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Executive Leadership: The Farewell Email
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Executive Leadership: The Farewell Email- Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: The Farewell Email

Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: The Farewell Email

It has become an office expectation that, when there is a parting of the ways, the dearly departing will send a farewell email at least to those in the immediate workspace. This last goodbye is sometimes the stuff of Internet legend: we've all seen the supposedly true stories of exiting middle managers who fired off snarky, clever, hilarious confessionals, manifestos, and admonishments which, in addition to serving as goodbyes, also blew up every bridge in surrounding zip codes. Amusing as these are on Facebook and LinkedIn, this approach just isn't a real-world option, whether or not the viral goodbye email stories are true.

In the real world, we don't set everything ablaze as we depart, or we never would have reached our levels of success--certain amounts of decorum and diplomacy are in all our professional toolkits--however moderate or vaunted they might be. Still, this does not mean the minefield of office-wide goodbyes is not strewn with possible missteps. In the sometimes emotional last moments in the office, it can be easy to forget this, so here are a few reminders.

  • Keep it positive, no matter what. Even if your departure isn't under the best of terms, keep every word in your farewell positive. Some of this is for your own protection, of course. You don't want to send anything that could be used against you in some way, but you also never want to miss the opportunity to keep to the high road, no matter what. A goodbye email is a pleasantry, not a creed. Be sincere in your positivity, even if it means faking it.
  • Keep it short. Although it's true that the higher up the org chart you are, the longer your entitled goodbye, we're talking about a difference of a couple of sentences, not a couple thousand words. If you wouldn't be able to fit it inside a greeting card, it's too long.
  • Be grateful. This really goes along with the positivity thing, but gratitude is specifically what the people you leave behind want to receive. And if you can do so while keeping it short, be specific in your gratitude. Let people know what you're truly thankful for.
  • Be sparing with disclosure. If the reasons for your departure aren't widely known, recipients of your email will examine it closely for clues. Don't give them any. In the same vein, it can be tempting to get personal about your family, health, or relationships, and that's understandable. Your career is tied to the other aspects of your life, and leaving a position has repercussions across its breadth. It's okay to mention one or two of these things, but don't go overboard. The TMI line should be drawn even more conservatively than it normally is in the office.
  • Be encouraging. Somebody in the firm respects and admires you, sees you as a role model or mentor. If you know specifically who these people are, go out of your way to have a personal chat and handshake with them, or send them short handwritten notes the week after you've left, but also include an encouraging word in your goodbye email. As you've led others from behind your desk, lead them also in the manner of your departure. Say a word of encouragement to the entire team.
  • Leave some doors open. You never know when you will be of help to someone else, or when someone else might be of help to you. At the very least, include a personal email address or social media link for people to stay in touch, if they so desire. You might include a phone number, personal website, or some other means of maintaining contact, especially if you've taken efforts to keep your online presence separate from your office presence.
  • Expect to be forgotten. It happens. People will pause to read your email; some will come to your office and shake your hand. Some might even offer to take you out for drinks. But within moments of your packing away your Visit Sunny Hawaii snowglobe, office life will pick up without you, by necessity. Let this reality temper your expectations for maintaining relationships, and let it also remind you that your recipients will read your heartfelt, positive, encouraging, stay-in-touch email, pause to mentally wish you well, and then move on to the email about hoarding office supplies or wasting copier paper.

Your farewell email is likely to be your last communication with your now-former team, so remember that it's not long before your departure is yesterday's news, but do take some time to write it thoughtfully, sincerely, and carefully.


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