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!
I 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.
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.
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?