By Anita Iyer
Last days at work can be overwhelming. Filling a brown carton, unpinning pictures, post-its, memos, sending goodbye e-mails, packing up each piece of memory from your work desk, and checking out for the last time with your access card — goodbyes are hard, especially if you’ve loved your job, and have spent years at the company.
But can your worth be determined by the send-offs you get? What if no tears are shed, no heartfelt words shared, no token gifts received, and the customary cake is missing? Would it make your time in the company any less eventful?
A friend brought this up one evening. Two of his teammates had moved on from their jobs within the past fortnight. While X got a surprise, complete with sob-inducing we-will-miss-you speeches and an after party at a top club in Dubai, Y’s send-off was a thank you card from HR, a cake, and a mention in the company’s weekly newsletter. Y’s farewell wasn’t bad, but you can’t be blamed for thinking X received a better one.
If you ask me, colleagues being forced to recollect memories of your association seems unnecessary. I dislike the drama of send-offs. How about dropping a thoughtful mail rather than gathering people from other teams to discuss what a pleasure it was working with the person moving on?
Farewells can reflect your popularity and likeability among colleagues. Given a choice, I would rather skip my last day and work from home — and not because I think my colleagues hate me and wouldn’t get me a cake!
Adeel Kazak, a former UAE resident and Lebanese expat worked for two years at an ad agency in Dubai. When he quit his job, his colleagues pooled in to buy him a ticket to a Jennifer Lopez concert in November 2017. “My four workmates bought me the tickets and we had the best time at the concert. What more could I ask for?”
A journalist friend was surprised when he quit his previous job in India. “It was 15 years back in Kolkata when on my last day, a hostile senior who didn’t like me much, took me out to a Chinese restaurant. Over dinner, we discussed everything but the office, and it wasn’t a bad evening. It was the much-needed closure for me,” he said. “We stayed in touch for a couple of years”.
Often, companies acknowledge the departures of top executives with a decent farewell but how often have you seen a similar celebration for employees at a lower grade?
On Reddit, I asked readers to post instances, if any. A Dubai- based school teacher joined the thread and shared that they host send offs for everyone — teachers as well as the support staff: bus drivers and caretakers.
Another anonymous user spoke about the small get-together the residents in a building in Jumeirah Lake Towers put together when their Sri Lankan watchman was leaving the country. “He was part of our lives for six years and we couldn’t let him go without conveying that.” The residents also contributed to gift him a month’s salary.
Curious to know if HR spares a thought when it comes to employees who’ve quit, I reached out to one of the top 20 companies in the region. The question was simple, “How do you make your employees feel special on their last day?”
An executive with a hospitality company who didn’t want to be named, said, “We believe it is important to say good luck instead of goodbye to our employees for their next phase, be it retirement or their next job. You are sending a message that you care about your employees by treating the departing ones right. We plan small gestures like a farewell party, a lunch at a restaurant, a personalised gift, etc. Teams can always take colleagues out at their own expense.”
Not all employers want you to disappear quietly though, and they would go the extra mile to express their gratitude. When the employer-employee relationship isn’t a corporate set up, the dynamic becomes all the more different.
Saudi-based Raha Moharrak and her family couldn’t accept the departure of their long-term nannies, Rosa and Lumi, after 36 years. When it was time to bid them adieu, one of the three children the nannies took care of — Raha, who became the first Saudi woman to climb the Mount Everest — even escorted them to the Philippines.
“For the past three decades, they haven’t travelled much so I was really nervous to leave them alone. And I had never been to the Philippines as an adult so I thought it would be great to make a trip with them,” Raha told me.
While in the Philippines, Raha met her nannies’ extended families. “It was like meeting my long-lost cousins and nieces. We were connected on Facebook so meeting them was reconnecting personally.”
And then it was time for the final goodbye at the Manila airport. Recalling the day, Raha says, “They are my second moms, so seeing their crying faces and forcing my feet to walk away from them was the hardest thing I have done in my life.”
Before leaving, Raha tutored the duo on how to dial on Skype and send videos and photos on WhatsApp. She hopes this won’t be their final goodbye.
Often though, when someone doesn’t get a farewell, there is sadness. People who don’t receive farewells feel a twinge. Understandably, they’ve been known to think on the lines of, ‘I worked here for so long, the least they could have done was gather everyone and give a speech, maybe cut a cake.’ For a lot of us, meaning can be derived from tokenism.
Of course, the same rules don’t apply for everyone. Not everybody wants to be the star of the evening. Some are awkward with the attention a farewell brings, and prefer to disappear without saying goodbye. You realise they are missing only when you see their empty desk.
One such person, a data administrator retiring from an Abu Dhabi firm retiring after eight years, told his boss much before his retirement day that he didn’t want a party, nor a surprise. His reason was, “There was no party when I joined the company so why should there be one when I leave?”
Anita is still waiting for photographs taken on her last farewell