Brand building through storytelling

When a friend is fired

Seems like only yesterday my old colleague Jill had landed a plum position with a fast-exploding company whose slick ads you couldn’t escape. Well, guess what? She’s just been canned. I had barely absorbed this news when I ran into the husband of another friend, for 10 years a mainstay at a respected non-profit organization. “How’s Donna?” I asked. He tried to smile. “Enjoying the sunshine. She’s been downsized.”

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t hear about someone in my circle—perhaps a whole swath of people—being packaged, let go, laid off, terminated or otherwise shunted aside in what’s presented as a cost-cutting move but may in fact be an excuse to clear the decks of those who are deemed to have served their purpose. My stash of understated note cards, initially purchased for condolence messages to the bereaved, has been turned to a new, recessionary purpose—words of comfort to the suddenly jobless. They’re hungry for proof that the world did not forget them when the powers that be declared them surplus. I know because they’ve told me. And by the way, you don’t have to pick up a pen. E-mail is just fine, and has the virtue of speed. Don’t be surprised if you get an immediate thank-you.

What to say? I figure you might be wondering, too. So I asked an expert: my wise and seasoned friend Julie, who recently lost a job she loved in a field where opportunities are scarce. It took her many months to find that job after a previous downsizing, and she had found it the perfect fit for her talents. Now she’s sending resumes all over town, without scoring a single interview. Her 20-year track record would once have been a plus; now it screams “old” and “expensive.” If anyone knows the devastation of job loss, it’s Julie.

“There’s a mourning process,” she says. “It’s a lot like what I went through after a miscarriage. I wish people would acknowledge the depth of my grief.”

What many people do instead, observes Julie, is try to fix it with bland reassurances. First instance: “Now you can put your feet up and relax.” Tell that to a person who spends eight hours a day polishing her resume, researching the job market and networking like crazy.

Second no-no: “It’s not personal.” Isn’t that the mantra of axe-wielding bosses? From her friends, Julie needs the understanding that there’s nothing more personal than cutting someone off from her daily rituals, her workplace family and her sense of herself as competent and valued.

Then there’s “With your skills, you’ll get another job.” Here I must pause for a shiver of shame. You see, I’ve been known to use this line myself (often with the flourish “and they’ll be so lucky to have you”). Trouble is, nobody believes it anymore. At least, not mid-lifers like Julie. At 56, she doubts that she’ll ever hold a job again and is planning to be her own boss.

Today Julie and I grabbed the chance for a last summer lunch on an airy patio. We both ordered ravioli saut?ed with fresh sage leaves in plenty of golden butter. As the coffee arrived, my friend shared a business concept she’s been mulling. “I’m really excited,” she said. “What do you think?”

I told her I’d like to help her get this plan off the ground. We could have another lunch to start firming up the details. I could tell from Julie’s smile it was the best thing I could possibly have said.

Click here and here to read my previous posts on getting fired. 


Posted by Rona

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