Send-Offs for the Laid Off: Considerate or Creepy?

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When Tiffani Murray lost her job at the end of 2010, she had little qualms about attending the going-away party her department threw in honor of the employees it was letting go.

Not only did the human resources professional have a "great time" at her layoff send-off, she relished the opportunity to say her goodbyes and swap contact information with her soon-to-be-former colleagues.

"Even if it is a simple outing at a cost-effective restaurant, it shows that you are appreciated by leadership and your peers," Murray, who'd worked at the technology company she recently exited for almost five years, wrote in an e-mail. "I'm glad I didn't just pack my cubicle up in solitude and leave quietly in the night."

Of course, not all layoff casualties appreciate such a send-off. Those still seeing red over news of their impending departure may, understandably, find a farewell party thrown in their honor an empty gesture, even a slap in the face.

Others dread the awkwardness of such events. (Exactly how does one answer, "So what are your plans now?" when your plan is to pound the pavement like mad and pray you find a new position before the unemployment checks run out?)

And many say they would gladly trade the feeble festivities for the money their employer shelled out for the shindig in the first place. After all, nothing says, "We appreciate all your service over the years" like a paid day off.

"Farewell! Drinks Are on You!"

"I understand the desire to recognize these folks' contributions, but it is never a good idea for the employer to host a farewell party," advised Marilyn Santiesteban, director of career services at King & Bishop, a talent acquisition and management company in Waltham, Mass.

Shaun Eli, who was downsized by a New York City banking institution in 2009, learned this the hard way. "I suggested a going-away party with clients because I worked in marketing," said Eli, who was with the firm 13 years and now works as a stand-up comic.

"I thought that was a nice gesture since I had clients nobody else had ever met. My boss agreed but insisted it be at a bar he liked."

Unfortunately, Eli said, his boss soon reneged on hosting the farewell fete because no such event had been thrown for other outgoing employees.

"Alas," Eli said, "I'd already invited several dozen clients. So when my boss said we had to cancel the party, I said, 'I'm not calling everyone back to cancel.'

"Instead, I simply called everyone and said, 'Sorry, my boss reneged on paying, so we'll all have to pay for our own drinks.' Nobody cancelled, and I'm sure it reflected poorly on the bank in front of its corporate clients."

Praise for the Private Send-Off

There is, of course, an easy way to circumvent all the inelegance and indignation. Rather than subject departing employees to an over-the-top send-off they may want no part of, gather a small group of close colleagues for a drink or an inexpensive meal away from the office, recommended Santiesteban, who regularly coaches employees and organizations through such sticky transitions.

"Keep it casual, and make sure your laid-off colleague is ready," Santiesteban said. "Your best bet is to wait a month or more so the feelings aren't so raw."

Focus on your relationships with your departed colleague, not on the employer, she added. In other words, encourage attendees to check their bitterness at the door and keep the mood light.

Mike Honeycutt, who has worked in information technology for the University of North Carolina at Asheville for 28 years, agreed with this approach. Although now employed, he has been to enough painfully awkward layoff send-offs over the years to know that if he someday receives a pink slip of his own, he doesn't want such an event thrown in his honor.

"The thought of a going-away party makes me cringe," Honeycutt said. "Having a low-key party with my close friends is far more appealing to me. There are about 10 people I would like to have dinner with and say goodbye. It would be an upbeat event because I love this place."

Even so, Santiesteban warned, such gatherings may not be as easy to stomach as you think.

"When I was laid off in 2004, I hosted my own going-away party," she said. "I invited six or eight of my closest colleagues for lunch and drinks at a restaurant near my former -- and their current -- employer, about six weeks after the date of separation.

"Even for me, an off-the-chart schmoozer, the experience was bittersweet."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist and former cubicle dweller. She is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube". For more information, see Anti9to5Guide.com.

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