Layoffs suck. Here is how you can help.

Image: WOCinTechChat.com

Getting laid off in a time of government regulated social distancing can be brutally isolating as well as psychologically, emotionally, and financially stressful. Not only are you cut off from your work community, you now have the added pressure of finding a new job amidst mass layoffs, perhaps while homeschooling your children or struggling to make ends meet. With 26.5 million currently unemployed in the US, there is a good chance we all know someone who has been personally impacted by this pandemic.

As someone who was laid off earlier this month, I want to share some thoughts on how my previous colleagues have made this transition a bit more bearable for me. TL;DR: Don’t be afraid to reach out, listen deeply, and be a resource! There are simple things you can do today to support colleagues affected by layoffs.

#1: Reach out personally.

In layoffs, there is often no time to say goodbye. While you may feel awkward and perhaps guilty that you survived the layoff but your colleague didn’t, being laid off while sheltering in place is a very isolating experience. I have deeply appreciated the outreach from my past colleagues, and it is comforting to know there are people I can still turn to for support.

Here are some thoughtful ways to connect:

  • Thank them for being a wonderful colleague. If you can, share a memory of a time they made a positive impact on you. Being laid off can cause extreme feelings of self-doubt and this gesture may mean more than you think.
  • Any time is a good time to reach out — just stay in touch. If you come across something that reminds you of your colleague, whether it be a blog post or if you had a common interest, share it with them. A past colleague and I have been sharing updates about our gardening wins, and while this may seem trivial, it is a welcome connection point during this indefinite period of social distancing.
  • Listen and ask questions. People often need time to process major changes and your well meaning advice may be too much right now. Give space for listening and validating so that you can better understand where they are mentally. Just like stages of grief, there are stages to recovering from a layoff, and empathy is key.

That said, if you reach out to someone but they don’t get back to you right away — don’t be offended! There’s a lot going on, and how people cope with uncertainty varies.

#2: Be a resource.

Being on the other side of a layoff often leaves you feeling powerless and unsure of what to do. Outside of saying “let me know how I can help,” here are some proactive ways you can support your colleagues right now:

  • Write them a LinkedIn recommendation. LinkedIn is one of the primary tools used by recruiters and job seekers in America. Support your colleague publicly by sharing a specific example of how they made a difference at the company, and why you would recommend them to future employers. It will be immensely helpful for your colleague to have recent recommendations of their contributions on record as they re-enter the job market.
  • Create an opt-in list for individuals looking for new jobs to share with recruiters. Looking for a job is hard enough, let alone during a hiring freeze and multiple company layoffs. Help maximize exposure to recruiters or company alumni by creating an opt-in list so that folks who need immediate assistance, especially those who have work visa restrictions, can start job searching immediately.
  • Offer to help. If the individual is open to it, offer to help make warm introductions to a company alumni network or recruiters from within your network, proofread their resume, or just set up some regular time to touch base. Losing your work community during social isolation is especially brutal, and finding new ways to connect is appreciated during this time.

Closing Thoughts

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
— President Barack Obama

If your company has had layoffs this past month, I hope these tips inspire you to reach out and reconnect with your affected colleagues. Nothing prepares you for getting laid off and I’m anxious for the long job search ahead, but I know I would be in a much darker place without the support of my amazing community.

Shout out to my family, friends, past colleagues, and the USV network leaders program for your love and kindness during these crazy times, and my partner for encouraging me to write this post.

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Karen Ko

Managing Director @ WEST, a 1:1 cross company program dedicated to helping womxn enter and succeed in tech. Say hi @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/karenko26/