Recently, a friend of mine left his job to move on to “greener pastures” at another company. I assume he meant he left for personal development reasons, or in other words, a dissatisfaction with his company’s inability to promote him. So he takes a new job, jumping from the frying pan into an adjacent frying pan, which, although the cooking oil smells better, is actually more fattening and still finishes the fricassee at the same time. And by accepting a more prominent position, my former colleague is placed in his new frying pan at a hotter location over the fire.

Meanwhile, at his old job place, he tells me the chatter among his workmates is his irreplaceability. Certainly he possesses a body of knowledge that none of his peers enjoys. There are subtleties about his projects only he is cognizant of, and work relationships which are unique between him and others he collaborated with. But is he irreplaceable?

He is not from management's perspective. The time elapsing from when he announced his departure until his replacement arrived was three weeks. This means the staff requisition to fill his position was drafted the moment he announced his intent to leave. Phone interviews for his replacement were conduced during his final two weeks of employment. Three days of interviews were conducted starting the day following his departure. The offer was made to the best candidate on the final day of interviews, and his replacement's starting date scheduled for the following Monday. Though his manager lamented on the loss of a “key contributor,” the machinery of replacement started the moment that contributor made his quitting intentions public. And like a superficial wound to a seldom used body part, the damage caused by his exit was healed over before upper management received the accounting report indicating the injury.

He is not viewed as irreplaceable by his workmates. They know when someone like him leaves, his workload will temporarily shift onto them. They know the machinery of replacement will activate, replacing him as quickly and efficiently as possible, making his vacancy seem less like a departure and more like a role recasting, much like Bewitched hiring a new actor to portray Darren. And they know once the new guy is on board, he will be pitched into his role with the expectation of being identical to Old Darren except in physical appearance. Certainly some of my friend's expertise will be missed by his former colleagues, but they know New Darren will be jammed in to plug the expertise hole resulting in minimal productivity leakage.

His underlings will not regard him as irreplaceable, either. They know a position of superiority is transient, with most subordinates having experienced periods where their superior has changed every few months, seemingly every time the company division has changed names from Business Products to Business Solutions to Enterprise Solutions. In fact, underlings prefer the rapid change, knowing their immediate leader will transition away before he has sufficient time to become disagreeably horrible.

My friend does not see himself as irreplaceable. He knows his former company will endure despite his departure. He knows there will be no hiccup regarding the amount of widgets produced, profits earned, and shareholders satisfied. He knows regardless of whether he leaves of his own accord or gets struck by a bus on the street, someone will take over for him. He knows equally well his new position in his new company is that of New Darren, filling the vacancy of Old Darren who left a week earlier.

Even corporate leaders know they are replaceable, which is why they negotiate sweet golden parachutes contingent on their departures. They also know the company itself can expire, replaced by a more nimble one, which is why they negotiate even sweeter golden parachutes should the company fail when they are at the helm.

So my friend’s former colleagues talk about irreplaceability, partly to feel they themselves are irreplaceable, and partly to avoid facing the idea they wouldn’t want to work for a company that judges them replaceable.

Meanwhile, the giant meteor hurtles toward Earth.