The phone rings in your pocket and you get that dreaded call from a good friend: He (or she) has just been laid off. This person performed well for years but is yet another addition to your growing list of acquaintances who have fallen victim to a still-not-quite-recovering economy. How do you respond? A still-relevant book from some years ago, “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”, claimed that when asking for help, men really do want help and suggestions, while women generally want only sympathy and compassion. In this situation no response can be quite that simple because your friend, whether man or woman, will need BOTH help AND sympathy, even if he or she doesn’t realize it. So where do you start?

Generally your friends in this situation will need to talk - let them. They may need to vent, or to confirm that they did their best, did nothing wrong, and/or are not alone. They might even ask questions about what you see is wrong in them. And you should answer - honestly but gently, if you are specifically being asked for input. This is not the time to ignore a personality trait that a friend should improve to get hired and stay employed. It’s also not the time to volunteer such frank advice if a friend hasn’t asked for it!

Your job here is easy - listen. Remember, your friend will be in one of the five major stages of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), so you’ll need to be aware of how your responses will be received though those filters. Instead of offering advice immediately (unless it’s requested) you should ask: “What can I do to help?” This can be a lifeline to a friend in distress. It shows you are interested in helping, and gives you the opportunity to offer something concrete if the timing is right (job leads, search advice, contacts that might help, a resume or cover letter review, etc.).

After letting your friend vent, you should offer to meet in person, if practical, for breakfast or lunch, preferably in the week or two after your friend’s last day at work (or try to meet for coffee if a meal won’t work out). This informal session lets you be a cushion between the now-extinct “normal” work experience and sudden unemployment - a painful shock for many. Whatever the situation, tell your friend as you order food and/or drink that you will be paying. Remember, this is YOUR invitation to meet, and since your friend is likely now in a strict savings mode, a kind gesture like this will be appreciated. If you haven’t already, at this meeting you might get into a specific resume or cover letter discussion, so as part of your invitation be sure to ask your friend to bring those along. If one or both are brought to the meal you can comment, offer suggestions, make notes, etc. If neither is brought, your friend isn’t ready for this step and you can try later. Of course, if appropriate, be sure to offer to be a reference (and if a potential employer later calls you, promptly tell your friend about that discussion!). If meeting in person isn’t practical use your phone, or perhaps schedule a Skype call.

After this initial, but important meeting, try to keep in regular touch with your friend - it’s easy to let people slip away in the rush of today’s world. So on a regular basis send an email, make a call, and ask how things are going. Remind your friend that you want to help and pass along any leads you come across. And ask your network for leads. In short: listen, be supportive, give help, and continue to be there. In addition to these options you may have your own techniques for aiding a friend in need, and of course each situation is different. But the best basic guide to follow is an easy one: How would you like to be treated if the suddenly-laid off person making that surprise, dreaded call above was you?

This article is part of the monthly series authored by the Institute for Supply Management’s Logistics & Transportation Group Board Members, who are current practitioners, consultants, trainers, and educators. In future columns, they will continue sharing their views on a number of Supply Chain and Professional Development topics.

George Yarusavage, CTL, C.P.M., CICSM, is a principal in Fortress Consulting, LLC, specializing in Transportation, Logistics, and Sourcing issues and training. He is also the Treasurer of ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group and can be reached at gyarusavage@yahoo.com, or (203) 984-4957. Membership in the L&T Group is open to all current ISM members who are responsible for or have an interest in Logistics & Transportation.
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