As Workers Get Ax, Friendships Also Cut

They're Too Tactless to Offer Any Comfort

Of course, there's always the chance that the newly laid off will reach out to their former comrades, only to get an earful about their ex-office mates' own employment woes.

That's what happened to Jennifer Bourgoyne, who was laid off in 2005 from her Silicon Valley job of 12 years -- when she was nine months pregnant. When a work place pal called to see how Bourgoyne was doing post-layoff, Bourgoyne got anything but sympathy.

"When I told her it felt really crummy still, she told me that I needed to 'stop being like this and think about how hard it is for those still there,'" explained Bourgoyne, who's since started her own business. "I was so shocked, I had to laugh."

Seattle journalist Amy Roe, who was laid off from her media job last year, reported a similar experience.

"A friend who still works there complains about how much she hates her job and how depressing the newsroom is," Roe explained via e-mail. "She always assures me I'm not missing anything, but of course there's one thing I'm missing: a paycheck."

Wallaert offers this reminder: "For the person who stays behind, there's still that axe over their head. They're still worried about their position."

"Your work friends are not the ones you should reach out to for layoff comfort," he said.

That's what your other friends, your significant other or your family are for.

Former Coworkers Now Competition

But how about reaching out to others who also have been laid off by your employer? Surely that's one way to eliminate all this "us against them" unpleasantness -- right?

Not necessarily.

In tight-knit professional circles where jobs are being swallowed up like parked cars in sinkholes, your fellow pink-slip casualties might not be the best ones to confide in about your current job hunt.

"We're all competing for the same tiny pool of jobs, and this makes it pretty awkward," said Roe of the journalists she's befriended in her decade in the business, a number of whom are also out of work right now.

"Normally, you help your friends out, but in this case, your friends are also the competition. You never know who is applying for what, and nobody really talks about it. It's kind of a like a conversational third rail."

That's not to say you should avoid hanging around with your competition altogether. Just shift your conversations away from grainier questions like "What are you going to do now?" and toward more general, long-term ones like "What would you like to do next?" Wallaert advised.

And whatever you do, keep your prized job leads close to your vest.

After the Layoffs: Band Together and Make Lemonade?

None of this is to say that layoffs and work friendships always make for awkward bedfellows.

For Katharine Richardson from Nashville, who was laid off in 2007 from her marketing director job in the music industry, pink slips and pleasure have gone in hand.

To stay in touch with laid-off colleagues throughout the country, she started an alumni e-mail list on Yahoo! Groups.

"Every time someone new is laid off, we welcome them immediately to the invitation-only group and congratulate them on graduating," said Richardson, who now runs her own company. "We help each other network for new jobs and help people deal with the horrible feelings from being laid off."

But that's not all.

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