Getting Together with Former Coworkers

By Paula Santonocito

smw-getting-together-with-former-coworkersQ. I was laid off from my job a few months ago and recently one of my former coworkers has been calling, inviting me to join the old gang for lunch. She says it would be good for me to reconnect with everyone. I’m not so sure. Any advice?

A. You’re feeling uneasy about putting yourself in a potentially awkward situation, and your reluctance is justified.

Losing a job, whether you loved or hated the position, is a life-changing experience. Dealing with the emotional, psychological, and financial fallout can be really tough, particularly in an unforgiving economy.

You haven’t said whether you’ve found a new job, but your availability for lunch suggests you haven’t. This no doubt makes the idea of getting together with former coworkers even less appealing.

What will you talk about? The workplace you used to share? Their jobs? The fact that you don’t have a job and are still looking? How rough it is for you? How lucky they are?

Talk about losing your appetite.

The person who keeps inviting you to lunch probably means well, and you should view her invitation as a kind gesture. However, if it’s the kind of gesture you don’t want to accept, you are under no obligation to do so.

How should you handle the invitation?

Be forthright. “I appreciate the invitation, but I really don’t think I’d be comfortable getting together with everyone right now.”

If you are interested in connecting with her personally, you might suggest meeting for dinner sometime, just the two of you. But here again, you should do what feels right.

Often people who work together become friends, and those friendships may carry on after they’ve left their mutual place of employment. Other times, though, people are friendly coworkers whose primary bond is the job. Only you know how you feel about the group in question.

Another point to consider is, even if you value relationships with these coworkers and would like to keep in touch, you may have the need to back away right now as you try to sort out your life and move forward with your career.

If the woman who has been phoning you is a friend, she will understand when you explain this. If she doesn’t, you can take comfort in knowing you have been a friend to yourself.

Finally, you may be a little hesitant to turn down the invitation because there’s so much talk these days about networking.

Although experts recommend networking in order to find a new job, it’s important to differentiate between networking and the situation you describe. Networking is meeting with and talking to people who can offer job search assistance.

When you tell your former coworker you’re still looking for a job and ask if she’s heard of anything, you’re networking. Sitting at a table with a group of former coworkers who are taking their midday break doesn’t seem to be the right venue for this kind of interaction. Unless of course the luncheon was preceded by a phone call that began, “We’ve heard about a few job openings that might interest you. Would you like to join us for lunch?”

But if the invitation had been proffered in this way, you wouldn’t be hesitating, would you?

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