Laid-Off Life

What to Do When Your Friends Get Laid Off and You Don't

Stay a Good Friend; Encourage Networking

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- They are your colleagues, acquaintances and, in some cases, close and trusted friends thanks to the natural bonds formed by the close spaces of a work environment.

Now they've been laid off. And you're not.

What can you do? Remain a friend.

Mixed emotions
"It's hard. It's awkward all the way around, no matter how you cut it," said Linsey C. Willis, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based employment and human-resources expert who is the founder of L.J. Craig & Associates, a management consultancy. "On one hand, you try to continue to be a friend to the person who lost his job. On the other, though, there's the natural instinct of how you're feeling at the moment -- relieved it wasn't you, anxious if there's going to be a second round" of layoffs.

In the wake of Omnicom Group's expected announcement of 3,500 layoffs -- adding to the more than 500,000 U.S. jobs lost last month, and nearly 2 million this year -- Ms. Willis said a termination remains an emotional issue for all involved.

"There's never an easy way to do it," she said. "One of the best things a company can do is try to communicate to employees what's going on, instead of having rumors fly around about what's coming. But a lot of these companies end up telling people the day it happens. Some of them are escorted out and can't even take their property with them. It's just a difficult situation. It shocks everybody."

Pounding the pavement
Paul Nawrocki knows the feeling. A 36-year executive in the toy industry, Mr. Nawrocki has been on both sides -- the friend and colleague who did the consoling when someone was laid off, and, now, the one who needs that same support.

"You're in a funny position," Mr. Nawrocki said. "When you watch people have to leave, and you know they were good, you wonder why they had to go and you stayed. You're scared because you're thinking 'Boy, that could have been me.' "

Mr. Nawrocki paused and added, "And then it was me."

Mr. Nawrocki was laid off from his job at New York-based Sababa Group in February of this year. The company filed for bankruptcy Aug. 13. Actually, you might know of Mr. Nawrocki -- he has received worldwide attention for his efforts to land a new job by walking the streets of Manhattan once a week wearing an old-fashioned sandwich board that advertises his situation. His sign reads: "Almost homeless. Looking for employment. Very experienced operations and administration manager."

Coordinating efforts
The Beacon, N.Y., resident, who has been featured on CNN, the BBC and in BusinessWeek, among other media outlets, hands out his resume as well. Since his story went public last month, he has gone on several interviews. More important, he said, he has coordinated efforts among a group of friends and colleagues who are also unemployed.

"We've all tried to help each other out," Mr. Nawrocki said. "There have been jobs I've come across that my qualifications may not have fit, but it looked like something I thought a friend could do. We've all been doing that. The support is good, and it's good for morale."

Steve Baldzicki says that's the key -- networking among friends and former colleagues. Mr. Baldzicki is the founder and president of Big Fish Networking, a Columbus, Ohio-based networking organization. What started as a way for business colleagues to meet 10 years ago has evolved into much more during this economic crisis.

"If you're a good friend, you're going to help any way you can," he said. "I had a friend who needed a job and I just happened to know a recruiter. I put the two of them together, and my buddy got hired. This is all about asking the right questions."

Start tweeting
Mr. Baldzicki also said it is incumbent upon friends and former colleagues to help someone who is laid off get acquainted with such social-networking sites as Facebook, Twitter and the business site Linked In.

Ms. Willis noted that those still employed can't help but wonder if their own jobs are next on the list, which ends up affecting the company as a whole. When companies go through reductions for the purpose of making the organization more productive, it sometimes ends up having the opposite effect. "Research and studies have shown that productivity does not go up," she said. "Some of those who survive the layoffs have guilt and a feeling of disloyalty."

But you can't let that get to you, Ms. Willis said. "You do whatever you can to work as hard as you can to do your job, and hopefully not be one of the ones they get rid of," she noted. "You add value to the organization, keep your mouth shut and your head down."

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