Losing a coworker didn’t use to bother me. True to my Gemini brand, I didn’t mind the parade of faces that came to and left the office. It was a natural cycle that, at the time, I felt also gave me space to be slightly aloof on days when I just wasn’t in the mood to socialize. I don’t think I was ever sad to hear about a coworker choosing to find greener pastures or a lesser evil at the very least. Now, it’s a totally different story.
A friend of mine opened up the other day about how she doesn’t think she can handle losing another person on her team at work. She listed down the names of her work friends who have left this year and there were 16 in total. Leaving on their own terms or laid off due to pandemic-related financial constraints, losing 16 of your pals in a small company is enough to drastically change your work dynamic. “Why are they all leaving me?” asked my friend to no one in particular.
In a year when so many are grieving over loved ones who have passed away, lost livelihoods and homes, as well as upended life-changing plans, it’s so easy to go into a shame spiral when you cry over things that seem trivial in comparison. We tell each other online that it’s okay to be sad over anything during this unprecedented (a word that I’ve grown to detest) global catastrophe. But it’s hard not to feel guilty, wretched even, for having thoughts like “This could be it. The last straw that will break me” over what should be a simple task or, well, losing a coworker.
I get where my friend was coming from. Unmoored because of the abrupt change in our daily routines, any semblance of familiarity and even order (in our preferred doses, of course) is welcome. Shifting industries the same week as the national lockdown and having experienced a number of team roster changes have both contributed to my year-long professional identity crisis (on top of the private one that has me rattling the cage of my consciousness). Unlike before, a coworker’s resignation feels like a personal blow. It’s like losing a limb and it’s even harder than ever to try functioning as if you’re whole, shouldering an emotional and physical weight that is acknowledged but ultimately brushed off in a system that refuses to take a real pause.
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It takes double the effort to put down roots and build a sense of genuine camaraderie when interacting on online workspaces isn’t as instantaneous and spontaneous. It’s taxing to repeatedly invest the amount of energy to develop a relationship with so many people in this set-up. We’re all on the losing end of this game of pretend (the one that has us replying a curt “Okay” whenever someone asks us how we are) we’re all forcing ourselves to play.
Rutgers professor Kristin Grogan wrote in a tweet, “We have lost so many things this year while going to extraordinary lengths to preserve work and work alone.” While it hurts to lose friends in workplaces, it’s nearly impossible not to be happy for them in their display of self-agency.
How do I deal with losing coworkers? I look at the hole they left, not unlike a nurse assessing an injury, and acknowledge that it would be impossible for anyone to really fill it out. I make plans to meet with them when we finally can (whether or not either of us believe it can happen). I let their relief wash over me like it’s my own.
Art by Dana Calvo
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