Careers advice

Should you quit because your colleagues are leaving?

What should you do?

What you’ll learn:

  • What to do when your co-workers are leaving
  • How to cope when your colleagues are quitting

At certain times, it seems like there’s a new leaving email landing in your inbox every other day. Among the effects this can have on you is sadness at the thought of colleagues leaving, but also puzzlement, or even concern as to what is causing the exodus. You might understandably be worried about extra work landing on your desk while new team members are hired too.

So, should you change jobs due to a high turnover of staff at your current workplace? Here, we’ll break down some of the things to think about when making this decision in the hope that it might make the decision clearer for you.

What to do when your co-workers are leaving for other jobs

1. Try to find out why

This is a lot easier when you’re close to the people who are leaving, as there are questions you can ask that might help you figure out why they’re making the change, without coming across as nosy.

Perhaps the most simple one to ask is where are they going?” Through their answer you might be able to work out if the move is a career decision (i.e. they’ve been offered a more senior role or better perks elsewhere) or more of a life decision (they’re moving to a new area, or perhaps they’re starting a family and are looking for something that will fit more easily around that).

Rapid turnover of staff can be concerning.

The answer to this question may also give away situations where a colleague is leaving because they dislike their job, rather than a situation where they’ve been tempted by something else.

Getting a handle on these factors is important because:

  • It can point you towards opportunities: if a whole bunch of your colleagues are heading to the same two or three employers, this is a good indication that these businesses are actively recruiting people with similar skill sets and, most likely, offering something that your current employer isn’t.
  • It can warn you of potential problems in your organisation: whether it’s personality clashes or an indication of a change coming for the business (for example, news about redundancies) so having your ear to the ground can help you be proactive rather than reactive.
  • It might show you that it’s pure coincidence: a bunch of people leaving in quick succession doesn’t always mean there’s a single cause. It could be that one person is changing career direction, another is starting a family and the third has decided to abandon civilization entirely and live in the bush. In other words, there might not be anything for you to worry about.

2. Reflect on your own experiences

If there is a common reason behind the spate of departures that gives you pause for thought about your own future with organisation, the worst thing to do is make a snap decision. Any considerations about changing jobs need to be made with care, so it’s worth thinking about:

  • How happy are you in your role? Taking the coworker exits out of the equation, how are things going in your role? Are you enjoying your day to day? Are there good opportunities to move forward? Do you feel challenged by your work?
  • What will work be like without these colleagues? Once you’ve weighed up your current feelings about your job, it’s a good idea to think about whether any of those things will change once your current coworkers have gone. If you’re not in love with the work itself, but your colleagues are what bring you through each day, will things be different once they’ve gone?
  • Will new opportunities open up? On the flipside of the sadness of friends leaving the business, could other vacancies open up opportunities for you? This could be in the form of a straightforward promotion into a now empty role, or perhaps something smaller like the opportunity to take on new responsibilities and learn new skills.

Don't be afraid to talk to your manager about your concerns.

3. Chat to your manager

Experienced people leaders will understand that high turnover can be destabilising for their reportees, and will expect you to have questions about what this means both for you and for the team. 

In particular, if you’re finding that colleagues leaving the business is resulting in you having to shoulder more work than you can manage, it’s more than fair enough for you to bring this up with your manager. Chances are, they themselves will be very busy with recruitment cycles, which means they might not be fully aware of the impacts that the churn is having on you and other staff who’ve remained with the business.

Of course, if you do decide to apply for other roles, and are successful, you might also find that your manager presents you with a counteroffer if the company is desperate to keep you. This is another conversation entirely, but it’s worth bearing in mind the wider context of your departure. If the company is losing lots of staff, it could be a good opportunity to negotiate this counter offer and see what other perks you might be able to get.

Coping when your colleagues start quitting

Even if you aren’t thinking about leaving, following an exodus of your co-workers, this can still be a tough moment professionally. We all know that the people we work with are a big part of our daily lives in the office, so this change can be jarring. Here are some suggestions for how to cope:

  • Give yourself time to process: yes, there are much worse things that can happen in life than a close colleague leaving for another role, but that doesn’t mean you should brush any feelings of sadness under the carpet and just get on with it. Take some time to acknowledge how you’re feeling, and perhaps talk it over with friends and family if that helps.
  • Make an effort to stay in touch: if you’re really close to someone who’s leaving, you might think you won’t even need to think about staying in touch once they go. However, you might be surprised by how much of a difference it makes when you aren’t in the sample place multiple days a week by default. If they’re still in the same city, it could be good to meet up for lunch or go for walks on your break. If they’ve moved away, perhaps schedule in a phone call while you walk around the park and get some exercise.
  • Become the culture standard bearer: if you’re worried about the office vibe becoming more ‘coworkers’ and less ‘mates’, take it upon yourself to be the standard bearer for the culture you want to work in. This could be as simple as organising a weekly coffee morning or setting up a sports team, and will be a great way to welcome the new starters who are replacing those who’ve changed jobs.
  • Welcome the newbies: while it might be tough to think of someone taking over the job of someone you were good mates with, it’s important that you make them feel just as welcome as any other new starter. Who knows, that newbie might just become your new favourite colleague.
  • Be honest about your workload: as well as the emotional side of close colleagues leaving, there’s always the chance that you'll find yourself picking up the extra slack, at least until a new hire is made. If things get too much, it’s important that your manager is aware of this. They might be so wrapped up in the hiring process that they’re not aware of how much extra you’re taking on, so be honest if you’re struggling to keep your head above water.