People leave their jobs for a variety of reasons, some by choice, others by circumstances beyond their control. Caring colleagues who wish to express their emotions related to the departure of a co-worker or employee might be unsure of how best to approach the issue, given the circumstances of the situation. Erring on the side of caution and general wishes of good will are advisable.

For a Terminated Employee

A colleague who has been fired or laid off is likely to be making a hasty exit with little time for planning any type of farewell. It’s unlikely a “from the gang” card will circulate through the office for this employee, but if it’s someone who you were fond of or worked closely with, you might decide to send a card. Select a non-descript blank-on-the-inside card and choose a simple and non-judgmental sentiment. For example: “I enjoyed the opportunity to work with you,” or, “I wish you the best of luck with future endeavors.”

For Medical Leave

Someone leaving work for personal medical reasons or to care for an ailing spouse or relative requires a gentle approach. In this instance, words of hopeful encouragement are most appropriate, such as “You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers,” or, “Thinking of you during this challenging time.”

For Maternity Leave

A colleague taking maternity or parental leave is likely excited about their departure and can be approached with a bit more levity and enthusiasm. Be careful not to cross the line in terms of sounding sexist or condescending. You could write, “Enjoy one of the best jobs you’ll ever have!” or, “And you thought this job was tough!” A more thoughtful and sensitive approach: “Enjoy this magical time with your new family.”

For Retirement

Retirees probably are excited about their transition from the workplace and will appreciate the good wishes of their soon-to-be former colleagues. Retirement sentiments can take a light-hearted approach through jokes, references to hobbies or personal asides. Something like this might work: “The golf course will never know what hit it!” or, “We’ll be thinking of you every morning at 8 when you’re on the lake and we’re in the conference room.” A more heartfelt message for a mentor or superior might be, “I have greatly appreciated your willingness to share your wisdom and knowledge. You will be missed.”

Leaving for a New Job

A colleague leaving for a new job might be facing mixed emotions from co-workers, though it’s always wise to leave things on a good note in the event your professional paths cross again. Simple, professional thoughts are appropriate for this situation, such as, “It’s been a pleasure. Keep in touch!” or, “Wishing you all the best in your new pursuits.”

Tips for Managers

Managers and business owners need to use special care in choosing their words wisely, especially when it comes to saying good-bye to employees leaving under less-than-ideal conditions. If there was strife in the workplace, charges of discrimination or harassment, or if a person is being laid off, what you write in a card can come back to haunt you. Don’t let a written farewell turn into lawsuit fodder. Instead, keep comments simple: “Best of luck,” or, “Thank you for your contributions.”