Even if someone is leaving the company at will (like... found a new job or going on an international assignment with the same company), it's still not the same. Even though you are connected and might continue to be working together on projects or virtually, you won't be able to come up to that person's office and offer to grab a coffee just to chat... for no business reason.
It can be worse. You may find out that someone you liked is leaving from an announcement on the intranet. If it was a unilateral desire to part ways, the phrasing is typically around "left to pursue other career opportunities".
So, people leave for whatever reasons. It still does not make it easier to say "goodbye" to them. I have been through many "business breakups" like this, when I knew the reasons, the timelines and the feelings, and I know that it is toughest when you have grown attached. Hence the maxim: don't get too close to anyone who might potentially be fired/find another job/move house/die. Not always practical and virtually impossible unless you are an emotional freezer.
Staying connected to those you like is important for two reasons:
- Personal. You feel comfortable around them. They can give good advice. They are going through a tough time: you can help them and in the meantime learn how to handle it. You like them.
- Professional. I do not know many people who are fired for underperformance (apart from those whom I fired myself). People leave because they have been ousted by the system, because they lost a political battle with someone who stays in the organisation, because they could not handle a conflict or maybe because they really found a better job - in any case, they possess something that made them stand out - for better or for worse. Staying close to those who stand out and learn from them is a good idea.
Doing so is trickier. Here are a couple of helpful tips that might help you stay in contact:
- Plan regular coffees/lunches/theater trips. Nothing better than regularity will help you to kindle the relationship.
- LinkedIn Profile organizer is a useful little functionality that helps you sort out those contacts who "left to pursue other career opportunities" and have your own strategy of staying connected to those.
- Don't miss an opportunity to offer them your Facebook friendship if you really feel close.
- Make sure to get their personal e-mail and send a "what's up" note after a week or two. A personal touch.