Thursday, September 25, 2008

Calling Miss Manners: Awkward going-away parties

[Sheet cake: infamous Wal-Mart version]

Let's get real: We don't love all our departing co-workers equally. For example, some of us think we're God's gift to Gannett; others hold a different view. This mismatch only gets worse in the case of bigger and more influential colleagues: i.e., the boss. "Why exactly are we throwing a party for this guy?" a reader wrote recently in a comment, about a suddenly departing USA Today editor. "If he has a small posse of peeps he's close to, they can go have drinks or whatever."

Yet, as thousands of colleagues leave, we go through the motions -- even when the honoree isn't so, well, honored. An e-mail flashes across department computer screens: "Cake in five minutes in conference room to say goodbye to __________ ,'' the note says -- adding, a bit hopefully: "I'm sure we all want a nice send-off."

Next, some poor wretch assigned to the task rolls out the dreaded carrot cake and napkins (plastic utensils budget was cut). Assistant managers look up, then drag themselves to the center of the room. Others s-l-o-w-l-y join in, forming rag-tag circle. Honoree (example: inset, left) stands gamely in the middle. Resigned glances all around. A moment of praise that seems to take until next Wednesday to deliver. An awkward pause, followed by a flutter of faint clapping. Cake in hand, race back to desk to meet a deadline.

(Confidential to Nashville: I've just described The Courier-Journal newsroom's 1997 going-away party for top editor Mark Silverman. Contrary to legend, however, we didn't dance a conga line through the room when his transfer was announced. Silverman's exit came only a year after Corporate sent him to Louisville to bring the anti-Gannett faction to heel. We know how well that worked!)

TO: G. Martore
FROM: C. Montgomery Burns
RE: New profit center suggestion!

How about consolidating all going-away party work to a new National Shared Cake-Baking and Employee Recognition Center of Excellence -- in Indianapolis?! Synergistic win-wins: More taxpayer freebies!! Plus: Other downsizing companies can outsource parties to GCI!!!

Witnessed a memorable going-away party? Details, please, in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Images: more going-away cakes; inset: No. 1 least favorite co-worker, C. Montgomery Burns]


  1. Here's awkward for ya: in my LIC, lots of people have left in the last 9 months without so much as an e-mail from management that folks were leaving - much less a cake.

    A notable exception: the departure of one female staffer - a favorite of the EE - prompted an e-mail to the newsroom heaping such praise on her that the rest of us just gagged. Of course, the EE is so dense he probably doesn't even realize the signal that gives to the rest of us poor slobs who aren't quite as pretty or ... well, pretty.

  2. Actually, Jim, Silverman was in Louisville a bit over a year. He was announced on April 1, 1996 (an unforgettable and appropriate date) and left shortly after Derby in 1997.

    Good times, good times.

  3. D'oh! Thanks; fixed that.

  4. Actually, I find most office parties to be at least somewhat awkward, regardless of whether it's a going away bash or birthday or whatever. We all have to gather, pretend we like each other for 15 minutes, make small talk and then scurry back to our desks. The boss who just cut the cake is about to cut something else -- jobs. The coworker who drives you insane with 700 personal phone calls a day is now chewing with his mouth open. The gal with too much perform is standing next to you while you try to taste the icing. The dude with high blood pressure is going back for seconds. It's just a horrendous custom that means nothing except for some free food and a forum to suck up to people you would't give the time of day to in your real life. But every boss in every business seems to think it's a great bonding experience, as if we're in the third grade and fulfilled soley by cake and cookies. No one will openly object, because you more or less have to go through the motions because of some unwritten rule about these things, but if you want to see an accurate appraisal of the typical office party, check out the movie Office Space.

  5. @ anon 9:17 Very nice. You must live in a cave in your "real life".

  6. When did you work in Wisconsin, Jim? That is EXACTLY the way our farewells go, right down to the sheet cake.

  7. There was a long-time reporter at Wilmington who took the pictures of every staffer that left, at the cake ceremony. The reporter, Matt Zabitka, had several scrapbooks full of the pictures. I remember one month where we had like 12 different cakes. Wilmington has always been a stepping stone for careers, so the turnover is pretty high.

  8. I have vivid memories of those Day-1, post-party. Yup, all that congealed, unrefrigerated butter- cream frosting and cake crumbs everywhere. No wonder we had mice!

  9. get a position working nights....don't have to attend the awkward ceremonies, and the (slightly used/stale) cake ends up in the company refrigerator to be gobbled by the nightside workers.

  10. Is the decorating/inscription on the cake outsourced to 2Adpro??

  11. ... THE single most demoralizing experience of my entire GCI career - i got the lamest, most tepid "speech" from the recently promoted ME -- and the boss above the ME didn't even show up. I seriously thought i'd made a BIG mistake giving 3 weeks' notice.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.