Surviving an Employee’s Last Days

An employee’s departure from work comes in different ways. Regardless of reasons for exit, variables such as company culture, personalities, seasons and exit timing may affect the manner by which an exit plays out.

I’m reflecting on the final days at work as I had retired with months to spare. I’m also thinking back on things that I’ve seen happen in the course of 12 years at different companies, as I have seen other employees come and go.

I feel the need to review organizational behavior and the “ethos of exits,” as I would phrase it. There are palpable changes worth noting, and I want to write down my questions in an effort to make sense of them.

Why are there exits less or more painful than some? Retirees and employees resigning for various reasons, please help me process these things.

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How differently do people treat you when you no longer play a role in their corporate journey and ambitions?

When things are hectic at work, and you’re on your way out, who will pause to acknowledge the work you’ve done? And who will underscore the hard fact of everyone-is-dispensable in your waning days?

What will most people remember? The days, nights, years of hard work, or the last weeks of goodbye?

What type of people will make your departure easy, and what type of people will make it harder than it should be? How must you respond to both types?

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When you are no longer around, who speaks of you and what kind of tone is used with your name? How soon can you stop caring?

When you’re retiring, not leaving to join a competitor and have ample time to turn over, why would you still seem isolated from information and meetings? And how must you deal with how that happens faster than you’re ready for?

When your work and reputation are spoken of and whispered among those who don’t know, how hard or easy is it to ignore the need to respond?

When peers say they will be in touch, who are being sincere and who are paying lip service?

How can bosses and companies treat exiting employees with the right respect, fairness, dignity and yes please, empathy?

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Exit feelings are familiar to many. The most common feeling, I would assume, is being excited for the new adventure but sad to leave good memories behind. When the next opportunity is more promising and lucrative, anticipation can’t be denied.

But I know of retirees who experience a wider range of emotions when they realize the years (sometimes decades) are truly coming to an end. Every retiree faces the next stage subjectively.

There are people I know whose departure is involuntary, and I’m sure the feelings will be very different from the feelings of people who choose to leave: perhaps resentment, anger, worry, maybe even regret, to name a few.

In my case, as I retire from my work, I note that despite the fact that this is not the first time I’m leaving a company, it still feels new each time. Curiously, even as I marvel at how adept I have become with departures, I realize that these things are never the same.

I’m observing the people from my past and my present. There are people I worked with who I never thought would play a role in my future, but they did. There are so many people who have seen my work and would later be in touch for reasons that warm my heart. There is a number of friends I made that would endure the distance and changes, and when this happens, it is always something to smile about. So much of our heart is poured into the work we do, after all.

Reversely, and this is something that comes to mind today: there are people whose friendships seem to end with the tenure, as if there was never a friendship to begin with.

The sad reality is that we may try to affect as much of it as we can, but people’s behaviors and personalities cannot be fully reined in. What we need to do: make sense of what’s happening, learn from everything, and move on.

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I will not advise myself or anyone to succumb to negative emotions when exits are not as easy as hoped. There are conversations that I will normally make in order to fix things, and I’m all for these. However, when efforts are not reciprocated or fairly received, my own personal solution is silent acceptance. Any unreasonable difficulty is an opportunity to firmly cement the conviction to turn a new leaf.

To any young employee about to embark on a corporate journey, remember these things on your final days. Deliver all that you must. Ensure a complete and formal turnover. Be transparent about the issues and challenges. Help out the team as much as you still can. Hope for the best, but don’t be surprised when things are not as easy as they should be.

Keep your values and self-respect strong. When people make it difficult, try not to be aggravated. Focus on what lies ahead. 

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Ultimately, we decide what to do with our careers and our lives. We stand by our decision and get the most that we can get from the present.

I don’t know it all. I still need a Survival Guide for Difficult Exits.

To anyone who ever has to endure a bad exit, I hope the next chapter for you is like mine: at least 10 times brighter, bigger and happier. The unease of today is temporary. It will pass.

So head up, smile in lieu of words, and carry on.  

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