How Nice People Leave

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We’re losing a valuable member of our team at the office today, and it sucks.

Well, it sucks for us anyway – not for her. She’s leaving to get married, returning to her home state with her new husband, and returning to the job she left when she came to work with us. That’s right–she’s so good at what she does that her old employer was happy to make room for her to return. In other words, she’s going to miss us too, but she’s not going to be hurting for career opportunities.

We’re all very happy for her, obviously. It’s exciting to see a talented person embark on a new chapter of their life, seizing an opportunity and going for it. And it’s not all that unusual, really. Staffing turnovers are just another part of the landscape even in higher ed marketing offices like ours. I can think of a dozen people who have left our team for one reason or another during the nearly five years I’ve been in my job. And we’ve had just as many new people join the team in that time, including the one who’s leaving today.

But her departure stands out to me because she is going out with the most awesome courtesy and professionalism anyone could have hoped for, going above and beyond anything I’ve seen before to be absolutely sure we know as much as possible about how she did her job and that we’ll have the tools and resources we need to help us continue the work she started.

Obviously, if you’re leaving a job you enjoyed, and a team whose continued success is important to you, then most of us would feel a responsibility to be sure we take some time in our last two weeks on the job to not only wrap up outstanding work, but to clean up and document our responsibilities for those who need to fill in those roles after we’re gone. It’s the right way to do things, the nice human thing to do.

But the person who’s leaving us now was has been in a unique role here. She was the first to have this new role on our team, and basically built all the tools and workflows her position needed from scratch. It’s a data-heavy job, full of charts and tables and formulas that she has grown and nurtured with undying enthusiasm, showing an expert proficiency with software like Excel that to the rest of us looks like wizardry.

So what does a person with skills and passion like that do when they have two weeks to wrap up their work in a way that we can carry on after her even though none of us have anything close to her unique knowledge or experience? She did the only thing she could do: took us to school.

On top of all that administrative details she already had to take care of in her remaining two weeks, she also found time to completely document every single step of how she does what she does, and then has spent most of the past week giving everyone who needed it training on every part of it.

I don’t mean sharing a few documents with a some checklists and passwords and links to folders on a server. She created complete slide decks with notes and links and annotations. She built sample documents outlining every step of a process, including not just how and where to do something, but also why to do it the way she did it. She then sat with all of us who would need to take on this work for ourselves, sharing live demos of every process in hours of training sessions, and then just to be safe she created short screencast video demos to leave behind for future reference. And if we had a question about something in training she took the time to answer and understand the gaps in our knowledge. And promised to whip together more videos to cover those areas we had asked about with confident nonchalance. When was the last time you just “whipped together” a screencast video? This is rock star stuff.

Basically, this person found time to create a complete multimedia version of a “for dummies” book on how to do every major aspect of her job, all within the last ten days of working with us. I’ve never seen anyone work harder in their last two weeks to ensure that everything she had in her head about her job was dumped out and documented and shared with as many people as necessary while she was still here to answer questions and fill in gaps.

That is commitment to a job, and to a team, and to the work, that you cannot fake. It shows confidence, it shows compassion, and it shows skill under pressure. I am in awe.

Yes, it sucks that she has to leave us, and we’re going to have our work cut out for us trying to keep what she started going without her. It’s not just the void it will leave in our staffing (which many never be posted for replacement because budgets don’t work that way in higher ed) that makes me feel sad to see her go, nor is it just that that I’ll have an empty office across from mine where there used to be a buoyant, smiling colleague every day.

No, the hardest part is that she has now set the bar so high on how to leave this office behind. Recognizing how much she has done to help us who remain, knowing how many hours she has put into her last weeks here when others in her position would have already been mentally halfway out the door. Knowing I would only want to show my colleagues the same level of respect and family pride if my day to depart here ever comes.

So I am going to miss this rock star across the hall, but I am genuinely happy for her, and grateful for all that she taught me while she was here. I am going to remember the example she set for how to be an employee who loves their job, and gives back to the workplace just as much as they get.

I am going to remember that this is how nice people leave, and how they stay one hundred percent human.

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One thought on “How Nice People Leave

  1. Wow. What an incredible tribute. So proud of Colleen, knowing her through her mother, Mary, with whom I worked for many years. The apple does not fall far from the tree and these women set the bar for all who know them, both professionally and personally. Congratulations to Colleen and all the best to the team she leaves behind poised for continued success!

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