I have recently been in the position to read many goodbye emails, the sort folks send when they’re leaving a role. Given both the state of the economy and the wage inflation we’ve seen in the last few years, I imagine most folks have seen many of these come in sporadic bursts.
After writing my own departure note, and referencing previous letters I have read from colleagues I consider good communicators, it’s been surprising to see how many people don’t seem to know how to write one of these properly. Often, it seems like people don’t center the purpose of the communication, and I imagine it’s because this is one of the small things folks don’t really take the time to think about. For my own benefit, especially because I actually forgot to follow one of these suggestions myself, I decided to write down my rules for these emails.
1. Make it an email
This might seem like an odd place to start in terms of advice about writing a goodbye email, but in my observations of my colleagues’ departure notes, I think it bears mentioning.
Why is making it an email important? what else would you make it? Well, in today’s modern office, you’re likely at minimum using a chatroom-style instant messaging tool like Slack or MS Teams. At many companies you may also be using something like Facebook Workplace or Yammer as an internal social networking tool. These tools are great, but they all lack one key feature of email: you can’t forward them to an external address.
Keep in mind that your colleagues will likely doing three things at once when they see your note, and if you include some contact information, posting it to Slack will mean they have to context switch if they want to save your information to their phone. Additionally, many people nowadays use their inbox as a log of all their personally important data, so it means if they ever need to reach out, they will likely have an easier time finding you. Additionally, office social tools tend to suffer from messages in high-volume channels scrolling off screen. Given the relative volume of chat vs email in an office, and assuming a modern email client, this will likely be less of an issue with an email.
Finally we should remember that while emails can be deleted out of your corporate inbox as easily as a Slack message can be, emails can be forwarded. In the event that somehow your message or the channel you posted it in becomes inaccessible, your colleagues will still likely be able to recover your message from another colleague who forwarded it to themselves.
In this scenario, writing an email, thereby increasing the likelihood that people see it and can quickly forward it to themselves, is just a good exercise of recipient-oriented communication.
2. Keep it short
It’s ironic that “Keep it short” is my second piece of advice, given that I am writing 1500 words on how to write a single email, but keep in mind why you are writing the email! You are here to communicate your departure, leave a good impression, and encourage folks to stay in touch.
This email is likely the last message many of your colleagues will read from you. Like a first impression, a last impression is hard to shake. I still remember how self-important or tone-deaf a handful of colleagues have come off in their final sign-offs over the years, even accounting for positive contact we had had in the office. Don’t be the guy handing out words of wisdom to folks 15 years your senior, or assuming that your departure is as significant to the entire office as it is to you.
If you feel the need to share some thoughts, or express at length how meaningful this experience has been to you, consider sending a private message to your team, or leaving a handwritten note to specific colleagues. If you really feel the need to get something off your chest, it’s usually more meaningful when you make it private.
3. Consider what information you are sharing
Contact information, anecdotes, and future plans that you share with a 50+ recipient mailing list will invariably get to people you didn’t originally send it to.
If you want to share your personal phone number, your Twitter or Instagram handle, or details about your next role, just take a moment to think about the worst reasonable outcome. If your Instagram presence is considerably different from how you present at work, take a beat to consider who might come snooping. If there are perhaps colleagues you’d prefer not have your phone number, consider including a line like “If I don’t have your phone number and you want to keep in touch, send it along”, which will allow you to decide who gets your more-private contact information. In the past, some acquaintances have shared stories of employers being surprisingly litigious over non-compete clauses upon learning of an employee’s departure. I don’t want to scare you, but just remind you that you can’t un-share information.
That being said, don’t keep things too close to the chest! I would definitely recommend including your personal email, along with maybe your LinkedIn profile. If you’re going to grad school, it might a good idea to mention where you’re headed; maybe some of your colleagues are alumni and will be excited to connect you to faculty! Similarly, for a new role, industries are small and current colleagues may turn out to know future colleagues! It’s a hard balance to strike, so give it five minutes thought and then commit to the content 🙂!
4. Be explicit in how you want to keep in touch
This is one line I saw a senior colleague include that I really appreciated. If you’re willing to give references, talk about hard technical problems, or introduce folks to new opportunities, be explicit. Some folks -like myself- are too shy to ask without being prompted, and might need an excuse to get in touch. Like any good piece of content, make sure to include a Call To Action!
5. Be clear about your departure date
This is a small one, but if you’re sending a note, be sure to mention whether you’re signing off at the end of the day, whether you’ve already signed off and just scheduled an email, or whether you’re out at the end of the week and that there might be a happy hour afterwards. Hopefully you’ve already transferred any responsibilities with your team privately, but clearly indicating your last day will let folks know on what timeline they should reach out if they want to wish you luck, and by what means.
6. Copy your personal email
In case you were wondering, this was the one I forgot 🤦♂️. Make sure to copy your personal email! That way colleagues who want to respond with a nice note, or share their own contact information, have an address to CC that you will still have access to after you get removed from corporate accounts. I was lucky that a few of my colleagues had the foresight to reply to my email and manually CC my personal account, but if the goal is to communicate and collect contact information, try to make it easy on folks.
Now that I’ve gotten my thoughts down, let’s put this all together, take a look at what I wrote, and have a template ready for the future. Reading it again, I think I could’ve done a better job in being explicit about what folks should reach out about, but in the end I think it’s fine.
A simple template
It’s finally my turn to do one of these, today is my last day at <xx>. I’ve worked with some of the best people of my career in my time here. I am grateful I had that opportunity.
It’s been a pleasure working with you, I am proud of what we built, and I wish you all luck. I hope we can stay in touch, feel free to hit me up any time if you want to talk shop.
+1 (555) 555-5555
Simple! Probably not worth 1,000 words, but hopefully it’s useful in the future, if only to myself.