In the March 3, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader who might resign may tread dangerously close to getting fired. This is the 800th edition of the weekly Newsletter since its inception in 2002!

Question

resignI left a decent-size company for a start-up some time ago. Like any other start-up, the work requires a lot of hours. The work itself is very challenging and truly leading-edge technology. However, since the birth of my daughter, I’ve realized that I’m much more of a family man than I imagined. I can clearly see that the hours will only get worse as time goes on.

So, I’m considering leaving the job. My question: Do I wait until I get an offer to tell my boss? My current boss has been more than understanding about my personal life and fairly lenient when I was absent several days for family reasons. Rather than surprising him, I want to give him as much indication as possible before I leave the project. I want to say, at least, “I’m not sure this start-up thing is right for me,” as a passing remark without mentioning a job search. I might have left earlier, had it been a different boss. Thanks. I appreciate and enjoy your columns.

Nick’s Reply

First, you’re allowed to change your mind, especially about a career change like moving from a relatively stable company to a start-up.

Second, I think it’s wonderful that you respect your boss so much. After what I have to say, you may still feel you have good reasons to disclose your plans to your boss. But my first concern is not being nice to your boss. It’s to flesh this out in a way that helps you avoid a costly mistake.

Don’t get fired before you resign

Full disclosure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Use your good judgment and remember that some things are better left unsaid until it’s time to say them. Don’t get fired before you resign.

Ready to resign?

  • Don’t disclose where you’re going until you get there.
  • Decline to do an exit interview.
  • Don’t sign any non-disclosure or non-compete agreements.

Learn why and how in Parting Company: How to leave your job. Today’s Question originally appeared in this PDF book. Nick’s Reply is expanded here.

As long as you act responsibly and ethically within the generally accepted rules of business, my advice is to decide what’s best, and then act on it. Don’t feel guilty for wanting time with your family, even if it means earning your employer’s ire. Likewise, don’t feel guilty for protecting yourself from a serious potential risk.

I would not tell your boss that working at the start-up may not be right for you — not any more than I’d tell him you may resign. Any smart manager would interpret a passing remark that you’re not happy as a sign that you’re out looking for a new job. And that could hurt you. There are other ways to show respect for your relationship. For example, if you do resign, assure your boss you will leave your work in a good state for whoever replaces you.

Remember that until you have a job offer in hand, you’re not going anywhere. If you don’t get another a job offer, it’s all moot. But if you’ve told your boss you may resign and then don’t, you may find yourself fired.

It’s just business

Imagine what could happen if you tell your current boss your plans, but you don’t find a new job and he is forced to make a choice he doesn’t want to make. For example, suppose you go nowhere, and in six months your boss is required to eliminate one or more employees. You will have signaled that you want to leave anyway. That puts a target on your back. Remember that your boss, though he is friendly, has obligations to the company.

In another scenario, what if your boss feels obligated to notify others in the company about your possible plans? What if his boss questions your loyalty and orders him to terminate you?

Suddenly you could be on the street, and your boss could very honestly tell you, “Nothing personal. It’s just business.”

Planning to quit is also just business, and it’s confidential business.

Resign on your terms

I respect and admire your attitude, but you must ensure that you will always be able to care for your family. That comes first. Signaling in advance that you may resign puts you and your family at unnecessary risk. Resign on your terms; don’t get fired by surprise.

You can still show your boss that you value your working relationship. For example, when you get an offer you plan to accept, try to negotiate as long a “notice to current employer” period as you can. That’s what you should give your employer when you actually resign. (Caution: Even giving notice can blow up in your face.)

Your old boss must be prepared to handle this without rancor, and to accept this vicissitude of life. If he can’t accept it, you’ll be able to rest knowing you did all that was prudent to part on good terms.

This is a difficult situation, but you can handle it if you approach it as you would any tough work decision you have to make — responsibly.

Did you ever speak too soon before you resigned your job? What happened? Is it ever worth letting on that you are unhappy and might resign soon? How would you advise this reader?

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92 Comments
  1. The writer is considering another job to provide for their family and spend more time with them. Your boss is not your family and does not have your best interests at heart. If you live in at at-will state, you could be gone without notice or separation compensation. How does your Significant Other feel about this possible turn of events?

    Two jobs ago, I was given 3 days after handing in my 2-weeks’ notice. My friend worked for GE and mentioned he might consider leaving. He was the first to be terminated before the facility eventually closed.

    I am getting ready to retire in the next 5 years. Even after some recorded ageism (When are you thinking of retiring? You still use your teeth?), I keep smiling and plow on. I plan to give same-day notice and let them negotiate how long they want to keep me for the transition.

    • At age 54, I have not encountered ageism yet, but I am sure it will happen (I look significantly younger). If I was asked that question now, however (my grandfather retired at 55), I would answer “I’m going to be working at least another 25 years.” In my case, that is even true! I plan to have my own business by then, but I take care of myself and I think it is reasonable that even at age 80 I will still be able to work. (In the USA, we have a Supreme Court justice who is 86 and has survived cancer 4 times – who plans to work to age 90!) On the flip side, I asked a long-time friend to be a partner in a business I want to start who is 62 and thinking about retirement soon – but clearly, they are not ready to retire.

      • @Kevin – at 57 and a new company, I’ve seen a little. It’s not from management, but some from my younger colleagues. And, they’re not being mean, it’s just the ‘older ‘n dirt’ type jokes. It’s funny, when I was 18, I never expected to find myself here.

    • @Jim: “let them negotiate how long they want to keep me for the transition”

      Exactly!

  2. I recommend keeping his mouth shut!!! I hope the writer did not mention his plans to his boss. Everyone has a right to change one’s mind about a job. No one is tethered to an employer. The writer should focus on his family, and make his move once he has an offer for a job. But never disclose plans to eventually resign.

  3. Flip the question on its head. What if your boss said he was considering letting you go? What would you do? You’d start looking for a job ASAP and look to leave on your own terms. Sauce for the goose.

  4. I’d add this: Nick has written on many occasions that you should not give notice of intent to resign until you have a firm job offer that both you and your new prospective employer have signed.

    Simply having an emailed/verbal or other unsigned offer is not good enough. Circumstances change rapidly these days and the initial offer may not become a reality. What then?

    Never show your hand until you’re sure your holding the winning cards.

    • @John: Thanks for reiterating what we’ve discussed here many times. Even bona fide job offers get rescinded sometimes. Job seekers should take any measures of protection available to them. Controlling information is a good one.

  5. I have never spoken too soon, but sometimes a trusted coworker might know of my plans – especially if I need a reference. In those cases, I choose very carefully as to who knows, but that does not happen very often. I did find out later that people suspected I was interviewing even though I was very discreet.

  6. I agree with Nick’s advice in this case. There are however a few situations where it may be advantageous to give a notice longer in advance than strictly necessary. I’ve done it a couple of times myself.

    One is when you’re planning to take a sabbatical. That is not dependent on an external factor such as another job offer. Especially if you’re flexible about the timing yourself and in good terms with your boss, you can choose have a confidential discussion about when would be a good time to leave.

    It might even work out that the company gives you an unpaid leave for the duration you need. Or if that’s not possible and you’ll have to quit, you can arrange everything together so that the negative business impact is kept to a minimum.

    I traveled for a year during 2006-2007, and told my boss about it six months in advance. An unpaid leave for a year was not granted (they did offer me a leave for up to 3-4 months) but there was enough time to hire and train a replacement which made everybody happy. My other colleagues in the team got to know about a month before I left.

    When I came back from my travels, I contacted the company (actually kept some contact even during the year) and they were happy to hire me again. Had I resigned giving just the minimum notice, I doubt that would have been the case.

    Another case I can think of is quitting from a family company. Then it’s not just business, it’s also about personal family relations. You’ll have to consider the pros and cons in each case.

    However, it’s always a question to think about carefully. My employment might also have ended by the company showing me the door sooner than I thought. But first of all I considered it quite unlikely and secondly even if they did it wouldn’t have mattered much – I would have simply started my world tour earlier then.

    • @Arto: The caveat I like to offer is this: Don’t follow my advice if in your good judgment it’s not right in your situation. Those are two good cases that require special consideration. Thanks for pointing them out.

  7. When I retired, I gave my supervisor a seven month notice when we had our end of fiscal year performance discussion. I even told her that if a RIF came before then, let me be the first to go so the other guys on the team could hopefully continue in their positions. I was fortunate, and the company actually asked me to stay on for four months after the date I had originally given. BUT, if I was looking to change jobs, there is no way I would communicate my intentions to leave. I have seen people leave much earlier than they had planned since the supervisor “knew they were going anyway”. I always associated job hunting with dating in high school. If you’re dating someone in high school, a lot of people would like to go out with you; however, if you’re not dating anyone, you can’t buy a date. My experience in the employment world has been much the same. If you have a job, others will consider you. If you’re unemployed–even at no fault of your own–employers are not that interested. Always have the new job locked down–not just a verbal–before you tell your boss you are leaving.

    • I had almost exactly the same experience when I retired. My VP didn’t really believe I was going to (I was relatively old, and he wasn’t used to people really retiring.) When it was time, my boss pleaded with me to stay. I offered to work one day a week, and it turned out the only way I could do that was if I got paid for five days a week – an offer I couldn’t refuse.
      When I left the job before that I sure as heck didn’t tell them until the last minute.

  8. If Yogi were here, he’d say…
    “Don’t do it till it’s done”.

    • @Tony: If Yogi didn’t say that, he would have! :-)

  9. Exactly! In good faith I told my boss I would resign in 30 days so she could hire her own person – and got an email from her at home 36 hours later that I was fired and that I could collect my personal belongings at the door to the office the next morning.

    As life turns out, I have had the last laugh but it was not a pleasant way to leave.

    • @Frances: Another way to look at this is, especially if your boss is also your friend, it’s best not to put them in that position to begin with. You might find out the friendship isn’t as close as you thought.

      • I have found that if you are friends, it helps if both of you have strong integrity. For example, I asked my best friend to be a business partner for a startup I’m putting together. For reasons too numerous to list here, it was a combination of integrity and ability. We know that when we have to have hard conversations we will not mince words either way, BUT we do have a business mentor who is making sure we have a partnership agreement. My friend agrees.

        I went back to graduate school for a music degree over 20 years ago. My professor is someone I considered as a friend and still do. During my time in graduate school, I called her by her last name, and she treated me like any other student. She is also a compassionate person – and there was no favoritism. Yes, we had to have hard conversations from time to time.

        In both of these cases, I am dealing with someone I can trust.

        So if you are going to work for a friend, just be sure that you can have the hard conversations and be able to separate your role as employee and friend.

        Nick is right – it is not necessarily a good idea, but I say think long and hard about it.

  10. I had been used to the public sector, where it was the culture to let managers know that you were “looking” for alternative employment, as a courtesy. However, when I was looking for a job and working for a private organization, I shared that I was job-hunting and was retaliated against. BEWARE and don’t assume private organizations will respond like public organizations. I ended up unemployed and homeless for a year.

  11. Gonna throw this out every time this topic arises: I have been a manager for decades and, probably like many managers, have also never turned someone out after they’ve indicated their current job is not the right fit for them. I have worked with people, set mutually agreeable timeframes, helped them find jobs, and they’ve helped to find their replacements.

    As a result, I’ve worked with people a second – and third – time in different companies, in different jobs.

    Obviously, the opposite happens and employees should be careful, but let’s not paint every manager with the broad brush of “just business, gonna screw you” intent. Notice that’s not what Nick said – he warns of the potential consequences that the OP might not have considered, then recommends the OP make an informed decision based on his own circumstances.

    • @Annette: Thanks for highlighting the fact that there are managers out there who will fully support an employee’s decision to move on. My compliments to you for being one of them. I wish it were this way everywhere. No one wins in the long term if we don’t all help one another win in the short term. I’m afraid few employers (or employees) think in terms of working together again and again.

      Even if you must withhold information about your upcoming departure, there are ways to do it in a friendly, responsible way if you want to preserve your relationships. One way: As you’re leaving for the last time, let your boss and selected co-workers know that you’d like to get in touch after you settle in at your new job and arrange to get together to catch up. It often takes time for the dust (and emotions) to settle, and I find this approach gives everyone a chance to retain their connections.

    • Well, then you’re a rare manager. But most managers aren’t this way, and yes, I’ll paint them with a very broad brush, because the vast majority are “it’s just business and I will screw you”.

      • It can be scary to be a manager. Different people react to the stresses of management. I have been a manager before – although in a different field. I had to have hard conversations with people sometimes. A sense of humility was my greatest tool when things were not going well.

        My own manager says he does not have people skills. So why is he a manager?

      • Amen!

  12. Futhermore, once you do have that signed offer in hand and give your notice, be respectful about it but don’t overexplain – just be direct and short, no extended explanations about your reasons for leaving – startup culture, family time, etc. Keep to the facts (ie you’re leaving), thank them for the opportunity and figure out your notice period together. It’s a small world out there and you may have another change in perspective.

  13. Don’t give notice until you know exactly where you are going, and when.
    Within a year of graduating from college (many years ago), I had two part-time jobs (morning and afternoon). The afternoon job was in a retail shop.
    When my husband accepted a job offer out of state, I notified my boss that I would be leaving my (afternoon) job “in the summer” (no specific date given). A few days later, my boss told me, “Today is your last day at work; we have found a replacement for you.” I was left with only part-time income from my morning job. Ironically, my husband changed his mind about moving out of state, and we are still here, after 44 years.

  14. You don’t know what unexpected consequences await you, when you notify your employer that you will be leaving. I decided to return to school, so I notified my employer that I would be leaving in 2-3 weeks. Unbeknownst to me, the company was having financial problems, so they immediately decreased my work hours to 20 per week while they scrambled to advertise my position.

  15. Also, it is not necessarily a favor to your boss to tell him/her you are thinking of leaving. What’s the manager supposed to do with this vague information? You’ve given them no specific date. The company is not about to let the manager hire someone in the meantime to possibly eventually take over the job. The manager now doesn’t know if he/she can assign you any long-term projects, may feel uncomfortable discussing private business info, not know if you’ll be around to finish something. If there are raises or vesting bonuses to hand out, the manager will think it makes more sense to give these to someone who will be around rather than someone who wants to leave. It is likely to change whatever good dynamics exist between you and your manager now. One thing I could see the OP doing is to offer to train someone else now on whatever job aspects are not known by others so that there is a backup in case of emergency. Don’t word it as if you are leaving, ever.

    • @Krista: Thanks for emphasizing that it’s not personal (usually). It’s business, and each party must look out for themselves. It helps if the employee asks themselves, what would I do if I were my boss or their boss — and an employee told me they might leave?

  16. I agree with Nick’s advice. I’ve left several jobs & never signaled departures beforehand.
    But I’ve been on the other end. When one of my team came to me & said she had an opportunity for what she felt was a better opportunity (not with a competitor).

    She was a great asset & her loss would be regrettable. But she gave me the details and honestly I
    neither could match it or improve upon it, nor offer her as good a growth path. And I felt very good that she trusted me, and valued my views on the opportunity. And gave my blessing & discretion.

    I think that career development is one of a managers primary responsibilities to people that work with them. I trust them to have my back…and I have theirs. And to me it’s development across the board..not just inside the company we both happen to work for.

    When I departed I always made a point of doing so professionally, prepare for a clean hand off. Do my
    job right to the very end, & depending on how I was treated, & within reason be available for post-
    departure support for my replacement & boss. This is something the writer can do to ease any departure guilt.

    And the writer needs to understand, it’s part of the boss’s job description as a boss to always be
    prepared for departures…no one is dispensable including yourself..so too bad if no due diligence was done for contingencies.

    I don’t think anyone mentioned it, but there’s similar angst for internal transfers. internal opportunities. It’s far too uncommon for a shithead boss to throw body blocks on people who want to transfer to something else, somewhere else, making their reward for a job well done to be chained to it. or to deny one of their internal competitors a valued addition To the point that the topic of this discussion comes into play. The person makes the career move …to some other company.

    A key part of this comes down to the relationship between the boss and the person. If strong mutual trust is there, it goes beyond simply quitting, it’s into career counseling. If someone working for you
    trusts you enough to be that transparent and are really asking for advice, not just your employment, you are being honored and they deserve the respect of objective feedback and discretion. That boss is in a startup..and is NOT going to change the Startup mindset, demanding need, quantity of work and would have to conclude they can’t meet that person’s need…and help them along into a better path.

    • @Don: As always, sage insights and advice from a seasoned pro. Thanks. I’ve known many good managers who will return the favor of confidentiality when an employee is in this situation. Sometimes that means the manager keeps the information from their boss. Is that wrong? Maybe. But there’s something to be said for realizing the manager is an employee, too…

      • When I was recruiting, I always did reference checks. I was somewhat amazed when one
        guy I was working with, gave me his current boss as a reference. I was impressed when I talked
        with him. The gist of his feedback was that in his view the guy was great at his job and
        team member, but he’d reached a point where he couldn’t do anything more for him. And gave him
        his blessing …and help to move on to bigger & better things. Fortunately I was able to place him into something better. I was impressed by them both. I thought the boss was a class act.

  17. Best advice I ever received: “There are no trivial conversations with management.”

    This was from a respected professional, talking about an interaction with an executive in his company that he considers a good friend.

    Remember, the role of a manager is to look out for the best interests of the company.

    This does not mean managers can not be good people who genuinely look out for those under them. It does mean when they have to make a hard choice, they are expected to choose in favor of the company (or resign).

    Also, one role of managers is (should be) how to replace people. They never know when one of their reports will win the lottery, decide they want to be a missionary, or a meteor will fall from the sky and hit them.

    In this particular case, more than two week notice can be given. There can also be arrangements made to hand off their parts of the project.

    • @Gregory: A good manager doesn’t wait until they need to fill a job. They keep their pipeline full of good contacts that they can turn to quickly as candidates and for referrals. Managers should always be recruiting for future positions. Too often, HR creates the impression that recruiting is their job alone. That’s fatally unfortunate for any company.

  18. After a string of crappy owners/managers/HR departments, I took the attitude that “You’ll get notice … You’ll notice I’m not here”.

    My current employer has staffed this department with older workers, veterans and people from career military families. They will get plenty of notice.

    Heck, they’ve heard me talk about the “cat cafe” as my retirement plan.

    Companies pretty much quit hiring for the long term and cancelled pensions just about as soon as the Vietnam and Vietnam Era Veterans entered the employment marketplace in the 70s. You have to have something, especially if you had to drain your “retirement” funds to cover extended periods of un- or under-employment.

    I digress.

    Executive Summary: No. Give two weeks notice when you have a signed written offer in your hands.

  19. Do not.

  20. I once believed in giving notice, but after what I’ve seen, heard, and personally experienced, it’s been “get out of here now” when giving notice, I no longer will do it. Employers today have no compunction but to throw you under the bus. The last time I gave notice, not only did I get the “get out of here now”, but they screwed me out of 2 weeks vacation I’d earned. Live and learn. When employers decide to play ethically and honorably, then they’ll get notice from me. Telling managers, HR, or owners you are either dissatisfied, or intending on leaving, is a suicide run, and foolish. Just because you’re noble, doesn’t mean your employer is.

    • True that.

      Further, every great headhunter knows that accepting a counter-offer is “suicide” (as you say) too. Said acceptance is usually held against you as not being “loyal” (whatever that is supposed to mean these days) and at the first viable chance (i.e. the whim of your boss) you will be terminated and told “get out of here now”.

      …it’s all pre-planned. So, I agree, why give them the chance to screw you over?

      In addition, it is very wise advice to never tell your current employer where you’re going until you get there so they have a lesser chance of sabotaging your move.

    • Antonio,

      I agree with you, but you must first carefully analyze the benefits and risks before pulling the trigger. Back in the day, I did that to one employer who really deserved it. My boss was a clueless inconsiderate, narcissistic moron who did something very offensive. Had already been setting up a new job with a friend in another city, and that was the last straw. Years later I was reading an excerpt from a book published by a former coworker from that very same place, and realized that that clueless inconsiderate, narcissistic moron had never contacted me (years before) to cancel a scheduled interview that would have resulted in a 150 mile trip for nothing. Made me feel much better knowing that I had ghosted this same employer twice for very good reasons. Would never have worked for them at all if I didn’t need the money.

      But assuming that you’re not working for mental defectives with damaged DNA, you’re much better off leaving a good impression with coworkers and associates who might not know (or care) about any bad experiences you’ve had working at a particular employer.

      And that other employer I described above, after my friend was ousted after corporate reorganization, held back my last two weeks pay as I left for a new job. That temporary loss was unavoidable. But I like to think that the owner (who ordered the pay cut himself) paid for that, along with the company policy to always refuse to pay employees who left the company, with a slow and painful death from leukemia.

      • As far as analyzing this, well I think too many have far too much existential angst over quitting a job without notice. Years ago, as a much younger man, I left a job with a large petro-chemical company after 2 years (2 years of my life I’ll never get back). Back in the day, I had a false sense of guilt for quitting (with ample notice btw). An old millwright at this company told me “if you stick your fist in a bucket of water, then pull it out, does it leave an indentation”. When I replied that it didn’t leave an indentation, he said “that’s how much you matter to this company”.

        • I just got a job offer today – 11% pay increase – benefits not quite as good. The interview did not even go well. You can bet I am not saying ANYTHING to ANYONE at my current employer,

        • This. Exactly this. I value the companies I work for exactly as much as they value me, not at all.

  21. Amen to your points, Chris. Loyalty part especially. Years ago, I submitted a resume for a job at my then employer’s competitor. I was called for an initial phone interview. The manager (who was a jerk) never returned the promised call back. I followed up. Today, I’d blown it off. His response “you’re looking for a new job, so you’re disloyal, and we don’t want to hire someone disloyal”. My response was “so then why did you contact me for an interview”? Dead silence, so I just hung up.

  22. I wouldn’t, given how iffy things sound. Suppose the LW doesn’t find another job right away? Suppose he does and that job falls through/gets rescinded?

    He knows the start-up culture isn’t such a good fit for him, and he should be looking for a job with a company or agency that will be a better fit. But in the meantime, I would go in, do my job as usual, and not say anything until he has a written contract and has been on-boarded with his new employer.

    It is great that he respects and likes his boss enough to think about sharing his plans for other employment, but that puts the boss in a predicament. Not all, but too many bosses would let an employee go who does the right thing and gives notice, let alone hints that he’s looking for another job. If the LW needs the job and the paycheck, then don’t do anything that could result in his being unemployed before he has another job lined up.

    If the start-up were to fail, or if the boss decided to hire someone else, the LW would be out the door without any notice. Yes, he can file for UI, but the point is that employers don’t give notice when they’re firing people or when they’re laying them off because the company is struggling.

    LW can offer to help train his replacement, to write an SOP manual for his job, to teach others his duties should there be no replacement, but I certainly would saying NOTHING until I’m ready to officially give notice (meaning I’ll be starting a new job on x date).

    • To your point about training one’s replacement, (or offering to train one’s replacement), I’ve never seen this done, never. At least knowingly. I’ve seen those unknowingly train their replacement. Well intended and honorable employees thought they were doing the right thing, but they played right into their douchey employer’s nefarious plans to replace them. Low class! Does anyone train their replacement today? I’ve never heard this. Also, if someone has tenured a customary 2 week notice, how much effective training can be done in that short time? Save for more low-level jobs, maybe? Plus, as paranoid as most employers are today (and deservedly so), I’d reason they’d fear sabotage on the departing employees part.

      • Antonio,

        I’ve seen that done. Frequently. Part of basic corporate policy for that large market data and multi-media corporation I just described.

        Managers in key business positions are required to identify a potential replacement. That CEO is more concerned about what may happen to the company if a truck hits you if you were crossing the street (possibly leaving work?), than how you feel about constantly being under surveillance, and the company being able to replace you without skipping a beat.

        BTW, that CEO also believes that not only should you have a replacement for your position identified, you should ALWAYS make sure that they’re BETTER than you. That’s not a joke. Yes, he did say that, and was quoted by (other) public media.

  23. Yeah never tell a co-worker or a boss that you are thinking about leaving. You may be shown the door at that moment. Trust no one, especially if you think they are a “friend”. I’ve seen co-workers immediately fired when the boss found out this person was interviewing elsewhere. He confided to his “friend” at work and she ran and told the boss right away.

    Think of the flip side, as a boss your subordinate tells you he may leave. Now you need to start looking for a replacement right away.

    Also when you give notice make sure you use up your vacation days as most likely you give 2 weeks notice they will tell you to leave right away. Never tell the boss where you are going. A co-worker told our boss what company she was going to and he got on the phone and bad mouthed her. He knew the person she was going to work for very well. The her offer was rescinded and she was blacklisted in the industry. She had no job to go to.

    • @Donna: Years ago, a friend of mine was an assistant manager of a local Rite-Aid. He wasn’t making very much in that job, and was searching for another job/career. He decided to go to law school. He applied to a local law school, was admitted, and planned to start in the fall. His employer had a policy of not having what my friend called (company term) “lame duck managers or assistant managers”, meaning that if the company knew you were planning to leave for ANY reason, you were immediately fired. He knew the company’s policy, and planned to work through the summer until he started law school. He didn’t tell his boss nor any of his co-workers, but he did tell other friends (none of whom worked there). One of his friends told a friend or sibling, who told another friend or spouse, who knew and told someone who worked there, and word got back to his employer. He was immediately fired, even though he said he would have gladly given them notice and trained his replacement, and would have used the money towards school and school-related expenses.

      Small world. He only told family and friends, and these were the pre-Facebook/social media days where people post all kinds of things, yet word still reached his employer. I remember him telling me that even though he knew the rules (meaning he knew the policy), he had still been hoping that he could have worked another several months. I suppose he could have told only close family and friends, then sworn them to secrecy, but even so…if your sibling or friend tells his/her spouse, and then that spouse tells a sibling or friend, who happens to work there or knows someone who works there, then that’s the problem. Nor do I fault him for telling family and friends. He got admitted and was excited about the next chapter of his life, but I know that he would have preferred the end of his job with his employer to have come about differently.

      So, the best advice is don’t tell until you’re out the door. You don’t want to burn your employer, but your employer may not have any qualms about burning you (meaning you could be let go as soon as you give your notice, and then you’ll be out the money you’d planned to earn for those 2 weeks/month(s)). Save so you have a cushion in case your employer decides that your services are no longer wanted once you give your notice, and best to slowly start bringing personal items home in case your employer locks you out and escorts you off the premises.

      I know that not all bosses would do this, and there have been a couple of posts from people here who have stated that they’re managers and they don’t do this to people, but there are far more who do, so it is better to be prepared for the worst.

      • My boss of 7 years left yesterday after giving a 1 week notice. He’d been there 25 years (think he was told to leave). While I’m relieved he’s gone (never did me any favors, the “throw you under the bus” type), I believe a short notice-no notice is the only way to go today. Things actually ran smoother today with him gone, and I actually saw some light at the end of the tunnel, be it cautious and dim. Giving notice most often makes you the “red headed step child”, or the “marked man/woman”. I say cut your loses and go now! So you lose your vacation, or you’re terminated on the spot. Why enable these employers to screw you over? I once heard a man (who I was no fab of) say “there’s no such thing as victims, just volunteers”.

        • Usually I have been able to keep working after giving notice. One time I ended up giving a month’s notice but they set my last day two weeks earlier. That was OK – and my boss said that I kept working he’d even after giving notice which he really appreciated. Years earlier I got frustrated and quit one day giving two weeks notice. They offered two week’s severance pay – and I did talk to them afterward. Both of these were good partings. I found out later they were going to fire me. At the time that would have been reasonable – I was not performing well.

          I will continue to give reasonable notice. I can sleep better at night. If a company wants to screw me over, just remember I keep my bases covered. PS: I once found out that I was hired in a really bad company. After 3 months I got another job offer and quit – during the Great Recession.

      • Wait; wasn’t the future lawyer given the opportunity to lie about his impending departure?

        • @Omar Schmidlap: Unfortunately, he wasn’t, not that he would have lied. I remember him telling me that his boss had pulled him into the office and told him that he heard he planning to begin law school in 5 months, and he was fired as of that second. He was escorted out of the store, and that was that. So the lesson is that be careful with whom you share your good news, and things might have gone differently for him had he sworn those he told to secrecy.

  24. The reader’s question talks about a “start up company”. What’s the deal with all these “start up companies”? Most of the times I read or hear about such companies, they seem to mostly end up in disasters or be clown shows, or the employees end up working 80 hour weeks, then are kicked to the curb.

  25. At one large market data and multi-media publishing firm in the US, whose CEO might be running for public office, it is corporate policy to discharge any employee known to be looking for another position outside the company. If any of the many eyes and ears at that corporation caught wind of what you were suggesting to tell your boss (and certainly after you actually spoke those words), you’d be out on the street as soon as they could process the paperwork. And that’s not a joke.

    That same CEO also set down a firm corporate policy to NEVER rehire anyone who left the company. No exceptions. He was even quoted in (other) public media making that statement. A lot of employers hold the same views on how to interpret and (mis-)manage corporate loyalty.

    That Fortune 50 company about which I’ve previously posted also follows that same policy, with one exception. If you are perhaps about to or past celebrating your 30th birthday, you’ll be watched and targeted first for discharge through the next Workforce Reduction. That’s also not a joke.

    It’s a nasty world out there. Know who you are dealing with before risking an unexpected and possibly career-damaging termination.

    • A corporation as well as its CEO do not have to be nasty to be successful. We don’t hear about the ethical corporations in the news enough.

      My company is a large privately held European company that prides itself on ethics. What little bad press we have had in the past few years has resulted in additional training for all of us. When people are going to be laid off they are informed right away that their job ends in x number of months and that they can look for a new position both internally and externally.

      Our company is not perfect and tends to be top heavy on management, but their ethics are good. (I currently have a not so great manager, but I have an interesting assignment right now.)

    • Let me get this right: If you are over 30, you are no longer loyal?

    • @Steve: I wonder if that CEO prohibits his sales force from allowing customers who “quit” to become customers again?

  26. 1- I agree with all the above Tell NO ONE until you are ready to leave but be prepared to be shown the
    door
    2- Read your employees handbook and check state laws regarding unused sick & vacation time
    2- Get the job offer in writing with start date etc., follow Nicks rules, be careful on reference checks,
    be sure to ask the new employer “When I give notice the may ask me to leave immediately, can I start
    the next day”
    3- Immediately start to slowly take home any personal objects including samples of blank company
    stationary, copy any letters of praise from your employer, customers, vendors

    • Retired, your point well taken on discreetly getting your personal effects out. I’d submit that an office worker, with family photos and potted plants on their desks, customized coffee mugs in the break room, or framed degrees on their cube or office wall have far less to lose than a tradesman who has thousands of dollars worth of personal tools required for their jobs. I’ve both seen, and read, about people being let go, and being escorted out the door, and told they can’t collect their personal property, and that it will be “shipped to them”. I know of tradesmen losing expensive tools, or tools arrived badly damaged, or missing tools (and COD freight to boot). Back in the day, one could generally come in after hours and collect their things. Not anymore. I know attorneys who are seeing more clients litigating to get their tools or personal property returned, or suing for damaged and missing tools and property. I’ve even read of workers being escorted out in the dead of winter without being able to get their coats. One would think that litigating for the potential of exposure, frostbite, and even death would be enough to scare these tyrannical employers, but it apparently doesn’t.

  27. If and when you do leave, keep it short and sweet. Don’t go into any details re why you’re leaving. You simply let them know that you will leaving and when (e.g., my last day will be Friday, 6th of March 2020).

    If you’re at a start-up, you may not have an HR department, and your employer may not do exit interviews, but if they do, you don’t have to do one and if you decide to talk to them, you don’t have say anything other than your job is a better opportunity. Too many times the exit interview, or rather, what soon to be former employees say during the exit interview, can be used to retaliate against them in future jobs.

  28. This discussion highlights a big problem with “fire at will” employment: It stops employers and employees from having an honest discussion about the work environment. For fear of being showed out the door, employees will keep a straight face and artificial smile, instead of discussing issues – until the day they walk out the door, while the issues remain unsolved. Thus, employers are not given the opportunity to improve either.

    • The problem I see with your analysis, is that most employers don’t want to improve. Thus, most workers just plain don’t want to urinate on their shoes, and opt to vote with their feet and walk. As you said “employees will keep a straight face and an artificial smile”. In my younger days, I made the grave error (more than once) of trying to have an honest professional discussion, and was severely reprimanded, or was shown the door. I learned late in life to present a false persona of “I give a rip” rah…rah…rah, when in reality, I wouldn’t lose a minute of sleep if my employer (present one included) folded (other than being unemployed and going through the clown show of job hunting and interviewing). Again, this with always giving a good faith effort despite it all.

      • Agree that some companies may not want to improve, but others may not know that they have trouble – or may realize they have issues, seeing sales plummet or people walking out, but not knowing why, because employees do not tell them.

        • @Karsten: The problem is retaliation. People leaving don’t want a vindictive boss to come back and bite them later. It is safer for the employee to say nothing.

          Years ago, my brother gave notice and HR required him to do an exit interview. There had been grumblings and complaints for several years, with people giving up and leaving (the problems were common knowledge, including with management above the problem and HR, yet they chose to be ostriches instead of dealing with the issues that were causing people to quit). He refused to do the exit interview, and it was only when HR informed him that they wouldn’t give him his last paycheck and would withhold paying out his unused vacation time that he did the interview, but he said that he told them NOTHING. He said they were aware of the issues, and if the only time they’re “concerned” is when people are quitting, then there are even bigger problems. He didn’t want an honest exit interview to come back and bite him on the butt. A few jobs before that job, he had had a colleague who had made the mistake of being honest in an exit interview, naively believing that HR and the boss really wanted to know why he was leaving and about any issues/problems, what they could do to fix them. The colleague left, and had four employers after that job. Then, his employer hired his old boss (the one he’d critiqued), and the colleague got fired by the old/new boss on the latter’s first day with the employer. Massachusetts has at-will employment, so the boss was well within his legal rights to fire the guy, even though the firing wasn’t for cause, had nothing to do with his job performance at the current job, but because of his comments to HR (which HR shared with the old boss) during his exit interview. The old/new boss never forgot nor forgave him, so he was out. My brother works in prospect research, which he said is a small, incestuous industry, at least in his geographic area. People often work with the colleagues, albeit with different employers, so a misstep like his former colleague made can come back to bite you. It isn’t worth the risk, understandably.

          • Marybeth,

            As someone who’s been there and done that more than once, I have a few updates.

            Regarding your brother’s situation, as long as he showed up for work, even if he sat around all day doing nothing at all, he was entitled to be paid for ALL of his time. No exceptions. Solid basis for this in USDOL regulations going back quite a few years, as well as case law. Today it’s much less expensive to pursue this with an attorney’s help, and an easy win against the employer if it goes to trial.

            Don’t be afraid of an exit interview. But also don’t be afraid to tell the interviewer they asked questions about something that was none of their business, or you’re just not at liberty to discuss. Many of us who have worked for a while may be covered by NDA’s and protective orders that restrict what we can or can’t discuss. A nosy employer with a huge ego is just begging to get slapped in the face and kicked in the butt when they pull that routine once too often. But keep very good notes about incidents and especially the exit interview since just in case you need to take action. And under no circumstances say where you are going or what you intend to do for a living.

            On the other hand, an exit interview can be fun. Although this was more of a short conversation with a former boss, I had come to see him to give notice because I was leaving for another company in the same city and the same business. The unprofessional piece of street filth thought he was firing me, so I left him with that temporary ego boost. Next day I popped in the industry at his competition across town and made sure he found out quickly.

            And more in line with your suggestion about a former boss who becomes your boss again, you’re going to love this. That unprofessional piece of street filth I just described ended up working in a larger city (where I also worked after leaving that place). Sometime after he was settled in that larger city, his employer hired a management consultant to fix some problems and boost corporate income.

            The (now) high-powered consultant was previously our boss at the smaller place I described. Our former boss left for a better job on the west coast which kick-started his career and was very successful and well-respected in the industry. On his last day on his job in the smaller city, the unprofessional piece of street filth became his replacement and after our former boss briefed the dirtbag on his new position, he told our former boss how horrible he thought he was and was glad he was leaving (I’m paraphrasing a much grittier exchange ;). Our former boss was a very level-headed cool guy, but he was so shocked with this he had stopped to speak with me, since I was there in the office at the time. This remains one of the nastiest things I’ve ever seen a co-worker do to another co-worker.

            Guess who was the first person the high-powered consultant got fired. ;)

            • @Steve: I’m glad to hear that there was a little justice! It is too bad that so many managers behave so badly. I’ve often wondered why, because they could also be fired at will, unless they’re under contract and their contract stipulates that they can only be fired for cause.

            • @MaryBeth
              Managers are just employees up to executive management who are under contract which typically includes termination terms. what you’ll get

              so the common variety manager is also under the fire at will terms and often are an
              endangered species, particularly middle managers.

    • The obvious solution: Outlaw “fire at will” employment.

      Being Norwegian, I am protected by the law, which requires that employees can only be fired for a reason – which may be low performance, harassing co-workers, theft from employer, repeated refusal to follow management orders, safety breaches, downsizing etc – there are many accepted reasons for an employer to fire people, the point is that there must be a documented reason.

      In a previous job, I told the exploration manager straight out that he did a lot of wrong things, because he basically neglected basic petroleum geology. In a “fire at will” situation, I would probably have been kicked out.

      In the end, the company folded anyway…

      • It seems that it is mainly North America that allows employees to be treated like a tissue, i.e. just tossed out.

        Most other western countries provide better protection for employees, as they realize that not all employers/managers are reasonable and fair.

        • The only state in the United States that does not have at-will employment is Montana. From what I’ve been told (by a practicing Labor Attorney), you have to show cause for terminating an employee there (e.g. substandard performance, frequent absenteeism or tardiness, etc.). Gross misconduct, is narrowly defined (fighting, stealing, etc.). I live in Kansas, an at-will state. Like the other 48 states, other than basic EEOC guidelines (race, gender, religion, etc.) an employer can terminate you for no reason, and without warning, at their leisure (take a look at the fine print on a job application just below the signature and date line). Conversely, you can quit for no reason, and without any notice, at your leisure. As you and I both know, employers expect notice, then can terminate you on the spot, you lose 2 weeks of wages, and in Kansas, they don’t legally have to pay you any accrued vacation pay. Further, they can escort you right out the door, and prevent you from collecting your personal property, tools, etc. They can tell you they will “ship you your personal property, or tools”. The rub is, I’ve known several people who’ve either not received all their personal effects or tools, or they’ve arrived C.O.D. damaged. Take for an example a mechanic, or a machinist, who easily has thousands of dollars worth of specialized hand tools! I’ve met lawyers here in Kansas City that actually litigate to get workers personal effects or tools back as part of their legal practices. That’s how utterly degenerate many employers have become, at least in my neck of the woods.

          • Antonio,

            I have two things to add to this:

            1. Don’t rely only on information you find on the web, or word-of-mouth, regarding what you can or can’t recover. That advice is worth what you paid for it. Use it as a “finding aid” for more related information, and to find good counsel. There’s a lot more to labor law than what you and I’ve described. If there’s a case that can be made, a good experienced attorney would know if they can make it, or not (with or without “at will employment”).

            2. If a labor matter can be brought to the legal system, the judge(s) are a wildcard. Even if you and your legal team are certain your solid evidence and convincing testimony has the employer dead-bang, an eccentric judge could set you back a bit (or a lot) and rule against you. I’ve seen this regularly happen even as high as the US District Court level (in person).

            As always, you must make a business decision on whether or not the matter is worth the trouble and expense, and your legal team must be certain what chances you have of being successful in that venue.

            • Bing-o. A buddy of mine of many years came up with an idea he wants to develop; moving to patent in a month. Because he’s a smart guy and realized that no person is an island, he asked for some help from a few of his buddies. No problem, we’re all glad to help and the very first thing we did was set up an LLC and NDA’s. Not a single one of us thought anything but positive about this, because regardless of whether this thing works, we want to still be buddies afterwards. Just make everyone clear on what’s going on and there are no (or fewer, at least) problems.

            • FYI- I don’t get my information off the web, never, like reading palms or tea leaves. I go to experts and professionals, and pay for their services. A lot of arm chair attorneys out there, but not me. But, I know something about at-will employment, and UI, from such professionals, and from life experience. Well, say if I was a machinist, and a douchey and sketchy former employer held $2,000 worth of my lawful property; tools that I earned my living with, you bet I’d be retaining the best attorney I could find to get my tools back. I’d also inventory all my tools and have pictures, in fact I’d retain receipts too. I mean, even in bankruptcy, creditors cannot “take the tools of your trade”; prevent you from still earning a living. Or if my tools ended up being shipped to me collect, and damaged or missing some tools, I’d really be retaining a top attorney! Goofball judges aside, would any of the bean counters and I.T. types on here let a former employer keep their personal property; laptops, cellphones, etc.? I really doubt it.

      • I agree with outlawing at-will employment in the United States. I’ve advocated it for years. But, the muscle employers have, would prevent this from ever happening here. In 49 of 50 states (with the exception of Montana) employers can terminate you for no reason, and no warning, at their leisure. The laws here definitely favor employers (although they’d argue differently). Employers have a “probationary period” (usually 60 days or 90 days). I once had a job where I was called in at 90 days, told I was doing an acceptable job, then was called in a month later and unceremoniously terminated. I was told I “wasn’t a good fit”. I asked how I’d fallen from grace in just 1 month ( hadn’t done anything differently than the month previously). I was immediately escorted out the door. I forgot some tools in the turmoil. I called the employer and asked about getting my tools returned. They refused to give them back. I consulted an attorney, but the legal fees would have far out-weighed the value of the tools.

        • It’s stories like this one that makes me happy to be a contractor. I have absolutely as much loyalty to the client as they do me. Miss a paycheck and you’ll not see me Monday morning. As lon as wer’e mutually beneficial, sure, not a second more.

      • @Karsten: What you suggest makes too much sense, therefore it won’t be done here. Even the limited protections most workers have (e.g., race) won’t protect them in a fire at will situation unless the boss is dumb enough to tell the worker that he’s being fired because he’s black and the employee manages to film him saying it on his phone.

        It isn’t just the private sector, but employment at-will applies to the public sector too. The example I gave about my brother’s former colleague occurred in the public sector.

        • Marybeth, I surely realize that outlawing “fire at will” will not happen anytime soon. But I though the core of the issue needed to be pointed out.

  29. I am living proof that sharing your plans is a bad idea. I felt a strong relationship with my boss, and kept her in the loop at all times, work wise. When I started feeling like I should move on – I mentioned it to her, out of an obligation. I have since been treated like an outsider. No longer invited to strategy meetings, no longer her #2, passed over on a promotion. All because I thought I had her back, and shared my plans. As stated above – your plans are personal, and work is work.

  30. My dad, rest his soul, always told me that there would always be a job for a good man down at the plant.

    That worked out so well.

  31. I’ve read through all of the discussions & I may have missed it, but one thing I don’t think I saw
    mentioned was …ego. If you think about it, you’ll find injured or threatened egos is business life.
    Mergers, reorgs, and personnel terminations.

    For some reason, over many years of many managers, far too many managers can’t accept the pontification they give out “It’s not personal”. Really over the years it hasn’t been personal. Sometimes people do fire their boss but mostly there were good reasons for leaving, mainly an unarguable better opportunity. Most of us managers accepted that as business as usual & helped them along the way. Yet I’ve see managers (or their bosses) act betrayed to the point of shooting themselves in the foot by walking people out, adding a “do not rehire” to their records, and blowing off well intended offers to offer up replacements.

    I was taught to check your ego at the door. If it’s all about business then act like it. It’s good business to treat people respectfully, and objectively including when they leave. It’s easy to do so with people you like and who like you. But I think the mark of a good manager is to fairly treat someone they loathe. I was greatly impressed by a Sales Manager I was trying to recruit who told me he had a guy working for him who he disliked..and vs versa. It was no secret either. But he said he valued him highly because he was a good salesman. He said they developed what I call a process agreement on how to work together productively regardless. He said when they make a sales call a customer would never see or detect the least bit of their personal feelings. To me, that’s good management.

    Another good homily to keep in mind is “what goes round comes around”. It really is a small world especially in business. This is especially true internally. It’s not unheard of for that person
    you dumped on via a thing called reorg to become your boss or someone who can impact your career after the changes..Likewise if you work in a niche industry or profession.

    As Nick noted, if a manager is doing their job, replacements aren’t that difficult to deal with. He/she
    should already have potential hires or promos in their network..including how to replace yourself and
    with whom.

  32. I did just think of a topic that could be addressed by this blog. While it may have been mentioned inside an article, I, at least scanning 2008-2013 (didn’t recall seeing it later either) is: How to job hunt during a recession.

    With the latest mess of the stock market, if we go into another 2008 (or worse), then it would seem that employers would hold all of the cards again. How would we avoid being pushed around and made to fight for crumbs like last time?

    • As a side note, I had an uncle who had a temp job and had gotten another job that he was going to start (a more full time one) but it didn’t start right away. He did what he thought was right by putting in a two week notice and was canned within a day or two.

      Moral of the story. DON’T tell them you’re leaving unless you have to.

    • @Mongoose: How to job hunt during a recession? The same way you’d do it any other time. The methods we discuss here assume all times are the worst of times — that’s why they rely mostly on personal contacts and recommendations. In my experience, it’s in the worst of times that good companies need the best workers and are willing to pay to get them. The trick is, it’s the job seeker that must prove their value – don’t wait for the employer to figure it out.

  33. I work as an IT implementation large scale ERP systems for large (usually) corporations; it’s be my work for the past 2 dozen years and I’ve seen the cultural changes take place out in action, to wit: employee smiles blandly and everything is rosy til they’re out the door. I know this is rampant in almost every corporation I go to these days. I know this because while employees won’t talk to their bosses, they’ll pour their hearts out to consultants. Sometimes it feels like a I should go to seminary and just become a father confessor. Usually, when our team has been on-site for, maybe, a month or two, we likely know better how an individual department is really doing, vice what their manager thinks and certainly not what the managers supervisor thinks. I’ve never violated any of these confidences, because we do NDAs every time and we’re also smart enough to know that talking about old clients is a sure way of losing new ones. I’ve also never used any knowledge gained to purchase stocks, but I sure have heck decided to *not* buying any from some companies after seeing what was going on under the kimono.

    • @Brent: That’s a great bit of insight you share about who employees will and will not share with. Makes you wonder why HR hasn’t figured out how to gain the trust of employees so the employer can learn about issues that matter to its success.

  34. I’m going through something similar, but not because of my family.

    I finally left a city and a job that I despised and moved 900 miles to take what I thought was my dream job (to satisfy your curiosity, I’m a patent examiner). I had applied three times in the last five years and when I was chosen, I felt like I’d won the lottery and I skipped everywhere I went for days.

    Well, cue the portentious music, because just two and a half months into it, I **hate** it. I hate the isolating aspects, I hate the panic-inducing production metrics, and I truly really totally hate the rat’s nest of hideous personalities that are the unit supervisors. It’s impossible to learn anything and impossible to get answers; I’m berated and condescended to when I ask anyone but my trainer a question regarding my work, essentially freezing my progress in place and making a grade increase a figment of my imagination. I also took an almost $20K pay cut to move to one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. because the HR rep told me that I got an automatic grade increase in six months (not true) and another six more months after that (also untrue). I can’t sleep, I spend 15 minutes a day panicking and crying in the ladies’ room, and to top it all off, this freakin’ Walking Dead pandemic has effectively frozen hiring all over the planet. I’m operating on a budget deficit every month; I cashed out the 401(k) from the employer I left and have to dip into it every month just to pay my rent.

    So. I desperately need to leave, but I don’t know when the world will return to normal, if ever. I can’t leave and I can’t stay, but hey, that decision may not even lie with me based on how things are going!

    I feel grateful that I’m employed at all, and that it’s unlikely that the current state of the world alone will cause me to lose my job. But I have only a few months to prove myself, and I’m probationary until January 2021…and I’d be amazed if I made it half that far. I’m not sure why I’m posting here other than the fact that I need someone to listen to me. :-) Thanks for reading. And follow your heart, original poster. Dial things back and spend time with your kid(s). That’s something no one ever regrets.

  35. Oh, hey, I just remembered my point!! Ha ha! I can’t decide whether to tell my supervisor I want to resign, either. Could he help me transition to an administrative position there? Or would he have a cow and tell me what a disappointment I am and if I don’t want to work there why not leave right now and oh yeah give me your badge? I’ve mostly been sending my resume to employment agencies (another challenging mess) and applying to other federal positions on USAJOBS. I don’t know what kind of rules are in place that will prevent my moving to another agency (I must be in my current position for at least a year, or whatnot). Everything is such a mess. I never thought I’d be in this position and it’s not even the kind of job I can just coast through until I find something else.

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