Eventually, we all leave one employer and move on to something new. It’s the circle of life.

However, when it’s a colleague who’s leaving—especially one you value and respect—discovering that she’s hunting for a new gig can be conflicting to say the least. You want her to stay, but at the same time you recognize she’s talented and may have great opportunities waiting for her. What do you do? Here are a few suggestions.


Pretend It’s You

If you really appreciate your colleague, then give her the respect and consideration you’d hope for if you were in her shoes. Would you want anyone who suspected you were looking around to blab it to your manager? Probably not. And you definitely don’t want anyone churning up the rumor mill every time you dress up a little bit for work and take a long lunch. (Although, to be fair, that’s a dead giveaway.)

So what would you want? A few years ago, I was in this position, and I was terrified that someone would find out I was interviewing. Although I was ready to move on, I still felt a ton of loyalty toward my company at the time, and the last thing I wanted to do was make anyone feel like I didn’t think the company was good enough.

And then something amazing happened. My manager took our team out for happy hour and asked us how things were going. He got us all talking about what was working, what wasn’t, and what would make our work life better. My Spidey-sense was tingling, and I suspected he knew I was looking. But he never confronted me directly; instead he took his suspicion as an opportunity to check in with the team.

This ended up having a positive impact not only on me but with the rest of the team as well. While I shared some of the things irking me, everyone else did too, and we uncovered a few pain points that could easily be remedied. Our grievances were noted and heard with genuine interest, and our manager promised to follow up soon with a game plan.

The result? I was so impressed with my manager’s effort that I slowed my search to see how things panned out.

While there’s no guarantee you can charm an employee back from the brink, trying to understand why she’s looking elsewhere just might help you keep her.


Encourage Her to Come Clean (to You)

One of the most nerve-racking aspects of the job hunt is wondering if you’ve been found out. It’s as if the moment you send out your resume, you’re transported into another dimension where everyone else can see right through you and know exactly how many non-work related emails you’ve been sending out every day.

So, knowing who knows what you know is surprisingly comforting. It’s not something you want the entire office to be aware of, of course. But if someone catches you red-handed, it’s way better if everyone fesses up so you don’t have to feel like you’re living a total lie.

Let’s take that time I “went out for a walk” and met a recruiter at a coffee shop I thought was a safe distance from my office as an example. As I sat down with my latté and the recruiter, I discovered in horror that one of my colleagues was just a few spots behind me in line. I worked in a small office, so he’d heard my “walk” lie. I was busted. We exchanged awkward glances and went about our business.

Later that evening, after everyone else had left for the day, he approached me. He told me that he suspected I was interviewing, or at least looking around, and that he’d keep it to himself. And what he said next kinda blew my mind. He asked if there was anything he could do to help. Huh?

Well, as you may remember, we all go through this at least a few times in our careers. He understood I needed to see what was out there, and he wanted me to know I had a friend on the inside. I ended up staying at that job for another two years. Having a trusted co-worker I could bounce ideas and offers by was not only useful professionally, but emotionally as well.


Call for Reinforcements

This is a tricky option, but if you suspect there’s actually something that can be done to keep an awesome colleague, it may be your best bet.

If possible, let your colleague know you’re aware of the situation, and that you’d love to help keep her on. If she doesn’t freak out or totally object, it’s safe to proceed.

Then, approach someone you think could actually do something about the situation and let him or her know (in confidence) that you suspect your colleague may be looking, and why. This works especially well if your colleague isn’t privy to information you’re not at liberty to share, but someone else with authority is. This happened with me when I learned one of my employees was ready to jump ship because she didn’t get along with her manager. Thankfully, one of her colleagues came to me with the intel, and I was able to have a chat with her to let her know that the manager in question would soon be moving on. She ended up sticking around for another year.


Change is hard, and it’s never going to be easy when you hear that one of your favorite teammates is thinking about leaving. But remember: There are things you can do to show your support—and maybe even keep her around for a bit longer.


Photo of colleagues talking courtesy of Shutterstock