what to do when your old employer keeps calling you for help

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 you need my help, I’d like to be paid.”

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 53 comments… read them below }

  1. Kateyjl

    I might be willing to answer a question or two, but anything more than that and I would be reminding them that I don’t have a non-disclosure agreement in place with them anymore and that I’ll need a contract to work with them. They’ve had plenty of time to learn what I do but haven’t bothered.

    I think it’s even more insidious these days with all the “instant” forms of communication. I’m not instantly available just because someone wants/needs something. My time and knowledge is still valuable.

  2. College Career Counselor

    I dealt with multiple requests per week from the person who replaced me. She got thrown in without any training or the opportunity meet with me (they literally called me an hour before I was walking out the door my last day and said, “we’ve hired so and so–can you train her?”). I had been there for years, so I had a lot of institutional knowledge, and I felt badly. Which caused me to let myself be taken advantage of. So after my replacement left, and they hired a new grad, and I consulted for half a day for a couple hundred bucks (this was many years ago). Totally recommend having a frank conversation about transition/consulting with the soon-to-be-former employer.

    1. De Minimis

      I’m now training two people, but I have roughly two weeks to transfer nearly three years of knowledge.

      1. Elizabeth West

        This is why I like to make procedurals. Someone did that at a job they left before I was hired, and I was so grateful. They really helped me. Now I do it at every job–in my current position, it’s expected, but I would have done it anyway.

  3. Artemesia

    I think it is important to set the norm immediately with the first calls, that you can’t take time for anything involved. I would expect a ‘do you know where we put the key to the safe? or do you remember the password for the calutron?’ that can be answered in seconds. But the first time they want you to ‘walk me through the negotiations we did with the Flink Corp deal I would ‘not have time to do that right now.’ and quickly move to ‘I don’t have detailed recollections of that.’

    The key is to now do their work when they first call but turn them back to documentation or doing their own homework. It is the ‘guide us through the steps instead of us managing it ourselves’ stuff that eats you alive.

    The more helpful you are in those first few calls, the more it will escalate.

    1. Ama

      Yeah, I had a coworker who was getting repeatedly texted by her old boss, who took her fairly terse but helpful responses as proof that she could then ask for “just an hour” (right that second, in the middle of a workday) to walk coworker’s replacement through a process. That was the point at which she got exasperated enough to cut her off entirely.

      I was very worried my old boss would do the same to me (while I worked for her she was bad about texting me with non-emergency questions while I was on vacation), but for all the awkward and boundary-pushing interactions we had while I worked there, she was incredibly professional when I left.

  4. Workfromhome

    I would not answer any questions with the exception of providing something that I should have provided before I left. If I forgot to give them the password to teapot making computer I’d be obligated to give it to them. If I wrote out a document with the passwords to everything on it and someone didn’t have it handy I’d tell them to refer to the document.

    Anything else would be on a consulting basis. My employer gets 100% commitment from me when I’m there. Once I leave my next employer gets that commitment. I do work for my current employer because they pay me. I don’t work for free so if a former employer wants work (that includes questions) then they need to pay for it.

    It may be hard when former co-workers are also friends but friends should also understand you left for a reason and the sooner the former employer realizes they need someone new to do the job or that they let a valuable resource they can’t seem to replace walk away the better it will be for everyone.

  5. Retail Lifer

    I think telling them you’re going to need to charge them for anything other than a quick answer should pretty much squash those phone calls.

  6. CrazyCatLady

    This is timely for me because just this week, I was contacted for a former employer. I haven’t worked for them as an employee in 9 months; I consulted for them for a few months after, but even that hasn’t been for around 6 months.

    1. Artemesia

      Time to ‘not recall’ and ‘can’t help you with that’ and avoid their calls.

      1. CrazyCatLady

        Yeah, I’ve just stopped answering their emails. They don’t even act apologetic or as if they’re doing anything wrong, which just makes me more annoyed by it!

        1. Gene

          Or a quick reply with an attached PDF of a new contract with an hourly rate that could buy a used car.

  7. De Minimis

    My soon-to-be former employer has already asked if I can help them after I leave.

    I’m looking at it this way, it’s the price for a good reference, and I don’t mind doing it if it’s something where I can just answer quickly over the phone, like “what cost center is X dept” or what code do we use to pay out of a certain fund for a certain department. I know all that stuff by heart and can rattle it off. But that’s as far as I want to go, at least as far as just helping out for free.

    1. Kyrielle

      Today was my last day at a job, and I explicitly said I’d be happy to answer emailed questions, but I can’t guarantee a timely response, because I will not be reading my personal email or handling their questions during business hours and my family comes first after. I also pointed out that without access to the company resources on the network, some questions I previously answered will now be responded to with “well, I would have searched X and Y on terms Q and maybe P.”

      Privately, I told my supervisor that if anyone began using me as a way to get around doing their work (vs. getting institutional knowledge I have after working there for well over a decade, and which despite our best efforts may not have been fully transferred), or if the requests start taking too much time, I’d let him know and he could either have them back off, or work on a contracting rate for my time.

      And then, since you can leave any time after your exit interview on your last day and they’d locked me out of email right after it, I left. Which makes me feel okay about giving them a little of my time, since I got a little of theirs by so doing. :)

  8. jhhj

    So if you want to help for money, you’d say “Sure, do you want me to charge you per job or would you prefer to prepay for a bank of hours? I charge $X per job and $Y for a bank of Z hours.” They might say no, of course, but no harm.

    If you don’t want to help no matter how much money they’d pay you, “I can’t help with that” or other terms here are good. You do need to decide, though, about whether you’d be okay with helping for the right amount of money.

  9. Erin

    Once my replacement called me after almost half a year to ask where to find some forms and what to do with them. (It was a program I had set up.)
    So I told her to look in the file cabinet, look for an XL folder with the name of the program and open it. On the very top was a paper with specific instructions. She never even looked before she called me.

    Another time they called to ask about a document I had left in my desk. I took my personal belongings and left work-related stuff, but it turned out they just threw it all out without even looking. The joke was that I made sure everything was sorted and clearly marked before I left.

    Luckily it was just that one employer.

    1. The Other Dawn

      “they just threw it all out without even looking.”

      I had an employee do this to me one time. She was a highly disorganized person and I was on the verge of terminating her. She beat me to the punch and resigned (yay!). I had told her she needed to clean up her desk, file things away, etc. before leaving. About a week after she left we needed to get into the shred bin to look for a loan document. Guess what I found? The contents of her desk: stationary, stamps (!), live checks (!!), reports I had been looking for and couldn’t find, original loan documents; the list goes on. I couldn’t believe it. Her solution was just dump her who desk in the shred bin, rather than pull out the bank-related stuff and leave the rest. Needless to say, she got a formal letter from the CEO, CC’d to our legal counsel, asking her to acknowledge that she didn’t “accidentally” take home any customer information or other sensitive documents.

      1. Daisy

        Sounds like my old job. I was taking over for someone who resigned on bad terms. A few months after I started I opened a folder that had a few weeks worth of unopened mail. Including tax notices and a “warrant” for unpaid taxes in the last year for another state. That was a surprise.

    2. Oryx

      I think we had the same employer. I had that filing cabinet neat and organized and everything labeled. If someone did something to the paperwork between the time I left and the time you needed it, there’s nothing I can do for you.

  10. Looby

    When I left my last job, I told my friend (who took over some of my work) that if she had questions to message me, not call, because I would not be answering any phone call from ex-work number.

  11. NickelandDime

    I’d help with a question or two, but after that, it’s too much. It’s not easy to start a new job, learn the ropes, where the bathrooms are, etc. Ever notice how EXHAUSTED you are after the first day of a new job? I think people need to dedicate their time and effort to the new position. The old job should be working on how to divide work and finding a replacement, not calling an ex-employee.

    1. De Minimis

      Yeah, that’s another thing…once I find a new job, I won’t be able to help anymore. While I’m between jobs, I will up to a point.

  12. Oryx

    My old work was constantly calling me at my current job. Like, not on my cell phone but actually calling my new job’s main line. They didn’t seem to understand why it was not cool to ask me to take time away from my new job to help them.

    After the 3rd or 4th time I had a come to Jesus moment with them when I explained why this was not acceptable and they needed to stop calling me. They then tried to guilt me into helping, saying “I know that when I left MY previous job I was more than happy to help them as much as they needed.” Good for you, buddy.

  13. Clarissa

    How do these guidelines change if you’ve transitioned from one job to another within the same company? I used to work in the Training department for a very large organization. About 9 months ago I took a new role in the Marketing department. There are 2 other people in the Training department: a colleague who I worked and our boss. Our boss was extremely disorganized and relied heavily on me for everything. I gave 3 weeks notice, helped hire and train the replacement (although she left the position after about 3 weeks, and her replacement left after about 8 weeks, which should tell you something about the department and especially my old boss). Before I left, I also compiled a manual for my position; although not extensive it covered the essential processes. Nothing like that had ever been in place before I worked there.

    I’ve been at my new job 9+ months. However, I will still get calls and emails from my old colleague in the department asking questions (I typically don’t get questions from my old boss). At first when my colleague would call or email, I would answer her inquiries. However, at this point I have taken to saying “I’m not sure. (Boss) should have the information you need.” I do feel somewhat badly however, because I know that my old boss may not have that information. She should have it, but she probably doesn’t as she is just too scattered and disorganized.

    Obviously when you still work in an organization you are all ultimately working towards the same goal and still have to work and interact together. So how do these guidelines change in that scenario?

    1. Partly Cloudy

      A friend of mine has this problem, after switching positions something like FIVE YEARS ago. Same boss though, so there’s basically nothing she can do.

    2. Anonymous Educator

      The way I did it was to involve myself as heavily as possible in the hiring process for my replacement and then push to hire someone competent.

    3. Beezus

      Are you me? :)

      If it’s a simple question that would take me just a minute to answer, I do it quickly and cheerfully. If it’s under an hour, and they’ve made a reasonable effort to help themselves, I’ll figure out a way to make time for them. If it’s more than that, I send them to ask my new boss. One coworker has a tendency to ask me things he should be able to answer on his own, and I deliberately make him wait, because he figures it out 90% of the time if I do that.

      My old boss is another story – she is a bag full of crazy, and if I try to help, I wind up spending so much effort on setting clear boundaries and avoiding getting set up to take ownership of things she should be handling, that I try really hard to avoid helping at all, unless her director is involved. She doesn’t ask me often, but she seems to expect me to just take over and handle the issues she brings to me, instead of giving her my take and moving on. (She also burned me pretty bad on my midyear review after I left…grr.)

    4. GenericGen

      This is my situation too. I will start my new position in June and gave more than a month notice to my current boss. The problem I am having is that our department was already understaffed when I put in my notice to transfer. I will no longer have access to a particular software program at my new position (my new duties/job description are completely different than what I do now) so it would be almost impossible to help. I fear that I will be bombarded with emails and calls for months on unresolved issues.

      This is the reason I asked my current supervisor for a specific length of notice. I figure a month was good but as far as I can tell, no one has been hired to fill any of the open positions. I feel bad for my coworkers but I needed to move on. I am also interested on what other people have experienced in this situation.

      1. Beezus

        That was my situation, too. My department had several bouts of terrible turnover – I departed on the tail end of the third round, and there has been a fourth since I left. I was sympathetic to the coworkers I was leaving behind, but I made sure to remember that 1) if I had left the company entirely, I would definitely not be expected to continue helping, and 2) they have the same information I had when I concluded that the management issues leading to turnover were not going to change, and my best bet was to leave – and they assumably could arrive at the same conclusion I had and leave themselves. If I help too much, I’m enabling those management situations to continue by helping mitigate/hide the turnover issue. The more apparent it is that something is broken, the more likely it is to be fixed, so in the long run, helping my former coworkers too much is hurting them.

        1. Chinook

          Ditto on having issues moving from one department to another due to turnover. When I went from receptionist to AA, they went through 5 temp to perm people before they found someone who could handle the job. Needless to say, I got called up to train all 5 of them at some point, which caused issues in my new department when I wasn’t available. It was only solved when the Office Manager and my Managing Partner hashed out when the OM could call me up. The reality was I was between a rock and a hard place as I had no authority to put my foot down when it came to reception duties as backup coverage was part of an AA’s job. But,, my boss did and he basically was able to put in parameters that, if someone pushed against, I could direct them to my new boss to get his approval.

          1. Clarissa

            And yet (at least in my situation) my boss continued to manage as she had always done, despite the fact that she went through multiple people after I left. You’d think that a stream of people coming and going would turn on a light bulb and induce some self-reflection. But nope.

  14. Darcy

    At a previous job I had a fairly new manager (following a merger) when I gave notice. I offered to fly out to her location and train her. She said I could come for 1 day, I told her I’d better plan on most of a week. After I left she called me frequently asking how to run certain reports. I finally reached a point where I told her what she was asking for was going to take time and I’d have to charge her a contractor rate to do that work. She got really angry, but stopped calling me after that.

    I continued to let her know when I saw information that would be valuable to her and she eventually got over it. It’s really important to set boundaries, especially when companies are willing to take advantage. I didn’t even blame her that much, the reason I left that job was because of an unrealistic workload that she had to pick up. But stopping was the only way she was going to figure out that she needed to replace my position and couldn’t just absorb the workload.

  15. Dasha

    For the love of cupcakes, when you leave a job, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, leave usernames and passwords for things. If you have supplier portals, websites, vendor links, whatever LEAVE THE PASSWORD for the new person!

    1. Partly Cloudy

      Often, the new person responsible has to create/be assigned their own logins anyway though. I must have left behind close to 30 user IDs at my old job, but none of them were generic and almost all were tied to some kind of security permissions.

      1. Kyrielle

        Oh my stars, filing the list of logins (no passwords, just the usernames) that you have so they can shut them all down. That was a fun, lengthy list for me today. :P

  16. Case of the Mondays

    I think this is a little different in fields where you owe a duty to your client. I have taken over files after attorneys have left and they didn’t leave the file in good shape. It is unclear for example where settlement negotiations left off or if there were liens on recoveries. Since not knowing where negotiations left off can really damage my client’s case, I’m absolutely going to call old lawyer, even at his new firm and just say “hey, I see you had to settlement conferences. I don’t see anywhere that you documented what the last offer was. Was there one?’ I fully expect old lawyer to answer and if he doesn’t he is breaching his ethical duty to the client.

    If you leave the file in good shape, different story.

    1. Kat A.

      THIS!

      My attorney left the firm, and I had to go over 2 hours-worth of stuff with the new attorney — and I was charged for it! Grrr…

  17. the_scientist

    I continued working for my former employer after leaving and starting at my new job, and I deeply regret doing so. I in fact JUST met with my replacement for a training session- I have not worked there since the end of January, and was supposed to be completely wrapped up and moved on with my life by March 31st. It’s May 20th today. I even wrote a letter to Alison about it- she and commenters warned me not to but I did anyways, and ugh. It just wasn’t worth my time or effort. For the record, I’m not talking about quick questions, I’m talking about actually substantive work for which I was paid hourly, at the same rate as I’d been paid as an employee.
    While I do think it’s courteous to answer quick questions, my experience is that it’s really important to leave good documentation to head off a lot of questions, and to establish boundaries up front- i.e. won’t respond during work hours while at new job, need 24 or 48 hours to respond (even for quick questions that won’t take much of your time). Also, you don’t need to tell your soon-to-be former employer this, but set an internal deadline (say, months out) at which point you’ll start to respond to emails with “I’m terribly sorry, but it’s been long enough that I’m afraid I don’t remember”. And if they do want more substantive work, ask for an hourly rate of at least twice your salary and set a minimum billing increment of 30 minutes. You should see requests drop off precipitously after that.

    1. Lia

      I did just what you suggest with the hourly rate, and suddenly, they no longer needed me to come in for two days to train my replacement’s replacement — TWO YEARS after I left that job. Ha! While I could have trained the person in the software, enough other stuff has probably changed that I’d not be of a huge value, and I am busy enough at my current job to want to use my vacation time for actual time off.

  18. Anonymous Educator

    It’s funny—I’ve had this happen at pretty much every job I’ve left, regardless of how detailed the documentation was that I left. One job I said “I’ve left extremely detailed documentation, but if you have any questions within the first three months I’ve left, feel free to contact me.” Nothing. They contacted me randomly six months later, and I told them I couldn’t help them.

    1. the_scientist

      Following with my previous comment, I finally laid down the law with my old manager and said “look, the longer the period between when I left and when I orient the new employee, the less I’m going to remember and the less helpful I’ll be”. If they didn’t need my “expertise” within the first three months of my replacement’s tenure, I seriously doubt they are going to need it 4,5 or 6 months down the road- like, during that time it’s possible that files have been moved around so I won’t know where things are, I’m not going to remember stuff, and I’m not privy to the way things have evolved since I left, so I’m not really going to be helpful from a subject matter perspective. So what exactly am I going to be helpful for? Either my knowledge is important enough and detailed enough that my replacement needs it quickly, or it’s not.

      Goodness, I have a lot of feelings about this!

  19. Rebecca

    I think that it’s appropriate to ask for compensation if your old company asks you to help them after you leave. What is the standard? 2x your current pay rate per hour? 3x? A flat rate + travel time if you have to go there? I’m curious as to what to ask for.

  20. Jean

    I want to express some sympathy for the left-behind workers in an organization that, for whatever reason, waits to fill the recently-vacated position. Workflow doesn’t necessarily stop just because staffing levels are lower than usual. Yet it’s hard to tell management that the such-and-such project would go more smoothly if the position with the required expertise was not vacant.

    1. Jean

      P.S. Sometimes a company just gets slammed by a round of bad luck re staffing. At that point, everybody just has to do his/her best to get through the tough period.

      Sigh. Nobody said adulthood was going to be easy.

  21. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    In an earlier thread – I noted that I was laid off, and my “replacement” knew absolutely nothing about the work I was doing — I won’t get into the details of the layoff, and why I was laid off over the replacement (caused a firestorm).

    But I was on the phone with someone else there who was-doing-her-work-for-her-but-not-officially-doing-it. Around 8-10 hours a week. And this extended into my next job where I finally had to say – “one of the nice things about getting laid off, and told you’re no longer needed, is that you don’t owe the employer who bounced you on the street squat-diddly”… owing to conditions, they could not layoff my replacement and bring me back, and it would have been a loss of face to hire me back as a part-time contractor…

    I tried to help them all I could. Morally, I probably helped them too much….

  22. Lay on McDuff

    Interesting. I was just wondering something along the same lines…
    I was laid off by my company. It was becoming a toxic place and, in the long run, I know I am better off for being laid off (I think).
    We came to an agreement on my consulting/helping as needed on an hourly basis & have been doing so for a few weeks now.
    Just received an email asking if I would come work as the manager for a week while the person who has been doing that function will be gone for a week.
    Torn between “Sure, be good to get a week’s pay” and “You have got to be kidding me! Toss me out and then ask me to come help you?”
    Any suggestions??

    1. Kat A.

      I’ve been there. Short answer is: DON’T.

      But, if you do, you’d be working as a contractor, so you’d have to pay the IRS about half of what you make. Set up a contract — get it signed, dated and notarized BEFORE you even set foot in their door — and ask for 4x the hourly rate. 2x your old rate will only get you your same rate after taxes. 4x will make it more worth your while. And be sure to require (in writing) that you be paid in full on the last day of work. Any later, 2% per day will be added to the amount owed.

  23. 2horseygirls

    My favorite was when I got the call at my new job (on the landline) from the old job, asking which toilet paper they needed to order. The really fun part is the piping out to the street was over 100 years old and full of tree roots, so you could only use a certain kind. (Otherwise, the plumbers were out almost weekly – there was one year they were almost invited to the company Christmas party.)

    The call came in at least four months after I left. It should have come within 6 weeks-2months. Which means that they used the case of wrong toilet paper clearly marked “Donate to X shelter” because it would clog up the pipes.

    I received no more calls at the new job after that. ;)

  24. Liz

    This just made me laugh because I literally got a text from an old coworker about an hour ago with a “do you know where we would find XX?” kind of question. And I’ve been gone almost FOUR YEARS!

    But this isn’t really analogous (or a complaint), because A) it’s something that nobody would have dealt with in the last few years and I was famous for having a semi-photographic memory for work stuff, so I really am probably the best bet for remembering; and B) I’m still friends with a lot of those coworkers and have actually seen several of them socially within the last month.

    But yeah, like I said, just made me laugh to get that text and then come over here and see this post. Maybe I should text again and say she owes me $5 for the time it took me to think about that question. ha!

  25. Lissa

    I think the whole “if you want me to help you, I need to be paid” thing is silly, and not because you don’t deserve to be compensated for your work, but because, you quit! Quitting means you no longer want to do any work for them for a paycheck. So why would you then offer to do more work for them for a paycheck? It makes the whole “I quit” thing seem less like a final decision, and you risk getting wrapped back into a job that you, for whatever reason, have decided you no longer want/need to do.

    Just go with your gut on what you think it’s appropriate and what you are comfortable with after the job ends. An email or two asking for passwords or where a file is within the next month would be fine with me. But when things start to feel excessive, I’d simply respond to the email/phone call with the info requested and end it with, “I hope this helps. I really wish you all the best, but since I no longer work at this company I won’t be able to be in contact to help anymore. ” People are very non-confrontational, so they’ll likely back off immediately after that. They may not have as much of a warm fuzzy feeling about you, but they’ll probably respect you more for doing that.

  26. Michael S.

    I realize this is an old thread, but I’m happy to see it because it justifies what I’ve been telling my friends for years. I’m interviewing for a job this week, and I’ve long said that if I have to leave my current job, they’re going to be so screwed that they’ll be calling me for months afterwards. Every single person I’ve said this to told me I’m crazy and companies can’t do that. Reading this thread proves that my concerns are real. I’m just trying to determine how best to handle the situation should it come to pass.

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