minds off things for a while, b) help ease the loss of regular work syncs, and c) offer a space for people to mingle and chat selectively if they want. At the extreme, consider traveling together for a real disconnect and reset.
For a virtual-friendly gathering, how about looking back on those virtual team-building games? Many of us have fond memories of virtual escape room / virtual happy hour sessions… but here are some less-typical virtual activities to try. For small groups, cozier activities like cooking together and other family-friendly ideas might work better.
7) Share resources
Outside of direct connections / job suggestions, here are some of the most helpful resources I’ve received or seen lately:
- 80,000 hours [book, podcast and job board]
- Designing Your Life [book & workshops]
- The Good Life Project [blog & podcast]
- BRAVE Southeast Asia [tech podcast]
If you have more to suggest, comment or DM me 🙂
8) Actually stay in touch!
When layoffs are fresh and top-of-mind, everyone’s calendars are filled with coffee chats. But as the dust settles, 2-3 weeks later employees who ‘survived’ might have acclimatized to an emptier office, while others are still in the thick of looking for their next role – and interview fatigue is creeping in. This is when they truly need your support.
Calendar a check-in a few weeks later to see how your friend(s) are doing. Have they found a new role, hobby or pursuit – anything that offers stability and purpose?
By that point, you will almost certainly be among a vast minority of people who are still checking in – and 4-6 weeks later, there will be even fewer.
9) Be mindful of your own needs
Last but not least, don’t forget: you are affected too, mentally if not in other ways. Whether layoffs have occurred in your own company or not, with cost-cutting happening at scale, the economic implications can be intimidating.
Be honest about how you feel. Sad? Upset? Frustrated? Angry? Insecure? Never underestimate the power of naming your emotions. This can help encourage the impacted party to identify and understand their own feelings, too.
Of course, the hard part is identifying how you feel in the first place. It’s ok to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers.
Pick your support pillars wisely: some people who were laid off can cope extremely well (or even thrive), and it can be restoring for both of you to support each other. Others, however, might not be in the frame of mind to be there for you. Don’t take it personally. Just look elsewhere for support, and give them time.
Finally, here is an excellent list of what NOT to say to someone who has been laid off. Ultimately being laid off is a major life event, and even more so for those who have experienced it more than once. Be kind, to others and to yourself. Only time will tell what the longer-term impact is from large-scale layoffs. This is the time when we need each other the most.
Disclaimer: None of the links in this article are paid or affiliated. Opinions are mine from the perspective of someone who was laid off from a tech company recently, and gathered from talking to others in my network who were laid off themselves, or experienced layoffs in their org. I am not psychology-trained. Please seek professional advice from a therapist or counsellor if you need additional support.