Last year I started a chart tracking colleagues who had left my institution. When I left for the winter break finally, the number stood at 37 and I’m sure I missed a few. These are spread across the university, though nearly half are from the Library. It includes people I worked with regularly enough that their leaving had a significant impact on me, with a sprinkling of high level administrators whose transitions always end up with creating waves of change likely to reach me at some point. I started tracking because I knew that the volume was going to be high and that I would need to be able to see at year’s end — at scale — how significant the disruptions had been.

When we talk about grief and workplace colleagues, it’s often from the perspective of grieving an individual as an isolated incident. Someone passes away or a beloved individual retires. A work friend gets an amazing new opportunity, but it means that they move across the country or maybe sometimes just across town. We mourn their loss and the gap left in our daily work lives — but it’s a single person. We recognize that the slow iteration through colleagues is somewhat inevitable and we anticipate a new colleague or leader who might bring positive things into our work. I even wrote about losses like these a decade ago.

And as someone who works in education, particularly as I’m in a front facing role of being a faculty member and a librarian, starting over again and again and rebuilding relationships is inevitable. Every single semester – spring, summer, and fall – I’m doing orientation sessions, welcoming new people to campus or my classroom, pointing out resources, holding space for their questions, being there to start to establish new relationships. So too do I know the joy and loss of sitting on the stage at commencement and seeing students receive their diplomas and move onwards and away.

This isn’t that. This has been a continuous pummeling or bloodletting, compounded by the fact that at least half of these positions are as yet unfilled, leaving gaps of various sizes, a few of which may never be filled.

The spring saw a lot of retirements after a fall semester navigating a return to campus that was fraught with ongoing concerns, known and revealed inequities, and general social rudeness that seems to only be increasing. Combine that with the strange desperation of 2022 — an energy hauled from the wells of Do-More-With-Less – to “make up” for the previous two years, despite that we still never had gotten a true break, and those colleagues leaving came with little surprise.

Other colleagues are making strategic moves elsewhere in academia. Two left to become Deans at other universities. One got a fully remote job where she has 1/4th of the job responsibilities, more salary, and a lot more resources. Another got a full professor promotion years earlier than she would have gotten it at my institution. Tenured or other more stable faculty positions are, unsurprisingly, not seeing quite the speed of quitting that some industries have come through — academic hiring committees always take longer. But if last week’s *four* library dean announcements were anything to go by — it’s coming for us as well.

I’ve heard some attempts from professional organizations or higher ed leaders to brush this level of turnover under the rug, to excuse it as business as usual, to claim it’s not happening here (wherever here is), or somehow its only the fault of the person who left. It’s why I wrote names down. There’s so much change in my worklife right now that I can’t even remember last January, let alone whose workload was getting parsed out or forgotten during the third week of February.

37. That’s a lot of people.

And so now there is grief and grieving. As the colleagues who are still here, we mourn for people we’ve worked with, built relationships with, know who to call for a referral or a coffee or a spot of gossip. Those professional bonds are inevitably weakened or broken. Possibly — best case — it’s only temporary. But relationship building and maintenance takes effort year over year. It’s a continual and frequently unrecognized grind and when it additionally entails recreating those relationships every two to three years with yet another new person, on top of the regular work… sometimes you wonder about the value of that maintained effort.

There’s also the anticipation and potential stress for task of replacement for the work the individual was doing. Even the joy we might have felt at someone leaving for a new opportunity can be tempered by fear, worry, or anger about their responsibilities and what happens next. Depending on the position we learn all the things they forgot to tell us. There’s one or a few people covering and do we ask them for the thing or do we wait for now so as not to overload them further. Will we then wait for months or years while hiring is considered or delayed because another position or college is prioritized in the queue. Once the position is reopened is it the same role or something modified to meet evolving needs and what of the earlier role are we no longer doing? What about after someone is hired? Do we have the capacity or the time or the energy or just the willingness to meet another person, to bring them into a high context culture, to help them succeed?

I do not yet have answers to these questions. I hope to be welcoming to new colleagues, when they arrive. To find the time to take them to coffee and answer questions. To make sure I reach out yet again and say hello, this is my role, here’s how this role and I worked together before and the three things I’ll need from you in August and yes, of course, I’ll check in again around June 15 on that.

But I also want to hold space for the colleagues and relationships from before, to note that yes, it’s been a lot to change and is likely to continue that way. I want to help others see that yes, you’re right, there were more people a year ago and there are still empty seats and yes, it is hard to remember all the things you used to do with X role or to start over on that relationship. While enough search committees are rolling across the institution that I’m reasonably optimistic, it doesn’t change some of the current stressors or the need to spend in reflection. I hope you will take time to reflect and mourn as needed too.

I haven’t started the 2023 chart yet, it’s coming. Let’s hope it’s heavier on the “New Colleagues” side…