Saying goodbye is never easy. Even when it’s for a good reason, like a coworker moving on to a new job, retiring from the company, or simply moving away from the area, it’s still difficult to figure out what to say. How do you thank someone for their time at a company? And how do you convey how much you’ll miss having them around at work?
And then there’s having to say goodbye when the coworker may not be leaving under the best terms; situations when they’re let go, laid off, or in some other way made to leave before they’re ready, what do you say or do in that situation that doesn’t make it worse or even more awkward?
Saying goodbye to a coworker, no matter what type of circumstances they’re leaving under, is an important thing for both you and the person leaving. It shows you care and appreciated what they did and can leave the person with a positive feeling and memory of what they’re leaving behind.
We’re here to do the best we can to help make it as painless as possible. Let’s discuss which types of farewells to write or say in cards, speeches, or even lunches/events that you can plan for that day.
Before we get into what you should say or do for a coworker who is leaving on good terms, it’s important to know the personality of that co-worker. This way, you can have a goodbye that fits their likes and honors their time at the company. No two employees and the way they take compliments or gratitude when they’re leaving are going to be the same, so adjust accordingly.
If you have coworker who was primarily quiet and kept to themselves, it’s probably not the best idea to go full Michael Scott and have an all-out party for them where they’re the center of attention the entire day.
Instead, maybe the boss gives a brief speech near the end of the day about the contributions they made, and everyone can sign a card or note with their well-wishes inside. This is a simple, quick, and easy way to show your appreciation for their contributions without making it a massive deal and forcing them to be uncomfortable by being front and center all day. However, if the person is retiring, you should turn up the fun a little more with them. After all, a person retiring for good is reason to celebrate!
This person was always there to talk when you were both at the water cooler (it’s a thing, we have one at BSS), or they were constantly sharing fun or interesting remarks in your department’s group chat. If it’s possible to have a life of the party at work, it’s this person.
This personality means you can have a little more fun with them (even, maybe, at their expense) when they leave the company. You can throw a party with food where everyone shows up, says a little something about the person, and maybe even makes jokes about why they’re leaving. Heck, you can even make them say a little something about their time in the office if you want, as long as they’re not the shy type. You could play games, do cake, whatever your office is willing to allow, this person should be happy to play along with it. And it also may help making saying goodbye a little easier for everyone in the office.
If you’re the type who has a hard time publicly expressing your gratitude or appreciation for a person, there are a number of ways you can still share your thoughts or thank them in private. If you have their personal email, you can absolutely email them privately saying how much you’ll miss them and thanking them for all they did in the office. Or you can get them a small gift, maybe something that was an inside joke or reference between the two of you if you were particularly close to that coworker who is leaving.
If you’re not sure what to say, short and simple is best. Here is a good cheat sheet for things you can say to someone who is leaving on good terms, but feel free to speak from the heart and add a personal touch to whatever it is you do end up saying.
Things that never go out of style include the usual options:
“We’ll miss having you around the office!”
“Good luck with future projects!”
“Things won’t be the same without you.”
These are great little things to put in a card that everyone signs where space is tight, or are good starters for if you send a private email or text to lead into your thoughts or memories with that person. You don’t have to be some amazing writer or speaker to offer a thoughtful goodbye to a person, and again, it’s often best to just go with the most simple and direct way to thank them.
Regardless, it’s the thought that counts and that alone will be greatly appreciated by the person who is leaving.
Let’s be honest: there really aren’t a lot of great things you can say to a coworker who has just been fired, and frankly, there aren’t a lot of things they want to hear. But you should still say something, because not saying anything can make things even more awkward.
Yes, someone getting let go instantly becomes the giant elephant in the room, so it may not be the best thing to say something right away while they’re still in the office. But much like when a coworker leaves on good terms, you can still say something in private, either in an email, a text, or a phone call.
And again, much like when a coworker leaves on good terms, the best thing to do is say something simple like, “I’m sorry to hear about what happened,” or, “If you need anything, I just wanted to let you know I’m here to help.” Try to avoid things that turn it into a positive like, “It’s for the best, and you’ll find something better,” because in the moment, someone who has lost a job does not want to hear that and probably isn’t thinking about those things.
And if they do want to talk, it’s also probably not a good for you to badmouth the person responsible for the firing or the company as a whole. After all, you still work there, and if it were to get back to higher ups that you were speaking ill of them or the company, you may end up in trouble. Again, keep it simple and stick to statements offering support or condolences.
Also be warned that while you may reach out and offer your condolences or support, the person may not respond. That’s okay; it’s not the easiest thing to talk about and may not be something they even want to discuss, so don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back from them.
Saying goodbye can be one of the hardest and most awkward things you have to do at work but it’s an important thing to do to show your support for your colleagues. By using some of the tips and advice above, hopefully it becomes a little easier or a little less sad, no matter what the circumstances are for a person leaving.
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