A reader writes:
Is it rude to ask people where they are going when I know they are leaving the company? I recently had the following email exchange with someone who I don’t know very well but with whom I have worked in a limited capacity. I really like her, and now I feel bad that maybe I shouldn’t have said anything at all to avoid causing an awkward interaction or making her uncomfortable.
Guy: Sarah is leaving the company this Friday and will need you to review for any changes by close of business tomorrow Thursday so she can make changes before she leaves.
Me (privately, to Sarah): Good luck in your next role! Where will you be going?
Sarah: Thanks! Nothing at first. Time will tell :)
Me: Ah, I see. Well, it’s definitely our loss. Please let me know if I can make any introductions for you or facilitate your job search in any way. You’re one of the good ones. J
Sarah: You are wonderful! Thanks, Sarah
It’s really normal to ask people where they’re going when they leave. Sometimes it can lead to a mildly awkward conversation (the person is actually being pushed out and doesn’t know where they’re going, or they refuse to say in an oddly chilly-sounding way, or they just don’t want to answer), but the vast majority of the time, it leads to pleasant information exchanges where the person is happy to say what they’ll be doing next and you can congratulate them.
That said, sometimes people don’t want to say where they’re going because they worry that they work for a horrible employer who will somehow make life difficult for them at their next job. If that’s the case, though, they can simply say something vague like “I’ll be doing the same type of work for a small firm” or “I’m not quite ready to announce it yet” or whatever.
But the question itself is a normal one to ask, generally borne out of genuine interest in the other person, and you shouldn’t feel weird about it or like you put your foot in your mouth.