Gone climbing. Permanently.

Gone climbingI'm interested to know if a recent phenomenon that's swept the Peppercomm workplace is occurring simultaneously in other office cultures, near and far.

The event in question is, for lack of a better description, a lengthy farewell e-mail from a departing employee that is sent agency-wide on the individual's final day of work.

These departure e-mails aren't just, “Gee, it's been real…” notes. Rather, they rival War and Peace in scope, and cover every conceivable event or experience that occurred during the employee's tenure at our firm.

Some will recall good clients and bad. Others will regale us with tales of their very first business trip. Still others will wax poetic about a Summer party from 2009.

I'm not sure exactly when these missives began, but they've become part of our standard operating procedure.

I addressed the phenomenon at our management committee meeting this past week, and noted that a departure note or e-mail simply never occurred at the Hill & Knowlton of the 1980s, the Earle Palmer Brown of the early 1990s or the J. Walter Thompson of the mid-'90s (my previous employers). Nor did it occur at Peppercomm until recently.

Our creative director suggested it was a Millennial 'thing' since, he noted, they love to comment on every occurrence in their lives up to, and including, their most recent employment experience. Our licensing director saw the phenomenon as a positive trend. Which it may very well be.

Good or bad, right or wrong, I'm nonetheless beyond curious as to WHY this occurrence has suddenly materialized.

Why do departing employees feel the need to share very personal experiences with every other employee? I'm at a loss. 

I'm also at a loss as to why each departing staffer feels compelled to include new contact information (since they're all already connected).

I can tell you one thing, though: when I finally decide to call it a day, I won't compose a departure e-mail that makes 'The Guns of August' seem like Cliff Notes in comparison. I'll simply hang a sign outside my vacant office that reads: 'Gone Climbing. Permanently.'

So, before I do go climbing on a permanent basis, can someone please answer two questions:

1.) Why write an all-hands departure e-mail in the first place?

2.) Is this phenomenon unique to Peppercomm, or is it part of the ever-changing American workplace?

If you're nice enough to enlighten me, I'll be sure to list you as an asterisk at the bottom of my departure sign.

24 thoughts on “Gone climbing. Permanently.

  1. See it all the time Steve. I think most people do it as an earnest attempt to leave on good terms and thank colleagues.

  2. Rep, I’m surprised that you feel this way. You are very good at expressing your feelings here on your blog and in emails to the agency. Why are you surprised that people who have less opportunity to express themselves take full advantage when they have the rare opportunity?

  3. Steve – there have been a few of these that have been publicized in the news and went viral. Two in particular come to mind: Goldman Sachs and Groupon. My favorite by far is Groupon’s CEO’s missive. A great lesson about big data and the importance of paying attention to the customer. Here it is:
    People of Groupon,
    After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why … you haven’t been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that’s hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.
    You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance. The board is aligned behind the strategy we’ve shared over the last few months, and I’ve never seen you working together more effectively as a global company – it’s time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.
    For those who are concerned about me, please don’t be – I love Groupon, and I’m terribly proud of what we’ve created. I’m OK with having failed at this part of the journey. If Groupon was Battletoads, it would be like I made it all the way to the Terra Tubes without dying on my first ever play through. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you. I’ll now take some time to decompress (FYI I’m looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion), and then maybe I’ll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.
    If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!
    I will miss you terribly.
    Love,
    Andrew

  4. This is standard operating procedure at my company, too.
    Since employees come and go so frequently now, I think folks want to let everyone know where they landed. It has become part of networking. Agree that the “over-sharing” emails describing their tenure isn’t necessary, but then I can always hit the delete button.

  5. Thanks, Julie. I figured it was just another part of social networking and also thought deeply personal, autobiographical departure notes couldn’t possibly be unique to Peppercomm. And, as you say, if they do get too long-winded, there’s always the delete button.

  6. Great example, Stan. I remember the Groupon CEO’s exit e-mail. And, I certainly remember the Goldman Sachs employee’s open letter of resignation that ran on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Both, though, held senior management positions at the time. In our case, interns, junior account executives and AEs feel compelled to write lengthy diatribes about their lives and times at Peppercomm. I find it fascinating since, when I was 24, no one ever, ever sent farewell notes on their day of departure. Of course, that was before the printing press had been invented.

  7. According to most descriptions, I am–age-wise–considered to be at the beginning of the Millennial “group.” According to Pew’s Millennial quiz, though, I’m much closer to the “Gen X” mark. (I have a Millennial score of 43, whatever that means…)
    I think the trend has arisen for a few reasons. First, I suppose it’s only most likely to pop up at organizations that have some sort of feeling of family and camaraderie within it. I can’t imagine workers in a lot of cubicle cultures wanting to commemorate their time there in any way, shape, or form, nor to keep up with most of the people they wanted to work with. I suspect it rises up in office cultures where people met because of work and genuinely want to stay in touch after they leave.
    Second, the ability we now have to document our thoughts and share them with others more freely have made us perhaps more publicly expressive as a culture, meaning we have a greater desire not to leave things unsaid. For many of the younger employees at Peppercomm, this was their first job. Several of our employees rose from intern and up several levels while here. In those cases, they really grew up at Peppercomm. It’s sad to leave, because it’s been more than just a job. For many, this company has given them their support network, especially those who aren’t from the NYC area or SF area and moved here with almost no one around them. Leaving a place you love is really hard, even if life has moved you in a new direction. So, I don’t think it’s just a sign of people wanting to broadcast their lives but rather to let the people around them know just how important the time they spent here really has been.
    Third, you asked about sharing new contact information. I think many workplaces are so email and IM driven that people realize that there may be co-workers who they aren’t connected with via some social network site…Sure, it would only take a few extra seconds for any of us to go look those people up on LinkedIn or Facebook and reach out to them if we ever need them, but sharing that Gmail address is in part a way to demonstrate that the hope of staying in touch is genuine.
    And, finally, I think you’re quite right that it has become tradition. This happens in other workplace cultures, as the comment sections shows, and I’m guessing particularly at smaller organizations where you are likely to have some sort of relationship with basically every employee there if you’ve been there long enough. But the particular way it has manifested itself at Peppercomm has become part of the unique culture of our organization. You can see people do things in their exit emails that are variations on a theme of what someone else has done, or that makes subtle reference to a goodbye note that has happened before. In other words, we now have a script for how to leave…an expectation for what to do. Those are the building-blocks, I think, of a healthy workplace culture that is more than a group of people who work on projects together. In fact, maybe that should be the lead line on our next entry for Crain’s. :)

  8. I agree with Matt. Having been with Peppercomm for almost 15 years (yikes!), it has been common practice to bid the company farewell in an email. In those pre-social networking days, the notes were brief, complimentary and there was a purpose to sharing contact info.
    Today, they are undoubtedly longer, and touch on how Peppercomm has impacted their lives on a professional and personal level. They’ve also become far more creative…sometimes a little too creative. I chalk it up to two things:
    1) following the explosion of social media, employees are used to sharing a lot of information, documenting every moment and not being as concerned about crossing the line as their earlier generation co-workers. Watching my 12-year-old daughter, I can only imagine how this will increase once her generation hits the workforce.
    2) Peppercomm has built a strong culture that results in extremely close friendships with co-workers and that is based on openness, teamwork, and comedy. The result? A no holds barred approach to saying goodbye.
    At the end of the day, most of our outgoing employees are very fond of the company. This is a way of marking the moment in time and recognizing the important role we’ve all played as they take on their next adventure.

  9. Your analysis was well worth waiting for, Sam. Thanks. It does shed much-needed light on the subject. I do get it. But, allow me to ask the co-author of ‘Spreadable Media’ a question. Don’t these office-wide missives violate a fundamental principle of successful social media engagement? Departing employees haven’t listened first to know if:
    A) their audience wants to hear from them in this way.
    B) their audience will respond and engage as a result of the e-mail.
    I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

  10. Will wonders never cease? I’ve surprised Ann Barlow? Wow. To answer your question, I’ve been open and engaging with employees for each of Peppercomm’s 18 years. And, e-mail has existed that entire time. Yet, these departure e-mails are a very recent phenomenon. That’s what surprises me. I think Sam Earl hit the nail on the head in his analysis. It’s part of the DNA of our younger, Millennial employees. And, as other readers have posited, this trend is not limited to Peppercomm.

  11. I think this is as much of a social media trend (which has affected all demographics, judging by the billion people on Facebook) as it is a millennial trend. I also have copy of an e-mail from a non-millennial Pcomm departing employee, which went on and on. I agree with Sara in that it makes a very strong statement about the positive experiences people have had at Peppercomm, inside and outside the office – after all, we do promote a work hard play hard mentality and some content of these filibusters are examples of that. I also think that inside jokes about office romance and passive-aggressive lash-outs at fellow employees also make a very strong statement – not about Peppercomm, but about the people writing those e-mails. That’s how they will be remembered. That’s what people will think of when they call in the future for a reference. At the end of the day, goodbye e-mails, like social media, texting, Twitter, etc. are tools. They’re not inherently good or bad. Whether or not they are used professionally or appropriately is based on decision-making skills and maturity of the sword wielder – not the sword itself.

  12. Heavy, man. Heavy. So, I must have missed the non-Millennial departure e-mail (probably fell asleep at my desk). Am I safe in assuming that, god forbid, you ever leave Peppercomm, your departure e-mail will be as laden with empty calories as the clients you represent?

  13. I’d argue they have. In most cases, they don’t have to research the audience, because they are the audience. They’ve been an active part of the community they are writing to for some time. They have been the appreciative recipients of the goodbye missives of colleagues past. And so they are writing this note to their community.
    Now, when it is sent to the whole staff…perhaps the note is intended more for some colleagues than for others…But the presumption is probably that those who don’t know them as well or didn’t care about their goodbye wouldn’t bother with reading it all the way through, anyhow. The alternative, in a mid-sized company like ours, would be to send a note to most of the people on the staff but leave a few people out, which could inadvertently lead to hurt feelings.–especially if everyone around you got and started talking about someone’s goodbye note.

  14. My current work is laden enough with long missives and empty calories. And no, I plan neither to leave, nor to use a departure as an excuse to reveal TMI or “what I really think.” If I have something to say I will say it as a full-time employee, and if it’s inappropriate in any way, I’m sure my colleagues will address it. Farewell signs at my desk will direct interested parties to Block Island or Boca.

  15. Hasn’t happened when a recent employee left our company (from the accounting department). Maybe your departures really like you and the job, and feel like writing copy and having fun all the while dealing with separation.

  16. Somehow, I seem to have stumbled into a company-private conversation. Just feel moved to say it’s great that your employees are focusing what are really anthropological insights on your own company. The motivation behind such self-examination is probably a wish to identify what’s healthy (or not) about the company environment — with a mind to keeping the good and including more people, or prodiving some improvement in the way employees can relate to one another if something’s lacking. Good for you!

  17. The blog was not intended to be exclusive, Stephen. Sorry about that.
    For the record, I’m thrilled that departing employees feel empowered to share each, and every, high and low point of their time at P’comm. I just find it different. Not good or bad, just different.

  18. Great quote. Brevity is in short supply these days. Tis the era of the passive, run-on sentence, Julie.

  19. I seem to recall long goodbye emails were the norm even during my tenure at Peppercom. And I know I wrote a fairly lengthy goodbye email myself when I moved on from Peppercom almost nine years ago. I wanted one last opportunity to laugh about all the crazy things that had happened over the years. I also really wanted to thank people because I did feel that my time there was special and I suspected I wouldn’t have an experience like that again. I was right.

  20. I guess my short and long-term memory are both fading, Chris. Thanks so much for the nice note. Glad to know that P’comm was a good experience for you.