how to reach out to a coworker who was fired

A reader writes:

What is the appropriate etiquette for reaching out to a colleague who was unexpectedly fired?

A manager I used to work under was recently let go from our organization. We weren’t “friends,” but this manager served as a mentor for me and we had a great professional relationship. I’d love to reach out and continue to stay in touch. What would be an appropriate way to do so? Additionally, would the approach be any different if reaching out to a peer versus someone in a leadership role?

Do you have her personal email address?* If so, I’d send an email very similar to one you might send to a colleague who left the organization any other way. If someone left voluntarily and you didn’t have the chance to talk to them before they were gone, what would you say? That’s what you want to say here.

If you’re wondering whether you should reference the fact that she was fired, generally the answer is no. It might be tempting to express sympathy, but that can be pretty awkward for her (and can put you in a difficult position if she’s angry at your company). If she was laid off (as opposed to fired), the situation is a little different — people are generally more comfortable being open about that, and in that case you might more directly reference it.

Either way, the email might sound something like this:

“Jane, I was so sorry to hear you’ve left Teapots Ltd., and I want to make sure we don’t fall out of touch. I’ve greatly enjoyed working with you, and your mentorship has been invaluable to me. (Optional: Include some specifics here about what she has taught you and/or that you admire about her.) I’ll continue to think of you as a mentor, and I hope we can stay in touch. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to be helpful as you look for your next role!”

And of course, if you really do want to keep in touch, you’ll need to take additional actions to make that happen, like checking in periodically, inviting her to coffee at some point, and so forth.

You can send this type of email both for peers and non-peers. Adapt the details to fit the context, obviously, but the overall tone and content are pretty much the same. No trashing your company for their decision, no embarrassing pity, just a message of “hey, I like you and want to stay in touch.”

* If you don’t have her email address, I’d see if you can find her on LinkedIn and contact her that way.

{ 25 comments… read them below }

  1. Coelura*

    I would recommend LinkedIn. It validates that the contact is purely professional. A number of people have contacted me that way and I am personally more comfortable with that method of contact versus directly to my personal email.

    1. Samantha*

      But if she has already given the OP her personal email address it means she’s comfortable communicating that way.

  2. Longtime Lurker*

    As someone who was recently and abruptly fired, I can’t tell you how much it meant to hear from some of my former colleagues, most of whom I didn’t have time to say goodbye to. On behalf of all of us in that situation, thank you for being thoughtful. Sometimes the silence from the co-workers who didn’t reach out (particularly those we thought of as friends) can be deafening.

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree. I think not hearing from someone can be hurtful. Silence can be seen as if no-one cares.

      1. Mary*

        I agree. A colleague of mine was fired suddenly and it took me a few hours to stop being shocked and to think of her. I was able to call her and spend some time acknowledging how shocked we all were at events. I was sorry I had not done it sooner than that, so the faster you can make contact the quicker.

        Another colleague I was not as close to I stayed in contacted via linked in and when he got a new position I was able to acknowledge that which I know was very appreciated.

    2. mPD*

      Also recently and abruptly fired, I can’t tell you how many people I expected to hear from and didn’t. Makes you re-evaluate those relationships and friendships. I keep hearing how everyone is still shocked (geez, as am I!) and yet here I am, alone. I feel like I have lost not only my job but my friends as well. Like you said, it is deafening.

  3. louise*

    Some former co-workers sent me a box of expensive chocolates and a card listing some of the things they’d learned from me and would miss about me. That really wouldn’t be appropriate in most contexts, but they knew me well enough to know that was the perfect way to reach out.

    1. Jeano*

      I think that was particularly thoughtful and sweet, especially the card. I know when it happened to me I was left feeling very worthless and unwanted. Nice coworkers! You must have done something right. :)

  4. StillLAH*

    What if you are the one who left and would like to reach back out to former coworkers (and perhaps my old boss) to say hi and catch up? I left in May and now it seems like I’ve been silent for too long to just pop back up and touch base. (If you can’t tell, I am terrible at keeping in touch with people once we’re no longer seeing each other all the time and I’d like to be better at staying in touch.)

    1. So Very Anonymous*

      Agree — just do it! It’s so easy to get all caught up in “oh, it’s been too long” and then never doing it. Vicious cycle. Just try it and see what happens!

  5. Mena*

    I think I would handle this no differently than any other departure … reach out and express the desire to remain connected and leave it at that. It isn’t appropriate to ask why someone has left the company, whether she chose to leave or was forced to leave. If she wants to discuss it, she’ll bring it up.

  6. Lamington*

    When I was laidoff it was nice to hear back from my former coworkers, it made me feel I wasn’t just a cog in the wheel.

  7. some1*

    Also, don’t announce her firing to people who do not need to know, even if you think you are doing so under the guise of commiseration. It’s her news to share, not yours.

  8. jesicka309*

    Wow. This literally happened at my workplace last week.. Wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of my colleagues writing in.
    I’ll definitely take this on board.

  9. lindsay*

    My supervisor got fired last fall and I totally didn’t know what to do about getting in touch with him. I called him the next day and he really appreciated it. He’s my main reference, so I didn’t want to ruin the good work reputation I built by appearing to be insensitive.

  10. Not So NewReader*

    I have to throw in my two cents, even though it is belatedly tossed in. Yes, OP, please do this. Your former cohort will get as much out of the contact as you do. I have former coworkers that stay connected to me and that is so very meaningful. Likewise, I have reached out to people who left my work and saw the relief in their eyes. It’s just plain good practice. But as you are doing here, pick wisely. It’s not the best choice to reach out to everyone who leaves. I make these decisions on an individual basis.

    1. Jean*

      Yes yes yes. Being fired can make a person feel that her/his entire existence is being erased. (The erasing applies only to one particular workplace–but stress makes it easy to overgeneralize.) When people reach out with genuine concern and caring, it is genuinely appreciated.

  11. Anon*

    My boyfriend was fired a few weeks ago, and was actually quite surprised that none of his former colleagues reached out to him after he left. Then he found out that his manager had actually specifically told the team not to get in touch with him.

    He was actually more hurt by that, than by the firing itself. His relationship with his manager wasn’t the greatest, but he got along well with the people he worked with, and really felt like she was undermining their goodwill by saying that.

    Bottom line, just reach out! If the person doesn’t want to go for coffee or whatever, they’ll decline, but most people would be happy to hear from you at least.

    1. Jamie*

      Then he found out that his manager had actually specifically told the team not to get in touch with him.

      This sucks and it’s wrong, but it really does happen maybe more often than people think.

      I know of a company where IT flags the names of employees who have left in email to see who is corresponding with them and who is talking about them amongst themselves. It’s toxic and horrible, but former employees were considered persona non grata and remaining connected on Linkedin, staying in touch, or God help you if it’s known you met up for drinks.

      This kind of thing creates a horrible culture where at first you think everyone is just paranoid until you realize it’s not paranoia – it’s self-defense.

      So, unless you know for a fact your company wouldn’t have an issue with current employees speaking to you after you’ve left, don’t contact your old work friends on their company email.

      1. anon-2*

        I dunno about the “self defense” aspect.

        It’s “self destructive”, in my field (IS/IT).

        You need a network of people for career survival. This includes people that you worked with who were fired. There may come a time you go looking for a job, walk in the front door and Freddy Whowasfired is the hiring manager, or in the circle you’re trying to get into.

        The fact that you turned your back on this guy — that you succumbed to a weakness like that — will not be forgotten.

        I can recall at one place – where the skids were greased for me to go. A relatively new employee there joined in “the game”. Now, four months after I left company X, and was gainfully and happily employed at company Y — Ms. You-know-who came groveling for a job at company Y.

        You think I forgot what she did?

  12. Joe*

    As a recently Fired person (Who is Fighting it) it would be greatly appreciated if the op kept in touch. I tried to stop and tell a manager good bye and they called security to have me escorted to my car like I was a criminal…I tried to e-mail the manager but got no response. So much for having a good relationship with the manager.

  13. Rebecca*

    Here is how not do reach out (I received this email from a colleague)

    I am sad you lost your job, and surely you are suffering. We are fortunate here in the US for unemployment to help get through these times.
    I enjoyed meeting with you over lunch, and appreciate the wisdom you shared about PMP and career objectives. I do not feel, though, that I can be the sort of friend you deserve to have at this time.
    I wish you every opportunity for success, and am grateful to connect with you on Linked In.

    Take care and be well,

  14. Rachael*

    Some one was recently fired from the company I work for. She was fired for sheer incompetence and the inability to learn. She is excruciating to interact with but she is the nicest person. We all work remotely so I haven’t seen her since she was fired. I want to say goodbye to be polite and not hurt her but I never ever want to see her again and I don’t want to give her a reference. How do I be nice while closing the door?

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