What to do if your best friend at work is made redundant

What to do if your best friend at work is made redundant

Author: Robby Vanuxem, Managing Director, Hays Belgium

It’s one of the things that many of us dread happening to us at work: that person in the office that we’re always going out to lunch, sharing our work worries and stresses, and celebrating our successes with, leaving the organisation.

They’ve been a part of your professional and personal life for so long, you’re so reliant on them, and you look forward to seeing them every time you arrive at the office in the morning. How can they possibly be leaving?

As I explained in my previous blog, friendships at work are so important in terms of keeping our happiness, engagement and productivity up at work. I also made the point, though, that we need to be mindful of how these very friendships might sometimes hold us back from making the right career decisions for us.

It was in that blog that I also explored how to tell your friends at work you’re leaving. This brings me neatly onto the subject of what happens if the situation is almost the other way round. In other words, what should you do if your ‘bestie’ leaves the company, albeit due to redundancy, rather than departing of their own accord?

Five things to do when your best friend at work is faced with redundancy

Unfortunately, the impact of the pandemic means that many people will currently be going through redundancy. If your bestie is one of those people, I wanted to share my advice to help you navigate through this difficult time.

Many people don’t know what to do or say when a colleague or friend has been made redundant, and may feel guilty if they haven’t also been made redundant. So, I hope this guidance will make it easier for you to deal with this delicate situation.

Here are some tips to help you, and your friend, through this major transition in your professional lives:

1. Focus on supporting them. If your best friend at work is made redundant, you might understandably be panicking a little about your own job security and what your future might look like within your organisation. What does this mean for your role, and who will you be able to confide in from now on? These fears are natural – but for now, be sure to put them aside and support your friend during this difficult time. You’re their friend, so you should be there for them, as a source of both emotional and professional support. The steps that you take to support them might therefore include simply being there for them and listening to their concerns, as well as focusing their mind on their strengths, asking them open questions about their life direction, imagining new roles and opportunities for them, and helping them to network. Refrain from clichéd statements of sympathy that are unlikely to reassure them. Put yourself in your friend’s shoes, and understand how they might be feeling – what do you think would be most useful to you if you were the one who was being made redundant?

2. Realise that it’s OK to feel sad. In these circumstances, feeling sad or upset is absolutely understandable. I’d therefore advise you to take some time to process the situation, and to recognise their sadness as well as your own. Your friend being upset is a sign that they are dealing with the loss of their job in a healthy and honest way, having moved through the denial and anger phases of the grief process, and have begun to transition towards acceptance and hope. Not acknowledging such sadness may risk them remaining stuck in denial and anger. As for you, your colleague leaving – even one you were especially friendly with – shouldn’t be something that adversely impacts on your wellbeing or performance at work in the long-term. In every office, people come and go over time – and the situation will be no different at your organisation. So, don’t dwell on the past for too long, and instead look ahead to the new professional opportunities that await you, as well as for your friend in their future career.

3. Consider whether it’s truly your friend leaving that is making you unhappy at work. You will probably go through many emotions when you learn that your best friend at work will soon no longer be around. But if you still feel disengaged for a while after they’ve left, and even felt this way before their redundancy, you should challenge yourself on whether the absence of your friend is actually the root cause of your unhappiness at work. It might not be your friend having departed that is the real problem, but instead something else. For instance, a lack of recognition for your efforts, a company culture that doesn’t feel right for you, or not feeling sufficiently challenged in your job. Of course, you won’t want to make any ill-judged career decisions, particularly at this time. However, this could still be a very good time to reflect on elements of your role that you’d like to change, your career ambitions and what changes you might need to make to get there. Such steps will help you to feel happier and more fulfilled in your role, whether that be inside or outside of your organisation. Just don’t presume that the mere fact of a respected colleague leaving means you should head for the exit door, too. The situations of you and your friend aren’t comparable.

4. See this as a new chapter. With your friend having left the team, you might be feeling worried that you will struggle without them. You may wonder who, in future, you’ll be able to ask that difficult question to, or who’ll you’ll be able to confide in during challenging times. Or you might just fear that you’ll become isolated in your workplace. It’s so easy in these circumstances to suddenly think of the worst-case scenarios that could possibly come to pass. This is why I’d suggest you take some time to actually think about what the realistic impact of your co-worker’s exit will be on you. When you do, you’ll probably soon realise that no matter how bad the situation may seem to be now, the effects of your former colleague’s absence won’t be as detrimental as you initially feared, and you and your remaining colleagues will adapt. Other people will join the organisation over time, you’ll make new friendships and alliances in the workplace, and life will go on. Sometimes in life, even a big change that initially brings strong fears for us, actually turns out to be one of the best things that could have happened. A bestie leaving can have this effect for many people. No longer having the comfort of a close friend at work may actually end up being quite freeing. In their absence, you may realise just how reliant on them you were, and you may become more open to pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to develop relationships with other colleagues and learn new skills. Now, then, is a great time to focus on you and your professional goals, re-establish a sense of independence and confidence, and understand what is needed for you to reach your potential.

5. Keep in touch with them. Your work friend leaving isn’t the same thing as them exiting your life completely. So, make the effort to at least ‘touch base’ with them now and again, organising catch-ups so that you can remain friends. This will help them to move through the grief and trauma that often accompany redundancy, as you support each other and talk through any concerns either of you may have. Also, when you do see each other, don’t just talk about work. After all, your friendship was probably always founded on more than simply sharing an office together, including shared experiences, values and ways of looking at the world.

Of course, this is a challenging time on many levels, but as Leadership Coach, Simi Rayat, says, it’s important to remember that as you progress through your life and career, your friendships will likely shift and adapt: “Besties provide each other with a mutual fulfilment of needs and wants. As situations change, friendships evolve. Reflect upon and celebrate the times shared together, whilst embracing a new journey of being apart but still connected”.

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