Civility in Times of Economic Turmoil

The economic news lately has not been good. And if you are like most Americans, the effects of the economy have been hitting closer and closer to home. Within the past week, a handful of people I know well have been laid off from their jobs. We have heard about layoffs in the news for weeks now, and everyone, including such giants as Circuit City and Citi Group, are affected. As the economic crisis widens, you too will know more people directly affected by pink slips. As difficult as it is to lose one's job, it can be made worse by callous, ill-considered words from friends and family. Here are some etiquette tips for those laid off and for those who know them.

If you have been laid off from your job:

Take the Time: Being let go from your job can be difficult, stressful and surprising all at once. It is perfectly acceptable to take some time to process what has happened and cope with it appropriately. If you want to take a week to become one with the couch, it is ok. Doritos and daytime television will help to numb the pain. But after a week, it is time to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get moving.

Get a Game Plan: For some, the realities of the situation are harsher than for others. Do a financial audit. How much money do you have in savings? How long can you afford to be jobless? Prioritize your expenses and make sure you have options for paying your housing, food and healthcare bills.

Say "Yes": As angry, annoyed, hurt, confused or sad you may be, if your company has offered any sort of assistance program or outplacement counseling, accept it. Even if your company is not kind enough to offer help, check with your local employment and vocational offices as well as the local newspapers and internet for available sessions. Many colleges and universities offer services to their alumni, so be sure to contact your alma mater.

Get Help: If you continue to be angry, annoyed, hurt, confused or sad to a point where it is causing alarm to you or to others, seek counseling. Job loss is a major life change and major life stressor. Do not feel as if you need to be able to process it yourself. It is ok to ask for help.

Set Structure: Without a job to go to, you may feel adrift. Set a schedule for yourself. On weekdays, wake at a reasonable hour, check job listings for matches, send out resumes, check your emails for responses, work out, meet a friend or colleague for lunch, research potential companies, volunteer at your favorite cause, etc... Having a sense of structure will ease this transitional time.

Network, Network, Network: If your professional networks are strong, now is the time to call on your contacts to be your safety-net. Meet for coffee, meet for lunch, meet for drinks. Let your contacts know that you are looking for a job and ask them to let you know if they hear of anything in your area of expertise.

Network, Network, Network: If your professional networks are not strong, now is the time to build them. Seek out organizations in your field, attend conferences, join Rotary, BNI and Toastmasters. Building your networks will both keep you busy and also keep you in touch with potential job sources.

Network, Network, Network: If your schedule allows, request information interviews with movers and shakers in your field. Informational interviews are not the same as job interviews. Be sure you understand the difference. Request time with leaders in your field to solicit their advice, information and feedback, and use it as you move forward in your job search.

Take Classes: Remember how you were not taking classes and updating your skills before because you were too busy with your job? Well, here is your chance to upgrade your knowledge base. From reading periodicals to attending lectures, to on-line courses, to enrolling in semester-long programs, now is your chance to ensure your skills are up-to-par.

Find Friends: During your interval of unemployment, seek out others in similar situations. While your friends and family will be empathetic to your plight, their ability to comprehend what you are going through may be limited. Better to find a support group who will cheer you through each possibility and lament each dead-end. Those in similar circumstances are better emotionally equipped to assist you, as you in turn assist them, until you are gainfully employed.

If you know someone who has been laid off:

Reach Out: Being laid off can be a traumatic time, do not stand on ceremony and wait for him to call you. Instead be the one to make first contact. Losing one's job is hard enough; losing one's friends makes it all the more difficult.

Saying Sorry: Express your dismay at the situation. "I am sorry to hear you were laid off." Be wary of condemning the company as she may return there at some future point. And platitudes sound hollow -- "You'll be back on your feet in no time" -- given today's economic climate.

Active Listening: As with any stressful situation, the best a friend can do is listen. After expressing your dismay, listen to your friend's response. If he wants to vent, allow him to do so. If he makes a comment and then changes the topic, follow his lead.

Active Helping: If you are in a position to assist your friend, let her know. Ask for her resume and let her know where you are sending it. Recommended resumes are generally given a bit more attention than resumes sent directly by the candidate. If you have any leads, take an active role in opening the door. Once the candidate has an interview, it is up to her.

Inclusive Events: Unless your friend is independently wealthy, there will be some scaling back in the social realm. Be sure to include him whenever possible. Allow him to choose which gatherings to attend. Be creative, instead of meeting at a bar or restaurant, decide to host in a home. Allow each member of the group to contribute something for the evening, assigning the more costly items to the employed members of the crowd.

Extend Kindness: While you never want your friend to feel like a charity-case, you do want to help where you can. Picking up the tab for lunch, with an explicit "once you cash your first paycheck, I expect you to reciprocate!" Or, invite your friend (and her family) to your home for dinner.

The old saw is that there is a recession when your neighbor loses his job and a depression when you lose yours. Regardless of which economic classification is correct, a bit of caring, consideration and respect will go a long way.