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Etiquette

Office Etiquette: The Farewell E-Mail


Office Etiquette: The Farewell E-Mail

Though words will surely fail to capture the entire [sic] of a man’s thoughts and emotions at the moment he sheds an old skin and prepares for the adventure that awaits, he is resolute that they will offer some glimpse into his mind and heart, as he recounts the memories in vivid definition and as he considers the connections, like ribbons of great light, that fasten him to you. —An associate at New York law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy

The three most dreaded e-mail subject lines in corporate America are, in no particular order: 1) “HR Needs to See You”; 2) “July 3 is NOT a Vacation Day”; and 3) “It’s been real!” More than 2 million people quit their jobs every month, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Which means that each year, 24 million goodbye e-mails are sent to cringing co-workers. That’s not counting the fired and laid-off and retiring. And the interns, who refuse to be left out of all that CCing.

Rare is the sane farewell e-mail, such as, “Thanks for everything! Miss you! Reach me at Gmail and see you on Facebook!” Upon reading this gem you smile fondly, press delete, and never think of Anne-who-always-shared-her-gum for another minute of your busy life. Too often, though, employees use these final missives to get sappy or sad, bitter or ecstatic, or just super weird (see: “ribbons of great light”). Yes, leaving a job is hard. It’s emotional. Colleagues have become friends and ex-spouses. That gushing, glowing, 2,500-word goodbye e-mail does come from a good place. That doesn’t make it a good idea.
 
 
I’m not sad and I hope you aren’t either, because this isn’t an end it’s just a new beginning. … During my time here I had a lot of fun, there was a lot of pain, more pain and sadness then [sic] I can even hope to describe in a single e-mail. But more and more I’m choosing to only remember the good times, which is making me a better person, a happier person. —An employee at accounting firm Deloitte

“Emotions are difficult to convey in mass e-mails, and some people may think you’re insincere,” says Daniel Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute about our unstoppable urge to over-emote. It’s better to keep the message short, no more than a handful of sentences, as if you were writing a thank-you note. Oddly, this sentiment was offered without irony in an 1,800-word e-mail sent in January by a PricewaterhouseCoopers employee. He observed that “when [your e-mail] ventures into 1,000+ word territory, it starts coming off as a rant rather than a goodbye.”
 
 
Today is my last day at Goldman Sachs (GS). After almost 12 years at the firm … I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people, and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it. —Greg Smith, as published in the New York Times

Ranting is bad form. Chris Kula did this when he quit his job as a receptionist at an engineering companyin 2005. “For nearly as long as I’ve worked here, I’ve hoped that I might one day leave,” his e-mail began. This worked for him—Kula’s now a full-time TV comedy writer—but it won’t for you. Yes, you hate your co-workers or your boss or your entire company. That’s why you’re leaving!

When it comes to your contact list, be careful. In 2009, former Googler Jason Shugars sent his tongue-in-cheek “So long, suckers!” e-mail to 5,000 employees, telling everyone at Google (GOOG) that he’d once shoved cake down his pants for $100. “If someone opens your e-mail and goes, ‘Who is this person?’ that’s not a good sign,” says Scott Dobroski of the job-hunting website Glassdoor.

Leave out the inside jokes and don’t name specific people. Last year a CFI Group consultant named Jeff sent an e-mail that thanked 38 people in his office by name, including two he called “The Hammer” and “Triple G.” “If you say, ‘I want to thank Sam and Kelly and Chris,’ inevitably Becky will think, ‘What about me?’ ” Dobroski says. “You don’t want the last memory people have of you to be that you made them feel left out.” This is true no matter what, even if Becky deserves it.
 
 
After nearly 10 years of going to work in squares’ clothes I can now reveal to everyone that those “grown-up” clothes made me unhappy in the sartorial sense. I’m much more comfortable being the d00d in Dquared2 running shoes, Diesel jeans, and ripped Michael Bastian t-shirts. … My new job has no dress code; every day is casual Friday. — An associate at New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

After crafting a goodbye e-mail, save it to your drafts and look at it again a few hours later. Did you use the word “heartsick”? Delete. Mention your therapist? Delete. Rhyme? Delete. Quote the Bible? Delete. Did you quote Sharknado? Oh, God. Attach a picture of yourself kissing your entry badge? Delete. Did you incorporate Coldplay lyrics? You should be ashamed. Don’t let your sadness or happiness or nervousness or insanity come through. All you really want is for people to smile fondly, move your message to the trash, and never think of you again.

Suddath is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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