How you can help someone who’s been RIFed

In the time I’ve spent in HR, I can’t identify a single thing worse than RIFing employees. RIF stands for “Reduction in Force” – a lay off. The impact that it has on the person who is suffering the direct blow, the manager delivering the message, the surviving staff members and the overall office environment is overwhelmingly negative. It’s an instant morale killer. And it just flat out sucks.

After it happened here, I talked to as many people as I could about it – no surprise, they were all miserable and scared. When I asked if they had spoken to any of the folks that were affected, again I got an expected response: they’d like to, but they have no idea what to say. But from the former employee perspective (and I heard this from someone just the other day), when they don’t hear from anyone, they start to think they were completely irrelevant at their former place of employment to the extent that they could easily just disappear and never be heard from again. It’s lonely and depressing, on top of everything else they’re going through. 

Honestly, it’s a sticky situation. Surviving employees feel a sense of guilt and horror, so they feel like they’re in no position to say anything at all. But this is what I’ve been telling those folks:

  1. Just reaching out has more of an impact that you realize, and that’s why it’s my #1. Someone who has been let go has a feeling that their world is crashing down on them. The fact that anyone is helping them to keep pieces of that world intact will go a long way. And they’ll remember that you were there for them in their time of need. If you’re lost for words, just keep it brief and say something like, “I just wanted to say hi. I’m so sorry for you, but I really hope that we can keep in touch.” And mean it – really do keep in touch with whomever you message. Meet them for coffee, for dinner, etc. They’ll appreciate it.
  2. Since they’re going to be looking for a new job, you can send any job leads their way. With the economy the way it is, any help these seekers can get will be incredibly helpful.I was amazed and thrilled to see the outpouring of kindness from our employees. If you can’t send it directly because you feel awkward and uncomfortable, at least send any leads you get to someone that wouldn’t mind passing the word along, whether that’s a friend or HR. I got a lot of e-mails from people asking me to forward a job opportunity to the folks affected.
  3. If you don’t have any new opportunities, find a way to let the people affected expand their own networks through yours. Go ahead and add them on LinkedIn or Facebook. Write a recommendation for them if you feel comfortable doing that. But if you can, try and take the next step and set them up directly with your contacts so they can meet new people and perhaps identify new opportunities for themselves.

While it may seem like you’re helpless in this situation, the only bad thing you can do is to do nothing at all.

Anything else you’d add to the list?

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4 responses to “How you can help someone who’s been RIFed

  1. As someone who’s been RIFed, I don’t stay in touch with colleagues from my most recent job.

    I tried, but they seem to think that A) I actually want to hear the sordid details of the project I was working on; and B) that the stress they are under as survivors of the layoff is actually as bad or worse than what I am going through; and C) that questions like “so have you gotten a job yet?” or “so what do you do all day anyway?” are somehow less rude when it is coming from a former co-worker, and D) unemployment is contagious. It’s nice of you to write something about this phenomenon on your blog though.

    Unfortunately too many employers ban your third suggestion. There is already plenty of case law to establish that these practices are illegal, but most workers are too scared to question it. The only reason I have references from my former employment is that everyone in my studio was laid off together, and thus none of us are bound by our employer’s policy any longer.

    • The HR Intern

      My sincere apologies for not getting to this sooner. It was somehow trapped in my spam folder (which I check too infrequently).

      Thanks for your comments. I stick with the fact that they’re too awkward to know any better. They have a pretty one-dimensional relationship with you for the most part, and having heard what people think from my employees, I know that they don’t know how to make it multi-dimensional.

      I hope that with enough time, you’ll be able to talk to some of them and keep in touch. If not in the near future, maybe once you have a stable position that you’re happy with, you’ll be able to reinstate your relationship and develop something that is about your lives and careers in general, not about your place of employment.

      Good luck!

  2. A friend who worked in HR at an investment bank had to lay off 80% of her team a week before she got RIFed, too.

    Career/life blogger Penelope Trunk has a good post about what to say (and what not to say): http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2009/02/10/how-to-talk-to-a-friend-whos-been-laid-off/

    • The HR Intern

      Gosh, that’s awful. What a miserable sentence.

      Thanks for passing that along! I love hearing what else is out there.

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