If I was creating a truly honest resume, “hosting farewell parties” would be at the top of my skill list.
I didn’t want to make it a personal specialty. But I’ve been at my current company for six years, which means I’ve seen a lot of co-workers who are close to my heart move on to other jobs – and I’ve practiced a lot in organizing party send-offs, both in person , and on Zoom.
Virtual parties can be particularly tricky to manage. But it’s a talent that has become increasingly relevant over the past year as more and more people change jobs in search of greener pastures.. Here are some tips for anyone wishing to say goodbye to their distant colleagues.
The best activities for a remote farewell party
The main difference between an in-person farewell and a remote farewell event is that the latter needs to be more structured. In the office, all you need is some food, drink, and a toast or two as a tribute to the departing colleague. Then you just let people turn around. If your co-workers are already generally friendly with each other, they will create their own party atmosphere.
But with a remote party, you have to plan some activities, or you’ll end up with 20 blinking faces waiting for their Zoom boxes. (It’s hard to have a conversation with more than four people at once, and meeting rooms don’t really make sense for goodbyes.)
A fail-safe activity is a quiz about the co-worker leaving. The quiz can go in several different directions. Sometimes it’s centered around anecdotes, for example, multiple-choice questions about the projects they’ve worked on, the name of their dog, what their grammatical pet peeve is, and what instrument they play in their punk-rock band. . If a few people are leaving around the same time, party planners could take a cue from BuzzFeed’s personality quizzes, asking questions meant to determine if you’re, say, a Steve or an Amy (i.e. say “what kind of soup are you?” and “how would you describe your personal style?”).
It’s also a good idea to ask at least one person to toast (usually the departing colleague’s manager or another superior who knows them well enough), and to give the departing person a chance to say a few words if she I like. It may be a good idea to open the floor to circular tributes to the person, with different colleagues sharing a favorite memory or a story of how the other person has helped them.
If you’re always worried that you’ll run out of things to say and the long-distance party will always turn into one big awkward staring contest, it never hurts to have a few extra activity options in your back pocket. For a colleague with lovely opinions, I created a game where we each had to write a sentence in her voice, predict her thoughts on topics like Paris Hilton, or own a bird as a pet. I read the answers out loud, including his real answers, and then we all had to guess which one was his.
Invite graduates to company parties
When a departing colleague has been with the organization for a while, it can be fun to invite former colleagues to the farewell as well. It turns the Zoom gathering into a mini-meeting, as well as a kind of retrospective It’s your life moment. Even if they can’t attend, they can share stories or tributes about the departing colleague that can be included in a farewell card or read aloud during a Zoom call.
Why it’s important to have goodbye parties for colleagues
Some might point out that organizing farewell parties can be a lot of work and it’s the kind of unpaid and unacknowledged emotional labor that is often taken on by women. To these people, I say: Good point!
There are several ways to solve the problem. Managers can factor in the work required to host farewell parties (and perform other tasks that contribute to a friendly work culture) when determining promotions and raises. They can assign office parties to an internal talent-focused employee as part of their official job description. Or they can have different people take turns hosting the farewell parties, so the work doesn’t fall disproportionately on one or two employees.
But farewell parties are important, even essential. A fond farewell lets the person leaving the company know how much they were appreciated and affirms that the parting was done on good terms. The decision to quit a job can be a bit like a birthday, a time when we take stock of our lives and do a lot of existential reflection. Either way, a celebration can help people feel supported at a time when they may be a little vulnerable.
A party also gives people who are still working at the company a chance to feel a sense of closure. Some people may feel very sad when a colleague they are close to leaves. others may worry about the future of the team or their company, especially if the person leaving is an influential person who has been with the organization for a long time. A farewell meeting creates a space where people can bond with other colleagues experiencing similar emotions, instead of leaving everyone feeling stressed and teary-eyed alone.
Farewell party traditions also perpetuate a working culture where people don’t disappear without a word, which tends to scare the employees left behind.
For me, the point of hosting office farewell parties isn’t how it benefits the organization, although I believe there are real benefits. It’s about bringing humanity to the workplace. As the past few years have hammered home, it’s a harsh, sad and fragile world. A farewell party is a chance for people to show they care for each other. Why not grab it?