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

Remember the reader whose manager accused her of being immature because she didn’t trust their vague promises to reward her in some indefinite way at some indefinite date? Here’s her update:

I asked for your advice a few months ago when my previous employer told me to “trust the company” when it came to my career. I ended up taking a new job in a different state. My new boss is a lot more open about my future and there seem to be so many paths I can take from here. I truly appreciate your advice — it gave me the courage to move on. Although my current status isn’t all that interesting, I think I have a pretty good (as in kind of crazy) last day story.

I gave two weeks notice and tried my best to wrap everything up before I left. Throughout my notice period, my boss panicked about how they were going to replace me. He talked over and over about how there was a plan for me, that I was walking away from a great opportunity. I asked for details but I was again told I’d have to trust the company.

On my last day, I was supposed to be there for the morning only to have a handover meeting with my interim replacement and my boss at my former boss’s request. I turned in my laptop, cell phone, credit card, etc. and started to wait. Two hours in, I gave up waiting and went to find my boss. He was standing in the hallway and so I asked if he was ready for me. He looked at me and said very snappy, “When I am ready, I’ll find you.” I bit my tongue and said politely, “That’s fine. I was just hoping to get on the road soon.” I was leaving town that day.

I went back to my office. About ten minutes later, my boss walks in. He says he is ready to collect my things. I told him that was done. I ask about the handover meeting and he says that we no longer need to have it. He gives me a card from the office, which was a very sweet gesture. I was touched for about 10 seconds. Then he starts to lecture me about how I need to learn to listen better in the future, referencing my inability to go along with the company’s plan. I nod along to this for 5 minutes. When he is done, he turns to me and states, “If you want to tell me what I should work on, that would be ok too.” I had so many different sarcastic, heat of the moment responses that I wanted to shout at him — particularly about listening. Instead I said, “No, I’m good. Thanks for the experience and I’ll miss the team.” I credit my ability to walk away from his bait to the advice I have read on this blog.

I talk to my replacement regularly and she is facing the same issues I did. I eventually found out what the unique, amazing opportunity was through the grapevine. It was an corporate finance position, a field I have no interest in. For all the times I stated that, I was shocked that was the big plan. Overall, I miss the great people I used to work with, but I am glad that I did not trust the company and took my career into my own hands.

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. Adam

    Vague higher ups drive me absolutely bananas. It instills absolutely zero confidence in me that they have any clue what they’re doing. I’ve had managers who would continually cite “opportunity” within the organization but could never name a specific thing to look towards. After a while I felt like I was watch spam email via interpretive dance.

    1. Lisa

      My old boss wanted to give me a portion of the company, but he wouldn’t give me details. His daughters did not want it and his son needed someone to run the business with him that could do all the finances and marketing while he did the inventory and day to day stuff. I left after 4 years, but would have stayed if I knew real details but he wasn’t ready to give those up. It felt like a fantasy, but when I left I found out the accountant was putting things in place to make me an owner / inheritor of the business. I didn’t know that, and had already moved on mentally. I have a great career tho, and while owning my own thing sounds great, I think I would have felt stuck there if I took the opp and not been able to give it up due to having employees that needed me. The son died of cancer, so I would have been the only one left and completely responsible for 30 employees at 31 years old.

  2. Ruffingit

    An opportunity is only an opportunity when it is tangible and describable. Vague promises to “trust the company” are basically a message of just the opposite – do not trust the company. Glad you didn’t trust them OP and moved on to bigger and better things for yourself.

    1. Jessa

      Too true. A good company, a solid company has actual, real, describable plans. They might be a little iffy about a timeline but the “in the near future, in a year or so, THIS thing.” Vague just doesn’t cut it. And a refusal to discuss promises also doesn’t wash. It just puts up so many bad signals.

      Especially like the OP said, the opportunity was something they would not have wanted anyway.

    1. Lillie Lane

      Agreed! It’s great that a lot of these OPs updated to say that they got new jobs. I’m envious, but it gives me hope for my job search.

  3. Angelina Retta

    Great update, and good for you for sticking to your guns when baited. Nice high road tactic.

  4. Anon Accountant

    Great update and good job on taking the high road and being polite when the former boss baited you.

    Congrats on the new job and it sounds like it’s much better than the previous job.

  5. rlm

    “When I am ready, I’ll find you.” Sounds like your old boss is taking a few last shots, and is the one with the immaturity issues. Good for you for looking out for yourself and moving on! Congrats!

  6. Rich

    The icing on this cake taste like doodoo. Imagine if you had waited and found out it was the Finance role? You’d have written a whole different update with new questions.

    Congrats on the move!

  7. Jimmy

    Call me crazy, but I think the manager is out of his mind. For how frantic he was trying to replace her, you’d think he would have recognized sooner that she was a huge asset he should have been trying to hold on to. Sounds like they both could have benefitted from using something like TINYpulse.

    1. AJ-in-Memphis

      I was kinda surprised at how mean he had gotten at the very end… Holy crap, should you have waited for the rest of eternity? Congrats on the job and taking control of your career! :)

  8. John

    I was in a job where I was carrying the load for a team of 8-10 people. My boss kept ensuring me he was going to be “taking care of me.” In the interim, I started to get internal offers.

    As I was struggling with whether to dare walk away from a situation when I was about to be “taken care of,” information fell into my lap in the form of the salary actions my boss had put in for (yes, something I wouldn’t normally want to see…better not to know). Turns out, the difference between my merit increase and that of my worst colleagues — a couple of whom were hard-pressed to show up, let alone do anything — was 0.25%. My *reward* for busting my hump would have been a couple bucks a week.

    I found another position. As it happened, I was due for my review the week before I transferred (Mr. Taking Care of Me pulled strings to keep me hostage there for a couple months). Throughout it, he kept telling me I was making a mistake, given we were approaching raise time so I’d never get to see how he was taking care of me. I just smiled and said, “Oh, I know you were going to. I certainly do.”

    1. Lily in NYC

      That’s maddening. So it’s not like he put in for more for you but was only able to get a piddly amount approved? His idea of taking care of you was a crappy raise? I’m glad you got out of there.

  9. PPK

    This reminds me of a friend. She was interviewing as a college professor. She had an offer in hand from an okay school. Not her first choice, but it was full time, nearby, standard benefits. Her undergrad offered her a…vague opportunity to come and teach. She really did like the place and would have loved to teach there. But they wouldn’t commit to a salary or start date. She took the offer from the first school. She’s still employed. Her undergrad has since closed. And yes, the undergrad seemed miffed that she wouldn’t jump on the chance to have a maybe job for unknown monies.

  10. KarenT

    Yay! I remember the original post, and how infuriated I was when I read it! (At the company, not the OP). This one struck a cord with me because I’ve been there. I also walked away and my only regret was that I hadn’t done so sooner.
    And way to take the high road when he baited you! I’d like to think I would too, but I’m not sure that’s how it would play out :P

      1. mw

        If it makes you feel better, I read the comment as a Jedi mind trick before I saw your follow-up comment!

  11. Bea W

    The way they treated her when she left says it all. I wonder if they really had a plan or if they made one up knowing it would get back to her through the grapevine, to impress upon her what a “great opportunity” she missed.

    1. Whippers

      Yeah I was thinking this too. Why would they have been so reluctant to divulge this information to her otherwise?
      Or else maybe they invented it to try and show her replacement about the “opportunities” you could have if you trust the company.

  12. The Other Dawn

    It really baffles me that managers promise vague opportunities, but won’t divulge the details. How do they really know their employee wants the opportunity or even sees it as such? So, as a result, tons of time is wasted on both sides: the employee ends up moving on out of frustration and the manager now has a position to fill.

    1. Aimee

      Yes, this. Sometimes, you can’t really give details because the position might not exist yet, or you might not have a specific position in mind, but you need to give at least some info.

      I’ve had this happen to me twice. The first time was vague promises (and blocks from being able to apply to positions elsewhere in the company that were more in line with where I wanted my career to go). When I left the company, I was told they were sorry to see me go because they had me “tagged for management.” Except I’d been asking to be given access to the system where management jobs were posted for over a year, only to be denied each time. They had me tagged for whatever management role they wanted me to fill without letting me have the opportunity to pursue other positions if that was my choice. So I left.

      The second time, I had similar vague promises, but they were backed up by actions. My director gave me additional responsibilities and was clear with me on what he thought I needed to learn in order to be ready to move up to the next level. He didn’t have a specific role in mind (it would just depend on what was available when he had the headcount to promote me), and he even passed me over for a couple roles. But he made sure I knew his reasoning for giving those roles to someone else and he encouraged me to also pursue opportunities in other areas of the company (even recommending me for a role he thought I’d be good at). And we talked about what my goals were. It was a lot easier to trust that he would move me into the right role when it opened up (it never did – I ended up getting an offer to join another team before that happened, but I felt confident waiting for the right role to open up for me rather than feeling like I needed to leave the company if I was ever going to be able to move up the ladder).

      1. The Other Dawn

        I think what happened in the second case is just fine. At least your manager was building you up while waiting for the right role and being open and honest with you.

        Even when there aren’t details or a specific role, managers need to have a conversation with the employee in order to figure out what direction to go, not just make vague promises or assume the employee will be happy with whatever “opportunity” comes up.

        1. Jessa

          Communication is key. Because you’re right how on earth does the manager even know if the employee has any interest in what they have planned. I get that if they want to they can give someone any job they please (absent a pretty ironclad contract,) but seriously, that’s not the way to retain good talent.

    2. MR

      It’s because they generally don’t have anything and they are using this to just string along their employee. They don’t want the employee to leave and therefore they have to go through the hassle of looking for a replacement and training that replacement.

      Only if the company has a plan as Alison described above should you be willing to wait something out, but if the company breaks their word, that is your signal to get out of there because they will only continue to string you along.

  13. MR

    This is the perfect example of how you and only you are in control of your career. The company is only going to operate in their best interests, not yours, and likewise, you need to operate in your best interests and not those of the company.

    Kudos to the OP for taking control of the situation AND not burning the bridge on the way out the door. After all, five years from now, the next great opportunity could open up at the original company and with that bridge not being burnt, that opportunity is available to the OP. Good job and good luck!

  14. Vicki

    Wow.

    Thanks for the story; I enjoyed reading it. You kept your head. You did not give in. No bridges burned on your side. (But oh how I am imagining all the things that were running through your head when the boss said it was OK to give him feedback!)

  15. Brton3

    My gosh. That manager sounds like a complete lunatic. “We have a plan for you!” I would worry that it might involve the witness protection program.

    1. Whippers

      Yeah, and does the OP have no say in the plan? And she’s not actually allowed to know what it is?
      Sounds complete bullshit to string her along but if it weren’t, I would actually be worried that a company thinks they have so much control over their employees.

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