I’ve worked in the ad agency and creative firm business my entire adult life. And that’s a long time. For about half of that time, I’ve run my own shop. I realized that folks in this business are uniquely wired to cope with the current crisis. I see people in the corporate world struggling to adjust to an off-the-charts level of uncertainty. I can help.  

The agency business is unpredictable. Lose an account or project and people often lose a job. Our business is volatile. There are three parties to the process: the person getting laid off, the person delivering the news, and the co-workers who still have a job. I’ve been in every one of these positions. It’s emotional for everyone, but let’s be clear. Nothing compares to the experience of the person who’s suddenly out of work.

The staggering number of layoffs that we’re seeing has exposed how uncomfortable this is for everyone. There’s a lot of advice out there, and some of it is good. But there is no version of “What Color is Your Parachute” that is written for a pandemic era employment slaughter. And you won’t find that here either. What I do have is a lot of experience getting canned, and some advice about how to deal with it.

Getting laid off usually isn’t contagious.

If your company had a round of layoffs, it’s okay to talk to the people who lost their job. They need to hear from you. Call them, email them. Reach out to them. We all have a tendency to avoid uncomfortable conversations. And professionally speaking, this is as uncomfortable as it gets. People will be upset. They may cry, or yell, or both. You’re an adult. You can take it.

“But I don’t know what to say”

Here’s your script. Say you’re sorry. Say you’ll miss working with them. Don’t say that everything will be okay, it’s a blessing in disguise, or any of the other platitudes. Try to help, but only if there’s a need. I once had a well-intentioned friend buy groceries. I had so many frozen whole chickens I couldn’t open my freezer without a couple sliding out. I had a decent severance package and was far from starving. What I really needed was a job.

Don’t act like they have cancer.

I had people act like I lost a limb when they found out I lost my job. When people treat you have a disease you start to feel like maybe something is wrong with you. And these days, losing a job may have nothing at all to do with you.

Check in with them from time to time.

Odds are, finding a new gig in this environment is going to take a while. Don’t just make a guilt-induced call and then forget they ever existed. It has been many years since I last experienced a layoff, but I can remember every person who reached out afterward. I remember because there weren’t many. And when you can finally see them in person or take them to lunch, you should.

This is also hard on the other parties. And the former co-workers are going to have survivor’s guilt. The people that had to deliver the news may feel like criminals. They deserve a little empathy as well.

I’ve had a few conversations with folks that recently lost their job. And they are not feeling like we’re all in this together. So, reach out.