My boss told me that my friend and co-worker of more than 20 years will be fired next week – and asked that I not tell her or any other employee in the company what is planned. Do I give her hints of the action coming her way, let her prepare and risk my job? Or not tell her and risk losing my friend if she finds out that I knew before the firing?
Well, if your boss has specifically told you not to tell her or anyone else, then I think your way is clear.
In the words of Robert De Niro to Ray Liotta in Goodfellas: “Keep your mouth shut.”
(Actually, the whole quote is, “Never rat out your friends and always keep your mouth shut.” I didn’t want to confuse the issue, but I love the redundancy of it.)
Or as a colleague said to me when I was contemplating protecting a co-worker – a friend – to the detriment of my welfare: “How long do you think you’re going to be friends if you get fired because of her?” He pointed out that the company had invested in me and that I was part of a team. Then he added, pointedly: “You want to be successful, right?”
I think your loyalty here is a) to your boss, who invests in you every day and who took a shot on your when others might not have, b) to yourself and your career and, above all c) to your family, if you have one. You have to put bread and meat on the table and diapers in the Diaper Genie.
You think your friend’s going to give you a lift to the food bank and let you crash on her couch if she winds up getting another job and you don’t? Watch how quick that kind of stuff dries up when you’re on the street and she’s sitting pretty.
And to what end would you give her a heads-up, anyway? Your boss sounds like he has made up his mind. In my experience, by the time it comes to that, the boss is pretty angry/disappointed with his employee. You don’t want to step into the middle of that.
But there is one way you can be a good friend: Helping her handle it.
To bring it back to De Niro, I always cite The Godfather Part II as an example of how to handle losing your job. He’s working in a shop when local mobster Don Fanucci comes in and talks to De Niro’s boss, who then comes over to De Niro (as a young Vito Corleone) and says, in Sicilian: “I’ve got some bad news. I feel rotten about telling you this, but Fanucci, he’s got a nephew ….”
De Niro takes off his apron, puts his hand on his boss’s shoulder and replies, also in Sicilian: “And you have to give him my job. You’ve always been good to me, ever since I came here. You looked after me like a father. I thank you. And I won’t forget it.” Then he walks out with head held high. And he’s got a little baby at home!
That’s how you handle being fired. Don’t cry, don’t freak out, don’t vow revenge or tell the person firing you they will soon be sleeping with the fishes. It’s business, not personal. Let them know you understand that.
Why? Because your career is a long game, and you don’t want to burn any bridges. My wife hates it when I take credit for this, but when she was laid off from a great job (her company was taken over by a new firm, and there were mass layoffs), I said: “Do a De Niro, be cool, thank them for the opportunity and walk out of there with aplomb.”
She did that – well, she did it her way, which is why she hates it when I take credit for it – and was hired back within months.
Others cursed and pounded the desk. They weren’t hired back within months.
This may be goofy advice, but why not have your friend over for a screening of The Godfather Part II. When that scene comes up, say something like: “I like how he takes it. That’s how I’d take it if I got fired.” Something like that. Nothing too obvious. And after it does happen, if you really are a friend, get together with her, let her vent and pick your brain about goings-on in the office and so on.
That’s when she’s really going to need your support.