It happens to you. You're called into your boss's office and told that your job no longer exists. You go home in a daze and sign onto Facebook. There it is — a prompt asking: "What's on your mind?"
Do you tell your Facebook network that you've lost your job? Or do you resist the urge to broadcast this personal information across electronic channels?
Many are facing this dilemma in an era of both high unemployment rates and increased social networking. While there's no definitive etiquette, people do seem to have strong feelings about the practice of using a status update to alert the world that they've gotten the ax.
Geoffrey Abraham, an advertising copywriter in Portland, Ore., thinks Facebook is no place to hang up your shingle. On his blog www.looklefty.blogspot.com, his rant-filled post "Let's Keep Facebook Fun, People" takes to task people who complain about their unemployed status on the social networking site.
"I understand that what I am witnessing is a sign of the times. In real time. I can even imagine these downtrodden folks thinking, 'Hey, I have a lot of friends in here. Maybe one of them can get me a job,'" he wrote. "But nothing is less attractive than desperation."
It might be easy to write Abraham off as a crank who doesn't appreciate what it's like to lose his job, but in fact he did this year (he's employed now). As he noted in the post, "The last thing I wanted all 356 of my 'friends' to know is that I was laid off. Most of those people don't even know what I do. It would be like putting on 60 pounds before my high school reunion and telling everyone I still live in my parents' basement."
Despite Abraham's belief that coming clean about your employment status seems desperate, many others feel like it gives them more control of their situation.
Christina Zila was laid off from her public relations job in Las Vegas at the beginning of April. "One of the first things I did, after packing up my stuff and going on a lunch date, was to tweet it," she says. "My reasoning at the time was that it was the most efficient way of letting my friends and contacts know what had happened."
She says that she phrased everything neutrally because she didn't want to burn any bridges. She ended up getting a few job leads, but more important than that, she says, was the support and understanding from friends throughout the country and the world.
"It made it easier when I saw my friends in person, since we had already gotten past the ugly 'I got laid off' bit and we could move on to 'How's the job hunt going?'" she said. "Since being laid off has little or nothing to do with your personal performance, why should it be a secret? The more people who know that you're looking, the more eyes and ears are out there helping you search."
Zila ended up getting a job three weeks later. "That was announced on Twitter and Facebook as well, partially to get my new company some free PR," she says.
Hal Niedzviecki, author of the recent book "The Peep Diaries: How We're Learning To Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors," says that social network sites offer an illusion that they are touchy-feely places where you can let it all hang out.
"We are using other people's lives as our entertainment," he says. "Our problems are going to be entertainment for others. Do I want to provide entertainment for others in this way? Tragedy is great entertainment — other people's unhappiness is ripe stuff. Maybe you want to increase traffic to your blog, maybe you want more Twitter followers, maybe you want your Facebook friends paying attention to you. If you have something dramatic going on in your life you're going to get attention. On the other hand, is that the kind of attention you want?"
Though some may see Niedzviecki's perspective as coated with cynicism, it would probably be in your best interest to take a breath and deeply consider your approach if you do decide to go public. Dayna Steele, a social media trainer from Texas, advises people to carefully phrase your announcement.
"I would let my Facebook friends know I am in the job market, what it is I do, my expertise and what is I'm looking for," she says. "Then if someone asks, be transparent — you must tell the truth, that you were part of a layoff. But I don't see why you have to start with that."
Even Geoffrey Abraham, the guy who opposes people talking about layoffs on Facebook, announced his own layoff on his blog. So what's the difference?
Abraham contends that his update was written "with tongue planted firmly in cheek," giving him a pass.
He contends that a focused response is better than an all-out blast. "I did reach out to several people in my network individually," he says. "It's more personal and targeted."
And he says if you do put it out there on Facebook, "only go there once. After that, people just feel sorry for you. Which makes things awkward."