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One of my colleagues is quitting his job and our supervisor has invited us to his adieu at a nearby restaurant. I cannot go there but would like to be polite enough to say goodbye to him.

We were not much in contact during work, maybe 4 times a year, he is a position higher than me and always treated me like a stranger. All other staff (in our department) are going to his farewell that restaurant.

Since I can't come to the party, but would like to say goodbye to him, I've been thinking of sending him a goodbye email or stop by his office, which is a few cubicles farther than mine and personally wish him luck. As there isn't any exact pattern in our company to follow, I don't know what the appropriate way of saying goodbye to him would be.

What is the proper workplace etiquette for saying goodbye to a higher ranking coworker that you almost never interact with?

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    Hi Verver! I've edited your question a bit, rephrased it so it doesn't look like you're asking us to choose between personal vs. e-mail, but instead focused it on workplace etiquette (which is more on-topic than which choice would be appropriate). I've also added the country tag from your other question, if I understood it correctly you're now working in Iran and local customs are important information to keep in mind when answering an etiquette question. If I somehow missed anything, feel free to roll it back or make further edits :) – Tinkeringbell Jun 4 at 17:13
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    Thanks for editing my question, but I am from Iran and work in USA. – Verver Jun 4 at 17:16
  • Ah sorry! I'll add the correct tag. I only took a glance at your other question, sorry I wasn't careful enough :) – Tinkeringbell Jun 4 at 17:16
  • No worries Tinkeringbell! :) – Verver Jun 4 at 17:19
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    Social contact is not something you can figure out by reading a manual and then implementing it. Learn by doing it. Is just trying your best not an option? I don't see what you have to lose, he's gone soon. Being authentic is always a good choice. I think you would benefit greatly if you could describe what actually keeps you from saying goodbye? – Raditz_35 Jun 4 at 17:41
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I've been in the workforce for quite a while now, and this is a pretty common thing.

The first question is: do you hope to have any kind of communication with this individual after they leave the company? It sounds like they don't really know you now, so there's not much chance of that happening.

What I've done in the past with higher-level co-workers that I didn't know well was to sign their farewell card if there was one. If there isn't, and you want to personally say farewell, either of your options is acceptable. If it's someone I've been comfortable with but don't know well, I've stopped by, knocked on the entry, shook hands and just said "good luck in the new position!"

If it's someone that's more of a stranger, an e-mail has worked. I haven't expected a response from that... just a quick "It's been a pleasure; best wishes in the new job".

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When I was in cubicle environments at work, this situation happened on occasion. There were a few times that the person who was very visibly leaving had a cubicle that was next to mine, and I'd generally overhear these interactions. A few times, people who came to talk with me in my cubicle who I knew had just joined the company and had no interaction with the person noticed the clear signs they were leaving (including sometimes literal farewell signs on their cubicle door), and went to briefly wish them good luck on their future endeavors.

Different people are different, but I've never heard anyone responding badly to someone telling them goodbye and good luck, or whatever their equivalent words might be. I've never heard a person in the departing position asking, "do I know you?" unless the person telling them farewell was particularly verbose or nosy in their farewell address.

In several cases where I was well acquainted with the person leaving, they confided in me that they had met more people in their last week of being with the company than they had in all of the years they'd been with the company.

For what it's worth, I'm in the US, and work in IT. I'm not sure how much that matters. In any case, the person isn't going to be around much longer, and they'll be more focused on what is coming up next in their life. It's probably not going to be a big deal to them to have a few people they've never met tell them goodbye, amid the various people they do know.

Email will also probably not be a big deal if you choose to go that route, too. I haven't heard of any problems with people using that method to tell the person farewell, either. I've not had as much of an impression of how well that's received, but I was a company postmaster for a while, and if people had been bothered by it enough to put in an official complaint, I'd have been one of the people they would've been likely to complain to.

Whatever method you use, keep it brief and low key. There are some who give exuberant farewells, but that's best reserved for people one knows.

That having been said, this is an opportunity for a social interaction that will likely have no negative consequences as long as you don't make a big production of it and aren't negative yourself. While I'd only recommend choosing one of the two options, it might be a good time to take the option you are less comfortable with, to give you more practice with dealing with people in that fashion.

The preceding paragraph was advice I was given early on in my career, and while I did not always follow it, it's worked well for me every time I did. I've focused more on my observations with how others have fared following this advice, because on the one hand, I'm a white male who has always worked in companies run by white males, and on the other, I'm on the autism spectrum. As such, my personal experiences are in some ways favored, and in general not necessarily representative. In this case, the experiences I've observed others having have been consistent with my own.

  • Thank you Ed for the detailed answer! I needed to know what is common in USA and in IT field and I got my answer now. I'm neither an american nor a male and the guy is an american male and though we had a few interactions, he was never interested in being a little friendly with me. I like the idea of picking up the most uncomfortable choice but I'm not sure if I can do that this time. I'm also struggling with some problems :) – Verver Jun 6 at 23:19
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You don't say what industry you are in; norms are going to vary. The pattern I have seen (US IT) is that people send a short email with best wishes, perhaps including a personal email address or a profile on a professional networking site such as LinkedIn. (Do not offer a personal social networking site such as Facebook, as people often want to keep personal and professional separate.)

It would not be out of line to briefly stop by their office to offer best wishes for their future, though you need to be prepared for them not being entirely sure who you are, if the company is big enough.

Do express regrets at the unavoidable prior commitment that keeps you from attending the farewell party; it would have been a chance to not just say goodbye to this person you barely knew, but to network with the rest of your company. (Don't say any of that, of course. Just keep it brief and professional. )

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