Job leaving rituals in the WFH era


One Friday last year, I posted some farewell messages in Slack. Removed myself from a bunch of Trello cards. Had a quick video call with the team. And then logged out of my laptop. I walked out of my home office and sat in my garden with a beer.

The following Monday I opened the door to the same office. I logged in to the same laptop. I logged into a new Slack - which wasn't remarkably different from the old one. Signed in to a new Trello workspace - ditto. And started a video call with my new team.

I'll admit, It didn't feel like a new job!

There was no confusing commute to a new office. No having to work out where the toilets and fire exits were. No "here's your desk - it's where John used to sit, so people might call you John for a bit". I didn't even have to remember people's names because Zoom showed all my colleagues' names & job titles.

There was no waiting in a liminal space while receptionists worked out how to let me in the building.

In short, there was no meaningful transition for me.

Vicki Boykis has written a wonderful article about the art of the long goodbye. In it, she explores the rituals which humans have built up to ease our transition between states. We have ceremonies for births, comings of age, marriages, and deaths.

We used to have ceremonies for leaving jobs. Everyone gathering around your desk, a few cheesy words from your boss about how they wouldn't cope without you, maybe a card & small gift. People would pat you on the back, you'd exchange personal phone numbers - even if you had no intention of ever speaking to Jane from accounts again. You'd hand over your ID badge, hand over laptop to an IT support person who'd scowl at all the stickers you'd peppered it with. As you walked out of the building, you'd turn around for one last look at the office, sigh, and wonder if you were making the right decision. Perhaps the team might decant to a pub for valedictory drinks where someone would drunkenly let rip about how they were secretly in love with Jane from accounts.

In those days, you knew that you'd left a job. A greetings card full of sloppy handwriting and soppy messages was tangible evidence that you'd once worked there and had now left.

But now...?

My old team got me a virtual card which has since been deleted unless I pay for an Premium Account on Leaving_Cards_R_Us.biz

They were kind enough to get me a present - a gift certificate. I didn't get a carriage clock to put on my mantelpiece (not that I have one) or anything physical. Instead it paid for a few months of a TV streaming service.

Those colleagues were scattered all over the country, so it would have been impractical to gather in a pub for a venting session. I did get some spicy private messages on LinkedIn, which sort of made up for it.

A courier picked up my old laptop. He didn't care about the stickers and wasn't interested in a hug goodbye. Which was fair enough really.

Vicki says:

In the new COVID/remote work-era, particularly over the last couple months of extremely cruel tech industry layoffs, all of our physical group parting rituals are gone, lost in the digital ether. Nothing has proven this as much as the very painful and very public Twitter layoffs last week.

I'm incredibly bitter about the way my friends at Twitter have been treated. I've been made redundant and it was a horrible and dehumanising experience. But at least I got to shake my (ex) manager's hand, hug my old team-mates, and drink heavily with people who could commiserate with me.

Humans need rituals, or so it appears. Perhaps when working from home we should re-arrange our office whenever we change roles? Put the table on the other side of the room and change the colour of the curtains. But that's impractical for most people.

Maybe we should invent some new rituals. Something to ease our passing from one job into the next.

What on earth would that look like in the WFH era?


6 thoughts on “Job leaving rituals in the WFH era

  1. Some interesting points here. I used my recent time off between jobs to redecorate my office space, a job long put on hold. It was the second time I’d left a job remotely, and both times had different closure rituals.

  2. @Edent I vividly remember reading an SF book where a small part of the plot was that jobs had become so highly interchangeable that when someone picked up a new role they even took on the name of the last person who did it. I thought it was one of the John Brunner ones but can't quickly find it...

  3. Neil says:

    I loved this. Would you say you changed roles within broadly the same organisation, rather than changed jobs, though? If I worked for Large Company, and moved from one team to another, I would have changed jobs, for sure, but I am not sure I'd feel it was quite the same as moving to another company completely, in terms of the changes.

    1. @edent says:

      I did both during the pandemic. Moving internally felt no less weird than changing entirely. In both cases it was the same room, same laptop, same office suite. Very disorientating.

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