How to cope when your colleagues start quitting

In the wake, and continuing effect, of the COVID pandemic, people in greater numbers than ever are getting a new job or seriously thinking about it. Some are even giving up work entirely.

Written by Kevin Dunne
Published 06 January 2022
How to cope when your colleagues start quitting

This tectonic shift in the size and attitudes of the labor market leaves business, and the colleagues left behind, with adjustments to make. So, what do you do when your best buddies at work announce they’re leaving?

Why people are leaving their jobs

Whether “The Great Resignation” [1] is real or not remains open to debate. But the “Quit rate” – the number of workers voluntarily leaving their jobs – was at a record high of three per cent of the U.S. workforce, as of September 2021. [2] And in a 2021 global work trends index, 41 per cent of employees surveyed reported they were considering leaving their job. [3]

Of those that have left already, some are retiring early on the back of rising property markets. Some are moving jobs now to take advantage of increasing sector-specific vacancies.

Others still, with their priorities re-aligned after long spells working from home, seek more rewarding, flexible opportunities.

Tips for coping when your colleagues leave

So, what strategies can you employ if trusted team-mates think ‘’New Year, new career” and head off to new horizons? How do you best handle the changes that brings?

When it’s you left behind after colleagues moves on, it can certainly create workload issues. What happens, for example, if you are suddenly the senior member of a team otherwise made up of new faces? [4]

The advice from executive coach Nihar Chhaya is to allow yourself space to process what has happened, then focus on developing your own “re-onboarding” plan. On-boarding brings knowledge sharing – which can reinvigorate your sense of purpose at work.

Learn, too, from your new colleagues while you mentor them. And remember you can always leave as well if the right opportunity arises. A four-step response to change, then, that maximizes your potential value, whether you stay or leave.

Handling your emotions when a friend leaves

When it’s a genuine friend and a colleague who departs, dealing with the emotional fallout is a key component of any recovery plan. The Muse contributor Anne Niederkorn suggests a five-stage approach.[5]

First, give yourself time to reflect, to get over the initial shock. But not too much time. Business needs to go on. So stay professional.

Of course, you’ll want to show your enthusiasm about a well-deserved opportunity for your friend.
But as the reality of the gap they will leave behind sets in, it may bring stress. How will you and the business cope without them?

That’s when you need to take action. Make the most of the time you have left with your colleague. List out as many questions you can think of to help them share knowledge that might otherwise just walk out the door.

Get all this right and, by the time your colleague departs, Niederkorn says, you should feel ready for the challenges ahead.

How to stay in touch after a colleague leaves

If your best friend at work takes a new job, without the daily contact of working together, staying close won’t just happen, says relationship expert and author, Shasta Nelson. [6]

She recommends you “initiate connection” to show your desire to keep in touch and meet up. Then reach out again. Setting a standing date can help as it doesn’t rely on someone to set the meetings up each time, and is a great way to keep friendships alive.

Top tip for taking your relationship onto new ground? Nelson says you need to broaden the conversation. “If this friendship is going to thrive, it needs to be based on more than just the job you had in common.”  

The upside of colleagues leaving

Big changes to team dynamics don’t mean it’s all bad news. It can also bring opportunities to make new friends, collaborate with others and develop new skills.

If you always did everything with your best friend before, for example, their departure gives you the chance to strengthen and build new relationships. [7]

You may, for instance, join in with events you may previously have said “no” to. And a broader internal network can help increase your personal success at work. [8]

How to help others cope with high team turnover

We’ve talked about how you cope when a colleague leaves. But how do you support your team members when staff leave in greater than usual numbers? [9]

Job No.1 is to keep team spirits up. Team-building exercises and team events help, as does role modelling positive behavior yourself.

People will have much on their minds so operate an open-door policy. Respond to problems to show you value your team – and to help build their trust in you.

Help your team to adapt by reassigning responsibilities quickly. A strong and clear direction will help your people to stay focused and motivated. To do this effectively, ensure outgoing employees supply detailed handover notes, contact information and logins before they leave.

Team members often take on extra work when turnover is high. Recognize their initiative and celebrate their success. Showing your support and appreciation in this way let’s people know that you don’t take them for granted, or simply expect them to stay.

[1] World Economic Forum (2021). What is the Great Resignation? [online]. Available here. [Accessed January 6, 2022.]
[2] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Quit Rate at all-time high. [online]. Available here. [Accessed January 6, 2022.]
[3] Microsoft (2021). Work Trend Index Survey. [online]. Available here. [Accessed January 6, 2022.]
[4] Harvard Business Review (2021). When Everyone’s Quitting Except You. [online]. Available here. [Accessed January 6, 2022.]
[5] The Muse (2021). 5 Stages You Go Through When Your Work BFF Quits—and How to Survive Each One. [online]. Available here. [Accessed January 6, 2022.]
[6] Harvard Business Review (2020). Stay Friends with Your Work BFF — Even After One of You Leaves. [online]. Available here. [Accessed January 6, 2022.]
[7] Fast Company (2019). Why your work bestie leaving the office isn’t all doom and gloom. [online]. Available here. [Accessed January 6, 2022.]
[8] Ibid.
[9] Mind Tools (2021). How to Deal With High Team Turnover. [online]. Available here. [Accessed January 6, 2022.]

About the author

Kevin Dunne

Kevin Dunne

Content Editor
Kevin has worked in journalism for over 31 years. His experience covers a variety of areas including news, music, sport and L&D, and he's been working in his current role since July 2019. His interests include the psychology of work, as well as blog writing and editing.

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