new job is giving me work to do — before I’ve even started

A reader writes:

I am starting a new job and really looking forward to it. I have given my current employer 2 weeks notice and provided a start date to the company that I will soon be working with.

I have worked for a small company for about 6 years, and I am making every effort to make sure that I have projects wrapped up and that they are as much up to speed and organized as possible for the transition. We are like a little family of sorts here, and I am trying to make sure I don’t leave too much open since they are going already have to spend time hiring and training.

I have already formally accepted the new position, and I have been in contact with them confirming that I am looking forward to my first day with them coming soon. They pleasantly replied, and I somewhat expected our contact to be limited between now and my official start date. I mainly planned to spend time on their website getting to know their products in my spare time before my first day.

I seemed to have misjudged this plan. Since my acceptance email, I have received almost daily emails from the new employer asking me to check in with them and assigning me research tasks to complete before I start. I have let them know that I will certainly be spending time getting a foundation of knowledge and am looking forward to being able to give them my full attention soon. This does not seem to be working, as shortly after the phone rings and they want me to be available to speak with them on a regular basis between now and then. I’m currently working additional hours at my job that I will be leaving, and have a few personal matters I am trying to attend to before I start my new position. In all honesty, if I was available to start sooner, I would have let them know. I believe in starting what I finish and am a little off put by feeling they want me to give them more attention prior to our agreed time frame.

Is this typical? Any thoughts on how I can politely let them know they will have my complete dedication as soon as I make the change? Am I wrong to assume that this feels just a bit pushy?

No, it’s not typical and you’re not wrong in finding it pushy. You’re not working for them yet.

It’s not uncommon for a new employer to occasionally make a small request or two before you start working — noting that it would be great if you could get up to speed on a particular report or even, rarely, to attend an important even that’s being held before you start. But those are requests, not expectations. And daily emails asking you to check in and assigning you tasks are way beyond anything reasonable or normal.

The best thing you can do is to just be straightforward. Say something like this: “I’m really focused on finishing up my work for the job I’ll be leaving, and I don’t have any additional time. But I’m looking forward to tackling all of this once I start on the 19th!”

It’s pretty likely that that’s going to take care of the problem. But if they give you pushback on that statement, it’s a pretty big red flag, and at that point you’d want to call up your new manager and say something like, “I’m getting the sense that you’ve been expecting me to start working before my actual start date, which isn’t something I’m able to do because of the commitments I’m finishing up here.” You’ll quickly be able to tell whether your new manager is reasonable or not.

Now, there’s also the question on whether you should be alarmed by all this even if the suggestions above solve the problem. And the answer is … it depends. It might signal an environment where you’ll regularly face unreasonable expectations — non-emergency calls when you’re on vacation, expectations that you’ll work weekends even when nothing’s urgent, and so forth. Or it might just signal someone who hasn’t given enough thought to how hiring works, but who’s basically an okay manager. To judge which one it probably is, you need to think back to the signals you got during the hiring process. What did you pick up on about their culture and management style? Which of these explanations seems most in sync with the cues you gathered about them earlier?

(And if your answer is that you don’t know because you didn’t really pick up on any signals about culture at all, then accepting this job is as iffy as accepting a job without even talking to the person who would be your manager. Could work out fine, could be a disaster. Slightly weighted toward the second option, due to their post-hiring behavior. So hopefully you do have some impressions about their culture to weigh all this against.)

{ 43 comments… read them below }

  1. KarenT*

    That would probably make me panic, and I echo AAM in worrying about what life would be like while working there (like AAM mentioned, unimportant calls while on vacation, unnessary weekend work). I don’t know how important this job is to you, but the manager’s reaction to you pushing back would be my gauge in deciding whether or not I wanted to withdraw my acceptance.

    1. ChristineH*

      Problem is, the OP gave notice to her job; if he/she withdraws from the new job, then he/she is left without a job at all.

      I’ll be eager to see how this plays out for the OP.

      1. Rachel - Former HR Blogger*

        You’re assuming her current job wouldn’t have her stay. It’s unlikely they’ve filled her position already.

  2. Not So NewReader*

    You could try asking them why this work is so urgent. Nice voice, not snide voice. You might find out that there is something more attached to the story. Such as “We need x,y, and z for our fund raising event for storm victims.” OR “The owner’s wife died and we are trying to get this work done without him and on time.”

    It may not change your “no, I can’t do this” answer. But at least you will have taken the time to find out why the big push.

    I am not sure what their requests entail- can you start making a list and keeping it to one side? Perhaps there are opportunities for you to at least plan how you will handle all this work in a streamlined. efficient fashion?

    I am saying this because for myself- when I take a new job, I really want the job. So I am assuming you would prefer to make this work out. Maybe they are just too enthusiastic about bringing you on board?
    Since the requests are in email, my suggestion is to switch to phone. People will talk about things on the phone that take too long to type into email.
    Watch their reactions to you. Trust your gut. If you hear that little voice inside your head saying “oh noooooooo!”, it is there for a reason.

  3. Maire*

    Even if the OP is exempt in this new job, would she actually be paid for the work she did before she officially started or how does that work? I’m not au fait with exempt/non exempt, not being from the US.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You know, whether she should be is a good question and I don’t know the answer for sure. It seems like she should be, based on the law … but in practice that nearly never happens in situations where people do, say, some pre-job reading.

          1. Lisa*

            She already has the job and gave notice. If she pushes back asking to get paid with money, will they rescind the offer? They are not vested in her, since she isn’t technically working there yet.

            With a lot of issues noted on AAM, it doesn’t matter if its legal if you end up unemployed with no job to go back to. Complaints and lawsuits take months if not years, and being “right / legally compensated” isn’t better than risking losing the job, which is a real possibility in some cases. I just mention PTO as it seems the lesser of evils as “getting paid for her time” doesn’t seem like it will happen, but suggesting PTO for this pre-work might get a yes with no backlash.

    2. fposte*

      Not likely–pay would probably accrue from her official start date. But if she’s non-exempt, it’s actually illegal for her to do the work.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Except that she’s not yet employed there. If anything, the law would probably treat her as a contractor. (I’m guessing here, but that’s my hunch.)

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          (And that made me realize that I made an exempt/non-exempt distinction in my original answer, which I now think is probably wrong, so I removed it.)

        3. fposte*

          I think it’s wrong however she’s classified, but I think if she’s an exempt employee (or will be an exempt employee) then I could understand them not thinking about it in hour worked/hour paid terms. Conversely, I think that if she is a non-exempt employee, this is a much worse sign.

          1. Maire*

            Yeah, but she’s not exempt because she’s not officially employed with them yet. I don’t think the employer could really regard what they are doing as ethical if they know the OP isn’t going to get paid for the work she’s done.

            1. fposte*

              At the level they’re going, I’d agree. But exempt employees are routinely asked to work weekends, evenings, etc., with no change in compensation, because when you’re exempt you just do the work as it needs to be done. I could see the company thinking of the current requests as being like that. It’s a stupid thought and an unacceptable expectation, but I can see its genesis, and actually starting will solve the technical problem. Whereas if she’s non-exempt, there’s not the slightest excuse for these requests–they’d be a sign of a company that’s willfully flouting FLSA in a way I wouldn’t expect to stop later. (I’m talking about the status in her new supervisor’s eyes–obviously she’s not legally an employee at all right now.)

              1. EM*

                What really annoys me about the “work until the work is done” attitude towards exempt employees is that, in my experience, one is NEVER allowed to work less than a full 40 hours and get paid fully, unless they take vacation/sick/personal leave. I worked a job where I did not have enough to do, and one day my boss asked me to take a personal day because he didn’t have any work for me that day. Technically, I should not have had to take a personal day to get paid for that day where there was no work because I was an exempt employee.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Depends on the workplace. I’ve worked places where I kept my own schedule and managed my own time, including taking long weekends or leaving early for the day when I felt like it, as long as I was on top of my work. Those places do exist.

  4. Maire*

    I can sort of understand in cases like doing pre-job reading, because that’s preparing yourself for the duties of the job and ensuring you are able to go in and start working from the off.
    However, to ask someone to do work before they have officially started the job and not pay them for it seems ridiculous, exempt or not.

    1. Mike C.*

      I don’t understand it at all. If they want you to do something on your time, it should be paid for. And that’s what they law says. Why is it ok if it’s just “reading” and not “real work”?

  5. Anonymous*

    Best case scenario, you are dealing with someone who is pushy but reasonable and eases off when someone pushes back (albeit in a nice manner) and you’re a person who is comfortable setting boundaries. If that’s the case, things could be fine, despite the troubling signs here.

    If the person you’re dealing with is pushy AND unreasonable, or it’s multiple people calling you (a cultural pushiness) or you don’t like having to be put in this position of having to push back on people…things may be a little rocky.

    Tactically, I think saying what AAM recommended is the right way to go and the reaction is going to tell you a lot about what the situation is.

  6. Kou*

    Yikes, and I thought the stuff my new employer was asking me to do before my start date was a little much. Immediately after accepting the offer I’m required to go somewhere for a drug test, then the week before I actually start there I have to go in for an hour to get paperwork sorted out, then I have to go do a physical & present medical history paperwork (I’m in health care). I’m lucky I’m only working part time now or I’d be in a pickle taking time off to do all that in my last two weeks.

    I feel like the OP’s situation has something to do with the lack of training and orientation that’s becoming more common, too. They want you to come in and get to work right away with no learning process.

  7. Ivy*

    I was always under the impression that backing out of an offer after you’ve accepted is very unprofessional and flaky, and should only be considered in extreme situations. While I understand that OP can take the employers actions as a signal of whats to come, are you also suggesting she should withdraw from the position if she thinks your predictions are likely true? Am I wrong in thinking that withdrawing an acceptance is a lot worse than giving your notice and quitting? I feel like in the former you’re going back on your word; whereas, in the latter, you tried and things just didn’t work out.

    Just looking for some clarification :)

    1. EngineerGirl*

      It isn’t unreasonable if the new employer is displaying actions that are way outside the line of professional behavior – such as asking someone to do unpaid work when they aren’t even employed yet. It should be noted that these are “research tasks”, not tasks that are pre-employment tasks such as drug testing, paperwork, health checks etc. To me that would be a red flag that the new employer doesn’t have reasonable boundaries.

      The OP needs to get clarification on what is going on. But this behavior is NOT normal.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Oh, and withdrawing acceptance is OK under certain circumstances. Such as the job was misrepresented – and that includes expectations of availability. But it needs to be done **after** the OP has had discussions with them.

      2. fposte*

        Yeah, it’s really perturbing. There are situations where I could see the request–a special meeting, the last chance to talk with the previous job-holder, etc. But this is just a request to produce for them without getting paid. I’d be tempted to inquire if there’d been some confusion about my start date.

        1. Ivy*

          So it’s ok to withdraw after OP has talked to them and tried to work something out, and they’re still being really unreasonable with their demands. That’s fair enough.

          Here’s another question. Can OP try to withdraw her own resignation? Saying something like, “I have decided not to go with this other job, so if you would like for me to stay longer, I’m able to do that.”

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Absolutely. However, whether the old job accepts that offer or not depends on all kinds of things — how much they value her, whether they’ve hired someone else, whether they think she’s better than the candidates they’ve started looking at to replace her, whether they assume that her return to her old job would only last until she can get another offer somewhere else, etc. Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn’t.

  8. Michelle*

    I think it depends on the assignments. If it is researching the company, getting up to speed on things by reading materials (processes, policies, etc.) I think some of that is reasonable but daily check-ins is not. It is hard to tell without knowing what the “research tasks” are. When I have changed companies I have found it helpful to do a lot of research up front so that you can hit the ground running.

  9. Chocolate Teapot*

    I’m wondering whether the new company is desperate to get the new employee in place? Not so much “Hit the ground running” as “Land-from-a-great-height-a-la-Roadrunner-cartoons”.

    Even so, I am also interested to know how this one turns out.

  10. Not So NewReader*

    I saw a reverse situation. Coworker accepted a new job and gave notice at my workplace. Coworker became injured during a week long vacation between the two jobs. New employer took back their job offer because they could not wait for the coworker’s injury to heal. (!!!)
    Fortunately, my company gave the coworker a new job. Some companies “get it” and some do not.

    1. fposte*

      Eh, I could have sympathy on both sides there, depending on the situation and the time required. It’s pretty rough to be the employee told to work evenings and weekends to cover the co-worker you’ve never met, too.

  11. Steve G*

    With one new hire I emailed her a bunch of training, passwords, easy tasks, etc. I had wanted her to feel comfortable and walk in to work to do and computer set up, etc – thought it would make the 1st day go well. Problem is, her work and personal email both start with the 1st name. So I just typed the first letter into the “to” field and didnt notice that 1/2 had gone to her personal email! Not sure if this is the case but it is worth checking.

  12. Aravind*

    About three years ago, while interviewing for a new job, the interviewer asked me if I could do about 2 to 3 hours of work on a small project for them in the immediate future (over the next two days), before I actually resigned from my then current workplace. I replied that since I was still employed with (and on the payroll of) one organization, it would be unethical to do any sort of work for another (although they were not competitors) at the time. She accepted my answer and said she agreed with me on that.

    I got my offer the following day. Thinking back now, I feel that might have been a simple test of my values.

    1. Mike C.*

      I really, really hate “values” tests. If a company doesn’t want you to do something, they should tell you their expectations rather than having to guess what the right answer is.

      It could have just as easily been a test of your “values for hard work” which you would have then failed because “you weren’t willing to go the extra mile”.

  13. MG*

    Thank you all for your feedback. I was the writer of this question and I can’t tell you how helpful all of your suggestions were. To answer a few questions- Yes, it is still an option to stay at my current employer if I decided to do so. They have been trying to negotiate to keep me, but there is limited room for growth here and I am looking forward to a new challenge. I do see potential for a long-term career in the new company, and honestly did not see this coming. I was very excited that I received the offer. However, I do feel that I stressed that it was important to me to make sure I had things wrapped up at my currently employer during both the interview and offer conversations, which is why this is caching me off guard. I even stated that I would most likely be working extended hours than normal during my last 2 weeks while wrapping up. I am going to try to gently explain my limited availability while stressing my eagerness to start soon. Will keep you all posted on how it works out.

    Thanks again!

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