Layoffs, reorgs, restructuring, whatever you want to call them are the pits, that's for sure. I've been through them, and they are truly devastating. And even though your logical self says "it's not my fault; it's nothing personal; it had to be done; there are people worse off than I am," your emotional self feels as though the rug has been pulled out from under you, you've landed on your kiester and everyone is staring and pointing at you.
The process is inevitable, given the state of things. But I, personally, think we have to make it more humane. I think human resource departments (if there are any of those left) ought to come up with a sensitivity training web class. They could name it: When One of Our Own Gets the Axe: Five Simple Things We Can Do To Make It Easier.
In the class, experts could teach people some simple steps that would help those leaving go out the door with a semblance of their dignity, instead of feeling they were carriers of a virulent type of bird flu and were in imminent danger of passing it on. For example:
1. Don't look down, away, or close your eyes altogether when you pass a person who has been laid off and is still working at the office. Instead, greet the person as you would have before you knew they'd gotten the axe. If you have to interact with these people for any length of time, try to act normal--not like they have the plague.
2. Acknowledge what has happened. Make it your business, especially if you've worked with these people for eons, to approach them, tell them you're sorry this stinking economy has caused them to lose their job, (or some equivalent thereof), and that you hope they come out on top of this whole mess. This might be uncomfortable for many of us. But this isn't about US. It's about THEM.
3. If you worked closely with this person, get his email, and offer to write him a reference, or shoot a notice if you hear of any job openings.
4. Even if the person let go is not one of your top ten favorite people, be gracious, and wish her well.
5. If you go to lunch with the person, be a good listener. Let HIM/HER do the talking.
While folks "left behind" are bound to feel awkward around people who are on their way out, perhaps we can all try to imagine ourselves in their place, and think about how we would want to be treated.
Finally, if you're a praying person, keep these people in yours.