Everyone has a last day at work

I realized last year that I’m in the top 10% in terms of longevity at my company. I literally was able to name every person who has been there longer (that list has since shrunk by one).

I think about that fairly often. I was also reminded recently about how many people have come through the doors since I started nearly nine years ago — roughly 200, and probably more than that now.

This isn’t a post about retention or lack thereof. It’s a post about how no matter what you do, the best possible outcome is that people stay at an organization for as long as it makes sense. and then they leave.

People leave. It’s just what happens. You hope that they don’t leave because they’re terrible, or that they are treated terribly, or that they could have thrived but weren’t allowed to, but even when you do all that, people get a better offer or move away or change careers or start their own company. Or they retire. The awful truth is that, occasionally, they die.

I’ve stayed so long, I hope, because I’ve found something that is the best fit for me and where I can do the most good, with a decent wage, and where the inevitable problems of the workplace aren’t overwhelming. But that’s my story, and not everyone else’s.

I write or edit about leadership every day. One underrated component of leadership is that you are helping people succeed. Ideally, that’s in conjunction with your goals or your organization’s aims, but that’s not a requirement. Sometimes, you help by helping them move on.

I’ve had to learn this lesson, starting more than a decade ago when a co-worker left for what I thought was a poor reason. I’m glad I’ve grown up a bit since then, realizing that I could sulk or I could be supportive.

Being supportive can be a quiet, passive action — shutting your mouth other than wishing good luck — or it can be active. Maybe it’s listening to a co-worker talk about their career path. It could be making an introduction or providing a reference, but not always. Sometimes it’s as simple as reminding someone you know that you value them as a person, and that value also makes them a good hire.

My advice or insight might not affect their decision, but what if it does? How can I not take that responsibility seriously?

This doesn’t mean you try to get people to leave or that you try to wedge yourself into their lives. Helping people find the career for them isn’t an opportunity for you to feel like a kingmaker.

I try to not get involved — I am there to help, but I don’t want to presume I have the answers. If anything, I want to ask questions, like, “What do you want to be doing?” “What does your ideal job look like?” (I’m not sure I am great at asking these, but I want to) Being helpful here is helping someone discover the answers, not providing them.

Over the years, I think I’ve helped a number of people grow and advance at my company (and stay when they might not have). I think I’ve helped people outside work find new and better jobs. I’ve also tried to make sure co-workers who’ve left know they are still important to me, that working together isn’t the only measure of a relationship.

After all, someday I’ll be gone, one way or another, and I’ll need people outside work to talk to.


2 thoughts on “Everyone has a last day at work

  1. Okay, having left a tangential comment on Twitter, I’ll try for “on-topic” now. Your post has an angle that should be addressed more frequently; it is more common (in my reading at least) for the front end of the process to be dissected, or various points on a career path. I think I was the sixth full-time hire at Healthy Kids. Fast forward to my departure almost 20 years later. We had been through many employees by then. We had been through two Executive Directors and were on an interim. I had the most longevity of anyone in the organization among the veterans still working there. I had what was in retrospect the closure-enhancing benefit of choosing to leave, to give notice, to have a farewell event. As the leadership situation changed after that, people I had served with for decades were essentially put into “your services are no longer needed” status (which was allowed — it was an at-will employer — but still made for an entirely different and more emotionally jarring exit scenario). With that organization, what began as an $80,000 Robert Wood Johnson grant turned into a multi-billion dollar program grandfathered in as an example of a major federal model for children’s health insurance. Riding the waves of such big organizational changes really demands that the leader at the top set the tone and make professional growth/development a priority. Meaning …… in addition to all the insights you shared, sometimes organizations change so drastically that someone who would otherwise be a good fit ceases to be in the best position to share their strengths (and improve on their areas in need of development). I enjoyed this piece and it gave me plenty of food for thought. (And I’ll try not to double-enter my comment this time!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Paula! Super-late in replying. And, yes, I agree with your sentiment all around. Offboarding isn’t considered nearly as much — to the point where, frankly, we have a much better checklist for onboarding than offboarding, as I discovered this time 🙂


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