Work needs space for endings

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There are a lot of “soft” concepts associated with work that we should probably pay more attention to — compassion and patience come to mind — and another one I recently started thinking on is “the goodbye.”

Here’s a great article — one of the better I’ve seen on HBR in a while — about Andres Iniesta and his farewell from Barcelona, a club he’s been associated with for 22 years. The article makes a lot of powerful points about goodbyes, both personal and professional, and how the goodbye should be a crucial part of the modern career arc, especially since there’s so much fluctuation — we’re leaving jobs in 3.6 years on average, so don’t we need to think about “the goodbye” more?

We do, but as the article notes:

At many workplaces, we often lack the rituals and spaces to end projects and tenures. This is why we cannot be fully human in organizations that have few rituals and little space for stillness, silence, sadness.


This whole thing is kinda what I never “got” about work

We spend a lot of time at work. To many of us, it defines our self-worth in some ways. And yet, the way we structure organizations and treat people within them is not human in the least in many respects. Oh, and PS — the department tasked with “Human Resources?” That’s usually the least human silo of all. It’s automated to the hilt and largely ignored because it’s not a revenue-driver.

I’m not arguing for “humanistic workplaces” or anything like that; those terms are just buzzwords. They mean nothing and will never be enacted. Instead I’m arguing for people to be treated like people, respect to be more normative, and us to think for a second about goodbyes.

“Grief is an art, not a science”

I did a little research on the personal side of loss/goodbye — i.e. death — and came to this Psychology Today article about “the art of saying goodbye.” This is a good portion:

She says that grief is an art, not a science and we make sense of what happened and find purpose in our own individual ways.

I would never compare “a loved one dying” to “a person leaving a job,” no. But there is a degree of “grief” in both, yes. And the idea of grief as an art, and people pausing to reflect on purpose, seems like something we should embrace more.

The hiring example

When someone does leave a role — has their “goodbye” — what often happens is a rushed process to “get a butt in that seat.” This is horribly insulting to the person who just left — they were just a butt in a seat? — and also usually doesn’t get a good person to come in and fill the role. Usually the process is marked by hiring managers not understanding what recruiters do, recruiters not understanding what hiring managers need, both sides talking about how slammed they are, and a lot of “post and pray.”

What if we thought about the idea of goodbye differently in jobs? What if your final week was a series of sit-downs, discussions, and high-context discourse about the role, how it evolved, how it didn’t, what’s really needed, etc? Most people spend their final week at a job (a) checked out and (b) checking their final boxes and transitioning their task work. That’s all transactional. It has the mirage of “shit’s getting done” but in reality it’s just box-checking and the organization (and the people) aren’t growing, processing, and reflecting on how the team/silo is about to change.

I don’t think everyone needs to sit around and hum guitar ballads or anything, but we could have a bit more reflection on the person, the role, and the future as we’re saying goodbye to a team member. It just might make the hiring process for the eventual replacement better, too.

The project example

When you just spent weeks/months on a big project — late nights, grinding, missed flights, clients yelling, etc. — what happens when it ends? How do you say goodbye to that project?

In most companies: maybe you take a three-day weekend, then you’re tossed into another project that might be the same thing.

This is folly.

Again, what if the goodbye to a project involved significant reflection, context, discourse about:

  • What went right
  • What went wrong
  • What was learned
  • How we can do better the next time
  • What it taught us about our ideal/not ideal clients
  • Process points
  • Bigger lessons
  • How we work together

What if the project goodbye was rooted in reflection, as opposed to simply reacting and moving to the next deal?

The bottom line

The basic life path is changing.

The way careers are structured is insanely different now than ever, and we still largely manage from a place of Industrial Revolution thinking. It’s very confusing to many people.

People change jobs, on average, 11–12 times across the course of a career. That’s a lot of “goodbyes” and “hellos.”

Projects shift all the time — you might be on four big ones/year, or 15. Again, a lot of goodbyes.

We need to root these moments of goodbye, of transition, in reflection and contextual contemplation on what’s next in light of what just happened. We need to live in those in-between moments instead of just rushing/diving for the next thing.

Wouldn’t it stand to reason that would make work feel more “human?”

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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