Writing an Original Farewell Message for Employees and Colleagues
Saying goodbye is never easy. But when it’s your colleague or employee who’s leaving, you also have to mind the thin, easily missed line between professionalism and personal touch.
To make things worse, when people separate from a company, the emotional impact is usually concentrated on their side. And you’re expected to find the right words at this critical junction in their life.
Here are some tips that will help you write a farewell message that is appropriate, genuine and original – that will strike a chord with its recipient.
1Structuring your farewell message
The following three main structural elements are a solid foundation of any goodbye message.
- Regretfulness. Start out by expressing that you’re sad to see your employee or colleague go. Depending on your proximity to the person and the circumstances of the departure, you may mention the emotional impact it has on you or the team as a whole. Be careful, however, not to slide off into a grieving tone. It will make you appear bitter and create discomfort on the recipient’s part. Excess length can cause you the same problems. So, keep your message brief at around 300 words and primarily focus on the professional implications of the colleague’s departure, conveniently bridging to…
- Acknowledgements. Express your gratitude for the person’s services and achievements as part of the company. This includes individual shine-out projects but also her day-to-day contributions. Then, try to link her professional success to her skills and traits. For instance, mention how her perfectionism lead to high motivation while managing her team even when projects seemed to stretch eternally.
- Outlook. End your message on a positive note with a look ahead on what you think the future will hold for her. Either in her new job, if you know a bit about it, or more generally what she will likely achieve in the future, based on her skills and traits.
2Personalizing messages with a theme
There are only so many ways to wish someone the best of luck for the future and thank them for their services in the past. Which is the main reason that farewell messages are often numbingly repetitious and generic.
If it’s hard to find original words, you can give your message a unique spin by embedding it in a more engaging topical framework. This theme ideally connects to interests of the person leaving, thereby customizing the message and making it appear more genuine.
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A theme can be introduced for example by pasting the recipient’s name into a quote from a film you know she likes, or by referencing an amusing workplace situation she could typically appear in.
A friend of mine recently told me about a colleague with a strong affinity for soccer who left his company to join a bigger one. Referencing both professional and personal, his boss and colleagues staged a surprise press conference to announce the departure of one of their top players from the sympathetic underdog to the corporate giant. Thanking him for his role in many tough matches, they reminded him of several big projects he helped push through.
Obviously, an employee needs to be with the company for some time to earn such a special goodbye.
Mind the pitfalls of personalization: Stilted personal devotion is always worse than honest professional distance. If you’re responsible for a large team and can’t afford to get to know everyone, a message hinting at someone’s hobby or distinct characteristic will come across as fake or intrusive.
So, either choose a more formal way of saying goodbye or delegate the task to somebody who does know the person leaving and do your bit by granting the writer some time for crafting a nice text.
3Departure scenarios and how to deal with them
Moving on for a promotion inside the company
Include: Recognition of the work they put in to climb up the ladder; recap of their way up, where they stood when they came into the company.
Avoid: Any sign of envy; undervaluing professional reasons for promotion.
Leaving for another company against your hopes of retention
Include: Composure; respect for the employee’s personal wish to change.
Avoid: Salty statements; defiance (like “Sad to see you go but we’ll be fine.”); submissiveness (like “...you’re welcome here anytime you change your mind.”).
Leaving because they’re moving their life or for family
Include: Best of luck acclimating in the new environment and job; non-mocking references to the place they’re moving to (“Wrap up well up there!”).
Avoid: Focusing completely on either family or the new job as actual reason for the relocation. The person will hope that both is a great fit even if one wasn’t the primary reason to move.
When you’re letting them go
Include: Honest acknowledgement of professional service in the past
Avoid: Overstating how that person is “a great guy”; formalities and explaining why (should be done before in a direct conversation, ideally as described by Nick Francis in this post).
When the person’s retiring
Include: With a wink, speculations about what they’ll do with their new freedom, focusing on future activities, not the presumptive idleness.
Avoid: Jokes about age. If temporary (e.g. parental) leave – remarks that exert pressure to return swiftly.
4Choosing the right format
Handwritten note/letter/card. Arguably the most personal format and your whole team can sign it. A card also allows you to personalize the message through design, as our own example shows below.
Email. An email farewell message likely seems too impersonal if it’s the only bit of text you submit and if it’s not team-public either. The email is, however, a great solution when your team is scattered across different locations or partly working remote. Just cc everyone involved with the person leaving and conclude with wishes from you and the team.
Cakes and presents. The reception of these add-ons highly depends on the circumstances of a person’s departure and the length of their employment. A celebratory cake will seem uncalled for if you’re letting someone go. Also, if the person shuns the spotlight, too much public attention might make her uncomfortable. If you’re parting ways on positive terms, little presents can add real value.
View farewell messages not as a final favor you owe to former employees. See it as a chance to part ways on an optimistic last chord. Say goodbye as though you know you’re going to meet again.
This is not about polishing the apple. It’s about letting every single person that has worked for you know that they were considered important while they were there and have your ongoing support when they leave. After all, this is the treatment you’d wish for yourself.