After a Job Loss: How to Keep Work Friends


By Megan K. Scott, Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Laura Rivchun lost more than a job when she was let go from a staffing firm in September.

She lost lunches out with her co-workers, giggling during meetings, going out for after-work drinks — the kind of camaraderie that working in a small group builds.

"It's very isolating when you have been laid off," said Rivchun, 58, of New York, who was an executive recruiter and worked closely with three other people. "We had fun together. We were of like minds. All of us worked just as hard as the other."

Mass layoffs across the nation are creating another test of true friendship: can people who become friends through work remain friends when one or both are gone?

"This is going to be a very dramatic test," said Jan Yager, a sociologist who is an expert on work and relationships. But the friendship can pass.

A guide:


TRY NOT TO FEEL GUILTY: It's natural for you to feel some survivor's guilt, said Katherine Muller, a psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. But it is important to remind yourself that you did not have a role in the decision, she said.

If it so happens you did, do not gloss over your role in the decision, said Muller. Say something like: "I was a part of the committee that made this decision and I am so sorry that this is difficult for you."

BE A GOOD LISTENER: Don't take it personal if your friend vents about the company, said Yager. Sometimes people need to see the situation as bleak to say, 'I really didn't like working there anyway.' Validate how your friend feels without bad mouthing the company, said Muller.

If your friend continues to complain, change the topic. But realize that the layoffs may be the only thing on their mind, she said.

BE KIND: Don't complain too much about your day, at least your day had a job in it, said Timothy Keiningham, co-author of "Why Loyalty Matters." Share professional leads, offer career coaching, mentor, encourage and support.

Small acts of kindness will go a long way in reminding your laid off friends that you are there for them, he said.

MAKE NEW WORK FRIENDS: If you are feeling lonely without your best work buddies, reconnect and build on existing connections, said Muller. Ask a work acquaintance to lunch or out for a walk, for example.


DON'T TAKE IT OUT ON THE SURVIVOR: Do not say hurtful things like, "I worked harder than you did but I got laid off and you're still there," said Yager.

The layoffs were most likely not the stayer's fault, so the resentment would be misdirected and unfair, said Patty Sias, a professor of communication at Washington State University in Pullman. You also want to be careful not to burn any bridges in case the company rehires in the future, she said.

VENT A LITTLE — BUT NOT TOO MUCH: Most friends will understand being disappointed, but don't complain loudly about the company and other people working there, said Sias.

"The more the you are able to handle the layoff with some degree of grace and dignity, the better it will be for maintaining the friendships and, possibly finding work in the future," she said.

KEEP IN TOUCH: Keeping a relationship going can help you feel like that something from the job persists, said Yager. "It wasn't a complete waste now that the paycheck and the work is gone," she said.

Plus stayers are often in a position to help you find another job, she said, whether it's sending you career opportunities or serving as a reference.

MAKE NEW FRIENDS: Work on nurturing relationships, so you have another cohort of friends to rely on, said Muller. "A balance of old friends from the office and other/new friends would be a good goal," she said.


MAKE TIME FOR EACH OTHER: Working at the same place makes keeping in touch convenient, so you really have to make the extra effort to spend time together, said Sias.

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU HAVE IN COMMON: The friendships that survive are the ones that went beyond work, said Sias. "Their families might be close, they may hang out on the weekends, they talk about things that are unrelated to work."

For example, Rivchun said she is in touch on a regular basis with one of her female coworkers who was also let go; the two like museums and flea markets. She said their time spent together is more genuine — no more meetings in the bathroom to talk openly.

DON'T FORCE THE FRIENDSHIP: Some friendships will really be over, said Yager. Some clues that you don't want to repair the relationship: You ignore your friend's calls, you make more and more excuses about when or if ever you will get together again, you feel in your gut that the relationship was not a friendship but something out of the shared circumstance of working together, you don't miss the person and are actually relieved you don't have to deal with him or her.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.  All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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