my boss is dragging her feet on hiring my replacement

by Ask a Manager on March 25, 2013

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A reader writes:

Earlier this week, I told my boss I would be leaving/moving to the state my fiance lives in at the end of our season in May. She knows we’re getting married, and I’m a terrible liar, so despite planning to wait until mid-April to tell her (in my field, 6 weeks or so is standard for giving notice), I couldn’t avoid telling her when she asked. Then she freaked out about plans for next season now being off-track because she had thought, that since I hadn’t said anything sooner, she’d “have me” for another season, etc, etc. I’m not worried about being let go earlier or treated poorly, but what I am worried about is what came out next: that she might not hire someone until July or August.

This is why I wasn’t going to tell her until mid-April, because her habit is to resist believing change is coming and to procrastinate on hiring a new person. (The woman before me gave her notice at about this same point and left in May and I wasn’t hired until July, and what had piled up was kind of a mess when I started; similar story the time before that.) I would LOVE to have the opportunity to help train the new person, rather than just leave how-to’s and my phone number. In addition, my boss has a lot more on her plate now than when I started (and we don’t have an intern now either), so there’s no way she’ll have time to keep the day-to-day stuff of my job running in the perhaps months between my departure and a new person’s arrival, not to mention her time spent getting the new person acclimated to our programs.

Is there anything I can do or say to help get the hiring process moving? I know at some point it’s out of my control, but I think she’s stuck in the “OMG WHAT AM I GOING TO DO!?!?!” phase. I’m already updating my job description so that won’t be what she’s waiting on. My fiance doesn’t understand why I care so much about trying to help her out because she hasn’t been a good boss but I’d like to leave this neat and tidy, and a months-long lag time between employees seems messy.

Honestly, it’s not your problem. And even if it were (which it’s not), you just don’t have the authority or control over the situation to make it work the way you want it to work.

Of course you’re right that it’s ridiculous and irresponsible to stall on hiring someone when if she moved faster, she could have a shorter vacancy, less work piling up, and maybe time for you to train the person. But this isn’t about what’s sensible or obvious; it’s about what your boss is willing to do. And you can’t control that. Moreover, you don’t need to. Because, again, it’s not your problem.

Your obligation is solely to give as much notice as you’re comfortable giving, to leave your realm as orderly as possible, and to leave behind as much documentation as you can for the next person.

That’s it. Your obligation is not to somehow push your boss into acting differently than she seems inclined to act. And it’s not to protect her from the consequences of her own actions.

Now, you can certainly point out to her what’s in the best interests of the organization and your eventual replacement. That means that you can say something like, “If the new person starts by May, I can help train them before I leave. To do that, I think we’d need to start advertising this week or next, with the goals of conducting interviews by X. If you’d like, I can update the job description and help with the initial resume screening so that we’re able to keep the process moving relatively quickly.”

But from there, it’s up to her. She’ll either act or she won’t. And it’s not your problem if she doesn’t, not any more than it’s your problem if she, say, doesn’t turn in a report to her own manager on time. This is not your job. It is hers, and you need to let her do it the way she sees fit — even if that way is terrible.

I totally understand feeling some personal responsibility for ensuring that your role is handled well, even after you’re gone — that’s common in conscientious people. But the reality is that what you can and should do is limited, because you are leaving. Get your area in good order and leave extensive documentation, then move on with a clear conscience. There’s no feasible way to do anything else.

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Zahra March 25, 2013 at 7:48 am

My first thought was similar what Alison suggested: point out that you would like to train the new person, but for that, it the hiring process needs to start now.

Otherwise, the only other thing you can do is prepare thorough procedure/training instructions on how to do your job. Leave a copy with your boss and another somewhere on the company server where the new hire should go routinely to look for/save files. You could (and maybe should) ask your boss’s (and/or a coworker’s) feedback to see if the instructions are clear enough for a newbie to understand.

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Jen in RO March 25, 2013 at 8:12 am

I think this is a very good idea. I know how you feel, OP, and I’d be just as frustrated… but leaving thorough instructions for your replacement will probably help him/her immensely.

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Chinook March 25, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I like the idea of telling your boss about the procedure manual AND saving it in a place where a new hire might stumble upon it. As a new hire, it is like Christmas when you find such a document.

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Mike C. March 25, 2013 at 7:50 am

Just remember that once you’ve moved and your former boss hasn’t gotten things together, it’s not your responsibility to perform work for her from afar.

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AdAgencyChick March 25, 2013 at 9:07 am

THIS. Something tells me your boss is going to be the type who will call and email with questions as much as you allow her to. For the first couple of weeks, you can point her to the appropriate documentation IF you have time and IF you feel like it. And after that…”I’m sorry, but I need to concentrate on my new position/my job search/etc.”

You can’t control what she does. You can control only what YOU do. I’m with your fiance — don’t worry so much about what will happen to her after you leave. Not your problem, as long as you handle yourself professionally during your notice period.

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Construction HR March 25, 2013 at 10:30 am

+1, put a time limit on your availability.

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Lanya March 25, 2013 at 10:43 am

Definitely put a time limit on your availability. However, as long as they are not being overbearing and you do have the time to answer questions every once in a while in your off hours, it might not be a bad idea to remain helpful from a distance. In my experience, I have been able to maintain very good relationships with former employers this way and I expect to have good references from them in the future, partially because of my willingness to be helpful after my departure.

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The OP March 25, 2013 at 12:58 pm

My boss is exactly that type. Our grant writer left in January and we recently had a big grant due that my boss got nervous about and wanted to call and contract the old grant writer to do!

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Runon March 25, 2013 at 9:13 am

This is very important. Being able to say (generally at least a full business day after she calls and leaves a voicemail) you can find the answer to that in the documentation I left for you and left on the shared drive, I’m not able to help you out any more than that, good luck, bye. I would strongly advise never returning this call during work hours if she does it, and don’t answer the calls from your boss, voicemail does wonders for making people look for the answer themselves.

You aren’t responsible for your job once you leave. And that’s ok.

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AdAgencyChick March 25, 2013 at 10:19 am

“voicemail does wonders for making people look for the answer themselves”

SO TRUE. Use the power of the VM, OP!

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Jamie March 25, 2013 at 9:52 am

This. Especially with so much notice. I understand the impulse to want a clean hand off – but you have to remind yourself this is her problem, not yours.

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Zahra March 25, 2013 at 7:50 am

Oh and, Alison, in the middle of the second paragraph of your answer, you have “and maybe time you to train the person” should it be “and maybe time for you to train the person” ?

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Ask a Manager March 25, 2013 at 11:20 am

Fixed!

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Dan Toussant March 25, 2013 at 8:19 am

While I agree that it is not your responsibility to hire a new person or do any work after your last day, I would recommend sharing your anxiety about your boss’s procrastination. Your detailed knowledge of what has gone on in this position in the past when others have moved on suggest to me that you would not be satisfied departing without doing all that you can do to encourage a different handling ofit this time. Start with a frank conversation with your boss about your concerns, and then wait for her to respond. You’ll be glad you took that extra srep.

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Jeff March 25, 2013 at 8:44 am

I agree with the OP’s fiance.

Generally, most companies I have worked for have been poorly managed – the managers make stupid decisions which the employees have to deal with and work around. In this case, the manager is making a dumb decision and will have to deal with the consequences herself. If I was her employee I would take great pleasure in knowing this and I would happily let her dig her own grave – especially since the manager didn’t learn any lessons from the last time it happened.

I do feel bad for the new employee who will be innocently walking in to this situation. But, again, the manager who is making the poor decisions will be left to deal with the high employee turnover that may result from the poor decisions.

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The OP March 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I feel bad for the new person too, having been the one innocently moving across the country into this (great-looking from the outside) situation. That’s really where my concern is–realistically I know all I can do is leave a complete desk manual and move on. Thanks to Alison and all the commenters for the reinforcement and your (always spot-on) advice!

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Tiff March 25, 2013 at 9:49 am

Don’t worry about it. Leave a comprehensive manual and set your mind for your next step in your new job. Congratulations!

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Anonymous March 25, 2013 at 9:52 am

Please understand before you consider this that I agree completely with Alison’s advice, as well as that of the other posters who have pointed out the limits of your obligations to the company.

However, given that you can’t control your boss’ reaction to this news, you might want to give more thought to what you can control. Assume your boss is going to continue wringing her hands until weeks after you’ve left. There are still things you can do to make this easier for the new hire. You want to leave your desk in flawless condition (remember, you can’t control what is dumped on it later), and (if you can) prepare a desk manual for your replacement.

A well-prepared desk manual can substitute for a lot of training. It should contain instructions for performing your job (or as much of it as you can professionally put in writing) written as simply and as clearly as possible. Instructions for how to find important resources (from office supplies to the IT guy who hides out near the Mountain Dew machine instead of his cubicle) are helpful as well. Just keep it professional and assume your boss’ boss is going to read it one day after your boss leaves too.

Using your time to prepare a desk manual has a few benefits. It lets you make productive use of your lengthy notice period whether your boss hires a replacement or not, and it assuages your guilt. You will be doing everything you can to ease this transition.

The final benefit is to your reputation – and don’t underestimate this. Make this desk manual a model for all others. Show it to multiple co-workers before you go (both to get their feedback on its clarity and completeness and to publicize the fact that you’re leaving it). Have it bound if you can, or at least nicely ordered in a tabbed 3-ring! Leave an electronic copy (or send some out) so that your new best practice can be continued with easy updates to the desk manual after you leave.

Your boss may be tempted to blame things on you when you’re gone, and you want to make it very hard for her to do that. If you’re known as the employee who gave six weeks of notice and put together a terrific desk manual, you will have defenders.

By the way, you can message this to your boss’ boss now if you have that sort of relationship. An offhand comment about what you’re doing to get ready for your departure – maybe in the context of saying some good things about your time at the company – will let him or her know what’s going on (in case your boss isn’t sharing, which isn’t unusual for this type of person) and present you in a positive light.

In summary – do what you can while you’re there, protect your reputation, and don’t feel guilty.

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perrik March 25, 2013 at 10:24 am

This is superb. I particularly agree with the advice to publicize your documentation – multiple people will know how to access it, and multiple people will know it exists. Having the desk manual bound is a bit of overkill, but the tabbed binder is just right.

My last work project was basically a desk manual for our client; all new hires for a specific position receive the manual at the end of training, which serves as a sort of 24/7 peer mentor. Each section started with straightforward functional/operational information (for example, IT information: this is the server where your files should be saved, any files saved to a certain desktop folder will be backed up automatically, this is who you contact for password resets, etc) followed by helpful suggestions from experienced people in that position (keep your electronic files organized, develop a consistent naming convention, our webmail sucks under anything but IE, bring Jamie cupcakes on a regular basis). There are checklists for routine tasks, links to templates, background information on the organization and its clients, and so forth.

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Jamie March 25, 2013 at 10:31 am

I really like the way you think. Both with going with tabbed rather than binding (easier to update) and…the cupcake thing is an excellent addition to any documentation.

Because I don’t have instant recall for fixes which only crop up every year or two I document the weird little issues and their fixes and work around. It’s over 2100 pages now, so printing to a binder might be a waste – but it’s embarrassing how easy it is to do my job with documentation and the ability to use the Cntrl F.

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Chinook March 25, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I agree with having an electronic version – I go as far as having hyperlinks to folders on the drive (which also shows the location address).

The other advantage to doing this was in was able to teach myself how to create hyperlinks, table of contents, headings and all the other things that you can do in Word on my own timeline, with no fear of judgements if I make a mistake while at the same time creating something with a purpose and audience (versus just busy work). I honestly think this is one of the reasons I became a Microsoft power user.

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Jamie March 25, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Absolutely – it’s a perfect place to play with Word templates for outlines/headings/etc.

Probably due to my mainlining ISO, but I am a big fan of footers and revision dates as a good reference. All our ISO procedures need to be reviewed every so often and it’s good to know the last time someone laid eyes on the info and deemed it accurate.

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Chinook March 25, 2013 at 12:57 pm

I agree with footers (especially if they include the location address) and revision dates but only if they are updated manually and NOT automatically to reflect the last saved date.

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Jamie March 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I have never met anyone else who expressed a preference for manual revision dates before – I thought I was the only one who insisted on that.

You are my kindred spirit to the north. :)

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Rana March 25, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Jamie, Chinook, you are not alone! Manual dates make so much more sense, in most circumstances. (Which is, of course, why Word tends to default to the other mode. Oh, Word.)

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The IT Manager March 25, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I know! How about those that default to the current date? So not useful in keeping track of last revision date.

jubileejones March 25, 2013 at 1:50 pm

+1 from a fellow Canuck. I implemented my old company’s QMS (ISO) and learned the hard way* that manual revision date updates were the way to go.

*Imagine a panicked jubilee going through almost a year’s worth of documentation to check the revision dates…the night before her very first certification audit.

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Martina March 25, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Couldn’t you also put “created a manual” on your resume?

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Chinook March 25, 2013 at 12:32 pm

You gave an excellent description of a procedures manual. I have called it a “hit by a bus” or “I won the lottery” book when describing it so people don’t know I am planning to leave (often because I start it on my first week when I am learning.”

There is one other advantage to this type of manual – it allows you take time off with minimal interruptions from work. We convinced one boss in a small office to do this because she never took a Friday off because she was responsible for sending our small newspaper to the printer. After she did up her manual, she took a Friday off but stayed in town while I sent the paper out as she didn’t think it work. When we proved it did, she then was happy to take the vacation time off and it took the stress off her immensely.

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Jessa March 25, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I usually start making one for myself when I start a job, because I need those kind of references due to an intermittent medical condition. And for some reason they become the thing to give everyone else. The best advice I can give the OP is when you make the manual, make sure everyone especially those higher on the ladder know that it was your work.

But if you’re not telling the people you work for that you’re leaving yet, the best thing to do is act as if you’re doing it for yourself. And the easiest time to do that is to start when you start, and just keep it up as you go.

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The OP March 25, 2013 at 1:04 pm

“Protect your reputation.” I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll definitely be showing what I write up to a few people now. Thanks!

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Anonymous March 25, 2013 at 9:56 am

Alison is spot-on in her advice here. Something similar happened to me in a previous employer, and you can only do what you’re able in the context of your job. Most of the time, you can’t fight city hall, and you can’t change organizational culture.

Years ago, I accepted a position and gave about six weeks’ notice at my then-job. There was a part-time person working in the office who clearly wanted the job (and could have done it). I had been working in the position for years, so I spent the time tying up loose ends, doing some documentation and giving the part-timer as much information as I could. The organization dragged its feet on posting the job (combination of vacations, administrative turnover, institutional inertia, denial, etc.) until my very last day. At 2pm I got a phone call saying that the CEO had installed her protege (over the temp who’d been working in the office for months) and could I train her? Sure, have her come in, and I’ll talk to her for an hour, but I’m leaving at 3. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t happen.

I did wind up fielding emails and phone calls from my successor for MONTHS, which wound up being unfair to me, my new employer and my replacement, who felt that she always had a backup, so she didn’t develop good decision-making skills in the position. I eventually had to cut her off, although in retrospect later than I should have. So, keep in mind what Alison and others have said about leaving your number, or open-ended offers to be helpful. That organization, your old boss, and your replacement will take advantage of your good nature–if YOU let them.

Which is why I negotiated a consulting contract the very next year for for training my replacement’s replacement.

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The IT Manager March 25, 2013 at 10:14 am

LW, while your concern is admirable, this issue and the fallout from your manager’s procrastination is truly not your concern. The best thing you can do in lieu of training your replacement is write up a good training/continuity document and print it up before you depart. I was going to say “or leave it in a group folder internal web page,” but given the disorganization you describe it’s probably best to leave a hard copy for your replacement to find in addition to a soft copy on the network somewhere.

I will add: You don’t mention your field (although I am curious about the reference to “season”), level, or the size of your organization, but in my experience (admittedly with bureaucratic organizations) and from what I read here at AAM hiring someone in time to overlap with their predecessor even with 6 weeks of notice of departure would be very unusual. Five weeks from notice of vacancy to the new hire in place! That’s no excuse for your manager to procrastinate while time flies by, but it seems that unless you gave more than two months notices or were replaced internally that you will be unlikely to have time to train your replacement. This obviously depends on the job, field, and skill set needed for the new position.

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Anon March 25, 2013 at 10:31 am

I wonder if there’s an element of self-preservation to people who post this type of inquiry – “I need to know that my work mattered and was valued”, “if it falls apart it means that the work I did was for naught or was not important enough”.

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Jamie March 25, 2013 at 10:36 am

I don’t think it goes that deep in a lot of cases. It wouldn’t for me – just a natural instinct to save others from their incompetence.

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Ask a Manager March 25, 2013 at 11:27 am

Yeah, I think it’s just part of a conscientious personality for a lot of people. You cared about the role while you were in it, and it’s hard to just turn that off on your last day. To this day, I still feel my blood pressure rising when I hear about what sounds like one particular former job mishandling things that I used to take care of. I literally repeat to myself like a mantra “not my problem, not my problem” until I accept that that’s true.

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Jamie March 25, 2013 at 11:39 am

Kind of like when you drive past your childhood home (or other former house) and are happy when you see it’s well kept…but would be sad if it was all run down and neglected. It was your place for a time and it’s a shame to think it wouldn’t be well cared for.

I think that’s why a lot of us have struggled in the past with cutting off the “just one more question” phone calls from the person taking over and let them go on far too long. Like some weird obligation to the job itself, and not necessarily the boss or the new hire.

I swear I think I have a relationship with my job itself. My desk, servers, file structure, procedures…they aren’t mine – they belong to the company (even that which I created) – but no one cares for them like I do. The rush of personal satisfaction which is truly indescribable over the little victories no one else cares about…the pride when things are going well and the literal anguish when they aren’t…I can’t even put that into words how much that crap matters. And it’s completely separate from real human relationships with my employers, my end users, my co-workers…all also real and important – but not as profoundly affecting to me as my relationship with my job as an almost corporeal entity.

And with that I think I’ve completely lost all sense of reason. I think I need some time off.

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Mike C. March 25, 2013 at 12:39 pm

I actually don’t think it’s crazy at all. You work on something for a long time, especially when there’s autonomy in your work, and you become attached to it in some way. A process, a product, a campaign, whatever.

You can bet that whenever I see a particular thing I worked on I point it out or get excited.

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Chinook March 25, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Jamie, you summer it up perfectly. It goes beyond work ethic. I never thought about it like you did, but I agree that it is like having a relationship with the job. I know I always do. Heck, I was fired without cause front my last job and, after I was told I was to leave, I still made sure all my documents were on the server and not on my laptop and checked in with one of my colleagues on the way out the door to make sure she received the expenses report form I had just finished laying out. Other people would have said, mentally, “s?:; you”, grabbed their stuff and left. Me, I was the keener until I was out the door, even though I knew it didn’t make a difference.

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Rana March 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Jamie, I know what you mean. I particularly get that way about projects – which is why the quickest way to drive me nuts is to give them over into the hands of someone less competent once they’re done – I am still upset over what happened to a website I worked hard on when it was handed over to someone who didn’t even know basic HTML – but it extends to things like filing and setting up databases, too. It’s like I’m making this little orderly space in the universe, where things that are crooked are made straight, small errors are corrected, and so on.

When I was doing research more regularly, it was very much a sort of work that was its own reward – I remember once fist-pumping in the middle of a crowded county recorder’s office, surrounded by people looking up marriage licenses and business records, upon finding confirmation that I was on the right track with the documents I was looking at. (And the fist pump was the restrained version; what I wanted to do was whoop and do a happy jig with my arms in the air.)

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The OP March 25, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Basically this. If there’s a solution and it’s reasonably simple to avoid the worst-case scenario, then let’s get moving with the solution!

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Yuu March 25, 2013 at 11:07 am

Why not just be honest?
Tell her you had a difficult time getting started when you came, so you think it would be beneficial for the company if you had a chance to train your replacement. You can ask her if there’s anything you can do to help set up the replacement hiring process, or suggest that you write outline how tos (if they don’t exist) on specific things that you might be in the best position to teach.

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Lily in NYC March 25, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I have to agree with your significant other – I would just stop worrying about this at all. Other people’s procrastination is not your problem, especially considering it won’t really affect you negatively. I would be thrilled if this happened to me at my job because training people is probably my least favorite work activity.

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Diane March 25, 2013 at 2:37 pm

OP, I think you said this was a nonprofit. If you really feel you must do something, buy Alison’s book (expense it) and leave it for your manager–and her manager.

It won’t make the perpetually unorganized chaos-thrivers any better, but it may help others see that chaos is NOT inevitable.

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