How to Cope When Your Coworker Leaves the Company

Jan 09, 2015 - Joe Matar
When people decide to leave their jobs, it can affect the people around them. Sometimes, those who are being left behind get annoyed, resentful and angry about the departure.

Why people resent the leavers

There are a few reasons that people get upset when their coworkers leave: (Click here to tweet this list.)

“I thought we were in this together!”

Often people cite loyalty as the reason for being upset, as the person leaving has gone their own way. Just because these people choose to remain in their job doesn’t mean the leaver has the same (or even similar) aspirations. It also pays to remember that everybody has different lives and commitments, so the loyalty argument doesn’t hold with different personal situations at play -- others may require more money, greater job satisfaction or work-life balance than you do.

“How am I going to do all this work?”

A knee-jerk reaction might be to feel overwhelmed and angry because there’s suddenly a gap in your team and nobody coming in who understands the work as well. Some people lash out in frustration, but this isn’t really the leaver’s problem -- it’s the responsibility of the leadership to fill any gaps and recruit suitable people.

“After all I’ve done for you.”

Sometimes leaders may feel they’ve helped an employee achieve their goals in their position and the employee owes them something. This situation can rear its head when an employee is leaving a good boss, as they can fall into the trap of thinking that their employee should be happy with their lot. But if your employee is leaving, remember that you’ve either taught them well enough to get another opportunity, or the situation isn’t as rosy for them as you think. This is where you might need to re-evaluate how you’re running your team to see whether you’re assessing the situation correctly.

The leaver found the courage they wish they had

Fear is one of the strongest emotions stopping people from making change -- sometimes colleagues would like to find a new opportunity, but they’re too scared to take the leap and feel safer keeping the status quo. This can manifest itself in resentment for the leaver.

Why you should support colleagues who choose to leave

Instead of fighting against the employee in their desire to leave, colleagues and leaders should provide support where possible. There are several good reasons for this:

The employee knows best

If the leaver thinks better opportunities are somewhere else, or is unhappy with their current situation, who are you to tell them they’re mistaken? Even if they are mistaken, they’re unlikely to realize it until months later. What you think is a “good” opportunity or career move may be completely different to your leaving colleague -- we’re all different and don’t have the same goals and aspirations.

Take an employee leaving as a time to re-evaluate

As a leader, when you hear your team member is leaving, take the opportunity to discuss the reasons for their change and gauge whether it’s a negative factor with their situation or a positive factor with their new situation. Being open and asking for honest feedback from the leaver can be helpful, but all too often, managers put the blinders on and ignore feedback from the “bitter and twisted” soon to be ex-employee.

Take the compliment

If you’re a leader and it turns out that your team member is going to a better opportunity with more pay, benefits or closer alignment with their goals, you could frame that as a positive outcome. As part of your team, they’ve improved themselves and learned new skills that have made them employable at the next level. Great managers realize that jobs are temporary and look to prepare their employees for the next opportunity. Framed in this way, an employee leaving can be a happy event, worthy of celebration.

Play the long game

Short-term thinking when a colleague leaves is likely to result in anger and feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work remaining. But leaders should make the effort to think longer term -- if they leave their employees with a positive experience as they leave the company, they may come back and work with them in the future, because they were somebody who gave them support at a time when they had made the tough decision to leave. The crux of this issue is it’s not all about you. It’s about your employee or coworker who decided to make a change and pursue another opportunity. Leave behind the feelings of hurt and abandonment and focus on making them feel good about the change they are about to undertake. Good luck! Ben Brearley is a career blogger, speaker, coach and consultant passionate about helping people get the careers they deserve and making positive change. Read his blog or follow @ucareerstrategy on Twitter.