On Farewell parties

Why am I feeling angry and irritated? I asked myself as I was returning from a send off party.

People who have put in long years of service get a send off [farewell] on their retirement usually in a five star hotel. Sometimes on their resignation. You have to organise ‘send off’ party if you are in HR function. It is quite an experience.

The venue must be a five star hotel. It must be convenient to the bosses to travel. The bosses have a very disagreeable task of attending all the send off parties and also making a speech. [But then this is a part of their job description as HR Managers would put it]. The bosses get to prepare speech hours before the party. They ask the HR Manager about the retiree’s various postings, important events and achievements. While noting down the points, they come to the last stage. The speech must be finished with a personal touch. Affection must be shown. The standard line ‘At work we are just like a family’ must be said. The boss asks his HR Manager, ‘How many children does he have? What do they do?’ The HR manager stares at him. ‘Don’t tell me YOU do not know!’ the boss reacts. The HR manager usually does not know, after all they rarely spend more than three years in any job. The HR manager continues to stare at him and he now puts on a grin. ‘Why are you asking me? YOU have worked with him all these years!’ He does not say this but suggests through his smile and gestures.

All assemble at the venue. Bar is opened. ‘So, what are your plans?’ the retiree is asked. Nobody is interested in his answer; the hidden question is ‘Are you going to work for my competitor?’

The speeches begin. Bosses are preoccupied with ‘performance’. The speeches sound more like his performance appraisals. Nobody speaks about having enjoyed some great moments together. Audience says sarcastically that bosses discover the potential of their employees at the send off party! But they tell bosses after the speech ‘straight from the heart, boss!’

Now it is the turn of the retiree to speak. I always dread this moment. They are usually unstoppable. Their speeches fall in one of the three categories: [a] He advises the bosses what needs to be done [b] He expresses deep sense of gratitude and ends it by thanking his wife for wonderful support. [In the audience somebody says ‘Behind every successful man there is a woman’. ‘And behind her is his wife’ another man adds. All laugh.] [c] He simply chokes, wipes off tears and utters, ‘Thanks, Thank you friends!’

Contrast this with a send off at an airport. Very few words exchanged. A few hugs and kisses. Moist eyes. The traveller tells his wife or mother or relatives not to get emotional and return home.

Why doesn’t a send off party turn into an emotional event? Is it because organisations seem to have a knack for making things very impersonal? Or is it because we are not involved as we are not the one who is being sent off?