What to Say When a Coworker Loses a Job

Avoid asking too-personal questions about finances following dismissal.

Avoid asking too-personal questions about finances following dismissal.

The sinking feeling that occurs when a coworker loses a job can turn to panic pretty quickly if you're not prepared for the ugly aftermath. By implementing certain techniques, you can avoid letting an already awkward situation become difficult. Don't pretend it didn't happen and don't say you'll help if you have no intention of doing so. Instead, listen well, be tactful and let your former coworker take the lead.

Less Talking, More Listening

Forbes notes that the best thing you can do for a newly-unemployed former coworker is listen rather than talk. Although humor may seem like an easy way to lighten a somber mood, tasteless jokes about low-paying jobs or winding up on the street probably hit too close to home. Instead, acknowledge the situation by stating its difficulty and by letting your coworker know that you are there if they need a friendly ear.

Offering to Help

Although the better side of your human nature may instinctively want to help, don't offer it unless you have every intention of seeing your offer through. Empty promises of assistance aren't just words; they're a cruel, false lifeline to the desperate. Nevertheless, if your brother really is the hiring manager at the amazing new company down the block and you happen to know that they're looking for just your friend's skill set, offer an introduction. Alternatively, if a connection isn't a possibility, spend some time working on your coworker's resume or offer yourself as a reference.

Honest Conversation

Maren Showkeir, author of "Authentic Conversations," recommends simple, honest dialogue versus "flippant" remarks, according to Forbes. Instead of openly envying your former colleague's newly free schedule, ask how you can help. Avoid offering constructive workplace performance criticism or making seemingly thoughtful statements about looking on the bright side. Practice empathy, pay attention and stay reserved in manner. If you intend to stay in touch with your coworker, tell her so -- then do it. And if your coworker is worthy, introduce her to your friends and colleagues from other companies, because networking frequently ends in a successful job hunt.

The Incompetent Coworker

Unfortunately, some people who lose their jobs lost them because they deserved it. When this occurs -- and your former coworker asks you for a recommendation, but you don't want to give one -- tread carefully, and remember that your reputation is on the line. Speak frankly but tactfully with your former coworker about his strengths and weaknesses, the Chicago Tribune recommends. If you think the new job your former coworker seeks isn't a good fit, tell him why -- and offer a more suitable suggestion. Losing a coworker is difficult, but losing your reputation by making false claims about an unfit job candidate is far worse.

 

About the Author

Lisa Bigelow is an independent writer with prior professional experience in the finance and fitness industries. She also writes a well-regarded political commentary column published in Fairfield, New Haven and Westchester counties in the New York City metro area.

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