How to Deal with Missing your Work Buddy when they Leave

Posted by martin.parnell |

According to an article on the Human Resources Director website, (May2014) the average working Canadian spends 1,702 hours at work per year. That’s a lot of time. In fact, it’s probably more than the time spent with your family or closest friends. 

When you think about it, if you spend that much time with your work colleagues, its little wonder that you build up close relationships.  We’ve all had that person who we usually spend our coffee and lunch breaks with, who we tend to sit next to at meetings, and share details of our out –of-work activities with, like what we did at the weekend etc. 

So, what happens if one of your closest working buddies decides to leave? 

It is a question addressed in an article I found whilst browsing through an old copy of Rotarian magazine (February 2016). In it, Steve Almond describes a situation where he had an unpleasant encounter with his best friend, a guy whom he had worked with for years and who was also his editor and mentor. During a business meeting the person directed a harsh diatribe at Almond, who couldn’t understand why this so-called friend was trying to humiliate him. It was totally unprovoked and out of character. 

After some time, Almond came to the conclusion that the real reason for his friend and colleague’s true source of anger: “ A few days before that meeting, I had told him I was leaving, to return to graduate school” and he felt that the rebuke was “a punishment for a personal betrayal.” 

As a result, Almond asked people whether they had experienced anything similar.  His friend, Jen told him that when one of her friends left their office, it left her feeling unexpectedly bereft: “I was depressed for a month. There’s this huge void. You feel it every day, every time you go to lunch without them, every time you look at their desk and there’s this stranger sitting there.” 

Our colleagues can become close friends and confidents. They come to know all our little foibles and idiosyncrasies and we get to understand theirs. Not only will they be able to understand the pressures you face at work, but they will know about your family and might be aware of problems you may have in your personal life and be a shoulder to cry on. 

Is it any wonder then that, if they should leave, they will be terribly missed? You may be required to step into their position or take on an extra workload. You will most likely have to adapt to working with their replacement. This is a time of significant change. But, bear in mind it’s not only for you, but for them as well. If their decision to leave is sudden and they had not made you aware, it can be even more upsetting. Try to remember, there is obviously a reason as to why your friend has decided to leave. It may be something beyond their control. 

Whatever the reason, whether it be due to personal circumstances, a promotion or they need a challenge, be supportive. If congratulations are in order, make sure you show that you are happy for them. If they are not moving away, make a firm commitment to stay in touch. Make a date to meet for lunch, in the near future. If they are going to a new job, this is a stressful time for them, too. Even retirement, despite something most people look forward to, can produce its own challenges. 

Try to stay positive. This, in some ways, is a new beginning for you, too. It may be an opportunity to make a new friend, spend more time with other colleagues and get to know them better. With a new person coming in, your experience will be valuable to them and your team. It might even make you think about your circumstances and ask yourself if you might be ready for a change. 

There is no guarantee that the people we connect with so well at work are always going to be there. Just enjoy their friendship, but as all things in life, be prepared to adapt if the situation should change.

Be glad of your friendship, make an effort to maintain it and know that your friend is going to miss you, too!

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