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Joe Szynkowski: How to stay happy during sad days at work
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Joe Szynkowski: How to stay happy during sad days at work

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This week started with a blow for a couple of really close friends. One unexpectedly lost his senior leadership job after 20-plus years of loyal, exemplary service to his company. He happened to be my first “real” boss after I graduated from Southern Illinois University and was instrumental in me finding my professional footing. Another friend this week was notified that his department would be seeing a 20% budget reduction — leaving him on shaky ground. 

In the current COVID climate, I’m hearing stories like this on a daily basis. High-level executives and factory floor workers alike are uneasy about their current work situations.

This job market of uncertainty is leading to painful furloughs and job cuts. If you’ve been on the wrong end of this type of organizational restructuring, you know it can be extremely difficult to process. It can also feel like a massive challenge if you’re a close colleague to someone who is let go.

How do you react when you see good, hard-working people losing their jobs within your company? How can you simultaneously be there for your friend while effectively continuing in your role? 

Read on for a few tips on staying happy at work — even during sad days around the office.

Dealing with a colleague furlough

When a close co-worker is fired or furloughed, it can naturally spark a bevy of emotions and anxiety. First, you’re dealing with the pain of watching a friend go through the worry and challenges that come with losing his or her job.

Selfishly, you may even be wondering if you are next.

As difficult as it may be, avoid taking your frustration to social media. Even though you may be able to delete your Facebook post later, it’s best to keep any negative commentary about your company out of the public spotlight. Reacting out of pure emotion can jeopardize your role and do a disservice to your colleague, especially if they are handling the situation with maturity and trying to take the high road upon their exit.

Avoid gossip privately with other colleagues. Your behavior could actually create a toxic culture that inhibits your own growth and actually has a negative impact on your co-workers, as well.

So how should you get your frustration off your chest? I’ve mentioned it often in this column: Nothing solves problems quicker than communicating directly with your supervisor.

Schedule a conversation with your manager and speak candidly about your concerns. If you disagree with the way your friend was let go, don’t be afraid to express it. Your recommendations and ideas may actually help drive change within your organization. What better way to honor your former colleague?

Dealing with a death at work

Last year, my company was shell-shocked after the tragic, sudden death of a top leader. Chip was an amazing guy. He never met a stranger and always had a joke to share. I fly monthly into Dallas, where my company is headquartered, and Chip would routinely offer a ride to or from the airport during my visits to the corporate office.

When he passed away, we were all in pain. Tears and stories flowed as we reminisced about his impact. And while it feels a bit morbid to type this, his death actually pulled us together as a team and helped us better appreciate our professional lives together. 

When something so tragic happens within a company, it’s imperative for leadership to act quickly and recognize anyone who may be struggling with the loss. According to the Employee Assistance Professionals Association, here are the signs of grief in the workplace:

  • Inability to concentrate;
  • Lack of interest or motivation;
  • Lower tolerance;
  • Chronic fatigue;
  • Depression;
  • Decreased productivity;
  • Decreased morale;
  • Anger;
  • Increased stress levels; and
  • Shifting workloads (a temporary response to loss).

Great companies find ways to help their employees work through the grief, and also create opportunities to honor lost colleagues through the development of scholarships, memorial boards or fundraisers to give to the family.

There’s no secret hack to effectively deal with sad days at the office. You must accept the pain that comes with loss and turn it into a motivator to honor your friend through hard, dedicated work. They wouldn’t want it any other way.

Joe Szynkowski is a Sr. Director for NuVinAir Global, a Dallas-based company disrupting the automotive industry. Thanks to technology, he does so happily from his home east of Marion. Check out for his WorkHappy Spotlights or email for more guidance on finding career joy.


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