The Friendship Doctor

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Losing a Job and Losing Your Friends

When someone loses a job, co-workers can feel squeamish about friendships.

QUESTION

Hi,

I worked at my job for 17 years and developed friendships with several women at my job for that long. About a year ago, our longtime manager left and we got a new manager who made my job miserable. I suddenly lost my job two months ago when the manager found fault with some things I did.

I tried contacting my co-workers/friends, and they won’t answer phone calls or e-mails. Not only am I heartbroken about losing my long time job, I’m devastated and depressed that these co-workers abandoned me. Not one has contacted me to ask me how I’m doing.

I realize that they may be worried about contacting me if the manager finds out, but they can contact me after work hours. I would never cause trouble for them or jeopardize their jobs. All the years we worked together, I was always there for them and supported them, celebrated their birthdays and milestones in their lives and was there when they had sadness in their lives.

This is why it hurts so much and I’ve been depressed about their abandonment. If the same situation happened to one of them, I would reach out to them to see how they were doing. I got the one co-worker/friend the job there many years ago and recommended her for a promotion. I’m trying to move on, but it’s very difficult. Any suggestions?

Signed, Lisa

ANSWER

Hi Lisa,

Losing a job after seventeen years in the same place must have left you reeling. I’m so sorry you’re in this situation. Hopefully, you’ll be able to land in another setting that will turn out to be more hospitable than the situation you’ve been in for the past year or so.

When people have worked together for many years, relationships form by virtue of being in the same place and dealing with the same challenges. I can understand your disappointment at your loss of your friendships at work but even when someone retires or changes jobs voluntarily, alliances between workplace colleagues often weaken or erode completely.

When a co-worker loses a job, as happened to you, people are often fearful (as you suggest may have happened in your situation) about their own jobs and thus, are reluctant to continue friendships with the person who has been extruded. I don’t know whether or not this is the case but your co-workers even may feel that the supervisor had just reason to end your employment.

Also, I’m not clear whether your relationships with your colleague were limited to workplace friendships or if you ordinarily saw your colleague outside of the office, too. If you were only close at work, they may feel like the connection is no longer there.

If you’ve reached out to the one or two people to whom you have felt closest and they haven’t responded, you may want to let some time pass (at least a month) and try approaching them one more time after the dust is more settled. In the meantime, focus on your job search and your relationships with other friends.

You may actually be depressed given these circumstances and not have much energy to reach out for new employment or friendships. If so, it might be helpful to seek out additional support from a counselor or mental health professional until you are back on your feet.

Hope this helps.

My best, Irene

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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