New Job? Here’s How to Say Goodbye to Colleagues.
Back in 2018, Sara Ortins was working for a company that was acquired. Ortins had been director of HR; while her team went to the new company after the acquisition, she did not. “It felt like a departure,” said Ortins, explaining that, after the bustle of the acquisition was over, she felt “a bit unsettled” about the situation.
She had started her HR career at the company and, over a decade, built a team she cared for and was proud of. The unsettled feeling came after realizing she didn’t have a chance to thank her team and properly hand them over to the new HR director.
To calm that unsettled feeling, Ortins wrote a farewell note of thanks to her team and copied the new director. “I was really saying, ‘please take care of these good people,’” said Ortins, now chief of staff at Boston-based edtech firm NimblyWise. “We all want a bit of closure when we have transitions,” she said. “The note was a way to move on in a way that felt meaningful.”
8 Tips for Writing a Farewell Message
- Be positive.
- Be authentic.
- Express gratitude.
- Keep it short — three paragraphs max.
- Send a logistics email (who to contact after you leave) a few days before your last day.
- Send a more personal note the day before or of your departure.
- Consider separate notes for mentors, your boss, and other key people.
- Have a trusted person review your note if you’re having doubts about its content.
Fewer tools can ensure a graceful departure from a company — voluntary or even, in some cases, involuntary — than a thoughtful goodbye letter, appropriate in 99 percent of all departure scenarios. (Getting fired for egregious or criminal behavior comprises the other 1 percent.)
Taking time to pen a few lines of gratitude seems a small gesture, but it can have a big impact. “It not only leaves a lasting impression, it’s also a huge way to continue to stay in touch with your colleagues,” Ortins said. “These folks likely will show up again in your life professionally in some way. And they can be of huge value to you as you grow your career.”
When composing your note, be real, be grateful, be brief, and follow these tips from Ortins and other professionals.
The Fine Print of a Farewell Message
When you accept a new job, the first person to know needs to be your supervisor, and they need to be told in person, not via email. After that, HR might want to convey your departure to staff or vet your thank you note.
And that’s if you’ve left voluntarily. Laid off or fired employees might have fewer options for saying goodbye, one practical reason being that their access to company email might be shut off in those circumstances. Your employers’ HR department might want to vet your note or even send one on your behalf, Ortins said.
“HR is sometimes put in tough positions because it has to balance multiple stakeholders,” she said. Terminated employees who can’t send a note to colleagues might consider conveying the news via a professional social media platform to say goodbye.
Who Should Get a Farewell Message?
If you’re leaving voluntarily, definitely send a note to your peers, expressing thanks for your time together and including a way to contact you in the future. Give them your personal email or phone number, not your future work email. “You don’t want to present a conflict of interest or make it seem as if you’re going to poach people,” said Kyle Elliott, a Santa Barbara, California-based career coach.
Consider an assortment of notes, perhaps one for your boss, one for your team and one for external colleagues. All should be authentic, convey gratitude and be short — three paragraphs at the very most. “You want people to read the note,” Elliott said.
Elliott and Ortins suggest email as the best way to send a thank you note. Handwritten notes, while lovely, “aren’t the way people communicate in the workplace,” Ortins said. That said, a handwritten note to a mentor or otherwise meaningful person could demonstrate a higher level of gratitude (not to mention style).
What Should It Say?
Ann Marie Sabath, president of At Ease, a corporate etiquette training firm, suggests a brief note that follows this template:
“During the past five years, I have had the pleasure of being part of the XYZ organization. During this time, I have interacted with many wonderful individuals like you. Effective tomorrow, my colleague, Mary Smith, will be assuming my responsibilities. I hope you will enjoy working with her as much as I have. If you would like to stay in touch on a personal basis, my email is....”
It can be as simple as that.
Kyle Elliott suggested that tech professionals higher on the management ladder consider two notes. The first, sent a few weeks before departure, details logistics and information on your job transition — who will handle which of your responsibilities and how to reach those people. The second note, more personal in nature, can be delivered a day or two before your last day. If you do decide to write different notes to different people, personalize them. Point out specific instances where someone has been instrumental in your growth, has mentored you, or has gone above and beyond to help you in your career.
What Should It Not Say?
Memorable (in a good way) farewell notes express gratitude, offer reflections on time spent at the company and a way for soon-to-be former colleagues to stay in touch. The worst ones seethe with rancor or snark or passive-aggressively try to settle a score. “I’ve had people say, ‘well, I’m going to sit down, and I’m going to let them know how much work I did or how I was overlooked,’” said Ortins, who at the behest of colleagues has reviewed many farewell notes. “It is absolutely 100 percent never the place to do that,” she said.
Resist the urge to depart on a negative note, even if the job was a nightmare. Resist the urge to be nasty, even if it’s (in your opinion) subtle or cloaked in humor. Your soon-to-be former coworkers can and will read between the lines and draw their own conclusions. “People forget you only get one chance to make a final impression,” Elliott said. “It’s important that you control the message.”
What If You Hated the Job?
Let’s say the job was a nightmare and you’d really rather not write a note. Write it anyway, and while doing so seize the opportunity for a little self reflection. “Is it that you didn’t enjoy the work, or that you didn’t develop strong relationships?” Ortin said. “Make sure that when you move into your next role, it’s something that is meaningful work that you feel passionate about, and it matches your skills,” she said. “I think it’s a sign when people have a hard time writing a note that something in the position wasn’t quite right for them.”
If you’ve written a draft and have even slight doubts about how it will be perceived, “put the brakes on it,” Ortin said, or at least ask a trusted person to review it. “It shouldn’t be a love letter or a hate letter or last words,” she said. “The last thing you want to do is burn bridges.”