Handling a Coworker’s Departure the Atomic Way

At Atomic Object, our culture is defined by a handful of company values. These values drive our collective success by creating close-knit, on-site teams.

When a coworker recently announced they were moving back to their home state, I was surprised at how applicable these values were to the way we handled the change.

Act Transparently

When a coworker announces their departure, they typically do so to a subset of the office. I believe it’s vital to act transparently by communicating this information down to my project teams in a way that’s timely and respectful of the coworker who is leaving.

I may not have all the answers to my teams’ questions or know what will happen yet, but I like to let my teams know I’m working on it and will keep folks updated along the way. In situations where teams aren’t informed, I’ve seen rumors may start to swirl, leading remaining team members to feel fear, anxiety, or doubt. I believe it’s best to get in front of gossip and let teams know promptly that you’re working to handle the situation.

Own It

It’s important to immediately start evaluating work in progress to determine how to transition it or wrap it up. I communicated the change as soon as I could confidently offer assurances about transition plans and how this would affect their project.

At Atomic Object, it’s important to own it both for the remaining team members and the client. We make sure that any outstanding stories or work can be completed in the time remaining or are left with enough documentation to ensure they can be completed.

Teach and Learn

My team also started onboarding a new maker as soon as possible. We wanted to make certain there was enough time for the previous member to hand-off work and do some knowledge sharing sessions with others. We strive to make sure things will happen either without the team member or with minimal interruption.

Share the Pain

In addition to making sure I’ve taken care of the client and project, I also think it’s important to share the pain the teams are going through. At Atomic Object, our offices are close-knit and work together frequently on-site. Team members will be sad, disappointed, or uncertain when they hear that their friend is leaving. I’ve learned to accept that performance or motivation might take a brief hit as these emotions impact their work.

During this time, it’s also important for coworkers to have the time to say goodbye, whether through going out for coffee or lunch or by attending an after-hours send-off.

Give a Shit

In addition to giving teams the space to say goodbye to a coworker, I also make sure to wish the person well — and mean it! Moving to a new job or a new city is a big life change. It’s a new journey for your coworker, and they might be feeling happy, but also uncertain, sad, or stressed.

I always hope that they find their spot and that it’s a good move for them. I find giving a shit about the person who is leaving makes it a better transition for everyone involved and leaves the coworker departing with positive final memories of Atomic.

Think Long Term

Lastly, I find it’s important to think long term when a coworker leaves by looking for patterns around departures and staffing changes. Perhaps one particular team or role is losing people at a higher rate than others. Perhaps it’s a one-off situation, such as a move to be closer to their family.

This time is a great chance for organizational retrospective and reflection, (hopefully) leading to changes that will benefit the organization and others.