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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

5 Stages You Go Through When Your Work BFF Quits—and How to Survive Each One

So you just heard the news: Your colleague’s leaving. Even if you were expecting this announcement, it’s easy to get caught up in a roller coaster of emotions during this time. After all, not only could your workload and responsibilities be changing, but you could be losing someone very close to you. In fact, you could even be wondering how you’ll get through a workday without this person by your side. (The person you talk about so much on the weekends that your friends get jealous.)

Such changes aren’t ever easy, no matter how many times they happen. But take it from someone who just lost her own close work buddy—you can power through this rough patch and come out refreshed and ready to take on new challenges. Hey, it might even work out in your favor.

But, before you get to the light at the end of the tunnel, you have to get through the tunnel.

Here’s what to expect:

Stage 1: Reflection

Unless you were privy to your colleague’s secret plans, chances are you were caught off-guard by her sudden announcement. You might be asking yourself, “Is this really happening?” After all, this person has been part of your daily life for a long time. Remember that it’s perfectly normal to feel this initial shock and to get a little emotional.

But also remember that you’re not the only one who needs to digest this news. Everyone who works with this person is going through the same thing you are right now—especially your boss. And, your co-worker may be feeling a bit bittersweet as well; don’t make her second guess her decision by making this about you. Daily business operations still need to go on, so remember to stay professional and not let yourself spend the the next few days moping.

Stage 2: Genuine Enthusiasm

Once you get over your initial shock, you’ll kick into friend mode. You’re genuinely happy for your colleague—he’s worked so hard and deserves this new opportunity! You may find yourself organizing some extra lunches or happy hours, or maybe you’ll take up a collection for a farewell gift. Regardless of how you celebrate, you’ll be overcome with the feeling that you need to celebrate this person’s contributions—your monthly budget be damned.

Stage 3: Stress

Sure, you’re happy for your colleague, but as soon as the reality sets in (and the two-week notice period dwindles down), panic and stress will probably start to set in. In my case, there were so many things that my colleague knew that I didn’t; after all, he’d been with the company for 15 years compared to my two. How was I going to absorb all his tribal knowledge? Being in IT, a lot of people depended on my expertise—how would I ever going to answer all their questions? My time to get any and all of this answered was closing in, and I had to act fast. Which led me to…

Stage 4: Motivation and Action

Faced with all those open questions, worry, and stress, I knew there was only way to help alleviate it: Take action. My lack of time (again, only two weeks!) was a very strong motivator.

I immediately jumped into learning and organizing mode. I diligently scheduled knowledge transfer meetings and set specific objectives for each one. I sat and wrote down all those little nagging questions I’ve always wondered about, and I made sure I got answers to as many as possible. If you’re close, you can go ahead and throw in a few honest ones, too (e.g., Why are you really leaving?). I knew I was never going to learn enough to cover every possible situation, but I sure felt better knowing I had asked the tough questions and then documented the responses.

Stage 5: Contentment

When your colleague’s last day arrives, you’ll likely still have some mixed emotions; it’s never easy saying goodbye to someone close to you. But since you turned your fears into action and came up with a plan, you should be feeling pretty good. You made it through this hectic time, and you’re back to feeling happy for the person leaving. Sure, this may mean some extra hours and stress for a while, but it also means you have the chance for new responsibilities. And new responsibilities mean new opportunities for you.

When I reflect back on the last six months, I see a lot of logged hours. But I also see that those hours were filled with valuable learning opportunities. If my colleague hadn’t left, perhaps my knowledge wouldn’t have grown quite as much. As it turned out, I surprised myself by learning, doing, and leading much more than I had in the past—and that is true workplace contentment.

Plus, now when I grab drinks with my former co-worker, we’re not just rehashing the day, but instead actually talking about things that occur outside the office walls.

Photo of woman waving bye courtesy of Shutterstock.