I started this post over a year ago, but I wasn't ready to finish it. The sting of my friend and mentor departing from the company was still too fresh.
It usually starts with a closed door and a whisper. "I'm leaving." "I've only told a few people." Of course, at this point, everyone in the office knows. These things never stay quiet for long.
How to Respond:
1. Be optimistic. People leave for a lot of reasons. Congratulations may not always be in order. Stick with well wishes and good luck.
2. Ask appropriate questions. While I'd never ask someone why they are leaving or if they have been let go, I typically take the opportunity to ask questions about their experience at the company and any advice they may have. Each person and each relationship is different, so it is best to gauge the situation to determine if these types of questions are appropriate at the time.
3. Don't gossip. If the person confides in you about the circumstances around their departure, keep it confidential. Just because the rumor mill is running doesn't mean you need to feed it.
4. Offer to stay in touch (and actually do it). If this is someone you've worked closely with, keep the line open. There may be future opportunities to help each other personally and professionally. A follow-up coffee or lunch once the person has had some time to settle can be a great way to stay connected.
When my mentor left, I was sad. She had taught me so much and helped integrate me into the culture at our company. She was also someone who was very highly regarded and did great work. Part of her departure left me feeling like, if someone like her didn't rise through the ranks in the company, what chance did I have? To compound my feelings, her departure meant that I became the only Black senior professional in my office. Yes, we had hardworking, knowledgeable Black support staff, but in terms of the people bringing in money and making decisions in my office, I was the only Black person (and I was relatively junior). Clearly, this wasn't an issue for me when I took the job. I knew the numbers before I started. However, being the only one comes with its own set of issues.
Feelings of sadness, confusion or even concern are natural when someone leaves your job. Are they leaving because of someone or something that could impact you? Is the company not doing as well as you think? Are you next? All valid questions. Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. A lot of the times, the support staff is more knowledgeable and willing to share than the higher-ups who want to keep these things under wraps. While I stand by point 3 above, I listen to every bit of gossip someone else offers. Hypocritical of me? Absolutely, but I believe it is necessary. Most corporate organizations are not known for their transparency. While I would never completely rely on gossip or spread anything I hear, it often gives me enough information to ask the right questions or get the information I need about the situation.
Another source of information and support may be a more senior person in the office who serves as a mentor or advisor for you. While you should never reveal all of your thoughts and feelings about a departure to even a trusted advisor, you can broach the subject of the departure (after the person has left) and see if they have any thoughts on it. Though the conversation may start on the topic of the person who left, bring the conversation back around to you and things you can do to continue to be effective and successful.
How do you handle corporate goodbyes? Have you had to say goodbye to a close friend or mentor at work?