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I work in a close-knit team of about 20 that just suffered layoffs. Some of the surviving employees and laid off employees are friends, and several survivors have suggested arranging drinks with the entire former team. Keep in mind that we were all at the same level of the hierarchy, roughly speaking.

I am aware of the potential for this arrangement to be awkward, both because some of us still have jobs and others don't and because the company might not be happy about us getting together. Is it at all advisable for us to meet for drinks and what potential pitfalls should we be aware of to avoid creating problems at work?

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    There is a difference between friend and acquaintance and you won't know who your true friends are until you have been locked in a room with them and left to die. – emory Jun 13 '16 at 11:05
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    @emory: Heh, stay positive now – Lightness Races with Monica Jun 13 '16 at 14:14
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    @emory that escalated quickly – zundi Jun 13 '16 at 15:40
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    @emory How many true friends do you have? How often do you get locked in a room and left to die? – Myles Jun 13 '16 at 19:14
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    @emory - actually, that's pretty much how they laid us off at one job. About two dozen of us found ourselves in a conference room, then a lady from HR came in and told us all we had been laid off. We were in that room for almost two hours with at least SOME idea of what was about to happen. It wasn't pretty. – Omegacron Jun 13 '16 at 20:14
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The company has no business being interested in what you do in your spare time. As long as you keep this outside of work hours, there isn't really much they can do to stop you. However in the interests of not appearing to be in open rebellion against the company you should probably keep this relatively discreet, by which I mean don't put up posters advertising the meetup, and use company email with discretion. Don't send invitations to mailing lists where senior managers or HR might be copied. (However also don't assume that immediate managers are against this meetup - some of them might be interested in joining you).

I would recommend waiting a week or so before meeting. Those let go are going to be understandably angry in the first week or so, no matter how well the layoffs were handled, and during that time any conversation is going to be mostly about what utter, unforgivable, unrelenting bastards the company are. Sometimes that isn't healthy, for either the survivors or non-survivors.

It will also be necessary to be the tiniest bit discreet about company information. Ordinary things you would have shared before shouldn't be a problem, but if the company cancelled a major project, or gave employees financial information right after the layoffs, don't forget they are no longer part of the company.

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    (+1) for this: The company has no business being interested in what you do in your spare time :) – Dawny33 Jun 13 '16 at 6:27
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    Last time I was with a company that made redundancies, they did them first thing in the morning and gave the rank-and-file the rest of the day off so that leaving and remaining staff could get together if they wanted to (some did, some went home, and the senior management were working on the redundancy admin). The conversation was not mostly about what unrelenting bastards the company was, but employers who are unrelenting bastards may find things go differently ;-p – Steve Jessop Jun 13 '16 at 8:17
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    If the company published financial information right after the layoffs, that's public information so you can discuss it with whomever you want. It may or may not be something that the laid-off staff want to hear about but that's a social issue, not a workplace one. – David Richerby Jun 13 '16 at 8:52
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    "It will also be necessary to be the tiniest bit discreet about company information" Yeah, where "the tiniest bit discreet" actually means "don't mention anything at all". You no longer have the legal right to do so. – Lightness Races with Monica Jun 13 '16 at 14:14
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit It's good to be aware what the actual legal situation is, but it seems like quite an exaggeration to suggest that all workplaces would have "don't mention anything at all" something that "you no longer have the legal right to do so". I've never had anyone suggest that I had no legal right to mention anything at all about a workplace ... in fact, in almost everyplace I've worked, the assumption has been that only certain specific subjects or details are not expected to be discussed outside the workplace. – Dronz Jun 13 '16 at 17:41
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To build upon the excellent answer by DJClayworth, I suggest you not only meet with the former colleagues, but keep an active relationship with them. It has saved my team a lot of time and effort when former colleagues stopped by to chat and were happy to help us tie up the odd loose end on some problem they were working on before they were let go.

But it's not only about getting them to work for free. Keeping a network of alumni helps to improve the image of the company and often supplies a number of skilled people to hire.

This answer was inspired by this article by Alex Papadimoulis. While I don't necessarily agree with everything he writes, there are certainly some very good points.

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I think you should meet, your company can't dictate who you spend your free time with and your friends could do with some camaraderie right about now.

The only pitfall I would warn you of is that if the employed demographic is the one that made the invite, they are implicitly suggesting that they will foot the bill: make sure you confirm this with the rest of the job-holders beforehand.

  • "your company can't dictate who you spend your free time with"... can't? Really? Can't they fire you for this if they really do feel like it? What does "at-will employment mean" otherwise? If anything, it means they can dictate pretty much whatever they want as long you're their employee... – Mehrdad Jun 14 '16 at 6:33

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