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What to do when your work wife or work husband gets a new job

Finding out that your favorite person at work is leaving is a real bummer. Here’s how to cope.

What to do when your work wife or work husband gets a new job
[Source photo: Dewin’ Indew/iStock]
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Workplace relationships are a key part of satisfaction with your job. Having a bad supervisor can turn a great job into a nightmare. Having a close friend at work (or a “work spouse“) can be a great benefit. Everyone wants someone who can act as a sounding board, confidant, and support. It helps you to feel like there is someone in your organization who really understands you.

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So, what happens when that close confidant gets another job—whether in your organization or somewhere else?

Don’t let it hurt your relationship

It can feel like a betrayal when your close colleague at work takes on a new job. Inside the organization, that person might now be in a higher-ranking position than yours, which can make it feel like they have gone from being one of “us” to being one of “them.” And taking a job with another firm altogether can seem like they have turned traitor.

It can be particularly painful when your colleague didn’t give you any warning that they are looking at another job. Remember that it can feel awkward to tell anyone at work when you’re contemplating a job switch (particularly if you’re dancing with an outside firm). So, give them the benefit of the doubt. They may just not have known how to tell you.

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Even if you had some idea that they were looking, it can come as a rude shock when the day comes that they have taken on another job. It’s fair to raise your feelings with your colleague. Let them know how you’re feeling—shocked, angry, or sad. At the same time, express that you’re happy for their success. Start the process of healing any rupture the new job may cause. This person has been important to you, and you don’t want to destroy the relationship because your close colleague has had some success.

If your colleague is moving into a supervisory role, you will want to talk about ways that might strain your friendship. Whenever you have more than one relationship with someone, it can create conflicts of interest. So, it is important to have open communication about what to do when company responsibilities and friendship goals conflict.

Your workplace friendships aren’t your job

Because close relationships are so important for workplace happiness, losing a close colleague can sour your feelings about work altogether. Part of the problem is that you may feel sad for several days (or longer) after getting the news of your colleague’s departure. That sadness (or anger or frustration) will influence the way you feel about everything going on at work. And at some point, you’ll start interpreting even minor slights at work as something significant.

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In general, continue to remind yourself that your current job isn’t as bad as it may feel in the few weeks after your colleague gets a new job. That will keep you from starting to apply for other jobs impulsively.

That said, if you have been dissatisfied with your job for a while, you might want to use the energy you get from finding out about your colleague’s departure to spur you to action. There are times when you aren’t happy at work, but maintain the status quo, because it is hard to take a big step like looking for a new job. If you have been considering moving on from your job already, then this might be a good excuse to start that process.

Find someone new

If you’re going to be staying in your job, then you should bear in mind that the relationship you had with your colleague is going to change. It is just hard to maintain that kind of closeness with someone you’re not seeing every day and who isn’t sharing the same experiences that you are.

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You may not want to form as tight a bond with someone new at work, but it is important to have a few people who can serve some of the same roles as the colleague you’re losing. You want someone you can gripe with and someone who can lift you up when you’re feeling down. You want someone who can give you honest advice and feedback.

Grab coffee (in-person or virtually) with a few of your colleagues that you don’t know as well. Establish more connection with them and find out about their experiences at the office. That expanded social network will help you to feel a little better about your job moving forward—even if you can’t truly replace the connection you had with the colleague who left.