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What do you say to a friend who's lost their job?

By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News, Washington


Greetings cards expressing sympathy to people who have been made redundant are being sold in the US, where 14 million people are out of work. But what's the best thing to say? And can a card help?

Hearing that a friend has lost their job is an increasingly familiar scenario, in the US, the UK and elsewhere.

Bank of America recently confirmed plans to cut 30,000 posts, while the news that BAE Systems is losing 3,000 jobs in the UK has been met with shock at plants and factories across the country.

The news comes as nearly one in 10 Americans is officially out of work and 2.5 million Britons are also jobless.

Every redundancy sends a shockwave through a family or circle of friends. And with this in mind, Hallmark has introduced a number of cards in the US that try to console the newly unemployed.

As the company's creative director Derek McCracken explained this week in an interview with NPR, some adopt a sensitive approach, while others try to be humorous. One of the cards says:

"Don't think of it as losing your job. Think of it as a time out between stupid bosses."

The idea came from customers who were looking for these kinds of cards, he said, denying the move exploited the grim economic circumstances.

The six cards were first introduced in 2009 and will be freshened up with new designs next year as sales remain high, a spokeswoman added.

Hallmark is not the first or only card retailer to tap into this. 123 Greetings has two job loss cards while Greeting Card Universe has no fewer than 17. One depicts a white flower on a black background and says:

"Out of the darkness, something beautiful can appear. I was so sorry to hear about your job. You are very talented and I know something beautiful will come your way soon. Hang on in there!"

But does a card really help?

It's an interesting concept, says Rick Cassar, 59, from Portland, Oregon, whose real estate business went to the wall two years ago, due to the credit squeeze, and who remains out of work.

"I guess they recognise a huge market that exists and will continue to grow," he says. "I imagine most people would appreciate receiving a card from a friend acknowledging their plight."

They're a good idea because they help to chip away at the stigma of redundancy, says Nicole Williams, connections director at LinkedIn.

"Being laid off can be very demoralising and people feel a lot of shame. These cards open up the conversation and allow us to talk about being laid off."

Losing a job is not something people like to talk about, she says, but telling people about it has a practical benefit because it increases your chance of getting employed again. Friends can recommend people they know on social network sites or by word of mouth.

"Friends need to acknowledge it with a card, but beyond that they need to ask 'What can I do?'

"People tend to underestimate their network. A neighbour might work in the same industry. The quicker you can get these people connected, the better."

Job loss cards seem to be harder to find in the UK, and Hallmark says it has no plans to launch any there in the near future.

But Judi James, a career expert based in London, says they would go down well there.

"I would have said it was better suited to the British psyche than the Americans, because anything that's upsetting or tragic we do tend to struggle to get the words right.

"British people are very good at putting down in a card what they won't say face to face."

People feel embarrassed and awkward when this kind of thing happens, and sometimes say nothing.

"Sometimes the best that people come out with is a string of cliches, like 'I'm sure you'll get another job', but you might not, it's a recession."

A message that reminds the person that they are not identified by their job is a good one, she says.

"One of the biggest problems with redundancy, apart from the financial and logistical problems, is that the job so much defines who you are, in modern society. It's the first question people ask you.

"People are devastated because they feel they've lost their entire personality when they lose their job. So while this kind of message sounds cheesy it does remind them that you're friends with them, not their job."

But ultimately, it's important that the person feels supported, says Ms James, and they will be impressed that in the age of email, someone has bought a card, written a message and put a stamp on it.

Related Internet Links

  • Judi James

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