my employer says I’m immature for not trusting their promises

A reader writes:

I have what may be a silly question but I keep feeling like I must be crazy so I thought I’d ask for an outside opinion.

I have been working for a company and doing an exceptional job in my current role, by all accounts. A job came open at the next step up, and I expressed interest in it to my boss. Fast forward and the role ended up being filled by someone else. I asked for feedback because both of us have equivalent backgrounds and I was known as the higher performer. I was concerned that I was not as high performing as I thought and wanted to change that so I would be the first choice for the next opportunity. However, the feedback I have received is that I am in fact the higher performer but my talents will be needed elsewhere in the company. This is a nice thought but that is the limit to any information. I have asked for more — timeline, position, location…anything! When I do, I am told that I should trust the company and it will all work out.

I love where I work and what I do, but I don’t want to put my career on hold for vague promises. When I express that trusting the company isn’t enough for me, I am told that I am “immature” and I need to understand that this is just how it is. I am continuing to work hard and keep a positive attitude, but I am finding it hard to want to keep working for this company. I have a likely offer coming next week and I am tempted to accept it, but I don’t want to leave my company if I am truly overly sensitive in my reaction to this whole situation. Can you please help me? I need some perspective!

“Trust the company and it will all work out.”

Ha ha ha!

They may indeed have bigger plans for you. Or they may not. Or if they do, you might not be interested in those specific plans, or might not be interested in them at the rate of pay they’re going to offer. It doesn’t matter now, because their refusal to tell you — and worse, their claim that you’re “immature” for questioning them — indicate that these aren’t people who operate in reasonable ways or in good faith.

It would be one thing if they were simply vague. That would still be reason to function as if there were no solid plans for you — because there’s no offer until there’s an offer, even where promotions are concerned — but throw in their utter disrespect for you with the “trust us, you don’t need any information” and the immaturity allegation, and you have people who don’t deserve any loyalty from you. And who in fact deserve a bit of suspicion.

(One caveat: It’s okay for a manager to say — on a temporary basis — “There’s something in the works right now that I can’t discuss yet, but it could open up an opportunity that I think you’d be interested in, and I’ll be able to talk to you more about it in about a month.” Sometimes that’s really the case — the company is launching a new initiative that hasn’t been announced yet, or someone is leaving but needs to keep it quiet for now, or whatever. But in that case, if they’re going to talk to you about it at all, they should give you a clear timeline for talking further, and they certainly shouldn’t tell you “just trust us” or “you’re an immature baby for wanting to know information that will affect your own career.”)

So, no, you’re not being overly sensitive. You’re being reasonable.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 67 comments… read them below }

  1. Tiff*

    I agree with AAM on this one. I would move forward looking for other opportunities. At the very least, give them a “deadline” – in your head!

    I’m going through something similar. High performer, tons of accolades, love the work, the org and my co-workers….but increased money and a title bump are not forthcoming. They keep saying that better things are on the horizon, but it’s been 5 years and the only reward has been more work.

    This org has until my kids are in kindergarten. Once that happens I’ll begin looking elsewhere.

    1. Mike C.*

      Start your search now, especially through your outside network. You want your name on the tip of the tongues of folks who are going to be hiring in the future.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      Don’t wait until your kids are in kindegarten — start looking now. It takes time to find something, and with all the good things in your current job, you can afford to be really picky, and being picky takes even longer.

      1. EM*

        This. I had what was actually a good job, but my manager was, shall we say, less than pleasant to work for, and I just wasn’t busy enough. I started looking elsewhere, and was quite picky, and it took me a year and a half, and that was in a “hot” field with a desirable background.

    3. Jessa*

      + steen million. Start looking. Anyone who calls someone immature who isn’t whinging and acting like a 3 year old, has problems.

  2. EnnVeeEl*

    Please listen to AAM. If there were something concrete they were working on they would tell you that and a tentative timeline, if possible. I just had the promotion/raise chat with my manager and he gave me a solid answer and a timeline of when things would be pushed through. It was far more than I expected from the conversation. I trust this.

    Rewind several years. Vague promises of a promotion. Went on maternity leave a year after that. Got back and someone else got the promotion (no raise though, hmm). No more vague promises this time, but adding on the extra work and responsibilities, as well as using the title I was supposed to get on new client proposals (shady and dishonest behavior). Then the layoff.

    I also feel calling you immature is kind of a personal attack for a very common business conversation. The kind of attack a dishonest person launches when they want you to back off.

    1. COT*

      Agreed–people attack when they are feeling defensive and/or hiding something. Your manager’s goal was to deflect the failure on you (and perhaps make you feel undeserving of a promotion) rather than be upfront about their own failure to create new opportunities for you. Your request for more concrete information, when phrased reasonably, wouldn’t set a good manager off on an insulting tirade. Good managers would want to share what they could in the interest of retaining you and keeping you happy. They’re not being honest with you–I bet there’s no promotion plan in place at all, or at least not one worth waiting around for.

  3. Ruffingit*

    Take the other job offer if it’s even halfway decent. Your current company is disrespectful at best and career-ruining at worst. Move on. You deserve better.

    1. danr*

      Yes, take the other offer if you get it, and don’t fall for a counter offer if your company makes one when you give notice. They’ve already shown how they operate.

  4. ExceptionToTheRule*

    The dreaded “you’re too valuable where you are right now” routine. It won’t really change, no matter how much you “trust them”.

    I would suggest that you start looking outside. Maybe things will change there by the time you find something, maybe they won’t, but at least you’ll know what else is available.

    1. Vicki*

      I have a friend who wanted to move into a different area of programming. He had been doing filesystems and other “internal” stuff uses never see. He wanted to do utilities and apps.

      He got the “too valuable doing wat you’re doing” talk one too many times. He walked out. No new job offers.

      I got him in for an interview with the company I was at within days. He ended up doing utilities & apps work for that company for 5 years.

  5. EngineerGirl*

    Look up the term “gas lighting”.

    And take the other offer if it looks good. It is beyond reasonable to ask for a timeline on promises.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yes, gas lighting is a great concept, and it’s easy to get sucked in if that’s all you ever hear.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      Look up the movie “Gaslight”.

      A bit over-acted, but Ingrid Bergman is one of my favorite actresses, and I think any movie was better for her being in it.

  6. Joey*

    Although you may not trust them i dont think its ever smart to verbalize it. But yes this sounds like the carrot that some employers like to forever dangle in front of you.

  7. fposte*

    It’s not clear from your post–is it just one person that’s telling you this? Is it possible that people above this person might be more interested in discussing your future? You certainly don’t have to do so, and you’re basically just checking to see if it’s okay to have one foot out the door, it’s definitely okay to leave without doing that, but I’ve heard instances where people mistake “what their supervisor says” for “what the company thinks.”

    Overall, even the nicest, most invested manager is not the person who should be responsible for looking out for you–that’s your job. You’re absolutely right to be doing so. Their disapproval of your attempts to look out for yourself is a bad sign.

    1. EnnVeeEl*

      I did this. I went to my company owner after I finished a huge successful project and talked about more opportunities like that, etc., because I knew he was the one who wanted me to work on that project. I didn’t get a raise or a promotion, but he did turn around and repeat the entire conversation to my manager. Luckily I was really positive during the conversation and didn’t say anything stupid. Nothing came of it though. The layoff was a month later.

      Even if the company wants more for an employee, if a direct manager is standing in the way of it, how can an employee safely work around that? It’s unfortunate.

      1. fposte*

        I think you’re right that it sometimes can’t be worked around. But sometimes it’s not simply that you’re being blocked or lied to–sometimes the direct manager isn’t good at speaking up for people, or isn’t juggling the balls well. In that case, if somebody really would be interested in a future at the institution, it can be worth digging deeper.

        I think the OP here sounds pretty much done with the place, though, so I mentioned it mostly in theory.

        1. EnnVeeEl*

          I see your point. As for managers that don’t stick up for people – It’s not easy having to go to bat for someone and supplying proof to decision makers that someone is doing stellar work, can do more and deserves more money. It’s easier to just do nothing and feed the employee a load of bull. I bet a lot of people out there would get raises and promotions and maybe not look for other opportunities if their managers would get off their duffs and do their jobs.

      2. OP*

        I have actually had this same conversation with my boss and my boss’s boss. My boss insisted that he is not free to divulge any details and seems honestly frustrated by the situation- which had not stopped him from making vague promises. His boss has been very condescending the entire time. At first they promised a new and better opportunity but the more I dug, the more persistent they got that I just should trust them. To be honest, I may have been more patient if they just outright said they had no present opportunities but were hoping to have something in the next year or so. Instead I feel like I am being baited.

        1. fposte*

          Are you in an industry where this kind of secrecy makes any level of sense? Because it sounds utterly ludicrous to me. I think even in the CIA they could tell you when they think they’d know and what kind of possibilities might open up then. Sure, maybe they’re hatching some secret job for you that the Dungeonmaster won’t let them mention, but I’d be betting against it and looking elsewhere.

  8. Mike C.*

    One thing “immature folks” grew up with was watching their parents and other older family members continually get screwed over in all sorts of ways at work. Outsourcing, drastic cuts in pay and benefits, a decoupling of productivity and wages, a general lack of shared sacrifice, etc. The inherent distrust stems directly from this.

    OP, trust your gut. If they wanted to reward you, they would have already. Best of luck with that offer, I hope you’re able to walk away to greener pastures.

    1. Joey*

      I don’t think you’ll ever be very happy if you inherently distrust your employer. I like Reagan’s approach better-trust, but verify.

      1. Mike C.*

        I think you’re splitting hairs here. If my hard work is rewarded appropriately and I’m treated decently (and see others treated the same way!) then I have no issues trusting.

        But absent of that? No way. Hoping and wishing for a reward that will never come isn’t my idea of happiness. And don’t forget, everything you like about your job is just a “business decision” away from being taken from you. There are no promises that can’t be broken in an instant.

        1. Joey*

          All I’m saying is you’ll be a lot happier if you look for reasons to trust than look for reasons to distrust.

          1. Jamie*

            ITA. Personally I think a neutral or positive mind-set is healthy until there is an actual reason to be wary. Then be wary, for sure, but always being on the guard for the assumption the employer is out to screw you seems like an exhausting way to live.

            The vast majority of employers aren’t actively seeking to oppress the workers – some business decisions will benefit you and some will be to your detriment (over the course of a career) but unless you have a contract promising you lifelong employment and regular generous raises then things can change, that doesn’t make the change malicious.

            Usually though everyone wants the same thing. A thriving company that is financially secure and rewards good employees for their contributions to that end.

            1. Rob Bird*

              I think the OP has a reason to be wary. When your employer flat out tells you that you are the better performer, but you didn’t get the promotion because they need you elsewhere in the Company but can’t tell you where; that’s a HUGE red flag to me.

            2. Mike C.*

              The vast majority of employers aren’t actively seeking to oppress the workers

              Of course not, but the incentives to take actions with happen to screw employees over are certainly there. As you know, everything that benefits an employee makes the business either more difficult to run or more expensive to run, generally speaking. Given that the idea (and requirement of publicly trading companies) is to maximize short term profit and there you go. Money can then be reinvested to lobbying efforts to change the rules in favor of those who can afford to play.

              The tragedy of the commons isn’t a conspiracy of cartoon villains* after all, and it’s certainly not excessive cynicism, it’s multiplayer game theory. The resulting Nash Equilibrium tells me to watch my back.

              *They certainly exist however.

              1. Jamie*

                I have no doubt they exist. Just like evil people exist, but most people aren’t in the category.

                I do disagree that what benefits the employee makes it more difficult to run or costs more money.

                I’m not Pollyanna and I’m not saying that my employer is perfect, because nothing is. But they get the business value in rewarding performance and market salaries…because even though bonuses/raises cost money and sure you can fire a lot of us and get people in cheaper…they understand that long term it’s cheaper to develop and keep a really good team than to pay the costs of turnover.

                Family business coming up on 100 years in business the focus is on long term stability and growth and not short term cash and run.

                Again, nothing is perfect but I think a lot of places get that investing in people (training, decent pay, rewards, good benefits) gets and keeps quality employees. And when people move on, because that’s of course happens, they have earned (through their actions) long notice periods and easy transitions because you don’t want to screw over people who have been decent to you. That’s the personal part of business.

                And not every place is like hat, but a lot are and a lot do understand that long term benefits of being a good employer outweigh an extra couple points this quarter.

                1. Mike C.*

                  If this were truly the case, then median wages over the past thirty years would have kept pace with per capita GDP, as they have for the decades previous.

      2. dejavu2*

        I have a lot of trouble with this. Pretty much except for my current job, I have only ever worked in dysfunctional offices where people were *constantly* lying to each other about everything. As a result, I don’t really trust anything anyone says to me in a work context. It’s disheartening.

        1. Joey*

          But you’re setting yourself up to be miserable because of that if you assume everyone lies until they prove to you otherwise.

          1. KellyK*

            If you currently work in an environment where it’s *true*, then it isn’t really setting yourself up to be miserable. If it rains buckets 364 days out of the year, I’m not a pessimist because I pack an umbrella on day 365. Sure, that assumption will need to be recalibrated if dejavu2 switches jobs, but for right now, it sounds pretty valid.

            1. KellyK*

              Oh, I missed the *except for the current job* part. Yep, time to work on that assumption then. But, given the context, it wasn’t unreasonable.

          2. dejavu2*

            No, I get that. I am really working to be trusting, but it is difficult when I’ve never seen people in a professional setting do anything but act like psychotic lunatics. That is, until recently. I actually love my current job and am starting to believe that everyone is as awesome as they seem.

      3. Marina*

        I trust my employer to do what’s best for their bottom line. I don’t trust them to go out of their way to find out how what’s best for them lines up with what’s best for me. Because why would they?

        Also I’m always far more inclined to trust someone’s actions than their words. In OP’s case, they’ve shown zero sign of actual follow-through. Trust what they do over what they say.

  9. Jazzy Red*

    The only thing more offensive to hear would be “don’t you worry your pretty little head about this”.

    You should seriously consider accepting this impending job offer. You deserve to work with people who will see you as a thinking adult, and are straightforward with you.

  10. Wilton Businessman*

    I’d be the King of Siam right now if I believed everything my company promised.

  11. Ash*

    When I was younger, I worked at a place as a student assistant, with the “promise” that once they were allowed to hire (find money in the budget, get the greenlight from HR, whatever) for some special position, they’d choose me first. They hired about four new people in completely different positions because they were “more important”, but rest assured they were still working on a position for me. This went on for about a year and a half before I started applying for outside jobs.

    While it was nice to have such a well-paying job during my college years, it didn’t make up for the fact that they were lying to my face. They would also pull the old “Hey, you made a minor mistake but if you do it again we’ll fire you” routine all the time with me and the other students; it was terrible. I take solace in the fact that once I left, they had to hire four students just to replace me. They have since pulled this same thing with every other student in their area, but they are all wise to it now and leave as soon as they can.

    Basically what I’m saying is: OP, run, don’t walk.

    1. Mike C.*

      There’s really something to be said for treating employees with a basic respect, isn’t there?

      1. Ruffingit*

        Absolutely! Respect goes a long way. I have worked for employers who didn’t have an ounce of respect for their employers and I’ve worked for people who did. I was more willing to go the extra mile and be accommodating for the ones who showed respect. I always did the work regardless since that was what I was paid for, but when you know your employer respects you and they treat you as such, you are more apt to be helpful beyond what you’re paid for.

        1. Ruffingit*

          That should say ” who didn’t have an ounce of respect for their EMPLOYEES.”

    2. jesicka309*

      Wow. I had a similar situation when I was in uni doing a part time job in my field. They’d dangle the premise of maybe giving me a full time job by shuffling thing around, promoting an assistant so I could have her job etc. I got pulled into a big meeting in her office to discuss whether I’d be interested, details needed to be finalised but just wanted to see if I was keen. She was the klind of boss that would blow up and threaten to fire you everytime you made a mistake, so I wanted the security of a f/t contract instead of casual.

      In the end they hired someone from interstate for the promotion and paid to move them to my city. So me and the assistant missed out and were lied to – clearly none of us were worth investing time in to train up (not to mention this outside hire had less experience, the manager just ‘liked’ her from phone conversations). I asked what had happened to the promises I’d been made , and got “oh, I went a different direction”.
      I started looking then – why dangle the carrot in front of me, then pull it away everytime I come close to getting it?

  12. OneoftheMichelles*

    Before I could even read the substance, OP’s statement “I keep feeling like I must be crazy” reminded me of all the self help books for dealing with toxic bosses/friends/relatives/you name it. This is a classic “double-bind.”

    I’d be looking for another job. Just be careful not to jump at the first thing that comes along. You have a boss who’s deliberately avoiding telling you what you are expected to know/ask about. But I’d rather you temporarily tolerate a partially dishonest, limp-noodle sounding boss instead of getting overanxious and jumping into a job with an extremely toxic or openly hostile work environment.

    ps. Have you made yourself so indispensable that your boss might want to keep you in the same position forever? In the “best career advice” posts from April, Runon said “If you can’t automate it or train someone else to do something you’ll never get to do the cool stuff…” (Yes, I’m nerdy and I saved my favorites from that post.)

    1. OP*

      There is something to be said about being over valued. I have become the expert in a lot of different areas- hence why I am known as a high performer. I have tried my best to share my knowledge with my assistant manager and I am a huge fan of automating tasks as much as possible, but my boss does express concerns about what he would do without me on a somewhat regular basis. I guess I just never thought that anything I knew wouldn’t be replaceable by the next person to step in my position.

      1. Mike C.*

        These situations irritate the hell out of me. The solution is to offer you a raise and a title upgrade while continuing to do what you do for the boss you currently work for. There’s no need to lose you, but they will because you know that their promises are meaningless.

      2. SW*

        I sympathize. I used to work for a dysfunctional department with a director who never fired poor performers because she was too lazy to recruit and train new hires. Obviously, this led to all the good employees wanting to quit or transfer to another office (we have hundreds of locations across America).

        Transfer requests have to be approved by the director before you even get an interview. Since she didn’t want to lose the good people…she just sat on most of the transfer requests. And an applicant wouldn’t necessarily have known she was the problem; one could easily assume the new employers just weren’t interested.

        Luckily for me, the HR director personally followed up with me and asked why she hadn’t approved the request — “computer error,” she said. So I was able to bug her until she approved it, and I got the job.

        My point is, the director would happily let the bad employees transfer if they wanted to, but she’d stand in the way of any good employees and do everything to stop them from leaving (short of, say, raises or bonuses).

  13. Anon*

    If I had a nickle….I’d be working somewhere else for all the times I’ve heard this.

    Please, OP, take the other job if it’s going to help you in your career path.

    I’m trying to get away from my job right now where the only redeeming quality is my awesome staff.

  14. Anon*

    I had promises that a position would be created for me “soon.” But I didn’t really have the financial circumstances to wait for “soon.” I stayed at the company but luckily moved into another position that better met my needs – despite some discouragement because my “talents would be wasted.”

    Over a year and a half later they finally created the position they had been saying they were going to create – but by then I was happy where I was.

    The question to ask yourself is – are you willing to wait a year or two or three? Because a lot of the time companies move VERY slowly… not realizing that for an employee – a year or more of scraping by to make ends meat – feels like a very very long time. Sometimes waiting just isn’t doable.

  15. Anonicorn*

    I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

    Yeah, you should seriously consider other options.

  16. fposte*

    I also think trust is based on what people and organizations *do*, not just what they say. You don’t earn trust by telling somebody “Trust me.” And people who have earned trust don’t need to say it.

  17. Angelina Retta*

    Yeah, gonna +1 what everyone else has said: this is your livelihood, you can’t eat or pay the bills with vague promises. You didn’t get the job you interviewed for, so take that as their message. Rejection. Always remember the company doesn’t care about you. At all.

  18. bob*

    Trust me I’m from the government and here to help.

    Seriously though I think everyone agrees it would be in your best interest to start looking for a job where they will value and respect you but, frankly, I think your boss was an immature, pompous ass to tell you that you were being immature.

    Good luck finding the new job!

  19. Lisa*

    My boss always says ‘you’re still learning, we ALL are’ as a way to shut down talk of a raise or more vacation time.

    1. Lisa*

      I’m 32 and people in my industry at 24 can make 100k on average with my experience but I’m still learning. But then again, I am not working 14 hour days, and on edge that I might lose my job. though at that money, I would prob not care.

    2. Mike C.*

      I hope he’s not your boss for much longer, that sort of paternalism is incredibly offensive.

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