How to Handle a Coworker Leaving (With Instructions)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published July 24, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When a team member leaves an organization, it can cause issues with workflow and require the team to take action to ensure a smooth transition. If you handle the departure appropriately, you can foster a strong team culture, maintain a relationship with the departed colleague, and transition responsibilities to a new team member. Learning how to handle a coworker leaving can help you understand the importance of actively managing this transition. In this article, we explain what a colleague leaving involves, share instructions on how to handle their exit, and provide tips for dealing with the departure.

What does a colleague's departure involve?

A colleague leaving refers to a team member departing the organization where you both work. This can refer to an individual moving to a new role at another company, a departure due to staffing economies, or a change to a new location or position in the company. The situation can vary depending on your position within the organization, the departing colleague's responsibilities, and organizational policies for dealing with staff changes.

Departure from an organization can take time. Many individuals announce their departure weeks before they leave so the business can prepare to transition. This period can be useful for training a replacement, finishing projects, and preparing a farewell for your team member. Successfully handling a departure can help you maintain a relationship with your former colleague, which can be useful for networking. It can also allow the team to continue working without interruption and can help you demonstrate how you value each member's work.

How to handle a coworker leaving

The way you consider how to handle a coworker leaving can vary depending on the reason for the departure, your relationship with your colleague, and the industry you work in. Here are steps to follow to help you handle a team member leaving:

1. Understand the situation

When you discover that a colleague is leaving the organization, try to learn about the situation to help guide your next steps. Some important factors that may affect your actions are the reason for the departure, the length of time they worked in the organization, their seniority, job responsibilities, and your personal relationship. If you have a strong relationship with your departing colleague, they might discuss the situation with you and you might decide to take a more active role in assisting them. If you don't know them well, you might take a more formal approach to the departure.

2. Take direction from management

Many businesses have protocols for managing the departure of an employee. HR departments often set policies and procedures for this, from the day of the departure to any planned celebrations. Watch for e-mails from management that can give you insight into the situation. Try to follow any instructions and stay within the HR guidelines for your workplace. You can look for opportunities to provide support with training new staff or organizing a farewell party. Collaborating with other team members can help make a colleague's departure easier.

3. Transfer responsibilities

When a colleague leaves, it can disrupt a team's normal workflow. Depending on your position within the organization, you can help with the transition by assessing the departing colleague's responsibilities and deciding how to reassign tasks. Try to identify their key skills and responsibilities and look for other qualified team members who can take over their work. Sometimes, it can be necessary for an organization to hire new team members when staff leave or for existing employees to fill the role.

Related: What is Succession Management? (With Benefits and Tips)

4. Complete projects

Try to finish any projects involving the departing colleague and ensure that they complete all important tasks before their departure date. It can be easier for a new team member to start work on new projects rather than complete the departing colleague's work. Identify key tasks for the departing employee to complete in their final days with the organization. You can take advantage of their strengths and abilities and ease new team members in gradually with working to deadlines.

Related: 11 Tasks to Complete on Your Last Day at Work (With Tips)

5. Consider training

If it's appropriate for the organization you work for, consider allowing the departing colleague to train someone to fill their role. Team members that work in a specific area often have unique insights into their work and can save other members much effort by sharing their knowledge. Training can take many forms, from demonstrating their work processes to other team members to compiling explanatory documents to help new team members understand their work.

6. Draft a farewell message

Writing a farewell message to a departing team member can show that you appreciate their contributions and can help you build your network. The content of the message can vary depending on your relationship and the nature of your work. If you're close to the departing colleague, you can let them know how they helped you at work and how much you enjoyed working with them. Writing a farewell message can make a departing colleague feel appreciated and can be useful if you decide to contact them in the future.

Related: How to Write a Goodbye E-mail to Coworkers (With Examples)

7. Consider a celebration

Holding a celebration for a departing team member can help strengthen organizational culture and boost morale within a team. This is also an excellent way to show appreciation for the colleague's contributions. Try to organize an occasion that you think the departing colleague can enjoy. You can customize it to their interests or ask them in an e-mail what they might choose to do. A celebration can be a small gathering in the break room with cake and refreshments, or it can involve a trip to a restaurant or other location.

Related: 30 Ways to Say "It Was a Pleasure Working with You"

8. Ensure security

It's important to be mindful of security measures when a team member leaves the organization. Many businesses have protocols in place to handle employee departures. They might collect electronic devices, change physical locks or computer passwords, or take other measures to ensure the integrity of company property. Most of these measures are a formality, but it's important to think about protecting the business in case of unexpected actions from the departing colleague.

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9. Keep in contact

After the departure, consider further communication with your colleague. If you were close as team members, remaining in contact after their departure can show that you value the relationship and hope to continue it. Staying in contact with departed colleagues can help you expand your network and learn about other possibilities in your area of work.

Tips for handling a departure

When a colleague leaves an organization, there are many factors to consider to ensure a smooth departure. Here are some tips for handling the team member's exit:

Be adaptive

Attempt to adapt your response according to the nature of the situation and your position within the organization. If you manage a team, you might take on more responsibility for helping the departing team member finish important tasks and supervising training. If you're close to your departing colleague, you might take responsibility for organizing the farewell party.

Use empathy

Use empathy and think about effective ways to connect with your departing colleague and show appreciation. Try to consider gestures they might appreciate and make their last days in the organization agreeable. If your colleague is more introverted, they might appreciate a small, informal farewell party or an e-mail message. Other colleagues might enjoy a larger gathering or the presentation of a departure gift.

Collaborate

Liaise with other team members to help handle a colleague's departure and plan any farewell gatherings. Working with others can help you ensure everyone on the team understands how the group dynamic can change after the departure. Collaborating to plan a farewell party allows all participants to select a time and activity that suits them.

Develop protocols

Consider developing protocols within your team to manage a colleague's departure. If you have a system in place, it can make it easier to transition responsibilities, help them complete projects, and show appreciation for their work. Many organizations already have protocols in place for departures, so try to learn as much as you can by reading HR documentation.

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