answering questions from your old employer after you’ve moved on

A reader writes:

I have submitted my two weeks notice and am wondering what I should do if after I have left, if they contact me for phone support? What if my peers call me? I’m thinking soon after I could be polite and offer some level of help but where do I draw the line and say “hey guys, I”m not getting paid for this. If they need my help, they can pay me for it.”

The best thing that you can do is to spend that two weeks creating thorough documentation on the sorts of things that you suspect people might not know after you’re gone. Processes, passwords, the status of various projects — get it all down in writing, and make sure that anyone who might need it knows where it is.

Once you’re gone, it’s considered good form to be willing to answer a small number of inquiries — not actually doing further work, but answering a few questions like “what’s the password for X?” or “do you know where we can find the contract for Y?”  These should be a small number of things that don’t take up significant amounts of your time.

(Of course, you’re not under any formal obligation to do even this. But doing so is kind, will help you maintain a good relationship with your former coworkers and employer, and is fairly typical if you left on good terms.)

Now, if the requests for help you’re getting would take up a significant amount of your time (either individually or cumulatively), at that point you can draw a boundary, by explaining that you can answer the occasional quick question but don’t have time for more than that. Or, if you’re willing to help out if you’re paid for it, you can say to your old boss, “Hey, it seems like you guys are calling on me a lot, to the point that I wanted to raise the possibility of offering you a set number of hours of my time in the next month as a consultant. I’d be willing to do that for $x/hour if that would be helpful.”  (This may lead to a consulting arrangement, but more likely it’ll lead to them leaving you alone.)

You can also address this ahead of time — if you know that people are going to want to call on you a lot after you’re gone, you can try to negotiate something before your last day, like agreeing to be available for assistance for up to three weeks after your last day in exchange for an additional week of vacation pay, or something like that. Or you can agree to a total of one hour of post-exit help, with the understanding that you’ll get compensated for anything beyond that.

Of course, all of this comes down to what you feel like doing, the terms you left on, and what kind of relationship you want to have with them in the future.

{ 29 comments… read them below }

  1. Kimberlee*

    This is interesting! I hadn’t really thought much about it, even though I’m in the same situation. For me, though, it’s a bit different. I mentored my replacement, and I feel like I have a personal and professional investment in her success. So, whenever she needs help with a tough situation (and she has), I’m happy to offer. I don’t, in general, do that for others in that workplace, although none have asked… I’d probably help them out if I wasn’t busy.

  2. Anonymous*

    Leaving a comprehensive handover document is mandatory in my workplace, which you would circulate to your manager + your usual project team colleagues. We have a lot of process documentation on file anyway, so it is really just a case of providing links to these and explaining the project cycles, risk analysis, contact details etc. So how about circulating a handover doc a few days before you go and asking people to get back to you if they have any further questions before you leave.
    I think it is fairly rare for ex-employees to be contacted anyway, no?

    1. Anonymous*

      Agreed, in IT it more common than not to be hired back part-time after hours to help out. Sometimes for years.

  3. Brian*

    @Kimberlee & @Anonymous – Wow, I want to work at your companies. Mentoring your replacement? Being given time to document your work during your last two weeks? I’ve honestly never experienced that before. I’ve always been in the shoes of the OP, I could expect calls and emails for weeks after I left. In large IT shops I really think managers have adopted the attitude that people are disposable. They’d rather get two more full weeks of work than documentation for your replacement and co-workers.

    1. Jamie*

      You are absolutely right about large IT shops – and it’s diametrically opposed for IT in non-IT companies. Non-IT firms run lean with the tech staff and often it’s a one person department. It behooves the company to smoothly transition – and I think it imposes a greater obligation on the person leaving to go the extra mile to help with the hand off.

      To clarify I feel the obligation is there if the company has treated the employee fairly – however, if you give proper notice and they take it personally and walk you out the same day…then they can sink or swim on their own, imo.

  4. Charles*

    Yes, it is hard to decide where to draw the line at “helping out” a former employer.

    While I do not mind leaving behind any documentation that can be helpful (I consider that a given if I am not laid off with no notice), I do object to managers who hold your reference “hostage” if you don’t help out even after you have left. Answering a quick question – not a problem; expected to do work for free – THAT’s a problem.

    Luckily, I have only had one former boss like this. I watched him “abuse” other former employees while working there and just knew I would be in for the same after I was laid off; so, thank goodness for caller ID.

    1. Anonymous*

      My former employer just threatened to hold my reference hostage and also berated me for the ‘hostile and unforgivable’ behavior of giving only two weeks notice and not teaching them how to edit their website after I left. I know web development; they’re just computer users. Don’t think that’s really possible? Idiots.

      They also didn’t seem to realize that my direct supervisor for the 6 years I worked for them had also recently left the company and loved working with me. That’s who I’ll give as a reference.

  5. Wilton Businessman*

    Depends on the environment, but it’s a fine line in any case. You certainly don’t want to burn a bridge and professionals don’t leave their old colleagues hanging.

    Personally, I wouldn’t be looking to start a consulting arrangement with my old employer while trying to get a good start at my new employer. If you’re putting in extra effort it should be with your new employer.

    The way I’ve handled this in the past is that if my former employer wants to contact me, they leave a message on my cell phone and I let them know up front that I will call them back after hours. That shows you are willing to help, yet keeps the boundaries clear. In cases of “I need it now”, they will either find out another way or wait until you are available. I had a really good relationship with one of my managers and gave my colleagues my cell number and my former manager my desk phone “in case of emergency” as I knew he would respect my new situation.

  6. Jamie*

    A lot of good advice here – and in some situations it’s perfectly acceptable to set up a consulting deal as you’re leaving.

    This happened with the person who previously had my job – I’ve called her when we needed additions to some legacy applications she created and I was pressed for time. We pay a far consulting rate and it was very helpful – and saved me the time of having to start at square one with someone else.

    Personally, I would be available to answer questions for a couple of weeks and not charge if they were things I could answer quickly. If it required remoting in or tweaking code then I would need payment for that.

    This brings home the point Alison has made many times and it’s one of the most important things people should learn as managers: treat your people properly when they are leaving and be willing to work with them. This will lead to (often) longer notice periods and a smoother transition for the company.

  7. Anonymous*

    I left detailed instructions, passwords, etc. and gave almost a month of notice when I left my last position and I still recieved a ton of questions sent to my new work email address. It was completely inappropiate and out of control. At one point I even had a former coworker show up unannounced to my new workplace to ask me things, claiming she was lost without me and admitting that I did most of her work while I was there and that she could not handle her own workload with me gone! Well cry me a river! The only way I could put a stop to it was to propose a consultancy agreement, which they predictably turned down due to the fact that the company was sinking and had no money to spare.

    1. Dawn*

      I could totally see that happening to me (the emails, NOT the visit. YIKES!) if I left, mainly because I am the “go to” person. In order to combat that I am currently developing my two underlings to be “go to ” people as well. Then, they can pass it on down the line. I am not planning on leaving, but it’s a good thing to have more that one person who can answer questions.

  8. Dawn*

    If it were me leaving, I’d be willing to answer some quick questions for a couple of weeks or so. After that, I’d want some sort of consulting agreement. It’s not that I’m unwilling to help. I just feel that the company shouldn’t be depending on me to answer questions after I’m gone. They need to learn to find these things out for themselves and not depend on having a security blanket.

  9. Anonymous*

    My favorite method: Set up one or more specific times to speak by phone. Bias it towards the first week. You want credit for being available, but you should put the onus on THEM to be proactive and efficient. Otherwise they will tend to undervalue your time. Also, make it clear that it’s THEIR responsibility (not yours!!) to make this transition work.

    “I’ll be working at my new job and cannot devote a lot of time to this once I leave. But I understand that there may be a couple of things you need to ask me about, and which you need to know after I am gone.

    To ease the transition, I will make myself available for a 15 minute phone conference on Tuesday at 5:00 PM, another one on Friday at 5:00 P.M., and one on the following Friday at 5:00 P.M. I have other commitments both before and after those times, so please be aware that I will have to stick to a 15 minute schedule. It should be plenty of time to answer any questions you have, if you prepare them in advance.”

  10. Laura*

    I’d appreciate some feedback on my situation: I voluntarily left my previous job to move with my boyfriend across the country. My old employer and I have set up a consulting agreement. This is how I have my resume set up:

    Job Title
    Company Name xx/xxxx – present

    and then bullet points that describe my position. My first bullet is: “Working remotely in New York for this California-based firm”

    Any comments and opinions (positive or negative) are MUCH appreciated!

    1. Talyssa*

      I don’t think you need to bother saying that you are working remotely – it doesn’t really have anything to do with your actual ‘job’ in the sense of the work they pay you to do. If they are curious about how you are working for a California firm and living in New York, they’ll ask. If you’re worried that they’ll think you’re lying about living in NY, as long as you have a NY phone number and address I imagine they will be relatively comfortable with at least calling you.

    2. Wilton Businessman*

      Yeah, I wouldn’t mention it either. These days of telecommuting I don’t think it matters much.

  11. Natalie*

    Gah, I almost wish I could assume my replacement will call when I leave. Based on what happens when I’m on vacation or sick, though, my managers will just be increasingly pissed at my replacement for not meeting their unstated expectations but won’t do anything about it until review time.

    Yes, I’ve been having a bad morning. What gave it away?

  12. Help me*

    I need some advice. I left my previous employer willingly, I gave two weeks notice because I had found a new job. It was for a small company and I had quickly became the go to person for accounting purposes. I offered to help out two weeks after I gave notice after work (my current employer). I even offered to take calls periodically. It has now been four months and they still contact me about twice/three times a week. I am personally tired of the calls because I do have a new job to do. I just don’t know what to do because I do care about doing the right thing.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Tell them you no longer have time to answer questions because it’s been four months and you need to focus on your new job. See the advice in the post above.

  13. mutualforce*

    Agree with Alison. Its a good gesture to help your former employer however bad your terms of departure may be for the simple reason that you never know when you have to go back and work for that employer. But there are always ways to limit the time you spend answering questions. One way to to have them not call and just you emails say once a week. And you can reply to all the questions in one go.

  14. Kimberly*

    It’s been 5 months since I left my previous employer, and they still have not hired my replacement. Surprisingly, they have only emailed me a few times with questions. But I was surprised to find that when a former supervisor emailed me yesterday asking where a file was on their shared drive, I could remember almost nothing about the digital filing system I had used there for four and a half years. Names, locations, folders, files – it’s mostly gone. I guess the saying is true – if you don’t use it, you lose it. (And I’m only 28!)

  15. Elizabeth West*

    I would have gladly helped out my replacement had I left my most recent job voluntarily, except they didn’t hire one. The job itself was eliminated. Lucky for my coworkers, one of whom I know for a fact is doing part of my old work, I had created an SOP document when I was trained, which I kept up-to-date whenever I received new responsibilities or procedures. I put it on my resume. I wish I could have taken it with me; I was quite proud of it.

    I think my manager was grateful to have it, since there was no one else to do my job. It certainly helped me keep my new duties straight during training. Also, someone did that for me in a previous job (she moved out of state before they hired a replacement) and it was a HUGE help for me in learning the position. I actually got to meet her later when she was visiting friends in the area and thanked her for that. Now I do it myself.

  16. RedPlumpTomato*

    My advise is help only if your getting paid for it. For profit organizations are not charities! Companies charge for their services, therefore, so should you. It’s that simple!

  17. Andrew*

    87I left my old employer about a year ago. After about four months of being asked questions I asked if they wanted to pay me for a few hours a week to answer questions. They stopped sending messages for a few weeks. Then they started to ask questions again. I told them that I would be able to help if I was able to access the system and show them what to do. They agreed but still did not want to pay me for my time. So, I stopped answering calls and emails. After a few weeks they started to call my current employer trying to contact me for help. I would like to help my prior collogues but I left because of the treatment I received from my boss and I feel that if I help that I am enabling my prior boss to continue to hurt others. Any suggestions as to how I should handle this situation?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s time to contact them and tell them that you’re unable to help them further because of time commitments elsewhere and to stop contacting you, period.

  18. Emerald*

    I recently resigned and it’s about 2.5 mth already..and recently just joined another organisation..

    Out of the blue, my ex colleague text me saying that they have urgent matter and need my help last night and today.

    What’s your decision? Help ? Or decline?

    1. RedPlumpTomato*

      Help.. It’s always good to have positive karma, plus, you may need your ex one day!

      I would have never gotten my recent job if it wasn’t for my x boss..

      DO IT!

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