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#163 Interpreting Staff Departure Announcements

August 10, 2012

After years in the field, sharpening their intuition and honing their cryptic communication skills, it almost goes without saying that EAWs are specialists at reading between the lines. And there are few instances in the EAWs’ career where this particular skill is of more use than interpreting the real meaning of staff departure announcements.

It’s important to “read” the whole context, not just the announcement itself, however.

Editor’s Note: For assistance in interpreting staff departure announcements, please consult our handy flowchart at the bottom of this post.

For example, if the departure announcement comes directly from the colleague who is leaving, it usually means that the decision to leave was made by that same individual. These announcements will normally be titled “Moving On…” or “The time has come….” (It’s important to use ellipses….)

Standard format requires that the individual (who is naturally thrilled to have found another job after months of bitching and complaining about his or her current job and boss and wishes to rub that fact in) waxes poetic about how much he or she enjoyed the time spent working at [current INGO], how much was learned, the amazing (use superlative language) things [INGO] has done to help [beneficiary category] and [country], the wonderful relationships built with [unforgettable or other kind phrase] friends and colleagues, and how proud all the remaining suckers at [INGO] should feel for working at [INGO]. The resigning EAW will share the fantastic new opportunity that he or she will be embarking on with [competitor] in [country]. Readers of the resignation email will be encouraged not to be strangers and to remain in touch at [new employer and/or personal email address].

The intuitive EAW communicator sends her or his announcement as an all-staff email directed to the entire global organization of 10,000 (or more) people. This ensures that all 10,000 can then share in the warm glow of several hundred “reply all” emails with deep comments like “We will surely miss you!” and “God Bless You Always” and “It’s truly been a pleasure working with you.” Soon several others will “reply all” commenting that they have nothing against all the kind wishes for [name of departing EAW] but could people please stop “replying all?”

Self-announcements may be accompanied by a “staff departure announcement” from the resigning person’s boss or someone from HR, thanking said staff for his or her [xx months or years] of service, [list of major accomplishments], confirming how much resigning staff will be missed, and “wishing [name] well” in his or her next “endeavor” or “challenge.”

Everyone will go immediately to their departing colleague’s LinkedIn page and ask to connect (you never know when you’ll need an inroad at a competitor agency).

Under less positive circumstances, however, the all-staff email will be cryptic and require the sort of contextual analysis that savvy EAWs have spent years perfecting. For example:

Effective immediately: Pretty straightforward.The person was fired. Probably for doing something unethical or the situation/interaction was extremely unpleasant. Your ex-colleague won’t have time to send out that resignation email him or herself because she or he has been locked out of her or his email, also effective immediately.

Last day is in two weeks: Scenario 1: The departing EAW got a better job but is trying to be nice to immediate colleagues. The EAW will be submitting a hand over report or otherwise “debriefing“. Scenario 2: Colleague was asked to leave but is given the opportunity to pretend it was his or her decision. In most cases, this will be accompanied by a slightly belated self-announcement. It’s important to not confuse this kind of self-announcement with the “adios, suckers” self-announcement. This one will not include reference to a new job. It may refer to the staff “looking forward to some time off” or “traveling” (code for “finding him or herself“) or “spending more time with family.”

Within a month: Scenario 1: Employee hated his or her job, has nothing lined up (except perhaps early retirement or finding him/herself), but just can’t do this any longer. Would rather be unemployed than work there even one more day, but… doesn’t really want to be unemployed and can’t afford to burn any bridges. Scenario 2: Employee found a kick-ass job elsewhere, gave the required 1 month notice, and can’t wait to get the hell out. In both scenarios, don’t expect said employee to give a rat’s ass about all those things you need him or her to do before the date of departure. This EAW will schedule all kinds of ‘handover’ appointments, possibly ‘offsite’ (code for ‘at the pub around the corner’), but seriously – don’t expect anything.

Position was eliminated: Scenario 1: It was difficult to fire said employee (had probably been around for a really long time, was personal friends with the founder of the org and/or some of the major donors, is Facebook and have-beers-together friends with senior writers at the NYT…), therefore a “restructuring” was done and, oh dear, that specific position was no longer needed. Scenario 2: This person does not get along well with the new management. In both cases, watch for the same position to be added under a new job title at some point over the next six months and then filled by someone the management team knows from their former organization).

Email announcement is from human resources: The employee was not so important /situation was not too destabilizing. Lots of people want to work here…

Email is from someone very important: There is general concern from management or HQ about staff morale and/or copy-cat resignations. It’s also possible the person left or was let go for reasons that senior management would rather you didn’t know about.

Resignation is announced by someone very important at a mandatory meeting: Something heavy just went down.

Staff are invited to stop by to say goodbye to the person/wish them well: Common courtesy. The person is probably retiring.

Staff are invited to come to the cafeteria/board room/common area for lunch or cake and soda: Everything is fine, or management is pretending it is fine.

A nice parting gift from the whole organization: It’s copacetic, the person resigned, but could come back if he or she wanted (someone will mention something about a ‘revolving door’ in a farewell speech, while everyone hopes they haven’t permanently lost their star player to the competition).

A collection is taken up by staff (without participation/endorsement from management) for purchasing a nice gift: Staff feel the person leaving was somehow treated unfairly. This is their way of simultaneously showing solidarity with their former colleague and giving senior management the finger.

A small invitation-only party at departing employee’s own house: he or she was miserable and resigned, or was miserable and got fired, or he or she only mingled with certain folks.

An evening at the local bar with everyone else who is miserable: The department (or whole organization?) is melting down, maybe down-sizing. People want out and are either waiting to also get fired or are trying desperately to leave.

Yes, the EAW loves interpreting staff departure notices and does so with the level of drama and gossip that is to be expected of a member of such an in-bred group.  Until, of course, the departure notice is from or about the EAW him or herself, in which case people should just mind their own god damn business.

*Interpretive flowchart:

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