Co-workers are like bubbles. They disappear from our lives quickly and completely.
I have a job with high turnover. People are perpetually on their way out.
Sometimes co-workers stop by my office to apologize after putting in their notice. They worry that they are letting the team down.
“Don’t apologize,” I always say. “Never feel guilty about leaving a job. This is your life, and you should absolutely do whatever you need to do to be happy.”
And I mean that wholeheartedly. But it doesn’t mean I want them to go.
I know our relationship will not survive outside of the office. Without this office our paths never would have crossed in the first place, and without it they are unlikely to ever again.
Because these are just my co-workers, after all. They don’t know me the way my family or friends do.
They just know how excited I was the first time I drove my new car to work. And when I got that really nasty cold. They know where I went hiking last weekend, and which friend is visiting me next weekend. They know which movies I’ve recently loved and hated. They know which kind of paperwork makes me want to stick a pencil through my ear and jump out the window. They are the people who notice and worry when I’m late. They’ve are invested in the ongoing saga of my mysterious carpet stain.
So really, in some ways, don’t they know me better than anyone?
Eight hours a day, five days a week. That’s more time than we spend with anybody else.
Often, co-workers don’t mention they are leaving until you get the email from HR announcing their resignation. You read it on your screen and gasp—sometimes silently, sometimes audibly. You realize that at some point, you became more attached than you’d realized. And now you will see them for ten more days, and then never again.
So what, in that situation, is one to do?
You pull yourself together. You walk over to their office and ask them what’s next and then you say Wow! Congratulations! That’s fantastic!
You do not say a lot of the things you are thinking. You do not say, “I can barely breathe at the thought of having to spend the rest of my time here without you.” You do not say, “I cannot believe you are leaving. You are the reason I’ve stayed.”
Instead, on the night before their last day, you bake cookies.
And you bring the cookies to their farewell potluck and you place them beside all the other plates of cookies that other people baked.
And you sit and you chat with all the other people who you will someday not know anymore. You have done this many times this year. When the emotion becomes uncomfortable, you go back to your office and close the door and bury yourself in paperwork.
At the end of the day, they stop by your office to say goodbye.
You smile sweetly and say something about looking forward to your paths crossing again in the future, even though you both know that they won’t. They seem to like that you say that, though. It makes things easier.
And after that, you simply say what is most expected.
And then you watch them go.