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What to say to someone you know who has been laid off?

The post-COVID business world is ruthless right now with job cuts and layoffs every day. How can we help people who are going through this?

Last week, my boyfriend was laid off from a popular global ride-hailing company as part of the inevitable COVID business measures. We have been expecting the downsizing to come for a while, given that the business underwent a historical loss of customers, and the situation seemed like there is no immediate light at the end of the tunnel.

In fact, we have been waiting for the announcement to finally come in, so we could be partly relieved and get some closure for things to move ahead.

Then it finally happened last week, as I was buried nose-deep in my work, news broke out about the layoffs, and I called him to see if it had really happened.

“And?” , I enquired, concerned.

“Yep, I am in too. I have been laid off.”, he quoted nonchalantly.

The anticipation and the uncertainty he has been put through was finally over. From being always busy to not having anything to do, it was certainly a huge world shift for someone who was used to hustling in a fast-paced environment that rewarded smartness.

“No hard feelings”, he shrugged as he narrated his conversation with the leadership team. “They seemed surprised at how well I was taking it, but what can one do! And just imagine, they have to make a ton more calls like this. So many people have to be told they have been laid off, I just wanted to do what I can to make it easy for them.”

As stunned as I was with this display of maturity, I kinda understood where he was coming from. It was a good break up. In every sense. He had loved working in every project the company threw at him and gave them his all. In return, the company treated him extremely well and rewarded him at every opportunity they can. For most people, like my boyfriend, this was an unavoidable situation that had to happen.

More importantly, this had nothing to do particularly with his performance, or work within the company. All of our worlds have been turned upside down. In another world, he would have continued to be the path-breaker he is, until the world stopped hailing cabs overnight.

I found myself at a loss of word on what to say to him beyond the “I am sorry” and the “We will figure this out”, and of course “This is a good thing!”

What do you say to someone you care about who is extremely good at what they do, but that gets taken away from them for no fault of their own, with nobody to blame?

I feel there must be an underlying sense of gloom that he is trying to come to terms with, even though he has no hard feelings about the whole situation. I tried to put myself in his shoes, and I see myself losing it. Not only would I feel dejected and let down, but it would also be a nightmare to hunt for a job in this chaos.

He seemed to be like he is doing ok. He is financially secure, no major commitments, and has decided to take a break until he finds the #nextplay (As Jeff Wiener would say) for him. We discussed how hard this can be for someone with real commitments – a family, kids, elderly parents, or mortgages. This pandemic has affected people at many varying levels that we cannot even begin to comprehend. For some, it is the immediate loss of financial stability and source of income. For a few others, it is anxiety about the future, especially if you have dependents who are prone to medical illnesses. Combine all of this with the extreme competition and young population in our country, it is definitely not easy to be able to find the next thing you want to do.

In the next few months, we are bound to come across many people who will be in this situation, and it is time to think about how we can handle our conversations with them, and more importantly what we can do to help them out.

1) Be Vulnerable

Put yourself out there. Simple.

I am a big fan of Brene Brown, and there is this line that I will never forget about explaining the power of vulnerability in organizations. She says “A good leader will be the first one to have uncomfortable conversations. They will excavate the uncomfortable and make sure it gets spoken.” A lot of the times we don’t bring up difficult topics like financial issues, domestic violence, Mental health, etc.. We tell ourselves we want to be polite, but the truth is we are uncomfortable speaking about these things, and that I believe is the definition of privilege. It is a privilege that we have it easier, and our silence comes at the price of others for whom it is not so easy.

My point is if you know someone whom you think is suffering- just ask! Don’t pry. Just ask! Ask them how you can be of help, and make sure your intentions are authentic and genuine. Maybe you can pitch in financially, or look after their pets if they have medical issues, or help them find a job. Of course, it’s a difficult conversation to have, but guess what, if you don’t lean in, you will never know how much you could have helped. You basically lose nothing, now that you have broken this ice, they will reach out to you if they do need help.

2) Use LinkedIn like a human.

Yes, all those years of building and maintaining connections, time to use them wisely.

Do as much as you can to help people and jobs find each other. We all know exceptionally capable people who are ex-colleagues or dear friends. Make sure you tell their story in places you can. Encourage freshers who write to you. Don’t be rude. It’s just not cool.You have no right to be rude to someone just because they are just starting out. Even if you can’t offer them a job, offer some insights that can help them and a lot of encouragement. Weren’t you a young kid once fresh out of college and a huge education loan? I was! Times are hard for everyone, and I truly believe all problems can be solved if we all believed in empathy and compassion every day.

We use Linkedin to post motivational stories, and we spend hours commenting and arguing on political threads, we can spend that time helping people out professionally, helping someone with their resume, or writing a referral letter.

To conclude, I think my boyfriend is going to be just fine. As much as possible, I would like to reach out and help as many people as I can in whatever way possible. The world is already going through dark dark times. Now is the time to remain open and compassionate and approachable, so that we build a kinder world out of this debris.

Just imagine, if all of us focused our efforts on helping each other out, instead of being competitive, we can solve all our problems.

Don’t you agree?

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