Help Until It Hurts

The economists tell us we are not in a recession.  But if you work in media, it certainly feels like we are.

Everywhere you turn another major media company is announcing large scale layoffs.  Earlier this month Disney and Yahoo joined the parade. 

It’s one thing to read about layoffs – seven thousand at this company, another five thousand at that company.  The large numbers are disturbing for sure, but there is a kind of anonymity in such scale that can numb the reader to the real human toll.  It’s a topic for another blog, but one could argue that these layoffs are another symptom of the moral and ethical disintegration in many media C-suites, especially when one considers the trends in excessive CEO compensation.

What makes it real for all of us in the business is seeing the LinkedIn posts from old friends and colleagues.  “Unfortunately, I was part of the recent wave of layoffs at XYZ…” or “Today was my last day at XYZ after 15 years,” and “I’m open to new opportunities and look forward to reconnecting with all of you.” 

Seeing so many of these posts evokes a range of emotions, including a sense of relief if our job has been spared.  I think those that have been through unplanned mid-career “transitions” know all too well what these people are experiencing.  Shock, fear, anger, sadness, loneliness are all part of the mix.

One of the things you will hear if you talk to someone who’s been on the hunt for a while is “this process has taught me who my friends are.”  I’ve written about this before. There are people who will surprise you with their kindness and generosity, and those with their silence.

When I was in transition many years ago, I received some great advice from a former colleague.  He told me how people choose to react in these situations is nothing more than information.  It’s data for you to process.  The healthy way to approach it, like everything in life, is to assume good intent on behalf of the other person.  Admittedly this can be tough at times, but the person who doesn’t respond to your outreach may have good reasons for not doing so.

Having said that, I would like to take a moment to debunk a couple of common excuses people raise for not getting back to people.

“I’ve been meaning to reach out, but I’ve been so busy.”  Very fair, life is busy and hectic.  And if you’re fortunate enough not to get laid off it’s likely your days are even crazier.  Companies tend to transfer the work of those let go to the people remaining.  I get it.  I’ve been there.  But in truth it doesn’t take more than a few minutes to send an email or text.  A ten-minute phone conversation means everything to someone who has spent the day alone staring at a screen trying to find the next thing.  Loneliness can be plague upon the unemployed, a little effort from each of us can be the cure.

“I’m getting so many requests from people looking I just can’t help everyone.”  The key here is how we define “help.”  Of course, we need to be mindful, for example if there’s an open position at our company, we can’t flood the hiring manager with people.  But as I said before help could mean just calling to say hi.  It costs nothing to pass along an interesting article, research piece or analyst report to help the job seeker stay current. 

The most important task of the job seeker is to network.  Providing an introduction, even if only for information purposes, is pure gold for the person looking.  You never know where it will lead.  Some of my best professional experiences, including my current role, came from a generous introduction that at the time didn’t seem like much.

Sadly, one of the reasons people are reluctant to help others is because their first consideration is what the introduction says about them.  People get miserly with their contacts.  You don’t come across this too often, but it happens more than it should.

Let me be unequivocal here, the people who do this are acting like total, self-centered assholes. If you’re doing this right now, stop.  Making an introduction for someone, even if you may not be the biggest fan of this person, won’t reflect poorly on you.  Quite the opposite.  All you are doing is opening the door for someone.  What they do from there is on them, not you.  What it says about you is that you are a generous person who hasn’t forgotten the most important lesson from kindergarten:  treat others as you would want to be treated.

If I can be presumptuous for a moment, I think the standard for each of us in the industry right now should be “help until it hurts.”  All of us should go the extra mile, even if at times it makes us a bit uncomfortable, to lend a hand to those looking.  It’s a cliché to say, but not any less true, that in the end the things that will stick with all of us are the times we did something for others, or someone did something for us.

I don’t claim to have mastered a “help until it hurts” approach myself.  But as I’ve watched the carnage across LinkedIn these past months, I’ve been reminded of another tired but true cliché: in the end this business is really about the people.  That ethos is in short supply in our boardrooms right now, but it doesn’t have to be the case for the rest of us.

8 thoughts on “Help Until It Hurts

  1. ###

    I’m not sure if I’m in a recession, but it feels like one. everywhere I turn there are layoffs, and it’s really unnerving. What’s really driving this trend? I don’t know, but I’m curious.

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