SOME unemployed people in my local area recently received some jarring news: their outplacement counselor had been outplaced.
Yes, the very person assigned to help them find a job was now out of a job, too. His firm, one of the largest outplacement service providers in the nation, was cutting back its staff.
Seeing your outplacement counselor be laid off has to be disheartening. It's like learning that your marriage counselor is getting a divorce, or seeing that your personal trainer has developed a weight problem.
It's just one example of confidence-rattling developments in the job market that make the unemployed question whether they will ever find the light at the end of the tunnel, whether there's anybody left out there who can help.
Because the ranks of the unemployed, the underemployed and the "so discouraged I've stopped looking" are still swollen from the Great Recession, we should all be asking ourselves this question: What can we do to help them?
The sad fact is that we -- and the companies we work for -- don't do enough.
Many recruiters and hiring managers are reluctant to hire those who are out of work, particularly the long-term unemployed, viewing them as damaged goods. The bias is so pronounced that some states are considering legislation to prohibit such discrimination.
It's not just employers who are at fault. Ask unemployed friends or family members how often their calls and e-mails to networking contacts go unanswered. Ask how often those contacts, when they do respond, follow through on their promises. From the answers, you'll begin to see how the jobless are ignored on many fronts.
Those who shun the unemployed seem to view such interaction as an act of charity. As a result, they are less inclined to make room in their schedules, and in their thoughts, for them. But that logic is flawed -- because people remember those who have helped them in time of need.
It's something that successful companies have long known: when you evoke positive feelings in people or mitigate negative ones, you create the kind of emotional engagement that underlies most any type of loyalty, whether to a brand or to a person.
Unemployment is a time of stress, uncertainty and worry. When you're in a position of such vulnerability, and someone extends a hand to you, it's a moment you never forget. It stirs emotion, cements relationships and creates a debt of gratitude that would make any marketer or networker envious. And that debt of gratitude translates into real business value.
For companies that hire the unemployed, it means bringing people aboard who are already motivated to give back. These workers truly appreciate the value of a job and are committed to performing for the business that throws them a lifeline.
For people who assist the unemployed, it means forging a business relationship that's far stronger, more genuine and lasting than the superficial connections that comprise most people's professional networks. These contacts can prove beneficial to you in the future -- for gaining access to new business opportunities, for overcoming your own possible bout with unemployment or for other challenges that you may encounter.
BUT short of hiring the unemployed, how can you personally help? Given the treatment they are used to receiving from employers and others, the bar is very low.
Start by responding when they seek your guidance. Call or e-mail them back promptly. Spend 15 minutes critiquing their résumé, providing feedback on their "elevator pitch" or strategizing about their job search. In short, give them your time.
To take it a step further, consider introducing them to one of your business contacts, someone with a professional background or a current role that may be helpful.
Finally, check back periodically to see how they are faring and what more you can do to help with their search. Unemployment can be a lonely place. A quick call or e-mail goes a long way.
We would hope that altruistic motivations alone would inspire people to help the jobless. But those who seek something in return should know that such assistance is more than a charitable exercise. It is smart business, too.
Jon Picoult is founder and principal of Watermark Consulting in Simsbury, Conn.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.