Tuesday, June 30, 2009

For our departing colleagues...

I'm going to break a productivity rule I try to make myself follow & blog right now on something non-systems-related during work hours. Today was a momentous day for us at my place of work. It was odd, sad, and even a bit surreal as we bid a final farewell to 15 of our colleagues who had taken the retirement incentive program offered as a part of the budget negotiations this spring. Back when 14 of our colleagues had planned on retiring, we counted 453 years of experience leaving us. Now, there are more. Tomorrow, they will be gone.

So what is the impact on an organization of such a mass exodus? To some degree, only time will tell, but you can already see some of the implications playing out. One of our library service centers lost 1/2 its staff and will have to close on Fridays. We lost a number of our reference librarians, so we will have to close to the public on Mondays.

To those of us "left behind", there is a palpable sense of loss along with some anxiety about what the future will look like for us. We know that our retiring colleagues held up this institution over many years. Their contributions are what kept this place going successfully for so long.

At the same time, I know that for the folks leaving, it's painful to think about how the organization will change after they leave. If/when things that they'd brought to fruition change, they may wonder whether what they did mattered in the long run. But no one can argue that the work they did over the years is what needed to be done at the time. If it ends up changing, it doesn't mean what was done before was wrong. It was wonderful. It helped our organization to become what it is today. That is the foundation for the next iteration of the organization.

If we, who are left behind, do our jobs well, there will be an organization when we move on. Then the organization will go through another iteration and the structures we will have created, the things we will have done and achieved will also disappear. It won't have made our time here any the less valued or needed.

All of us are but temporary occupants of the roles we play in the workplace. We do our best. We create change and movement and improve things. After us, others will improve and change things in their own ways. It's the nature of life to be dynamic. That doesn't mean that what came before - what was done by our predecessesors is valued any less.

But I do think it's a reminder that part of what matters is not simply the task we do, the role we play, but who we are in relation to others. Sure, my web work might be fine, but part of what will endure when I am at the end of my career will be the impressions others have of working with me. Did I help them, empower them, treat them well? And yes, I am human and imperfect, but did I do the best I could? Because what I will miss most about our 15 departing colleagues is not so much the tasks that they did and the things that they achieved (although those are worthy of great praise), but who they are. For every kindness they have shown their coworkers, for every bit of encouragement they have given, for every time they helped us understand things more clearly, I am grateful. I hope that I can carry on their legacy and do my part in keeping this organization successful for as long as I am here.

So to everyone who is saying goodbye, I wish you a long and fulfilling retirement from our place of work. Thank you for all you have done. Enjoy your time away from this place, knowing that we will do our best to continue on... and that we will miss you!

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