I feel guilty about resigning when a bunch of my coworkers recently left

A reader writes:

I work for a very small company. The CEO is supportive and tries to stay involved to make everyone happy, and I’m really appreciative for all she’s done.

Unfortunately, being a small company, there’s not a lot of upward mobility or room for growth. I’ve basically worked myself into a corner and I’ve become a bit of an office fixture. I wouldn’t say I’m under-appreciated, necessarily, but I’ve been there for the longest, and I think everyone in the office kind of thinks of me as the someone that’ll never leave. I’ve been there six years. The only upward position is a managerial position, which I would have reservations about taking (this is a good starter job, but not my career). I’ve been putting out resumes for several months looking for the next step. Only recently have my efforts paid off and I’ve now had several interviews, and some of the leads are promising.

However, two employees just left, and another is about to leave (this has been communicated to the CEO, so everyone is aware). Others might follow. I’m not exactly *desperate* to leave, but I’m really excited about new opportunities and spreading my wings. I’m really looking to relocate, too, so there’s that. There were some lower-level management problems causing low morale a few months back but they’ve been mostly resolved (candidly, that intensified the job-searching for many on my team). I think the company is now moving in a positive direction.

Because of the recent departures, the CEO has taken everyone in and made sure they’re happy, giving raises and asking if there’s anything she can do to help the company run more efficiently. She’s asked me several times if I’m looking to leave or looking for new opportunities. I’ve responded “no” because a) I don’t want to give the impression that I’m not doing my job 100% or that I’m unhappy, and b) I don’t have any firm job offers lined up; I only just started getting initial interviews. Since we’re a small company, I don’t think saying “yes” would result in anything negative, but it’s better to not take the risk — I feel like giving either answer ends up with a negative result.

However, if (or when!) one of these opportunities does pan out, I’m worried that the CEO will take it as a slight that I pretty much lied to her when she asked if I was looking. I’d really like to leave the company on good terms, as overall I’ve really enjoyed working for the company and want them to succeed (not to mention they’d be a great reference). We are already understaffed and it will take a while to fill my position, so I know if I do leave, the lower-level managers and the CEO will probably end up feeling pretty salty, especially if I leave so soon after the others. I’m excited to leave for greener pastures if the opportunity arises, but is there a way to end this relationship on a positive note (I’d like to give as much notice as possible, of course), being sympathetic to the company without sacrificing my career goals? Or is this normal guilt to feel?

It’s normal. If you’re conscientious about your work and/or you like the people you work with, it’s really, really normal to feel guilty about resigning.

It sounds like your company has made a real effort to retain people after the recent departures, and that’s great. That’s what they should be doing. But that doesn’t obligate you to stay.

Here are your obligations to your company when you’re thinking about leaving: give a reasonable, professional amount of notice (in most fields, that’s two weeks), document as much of your work as possible so that whoever comes in after you can see where things stand and pick up where you left off, and help with a smooth transition during your notice period rather than slacking off since you’re leaving.

That’s it.

You’re not obligated to stay longer than you want to because it would be a bad time for them for you to leave. This isn’t personal; it’s a business decision you’ll be making for yourself, just like loads of business decisions that they make every day too. People leave jobs. People leave jobs at times that are less than ideal for the employer. It’s just part of doing business. Sometimes it’s inconvenient, but I promise you, employers muddle through. It will be fine.

You’re also not obligated to be up-front with your company that you’re actively looking, even if you’re asked. I understand why you feel weird about having just told your CEO that you’re not job searching, but really, that’s not a question that a manager has an absolute right to get answered honestly. There’s a risk to being truthful in that situation, and the power dynamic means that it might not be in your best interests to share that you’re thinking of leaving before you’re actually ready to leave. Plus, things change — a “no, I’m not job searching” doesn’t mean “and I promise that I won’t.”

If the time comes for you to resign and you feel weird about it because you said you weren’t planning to leave, you can simply say, “The opportunity fell in my lap and was too good to pass up.”

That’s a thing that happens, and it’s a polite way to navigate this.

You are not an indentured servant. You aren’t even under contract to them (I assume, if you’re in the U.S., since most American workers aren’t). You’re trading your work for money, and it’s 100% okay to leave when that arrangement stops suiting you.

{ 98 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Falling Diphthong

    *wincing* Executives really need to learn not to ask their employees if they are looking elsewhere. Unless the context is “…because we agree you can’t get what you deserve here, and I will be a stellar reference and feel free to use me” your employees probably don’t feel safe giving you a brutal rundown of the truth.

    Reply
    1. AdAgencyChick

      Yep.

      IMO, by the time a boss has earned enough trust from an employee to expect that that question will be answered honestly, she won’t need to ask. They’ll have had so many conversations about the employee’s career path that the boss will already know.

      Reply
    2. animaniactoo

      Yup. The only thing they can expect to get a straight answer to there is “If you happened to be looking elsewhere, what are some things we could do for you to be happy to stay here?”

      Ultimately the answer might be “I’m not sure you can, because ultimately I want to do more X which company doesn’t offer opportunities for”, but for a whole lot of people they could honestly say “A higher salary/more vacation time/more flexible hours” and let the CEO decide whether the people/options are worth investing in to keep them.

      Reply
    3. Jaguar

      A boss that’s asking you if you’re looking for work is a boss that’s asking you to lie to them.

      Reply
    4. Misclassified

      I worked for a small law firm. A few years ago, the two partners called us all in on an Easter Sunday (without notice, just constant texts and voicemails until answered; they even made another associate cut short his out of town visit and drive back four hours when he wasn’t planning to be back in town until late that night). Turns out they called us in to let us know that the senior associate of about seven or eight years (who wasn’t in the meeting) gave his notice and would be leaving in about four weeks. One partner was quite angry, stating that “in the field we’re in, we really need at least six months notice” (which isn’t true; 2 weeks is still customary if you don’t have pending litigation). He then told us if ever asked as a reference, he would say the guy was a stellar attorney but that he didn’t like the lack of notice given. He THEN asked us if any of us were looking for a job at that time and if we were we should tell him.

      I certainly wasn’t truthful after all that.

      Reply
    5. Gazebo Slayer

      Yep. If you’re asked that question, unless you have a *great* relationship with your boss… LIE. Feel as little guilt as you can possibly manage. They don’t have a right to know the answer, if it would put your job in jeopardy, and it’s a crappy thing to ask given the power dynamics.

      Reply
  2. also resigning today and anxious

    Damn. Well if this wasn’t the best timing of a post to go up for me ever …

    Reply
    1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

      Me too. I’m in a similar situation to the OP and I Love Alison’s response–It’s just the pep talk I need right now.

      Reply
      1. also resigning today and anxious

        just did it. Ended up being a little less vocal about the problems because boss was seriously not getting it and I like her so I just gave in, but I did it. I feel loads lighter. YOU CAN DO IT TOO :)

        Reply
        1. Eversong

          Same here. I just quit a job with a boss, who always claimed that he honestly wanted to know if anyone was at their limit workload-wise or unhappy about anything else. But when a coworker and I actually tried to get some things to his attention he was essentially like “It’s good that you tell me, but uoy are wrong.”

          Didn’t try anymore after that and just looked elsewhere.

          Reply
  3. Fergus

    Also, if you still feel awkward, remember that they (businesses) will not hesitate to fire you, even if it’s not an convenient time for you.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Yep. I love my job and my employer has done generally well by me, but this is a transactional relationship, and your convenience and well-being is not going to avert a layoff or a firing if they feel it’s necessary – or, in a lot of cases, even just if second quarter earnings are excellent but not exactly what was forecast.

      Reply
    2. Aeryn Sun

      This – if the situation was reversed and they needed to fire someone, they wouldn’t hesitate. At the end of the day, you don’t owe them anything because they wouldn’t be so considerate in reverse.

      Reply
    3. Another person

      Not always. At one old job when I asked when a vacancy would be filled, I instead got a pep talk about having job security for life because they never fire anyone, they just move them around, because “we’re a family” and that position was being saved for someone who might need it someday.

      My boss was shocked when I resigned.

      My point to anyone who wavers is, do what’s best for you, whether you fear being fired or not, you’re the only one who has your best interests in mind.

      Reply
    4. MashaKasha

      Ahh, that was one of the first things a more experienced coworker taught me at one of my first jobs here back in the 90s. “Do not leave for anybody else and do not stay for anybody else. Do not be loyal to your company, because your company will not be loyal to you.”

      Reply
    5. TootsNYC

      And if you ask them the converse question: “Are you going to lay me off?” They won’t tell you.

      Reply
  4. Elmyra Duff

    Your employer wouldn’t be this loyal to you. You don’t owe them anything (other than appropriate notice, but you know what I mean)

    Reply
    1. Ferris

      When companies do layoffs — they don’t hold off because it’s not a convenient time for the employee. Like Alison said, it’s a business decision and it should be for you as well.

      Reply
  5. Steve

    What would be the downside of waiting a few more months to get more serious about changing jobs? You are treated well, the boss is making things better, etc. You might not have an obligation to stay, but you can decide to treat your boss how you would want to be treated. I am not suggesting you would be wrong to leave, but it isn’t the only choice.

    Reply
    1. paul

      Because jobs get filled?

      If you know you want to leave in the near/mid term, start looking now and apply for jobs that appeal to you.

      Reply
      1. HisGirlFriday

        This. When I left my last employer for the job I have now, it was terrible timing for them, and I knew it. But the job I have now is a niche job — there are fewer than a dozen people who do what I do in my whole state — and openings don’t come up very often. I had to make the best decision for me and my family.

        I gave more than two weeks’ notice, I documented the hell out of everything I did before I left, I trained people to do my job in the interim, and I remained available for phone calls for several months after, beyond the usual phone calls you’d expect.

        My then-boss was so appreciative, he said he’d be a reference for me any time I needed it.

        Reply
    2. Gadfly

      Because the opportunities are now? Sure, something else might pan out in a few months, but she may have options coming in now that won’t be there. If she gets something that is a good fit now, she can’t just count on finding an equally good fit later and turn it down.

      This goes way past the golden rule and into making serious personal sacrifices.

      Reply
    3. k.k

      While I’m all for OP having options, your wording makes it sound like leaving is a bad thing, or it would be treating the boss badly. Leaving a job is a totally normal part of business, and not a negative thing to feel guilty about. If there is a job that sounds like a good fit for that comes up, OP shouldn’t have to pass that up.

      Reply
      1. Steve

        The way op worded it, it sounded as if it would be a bad thing for the employer. I guess I don’t understand the importance of the timing. She had the job for several years. It isn’t a bad place. Lots of people left. The business would be in a bad place if she left also. (Just guessing on this, because lots of people leaving at once seems hard) I don’t think she is bad for doing what is best for herself, but at the same time she could feel loyalty to the employer and feel better about herself is she stayed awake longer. Guilt over leaving seems a fair emotion on her part.

        Reply
        1. Morning Glory

          I think the main risk is, as others have noted, it is really hard to predict how long a job search takes. The OP may lose out on a great opportunity by putting her job search off by a couple months. If the job search takes a long time, she may be delaying her professional development by over a year. That is a really big sacrifice to ask her to risk making.

          Reply
    4. Snarkus Aurelius

      Your employer is going to treat you however best serves the employer at large. It’s not based on how the employee regards the employer.

      Reply
      1. Steve

        I worked for a company once where a guy fell at home and was out of work for months. The company paid him reduced wages while he was out. Some companies go above and beyond.

        Reply
          1. mreasy

            I’m currently on medical leave and my employer has decided not to exercise short term disability, because it requires maxing out my sick leave & vacation days first. They’re just paying my full salary. It’s only one month, but still – it is very generous. It’s possible!

            Reply
    5. anonymouse

      In general, job opportunities don’t come along every day. If she’s interested in spreading her wings and leaving her ‘starter job,’ and gets a great opportunity elsewhere, she’s under no obligation to stay or wait it out to see if things change, just because she’s treated well. I know you’re talking about options here but something rubs me the wrong way, “you can decide to treat your boss how you would want to be treated.” Working an at-will job is not the same as being in a relationship with a person. “Treating them how you would want to be treated” is not really appropriate in the context of the workplace. Doing your job, being professional, and adhering to workplace norms like giving 2 weeks notice when you decide to leave and leaving things in good working order are ways a person should treat their employers well. Implying that a person who wants to spread her wings and grow in her career is not treating the boss well is pretty off base in my opinion.

      Reply
    6. Antilles

      The brutal truth is that there’s rarely a good time to lose a quality employee. In fact, you can ALWAYS come up with an excuse for why it’s “not the right time”. Just look at OP’s descriptions:
      >Recent Past: If OP had left a little while ago, it would be just before two other employees left, so her departure would have been followed by others. Company needs to replace 3 employees simultaneously – Bad timing.
      >Now: If OP leaves now, they might struggle because of the recent and upcoming departures – Bad timing.
      >A couple months from Now: OP thinks “others might follow”, so upcoming departures might make it just as short-staffed – Bad timing.
      >Later this year: Company is trying to hire people to replace the departed, but is going through the usual several-month process to hire people, so they’re still short-staffed – Bad timing.
      >Early next year: Company has hired people, but they’re still onboarding and not up to speed yet – Bad timing.
      >Mid next year: Company won a big project, so they need all hands on deck – Bad timing.

      Reply
      1. cricket

        Wow, you really hit the nail on the head. As someone who is prone to feeling guilty about really normal, expected things, it helps to have it laid out in exactly that way.

        Reply
      2. anona

        Thank you for this clear breakdown of why it’s “never a good time”.

        On the flip side, opportunities happen when they happen.

        Reply
    7. AnotherAlison

      I don’t see any reason for the OP to wait. She states several good reasons – 6 years is a fairly long time at a first job, and she wants to relocate.

      However, I did want to point out that sometimes growth opportunities appear very limited to employees, but if you actually say something to management, you might learn there are opportunities you don’t know about. Now, no reason to say anything if you’re definitely going to leave, since you don’t want them to go out of their way to promote you while you’re walking out the door. But, if you might stay, say something! My husband left a job once because it looked like he was going to be stuck working nights indefinitely. There wasn’t growth to add new positions to the day shift, and the people who had those positions seemed to be lifers. Within a year after he quit, the department had had almost 100% turnover due to promotions to other departments, retirements, and someone leaving to start a business. Leaving was still probably the right decision, but he would have thought about it a lot differently if he had known he was going to be one of the most senior people so quickly.

      Reply
    8. Artemesia

      If ever I would leave you, it would not be in Autumn . . . yadda yadda.

      Never a good time for the company. The OP should do what is best for her own future. She has exciting prospects now; if the right one comes through, now is the right season.

      Reply
    9. Erin

      Looking for a job can take a long time. I’ve been looking for over a year to find a job that gives me equal benefits and slightly better pay and a more stable schedule.

      Reply
  6. Snarkus Aurelius

    Finding a new job is a lot like getting pregnant. You have no idea how long the process is going to take. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen next month. It could happen three years from now. Planning around getting a new job you don’t have is a futile effort because the bulk of the result is out of your control.

    I’d also like to touch on something AAM said about a contract. It’s fantastic your CEO is going to great lengths to retain people. But let’s say you did get a new job, and they were twitchy about it. If they really, REALLY wanted to keep you, they’d have set up a written agreement between the two of you that lays out those terms — an agreement that commits you to working for them for a set period of time and they can’t terminate you unless there’s cause. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen in that conversation. That doesn’t mean they don’t value you. They obviously do. But if your employment is that much of a priority to them, they’ll formalize their commitment to you in a legal contract.

    Sure a majority of employers don’t do that. It’s usually because they also have no idea what the future holds so they need that flexibility to do what they need to do minus limitations. And that’s okay! But when employers grumble about workers moving to greener pastures, well, a written employment contract is what I point to as a solution. Rarely do I get any employer agreeing with me on that though. :)

    Reply
    1. k.k

      I think that if the boss came around and asked people to sign a contract now, it would really turn people off. I would see it as “We’re saying we want to make things better, but we’re also going to make you sign this so just in case it still suck you’ll be stuck here,”

      Reply
    2. CM

      I think in theory, what you’re saying makes sense. But in reality, if employment contracts are not standard in your workplace, then it’s very unlikely a company would make an exception to their normal business practices for one person.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Yeah, even asking for it (on either side) would be pretty red flaggy if it wasn’t existing practice.

        Reply
      2. Falling Diphthong

        I’ve usually seen the contracts in the context of a business that is going through layoffs and wants to retain key people–the business offers a contract that guarantees them something like a year’s salary severance if they are laid off. (This was in the context of most layoffees getting a couple of weeks severance.)

        Strong warning that bankruptcy probably voids those contracts, since overnight you become a very minor creditor.

        Reply
    3. myswtghst

      Finding a new job is a lot like getting pregnant. You have no idea how long the process is going to take. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen next month. It could happen three years from now. Planning around getting a new job you don’t have is a futile effort because the bulk of the result is out of your control.

      This. My last job search went pretty smoothly, but the whole process took me about six months from when I submitted the first applications (in March/April) and went through several rounds of interviews with 3 different companies (in June/July/August) until I gave my notice (in September) and started my new job (last October). It may still be a month (or six months) before the OP is ready to resign, so I don’t see any harm in waiting til then to say “I had a great opportunity come up!”

      Plus, being currently employed in a job you don’t hate but know you’d like to get out of in the next year or so is a GREAT time to be job searching, because you can be choosy and find a good fit, rather than jumping on the first thing that comes along.

      Reply
  7. Stop That Goat

    What fortuitous timing. I was just having a conversation earlier today about resigning in the middle of a project when a new position that is better for my long term growth has come open. I was really struggling about whether to go for the position because I was concerned that it wasn’t a good time for my employer. Now, I don’t think I should let it pass me by without giving it a shot.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  8. anona

    Perfect timing for me to read this post as well as the other one linked in the text. New Company is checking my references as I type, and I am sitting at my desk feeling all the feelings and practicing mindful breathing.

    Reply
  9. HMM

    You could also say if she asks you why you didn’t tell her you were looking when she asked: “I was looking when things were really stressful and hectic several months ago, but stopped when the issue that made me unhappy was resolved. However, one of those opportunities that I had fostered at that time became something too good to pass up. I really wasn’t looking when you asked me previously.”

    Reply
    1. k.k

      I said something very similar when I resigned from a job at an awkward time, and it was well received. Still use them as a reference. I think most people know that even when you stop job hunting, you’ll still be getting email updates for a while from any sites you signed up for, or people in your network might still let you know of opportunities. So it’s perfectly natural to be aware of openings after you stop looking.

      Reply
    2. Cyrus

      If that’s true, great. Doesn’t sound that way, but it could be.

      If it’s a lie the OP can convincingly tell, OK. I wouldn’t have too many qualms about lying in this situation, but maybe some people would. And, qualms aside, some people are more skilled at lying than others.

      If the OP doesn’t want to do that or doesn’t think they can get away with it, the truth doesn’t seem that bad. “Sorry, but I was keeping things close to my chest until I had something lined up. I’m sure you understand.” Or something like that. In theory someone could be offended by the contradiction between that and saying earlier that she wasn’t looking, but that would be unreasonable of the CEO.

      Reply
  10. Jana

    OP, I understand your dilemma. I found myself in this position a few years ago, but my decision was perhaps easier because the CEO was very difficult to work with (verbally abusive, for example) and the entire staff quit within a month of one another. Although your boss sounds like she is trying hard to ensure employees are happy, this a decision about your life and you have to do what is right for you. If a company finds they need to restructure in order to improve the company, they’re going to let employees go even if it hurts feelings. You’re not doing anything out of the norm by wanting to grow in your career and find work that helps you do that. You’re not being rude to your employer. Your obligation to them is to do your work as best you can, not stick with them no matter what happens. Alison’s advice about what to say when you do find a new job is spot on. Remember that if you make career decisions based on what’s best for your current employer, you may not ever get to where you want to be.

    Reply
  11. SansaStark

    I’m the coworker that got stuck doing your job when you left and a bad time…and I’m not mad at you at all. I’m frustrated that our organization took 4 months to rehire for your position and didn’t have any problems at all at asking me to do all of your higher-level work along with my own. But you? Nope, not even a little bit. I’m excited for you to have a new opportunity that you’re excited about!

    Reply
    1. paul

      been there, done that. It sucks but agreed that the person that left isn’t the one you should be mad at.

      Reply
    2. Ama

      This. An awesome coworker who had been doing crucial support work for me left us back in May and it has unfortunately taken longer than expected to replace her (combination of admin stuff around redefining the job posting and some health issues that have had me out of the office more frequently than I had planned). So I have had to do a lot of this role’s tasks myself while still doing all of my usual tasks. But I don’t blame her in the slightest — I’m thrilled she’s moving on to an opportunity that will really use her skills in a way she couldn’t here.

      Reply
    3. Lily Rowan

      Yes!!

      I’m even the boss who had to fill multiple positions simultaneously and I’m still happy for your new opportunity and want to see you happy and growing!

      Reply
  12. Stellaaaaa

    Your company made a mistake when it started loading so much crucial work on one person. It reminds me of another question from this week. If there’s a sense that things will fall apart when one valued employee quits, it’s a sign that your job really should have been handled by a team. This isn’t to blame them or cast them in a bad light. It’s just something that small businesses do, and it’s a reason to not want to spend your entire career there. You’re responsible for so much and yet there’s no room for growth. Your CEO seems to be aware that, the resolved moral issue aside, her business isn’t the kind of company that keeps people for the long haul. Accidental guilt trips are another common thing with small businesses. CEOs want people to be loyal but they (the CEOs) aren’t willing to invest in expansions or to accept that their product/service limits their growth. It might make you feel better to realize that all this stress and angst you’re feeling aren’t so prevalent at bigger companies. It’s a reason to want to work for someone else.

    Reply
    1. RVA Cat

      This. It sounds like they have no Bus Factor, which not only overloads you but makes the whole organization unstable. Sorry to say, but you have to weigh your feelings of loyalty against the chance this is one of those small companies that fails or gets bought out in a few years.

      Reply
      1. DDJ

        I’m going to start thinking of it as “Bus Factor” from now on. I work for a large company, but we have specialized roles for which there are NO backups. A few years ago I had a nasty stomach flu and STILL had to come in to work, because literally no one else could do it. 30 minutes of work followed by 10 minutes in the bathroom vomiting…repeat ALL DAY.

        Reply
  13. Snark

    OP….please don’t take this as personal criticism of you, because a lot of us think this way. But come on. This is a transactional, not a personal, relationship, and were the shoe on the other foot they’d fire you without worrying about your convenience and how much you need the money, right? The American employment market is hellish and mercenary, and I think American employees often let themselves get bullied into holding the shit end of the stick.

    It’s interesting to really study the economics of the employment market. Unemployment is, in a lot of places, below 3%. The economy is doing generally well. And yet, wages are stagnant and have been for years. Raises are historically crappy. Many employers are behaving as if it’s still a recession and they have lines of desperate applicants that will take anything, and many emplyoees are behaving as if it’s still a recession and they’re lucky for whatever they can get.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Though plenty of employers do worry about the convenience of their employees and how much they need the money. It just doesn’t keep them from making decisions for the organization as a whole that suck for individual employees.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        Sure. And of course everyone negotiates that relationship a little differently. But at this point, I think people tend to err too far on the other side.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I don’t disagree with that. In general in most stages of employment (you see it here a lot with hiring, too), I think employees are more likely to think of it as personal than employers are.

          Reply
    2. Stellaaaaa

      I touched on this above, but if OP’s main working experience is with small businesses, she probably doesn’t know that her guilty feelings and the overall guilt-trip vibe isn’t normal. It’s somewhat unique to small businesses, where the owners think they’re doing everything right but haven’t built up the infrastructure that would keep good employees around.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I think it’s true in a lot of places, though. I know people go through the same feelings in my workplace (I just talked to somebody who moved out to another job, in fact), and I think some of it is *because* of the long tenures here. Some people really like where they work and who they work with, and outgrowing your position is bittersweet.

        Reply
        1. Stellaaaaa

          In OP’s case, it’s compounded by the fact that she’s the most vital member of a skeleton crew and that she has the longest tenure there at only 6 years. At companies where the loss of one employee can sink the whole ship, it’s a very different breed of guilt.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            The same thing happens in bigger places, though; it’s certainly true at my university, and it’s something people factor into their retirement and departure plans with some frequency.

            Reply
            1. Chocolate lover

              It’s also true at my university, at least in the units I’ve worked for. And it does seem like the longer the employee’s tenure, the more guilt there is. There was for me when leaving one role after a looking duration.

              Reply
            2. Ghost Town

              I felt that way when I left my position at my university, too. My old position covered so many different areas, and not in the same way that other units did (not quite an academic program, but had degrees and students, but no faculty. also had grants to fulfill). Of course, it is still an open question as to whether or not I’ll be replaced, and if yes, then how – commiserate status and salary or demoted in time/salary to save a few bucks. I felt guilt over leaving my colleagues potentially high and dry (no cross training b/c we all had different job duties and were all already asked to do more and more) and my students in a lurch b/c no one had the advising or student affairs piece.

              It is one reason I gave a 3 week notice instead of 2 (also coincided with the end of the semester) and my new/current supervisor is understanding that there may be one or two things that I need to wrap up. (Though I did get pretty much everything handled or passed on before I left.)

              Reply
    3. AllAboardtheFriendship

      I don’t see it as a personal criticism at all! In fact, it’s exactly what I needed to hear, and it’s advice I was hoping to receive.

      As I mentioned below, my only experience has been with a small company, and I feel bad having other employees having to bear the brunt of my leaving, since I really enjoy working with my coworkers and we are a small team. I think a lot of the hesitation I felt was due to a sense of company loyalty that isn’t really reciprocated. I’ve got a strong work ethic and I try to feel like we’re all pitching in toward a common goal as a team, especially at a company as small as mine… but the truth is a little harsher, and only after taking a deep breath and a step back am I starting to see negative patterns that have been there forever, and it’s strengthened my resolve to move forward. A firm voice is just what I need – and business is quite different than a personal relationship, something I’ve now figured out the hard way, haha.

      Reply
  14. Shadow

    “You’re trading you’re work for money” is a little bit dismissive when you’ve said many times that you hire people who are passionate. You can’t suddenly flip a switch and make it a transactional relationship. That said it’s perfectly fine and good bosses are usually very appreciative if you give more than the standard notice. It’s not required of course and you shouldn’t feel pressured to do it but if you’re trying to ease the pain of you leaving this is the way to do it. Good bosses will appreciate it and may not even take you up on the offer. And if your new boss is good he will completely understand as long it’s within reason (no more than an extra week)because he would appreciate the same gesture.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      But it is transactional. I want to hire people who are excited about what they do, of course, but it’s still transactional. If I stopped paying them, they’d stop working. And if the job became less fulfilling, I’d not be surprised if they decided to leave.

      And yes, good bosses often get long notice periods. But it’s not obligatory.

      Reply
        1. fposte

          I think Alison is talking about it as transactional when it comes to the ethics; it can be helpful to separate those out from the emotions. Liking the people doesn’t change the ethics of a departure, even if it changes how you feel about leaving.

          Reply
    2. AdAgencyChick

      Not always. A good boss could still need to fit someone into a slot right away, and have a second-choice candidate who’s nearly as strong as the first choice. Or they’re just hurting for an extra pair of hands, and don’t want to wait longer than the standard notice period the new hire would have to give at the old office.

      Reply
  15. Red Reader

    I was working in a horrifically understaffed department. Like, two of us doing the work of five. I gave my boss ten weeks notice (I was moving across the country with savings instead of moving to a new job and I was certain she wasn’t going to ask me to leave early) so she could get my job posted and hopefully get someone trained, or at least started. Two weeks after I gave notice, my compatriot pulled us all in to a conference room to announce that she was going half-time, immediately, due to an inoperable and barely treatable health condition.

    My position wasn’t even posted by the time I left, let alone filled, and my understanding is that my coworker passed within two months of my leaving. I have no idea what ended up happening, but the organization is still running and doing just fine.

    Do your best, do what you can, but it’s not on you to make sure it works out okay for them, it’s on you to make sure it works out okay for YOU.

    Reply
  16. BritCred

    I had one employer who found a CV from one of the employees on a searching site and proceeded to call the entire staff into a meeting to bitch about it basically making it out that they’d be prepared to sack people whose CV’s were found or were even mentioned anon on a recruitment agencies site. Yep, you just made us all totally loyal to you forever… not.

    I’m sure they’d chucked in the “talk to us if you are unhappy” stuff into the conversation with us but basically it came across as “you can never leave unless we sack you” and got everyone’s backs up.

    Reply
  17. Herring

    You don’t have to be honest about leaving plans. I even had a coworker who, knowing how personally Big Boss took it when anyone at Small Co left, said that coworker’s wife wanted to move to Other City for work and to be near more members of Ethnic Background, as wife’s first language wasn’t English. In reality, coworker had gotten a great offer for much more money, and proximity to people of Ethnic Background was a minor plus for the wife.

    Reply
  18. AllAboardtheFriendship

    Hello all! OP here. Thanks everyone for your comments, they’ve all been helpful to read and I’m glad that other people are going through a similar situation. A bit of background that might help others, or shed some light on why I asked the question:

    So, the leads didn’t pan out. That was expected, since I’m mostly applying for jobs not only out-of-state, but I’m looking for jobs on the other coast. I’m still young but I’ve found that where I currently am – which is more or less where I’ve grown up – is no longer doing it for me. I’m determined to make a big step and move, which would involve finding a new job to *secure* a move. That’s the impetus for job searching in the first place, and I’m going to be moving regardless of whether or not I get a new job, assuming I can work remotely (which suddenly may not be a possibility, see below).

    All that said, I’m very much a type-B personality. I avoid conflict, and I try to be the mediator in situations. This makes me great at my job, but terrible when it comes to giving people bad news. I really appreciate Alison’s response, and to everyone who commented with “your company doesn’t owe you the same loyalty” and “a company can quit you without the same courtesy”. I’m a firm believer that your own personal growth and happiness always comes before a job, but I was concerned because, as it turns out, management is not as great as I made it sound in my email. Unfortunately the CEO is more petty than I realized at the time. She doesn’t take bad news well, and although I thought things were better (or at least headed in a better direction), she’s actually ended up firing people for what she perceives as slights against her, even if they weren’t. (One employee – who I always thought did a decent job and has worked there as long as I have – asked to work remotely and was fired… I don’t know the rest of the story but that’s placed my entire plan in jeopardy, although I did receive preliminary approval but nothing formal.) On top of that, (some of) the people who are my direct supervisors are similarly dysfunctional and have ended up speaking poorly of past employees because they left at inconvenient times. All this in a small, interpersonal environment has left those of us remaining feeling … dispirited.

    This is my first job straight out of college, so while I’m used to these stupid antics, I was optimistic that things were looking better, especially since multiple people left all at once. I thought it would be a good wake-up call, and having spoken privately with the CEO that I really wished the company well but we needed to make some changes, things would change. Not much has, and the atmosphere remains pretty toxic, at least for me (part burnout and part unhappiness in location/no job growth and an increasing lack of appreciation). So, I wrote my question above to see if it was normal to feel this guilty – I’m really appreciative that this job gave me a chance to land on my feet, to get a jump start into the professional world, and earn some good money, but I wanted to know if it was normal to be as anxious as I am about delivering this bad news, knowing that it’s almost full well going to burn bridges. When the time comes, I’ll still feel guilty, but honestly I know what I need to do next in my life and I’m not going to let a little pouting stop me. :)

    Having had a few months to think about this, with the realization that the job is effectively a dead-end, I’m moving forward without any guilt or remorse. I do appreciate the job, but things aren’t as rosy as I wanted them to be, and the little gut feeling that says “you really should find a way to move on” was nagging me for the right reasons. I do hope that the boss takes it well, but as everyone noted above, it’s really not up to me, and it reflects more on their reaction than mine. If an employer chooses to be childish about losing an employee, then that’s out of my control, and no matter how delicately I frame it or obsess over the details, it won’t improve anything.

    (Also, I completely agree about how utterly nuts it is for an employer to ask if you’re looking for other jobs. I know I was being asked because other people were leaving, but I think it’s none of the employer’s business. It puts the employee in an awkward situation of having to convincingly lie on their feet, and – especially given the revelations of my boss’s pettiness – telling the truth is even a greater risk. I read that an employer should treat all employees as if they’re looking to leave, because not only is that probably the case if a lot of people leave at once, but making sure your employees are happy is one way to lessen the chance that they will…not to mention that *everyone* is pretty much passively searching these days, at least.)

    Thanks to everyone who’s commented, I really appreciate reading all of your thoughts on this, and congratulations/best of luck to all of those who are in a similar situation and ready to move on to their next chapter!

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      “I read that an employer should treat all employees as if they’re looking to leave, because not only is that probably the case…”

      YES!
      Currently I have a boss who gives me job ads. Does her gesture make me think? You betcha. If I make a jump it’s going to be for VERY good reasons.

      I have told this story before but my uncle ran a department for a well-known newspaper. His MO was to encourage people that they could get a job anywhere doing the same work. In a seemingly odd turnabout, he had very low turnover. People stopped and thought about what they were doing and where they were going. My uncle was a reality based boss, he knew anyone could leave at any time. He also knew that as a manager he had to be careful of the ripple he sent out into the world. Employees who are upset/angry about work issues are vulnerable for problems at home, vulnerable for problems with changing jobs and vulnerable to having problems at their next job. He did not want upset/angry employees to be the byproduct of his poor management skills. He kept conversation open for all types of discussions, which included career planning and working for other places. He worked to make sure people were well trained and understood their work. These types of actions made people stay when they could have gotten a higher paying job elsewhere. He knew this because a couple employees said this to him.

      Reply
      1. Shadow

        Not quite. If I treated employees as if they are looking to leave then I would be hesitant to invest in them or give them long term projects.

        As an employer you do want to treat employees as if they COULD leave, but treating them as if they are actively looking to leave means you have to be prepared for them to be gone.

        Reply
    2. RVA Cat

      Given this new information, I think you should be sure to keep in touch with your co-workers who left and see if you can rely on them as references. The bad-mouthing of former employees by your supervisors is a bad sign.

      Reply
      1. AllAboardTheFriendship

        I am in touch with my coworkers, and they’re all happy to serve as references (and I’m happy to serve as references for them). To be fair to my post above, I don’t know the full story for the firings, so it’s quite possible I don’t have some piece of information, but I was taken aback since I was unaware that anyone had ever gotten fired – it was all very quiet and secretive (I thought they left voluntarily). But there have definitely been some off-the-cuff remarks (if not outright disdain) for people who left, either at inconvenient times or who left altogether. I had no idea adults could be so petty. :[

        Reply
  19. Sara

    I just left my job last week to freelance full-time and I know exactly how you feel. We had a lot of turnover last year, so a lot of positions weren’t replaced (and still haven’t been; there’s one that’s been open a full fourteen months). I gave two months’ notice mainly because I knew that when I left, it meant that my boss and the other person in my department would have yet another job to take on. Between the three of us we were already doing what had previously been five people’s full-time jobs for nearly a year (ours plus two others). It was so bad that in my yearly review I told my boss in all seriousness that one of my goals for the year was just to not have a mental breakdown.

    I really like my coworkers and I waffled about leaving for about six months before I finally gave notice, but now that I’m out it’s like a switch flipped. It’s only been a WEEK and my outlook has been so much better.

    (The only irritating thing is that my leaving seems to have been what finally tipped the scales to start up hiring. They found a replacement for me who started just before I left. Then yesterday a coworker told me that what I had been doing is now going to be not only my replacement but split up into three other positions as well. I guess that’s a compliment?)

    Reply
  20. kc89

    I had a job that I hated a couple of years ago and even though I HATED it there I still felt extreme guilt at quitting, it’s definitely a normal feeling

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      In my early working years I had to wrestle with some guilt. Finally one question I landed on was, “Is my guilt about leaving actually a disguise for feeling guilty about making myself stay in the horrid situation?”
      I was never totally able to answer that question. But once I was able to see the ambiguity over the source of the guilt, I realized that moving on was the right answer. Work settings should not be this hard. There is no need or reason for it.

      Reply
  21. Teacher

    OP, I feel you. 5 years ago, I left a school that wasn’t serving kids well. The kids were amazing, I worked with some good people, but the school environment wasn’t healthy and while I did what I could to make my classroom the kind of place I wanted it to be, I couldn’t ignore the overall culture.

    I applied for jobs, had interviews, was a finalist for a few positions, and had made peace with the idea that I’d be at the school for another year and be a positive example for colleagues and kids. Then, two days before PD started (3.5 weeks before kids were back), I got a call from a school where I’d been a strong 2nd. The other candidate didn’t work out — did I want the job? I struggled so much, but ultimately realized that I had to do what was best for me. The new school had strong leadership, a stellar reputation, and the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity I wanted.

    Turns out, I was the third person to resign that WEEK…I didn’t know about the others. I felt terrible, but ultimately knew I made the right choice for me and my career.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  22. Mrs. Fenris

    OMG I totally could have written this post six months ago. I had been at my job for 14 (!) years and I had become a bit of an office fixture. I could feel myself settling into a rut, and really needed a change of scenery. (There was more and more drama there every day as well, but I digress.) I really liked a lot of my coworkers. And I knew that leaving would create a big problem for my boss. So…I took a deep breath and I left. It was AGONIZING. But I’m pretty sure it’s going to turn out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. And you know what? They gave me a nice sendoff, boss replaced me and everybody survived. And I like my new job a lot and it pays better.

    Reply
  23. Jetsam

    Very timely for me. Small business employers laid off coworker due to Restructuring and gave me the work. I need a career with benefits. I like the people but it could be ill-timed and man, do I feel guilty despite the workload and layoff.

    Reply
  24. TootsNYC

    Alison wrote: “It sounds like your company has made a real effort to retain people after the recent departures, and that’s great. That’s what they should be doing.”

    That’s not all they should be doing.

    They should be recruiting.

    Even smaller companies can do this on a background level–identifying staffing streams or staffing partners, for example, even if they don’t have the time or resources to interact candidates when they aren’t openings yet.

    And that brings up the one other above-and-beyond thing you could do for your employer: you could offer to help recruit.
    If you have a particular skill or experience that might be hard to find, you can spread the word among your cohort.
    You can offer to write the job description as well as some good questions that will help an interviewer spot a good candidate.
    You can write out your answer to Alison’s magic question: What sets a great performer apart, in terms of this position. Add any other things that you’d want to know if YOU were interviewing to find the new you.
    You can do an extra-good job leaving things for people to pick up after you. Make a calendar for the next 6 months with every routine task and every deadline.

    And last, you can offer to be a resource for the new person once they’re hired. Set some boundaries, but also it’s okay to be a little generous. (Just don’t get them in trouble with the Labor Dept by working for free.)

    Reply
  25. boop the first

    I felt so guilty when I was hired away from my last job, because for a long time I was a major crutch for them, they knew it, and I couldn’t even say that the new job is any better (every new job comes with a HUGE pay cut – yay retail!). The old job inexplicably paid me $2/hour less than my male coworkers and I STILL felt horrible guilt.

    That is, until management immediately started acting kind of chilly toward me, like my leaving was nothing at all (even though I was the only person trained and available, not to mention the CHEAPEST worker apparently), and then suddenly I didn’t feel guilty anymore.

    Reply

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