How to Handle the Heartbreak of a Close Colleague Leaving

Friendships at work are weird. They’re wonderful but weird. You see your work friends five days a week for hours on end—day in, day out, week after week, month after month, year after year. Your working day is bookended with their cheery ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. Each Friday, you run each other through your weekend itinerary, and then Monday is spent mutually moaning about it being over. Mondayitis much? Yes. And it doesn’t stop there.

You and your work friends will go to lunch together regularly, sit in long and tedious management meetings, chatter at work events, make coffee and teas for one another, and support each other through stressful periods. You’ll likely get to know a fair bit about their personal lives, too: their partner, their kids, career aspirations, and holiday plans. You’ll quickly notice subtle changes in their mood, hair, weight, wardrobe, energy levels, motivation, and performance. Yes, they’ll keep tabs on you, too.

It goes even deeper than that. They are often the only ones who understand your day-to-day pressures; they share the same boss and internal frustrations. They are often your sounding boards and pillars of strength when staying motivated. You can even watch TV series in sync to talk about them the next day. Everything is great, and then suddenly, just like that, someone tells you they’ve got a new job. They’ve just resigned, and that’s it. They leave. No more Grey’s Anatomy gossip, no more work best friend. How on earth are you supposed to move forward from something like this?

Here’s what you have to do to get through:

Be positive and congratulatory

It shouldn’t feel personal, but often it does. You can feel upset, but you must be positive for your colleague. Moving jobs can be a hugely stressful and emotional process, but deciding to resign is a big thing, so it’s essential to be happy and excited for them. Your colleague has likely been offered more money, a promotion, or a role they’ve wanted for a long time. Even if you feel they’re making a colossal mistake or can’t help but worry about the repercussions of them leaving, it’s crucial to stay professional and not let your emotions get in the way of congratulating them.

Take a break to collect your thoughts

I’m not suggesting doing a Houdini as soon as they tell you their news, but once the excitement of the announcement has died down, take yourself out for a quick coffee or a walk in the fresh air. Try to work through what this means logically – it’s not the end of the world. Will it mean more work for you? If it does, know it will be short-lived until a replacement is found. Will you be alone and bored all day? Maybe for a bit, but only until you make new friends. You’ll be okay.

Start the handover process early

There’s nothing worse than having to deal with something you aren’t aware of or informed about. If you’re the one who will have to look after their work when they leave, do an in-depth handover with them so you’re not left in the lurch when they go. Failing to do this might make you resent them once they’re gone, which will undo so many great friendships. In-depth handovers will also help you view their departure in a professional mindset, getting straight down to business.

Reflect on your career

Are you sad because they’re going, or because you have to stay? Your work friends shouldn’t be the only things keeping you in your current job. Sometimes, it takes an excellent colleague to leave for you to realize that you wish that was you and that, indeed, you should be next. Conversely, are you ready to step up now and perhaps take on more responsibility internally? Does their leaving present an excellent opportunity for you to shine? Use your colleague’s departure as a positive inspiration to move forward in your career in some way.

Widen your internal network

When one door closes, another one opens. Try not to wallow in self-pity when your workmate leaves – instead, introduce yourself to new people within your company. Start going to after-work drinks again, or get involved with the company’s charity initiatives. Put yourself out there so you can find new friends. If you’re feeling quite alone in the absence of your work friend, try talking to your boss about it. Maybe you need to make some new hires. Or maybe you can have some input into hiring their replacement?

Avoid gossiping

When people leave the workplace, often others feel the need to talk about it. It’s only natural, and when you’re in a big company, sometimes people embellish things and create drama by repeating non-confirmed rumors or speculating about why they really left. Sometimes, it’s like the floodgates open, and people feel the need to bring up that person’s history, analyzing their work – basically pulling them apart. Don’t get involved. Stay loyal and stay positive. After all, they’re not even there to defend themselves.

Listen to music

Music can lift even the lowest of spirits. When your colleague leaves, it might feel hushed. Without them next to you, talking to you, and bouncing ideas off you, you might feel a little blue and anxious. Why not try popping your headphones in for a few hours to fill the silence? Perhaps avoid James Blunt songs (particularly Goodbye My Lover, and it’s best to save Adele’s Someone Like You for another time as well).

Book a farewell lunch and keep in touch

Remember to keep in touch with your colleague—it doesn’t have to be the end. You might even become better friends when you remove work from the equation. Book a farewell lunch so you can have one last fun memory with them at work, and make sure you make an effort to check in with them when they start their new role. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

By Phoebe Spinks

Account Executive at Link Humans, download our 12 Essentials of Employer Branding eBook now.