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I'm working at my current company for only 2 months, and my boss recently told me that one of my team mates (who is working here for less than a year as well) is leaving the company due to "personal reasons". I haven't discussed that with the colleague, but I get the impression that he is leaving because he is unhappy with something, and that all other team members know the real reason. I'm somewhat curious about it, but I don't know whether it's ok to ask the colleague about the reason. I mean, I could just say "Hey, by the way, why are you leaving?", but I don't want to make him feel awkward.

Is it appropriate to ask this question at all? Or should I just assume that if a person doesn't say anything about the reason first, he doesn't want to talk about it?

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    @JoeStrazzere not close at all, I'm here for only 2 months, so I didn't have the opportunity to get to know my colleagues well. – lawful_neutral Nov 21 '18 at 19:52
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Honestly, I think you've answered your own question,

I mean, I could just say "Hey, by the way, why are you leaving?"

If you're really concerned about awkwardness, then maybe preface the question with that,

I don't want to be awkward but, by the way, if it's not for a personal reason, would you mind if I asked why are you leaving? Is there something in the work environment that makes you unhappy to be here?

This makes it less awkward by pointing to a workplace issue, instead of creating pressure for him to share if it is actually a truly personal problem.

Or, you could frame it based on his future employer (assuming there is one):

Hey, I was wondering about where you're going - what things about that new job/employer excite you the most?

This gets a conversation started in a positive direction and leaves the door open for further discussion, which will probably naturally steer towards "why are you leaving" but also gives that person the ability to close things down if they are truly not willing to share.

In terms of your follow up question about whether it's even appropriate, that's hard to answer - we don't know your relationship with this individual. I would say, generally, it's human nature to be curious about these kinds of things, and if you have a reasonable relationship with this person, it's not by default inappropriate to ask.

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    I'd rephrase the sentence as "I don't want to be awkward but, by the way, if it's not for a personal reason .. " with "I don't want to be awkward but, by the way, if it's not too personal.. ", since OP already knows that "personal reasons" are involved. Still a nice move to mention that, so the colleague has a built-in way to escape the question. – Liquid Nov 22 '18 at 10:14
  • @Liquid OP knows that he or she has been told it's for personal reasons. OP does not know that there are any personal reasons. "Personal reasons" is, in my experience, a common reason given for all sorts of things, because it sounds innocuous. – David Thornley Nov 26 '18 at 17:17
  • I think we would really be nitpicking to debate over this, but generally I agree with @DavidThornley - when someone says so and so left "for personal reasons" it usually means "I don't want to tell you why they left" and often doesn't reflect whether so-and-so actually thinks it was a "personal" reason. – dwizum Nov 26 '18 at 17:57
  • @DavidThornley Whether the reasons are personal or not, OP has to stick with the "official version" of the facts. – Liquid Nov 26 '18 at 18:59
  • Why? Does the OP even "officially" know anything, from the leaver's perspective? In other words - can't he just plead ignorance and ask the question more generically, vs revealing any knowledge of any reasoning at all? – dwizum Nov 26 '18 at 19:05
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If you are too curious to know the reason of his leaving job than by asking directly to him is against the decent practices. In my opinion you should find his close friends still working in organization. It is easy and decent way to know the reason. I think as you have started your job only two months ago by knowing the reason of his leaving will support you better understanding for your job security and career.

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TL:DR:

The reason for your colleague's departure is probably less important for you compared to how their departure might affect the work that you do. So I suggest to refocus on managing that change instead. At the bottom of this response are some questions to help consider how you might start the conversation with your immediate boss and team members about these issues (except the question about promotion -- keep that one to yourself ;).

Longer Answer:

My approach to work is asking fewer questions not directly related to the work at hand, while keeping an ear out for possibly valuable information.

In this case, ask yourself, Do I really have a need-to-know about this? Do the specific reasons for this person's departure matter very much to my work?

My guess is no and no. You probably have enough on your plate as a new employee as it is, and could spare yourself the extra anxiety associated with potentially uncomfortable, subjective answers, especially if it's hard to tell if they are the actual reasons, or a 'version for the press'. While perspective is not a bad thing, sometimes keeping the mental blinders in place helps to focus on your own work and avoid the extra drama which is neither necessary nor beneficial.

Regardless, chances are that (if not before then shortly after the person leaves) someone will mention the reason to you or you will have an opportunity to casually ask someone who might know why this person left.

Finally, does it really matter if you knew the reason before the person leaves?

If the answer is no, then you might as well spare yourself and the person the potential awkwardness and wait.

More importantly, staff comings and goings inevitably spell change for those who stay. This change can either go smoothly or make for a bumpy ride during the transition.

What will or might have an impact on your work is not why the person left, but what the fact of their departure means for you in a very practical sense. In this regard, here are some questions to consider now, so that you can prepare and position yourself well for this change:

  1. What does this person's departure mean for the ability of my team to perform its key functions and support mission-critical projects? Are we loosing expertise in a particular area? How easy or difficult might it be to replace this person with someone equally competent (or better)? How long might this take? How might I be able to step in and assist in this transition, and help my team continue to function smoothly once it happens?

  2. How might my workload change before a replacement is found? How long might it take to train that replacement until the new person becomes as effective at the work as the person who is leaving? Until that happens, might I be asked to pick up any of this person's projects, or to help train the new hire? How will this impact my ability to perform the projects that I am already working on?

  3. Will this change team structure/dynamics in such a way that might create risks or open up opportunities for me (or both)? How might this affect my opportunities for promotion?

  4. What might I do now to help minimize any negative impact of this transition? How might I prepare in advance so I am not hit with surprise work assignments later, including things that might not be well documented or I might not well understand?

Approach the situation with a "what can I do to help" attitude, be proactive, and don't be afraid to jump in to fill the gap created by your colleague's departure. There is a good chance that your boss will appreciate this attitude and that you are focusing on the work, as opposed to spreading rumors or freaking out for no good reason. Good luck!

  • The OP has been at this employer for only two months, and might find a tip-off on workplace problems useful. The departure is unlikely to change the team dynamics much. – David Thornley Nov 26 '18 at 17:15

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