"The silence was deafening," she says. She has been blogging about her four months out of work at mylayoffstory.com. "It's better to say something than nothing. You do weed out who your friends are."
But what do you say? With unemployment at 8.5%, almost all of us know at least one person who has been laid off. Of course we want to offer comforting words and acknowledge the loss, but it's tough to know what's appropriate and what could be unintentionally hurtful.
"The best thing you can do is be compassionately considerate," says Peter Post, author of The Etiquette Advantage in Business and director of the Emily Post Institute. "Don't tip-toe around and pretend it's not there. You can't ignore it. But don't make the person feel like an object viewed in a window either."
Meredith was touched when one former co-worker heard about the layoff and called right away. She hit the perfect note by saying, "I'm so sorry this happened. What can I do to help?"
The best ways to help: Offer to introduce your laid-off friend to useful contacts, to check his or her résumé and cover letter and to mention any job opportunities you hear about. Also forward information about upcoming industry association events, job fairs or networking opportunities.
Always do this in the form of a gentle suggestion; don't say, "You really need to do this." Also, avoid clichés like "Things like this happen for a reason." Meredith was most offended by a former colleague who said, "Well, you didn't know what you wanted to do anyway." The former co-worker said that because Meredith had been thinking of switching departments before the layoff happened.
Let the person know you want to stay in touch. You might say, "I don't want to lose the connection with you." Suggest having coffee or lunch, but remember that money may be an issue now. It's nice to offer to pay, but avoid having an awkward talk about it when the bill comes; instead initiate the date by saying, "Let me take you out for lunch."
When you get together, don't complain about work. Feel free to discuss the office, but only if the person asks. "Do not try to make someone feel better by telling them that you're jealous of their new-found free time," says Donna Gerson, co-author of Modern Rules of Business Etiquette.
If you're the one being laid off, don't burn bridges on your way out the door. You never know when a former manager or coworker might be asked about your work ethic or demeanor-or be in a hiring position. "It's self-preservation," says Post. "Go out with your head held high."
Feel free to e-mail coworkers and clients letting them know that you've been laid off, where to contact you and how much you enjoyed working with them. "That e-mail really reflects on you," says Parker. "It's good for you, and it's the appropriate way to handle things, instead of trashing the company."
Always keep in mind how you would want to be treated if the situation were reversed. Gerson points out that the newly laid-off "need a circle of supporters to remind them that better times are ahead, and that you're part of their network. In this economy, the tables may turn very quickly, and you may be the one seeking advice and support. Helping others in need is not only good manners, it's good karma."