What To Do When Your Best Colleagues Leave!

David Nour
David Nour

You rely on them on the team and in your role, enjoyment in the job, and results more than you’d like to admit—and now they’re leaving. Here’s what to do next.


Eighteen-plus months into the global pandemic, more of your colleagues are searching for something new. Sometimes, that relationship finds another role inside the organization; often, it’s a job outside the company or even industry. A February 2021 report by Achievers Workforce Institute found that more than half (52%) of employees in the U.S. and Canada plan to look for a new job in 2021. That’s 35% higher than in 2020. The Great Resignation may include many of your highly valued colleagues in key positions, client companies, partner organizations, investors, and media relationships.


When your right-hand person or a rising rock star in your business tells you they’re about to leave, it can be an emotional experience. You may feel anger, betrayal, or even fear. You’re in the middle of an important project, deliverable, or client opportunity. What now? Here are a handful of ideas to consider:



You’ve come to rely on this relationship, you’ve made key decisions together, and feel their importance, impact, and contributions. This is where the empathetic you need to show up to understand that your relationship is not leaving you; they’re moving on to what they believe to be a more fulfilling opportunity for them! That change in perspective would be a good place for you to start!


Never react at the moment of hearing the news; good chance you’ll say or do something you’ll regret. Instead, agree on a later date/time to discuss the decision. Digest the news, reflect, and don’t try to figure it all out this afternoon. You’ll want some time to get over the hurt and fear, clear your head, and devise an alternative path forward.




You’ll need to think like a first responder tackling a triage! What are the most immediate needs created by the relationship void? I’m a list maker, so I tend to start by asking questions that I’ll need to answer and the critical tasks I need to divide and conquer: is that something only I can do, or are there others competent and capable of picking up the ball and running with it? What’s critical that needs attention now vs. other important items that can wait. Who are the next set of relationships I need to engage, nurture or capitalize to ensure as few things as possible fall through the cracks? Time is of the essence, so move on this quickly.




When you meet with your relationship, try to learn from their decision, ask candid questions and use the opportunity to learn if there are things you could do differently to improve how you identify, build, nurture, and sustain your relationships. Remember, every interaction is a learning moment. Keep in mind, there will always be reasons outside of your control, so worry about those less. Focus on improving, elevating, or otherwise enhancing what you can control. Important not to take the relationship’s departure personally. No guilt, no obligation. Be grateful for the time you did have together. Don’t press them for answers or guilt-trip them, as they often tend to sour otherwise positive and productive relationships. You don’t want them leaving thinking, “wow, she was a jerk!”




Let other relationships know immediately. Don’t wait for the grapevine to take over. Draft a clear, concise, communication that’s positive, constructive, and forward-moving. Be gracious, thank the relationship for their contributions and ask others for help in filling the vacancy or recommending others who may be a viable fit for the role. This is also a really good time to rethink, reimagine, or reinvent the role if possible. Has the need in that position evolved? Can you recommend a different set of skills necessary to thrive in the role replacement? Amazing how many conversations I’m having with leaders about the right talent in the right role.




Always a good idea to stay in touch with relationships on good terms. Leave the door open for future opportunities to collaborate. You just never know when they may become a partner, a client, an investor, or otherwise an influential asset in the industry. If you create a personal relationship alumni network, you’ll create an incredible asset of subject-matter experts (SMEs) you can tap into long after the context of your relationship has changed. Keep in mind, many people leave one role for the promise of the next one. If the grass in fact is not greener on the other side, you’ll often want to give quality relationships a path back.




Continue to invest in the relationship in how you show up – throw them a party, potluck dinner, or drinks after work together to celebrate their contributions and wish them the best in their next chapter. The view is always nicer from the high road and do all that you can that they leave on the best of terms.

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