My Former Manager Broke His Promise

Last Updated Jan 3, 2011 4:51 AM EST

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I was recently laid off from my job at a major corporation. My manager made many promises to HR and me about helping me find a new job, providing a good recommendation, a list of contacts, etc. But I have never heard from him again, even after many polite attempts to contact him for help. I think this is the cruelest thing anyone has ever done to me.
After being let go, I have received many recommendations from co-workers praising my hard work and positive attitude. Even my ex-manger would readily agree that I worked very hard and always with a positive attitude. But although my ex-manager is the only one I have specifically asked for help, he is the only one who has never responded to my requests.
As I work through the rejection of being laid off and look for a new job, I want to put this issue behind me, but I struggle to think how anyone can be so heartless. Is it worthwhile to report this issue to the HR department of my old company, or should I just try to learn from this experience and move on?'
Have you ever lost a loved one? A relative or a close friend? What happened? Tons of people came to the funeral, hugged you, and said, "Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help," and and then they disappeared. They didn't call you, and if they happened to run into you in the grocery store, they might say , "How are you doing?" but then they wouldn't give you sufficient time to really respond to that, and instead would make some sort of excuse and leave.

They weren't bad people, they were just super uncomfortable because they didn't know how to handle the situation.

Getting laid off is a very similar experience. Your coworkers and friends are uncomfortable because you've experienced a terrible tragedy. They don't know what to say, so they say nothing. True, right? (Unless they've been laid off as well, and then they understand.)

Now, imagine that your best friend's husband has just been killed in a car accident. To make matters worse, you were driving. Now, don't you think the temptation would be to slink off into abyss? Nothing you can say will make it right, and even if it was a pure accident and you did nothing wrong, it doesn't make her loss any easier. How awful and uncomfortable are things now?

That's kind of what your boss feels like. If he's a decent person, he feels bad about laying you off. It may have been his decision, but if you work for a large corporation, it's likely that the decision was made by someone 3 levels up who has never met you. But, still, he had to tell you and you were his employee and he feels terrible. Since he feels so guilty he doesn't know what to say, so he says nothing.

Or he could just be a world class jerk. I can't tell from here.

Either way, the thing you should do is the same: Forgive, forget, and move on.

Easier said than done, I know. Especially that whole forgiveness and memory loss thing. But, ask yourself, what would happen if you complained to HR? Would it help you find a job? No. Would it improve your reputation at your old company? No. Would it punish your boss? Doubtful, but even if it did, it certainly wouldn't inspire him to help you out. People don't like getting in trouble, even as adults. Furthermore, if you called me and complained that your former boss wasn't helping you find a new job, I'd certainly express sympathy, but I'd gently remind you that he's not required to.

And I have a question for you: What type of help are you expecting? The type of help that former coworkers and bosses can give you are heads up about open positions, introducing you to people at other companies, and giving you references when called by another company. They won't conduct a job search for you. They won't write your resume. They won't hold your hand through the process.

Don't give up hope. There is hope after a layoff. But, if you focus on this one person, you'll end up becoming more angry and more bitter. That will show through when you interview for new jobs and hurt your chances. So, let it go. Chalk it up to him feeling uncomfortable and let it go. If you get to the point of needed a reference it's okay to call him and ask him point blank if he'll be a reference and what he'll say. If he hesitates, take him off your list. He may have said you were wonderful because he mistakenly believed that was better than providing real feedback.

Photo by KYZ, Flickr cc 2.0