my boss and I agreed to plan my exit from my job — what should that look like?

A reader writes:

Yesterday, I had my mid-year review with my boss and during the conversation, she shared that it was obvious how unhappy I was and that no matter how much I demonstrate that my position is overworked, absolutely nothing would come off my plate (in fact, there is a good chance the workload would increase). I’m doing the work of 2.5 people and am often relied upon by colleagues across the organization to do work outside of my job duties, because of my background/skills.

My boss told me I need to think about whether or not this is the job for me, and if so, commit to the job description as it is (and stop raising issues/concerns) or work with her to develop an exit plan. At this point, I shared with my boss that I have been actively looking. It was a scary thing to say, but I think it opened up a productive dialogue. My boss asked me to think it over and share my decision in my next one-on-one.

Over the last year, I have hated my job, but I come in and work hard every day because I truly believe in my organization’s mission. There are a lot of reasons why this position is not for me beyond the workload and the general trickle down of “don’t expect things to change.” This has helped me cement that developing an exit plan is the right step for both the organization and me.

As part of the exit plan, my boss would like me to commit to working through the next 60-days to get us through some big projects but then has said that she would give me through the end of the fiscal year to find a position (5 months). Though I am confident that this is the right step for me, I am actually not sure how it would work. I would appreciate any advice on how to exit gracefully and how to manage my part of the situation.

Well, good for you for getting it into the open so that you can both figure out how to move forward. And really, good for your manager for being honest with you that the expectations of the job aren’t going to change (whether or not they’re reasonable).

I’ve been on your manager’s side of that conversation, and it’s a conversation I often coach other managers to have. When you can tell that someone is unhappy and you know that the thing making them unhappy isn’t going to change, it’s far better to just be really up-front about that so that everyone can figure out where to go from there. (That doesn’t mean that your manager isn’t a loon for thinking one person should do all the work; maybe she is. But I’ve also seen people convinced that their workload was way too high, and then the next person came in and handled it just fine. I’m not saying that’s the case here — I have no way of knowing — but maybe it’s useful insight into where your manager might be coming from.)

Anyway. Usually what this looks like is:

* a mutual agreement that you will leave your job by a particular date

* some agreement about what your work will include during that time

* sometimes an agreement that you’ll mainly wrap up projects during that time, rather than take on anything new

* sometimes an agreement that you can job-search from work and take off extra time for interviews

Details that you should  cover with your boss as you figure out the logistics:

* What’s the exact timeframe that you should plan on? You don’t want to be thinking that you have a job there until the end of August and discover later that your manager is thinking something different.

* What are the expectations for you and your work during that time? Will you still be expected to take on new projects, or just wrap up existing ones? I’d default to assuming that you’ll be expected to continue to work at the same pace you’ve been working at, but it’s possible that she’d be fine with you slowing it down. (It sounds like that might be what she was getting at with the “get us through the next 60 days and then take a few months to job search” thing, but find out for sure.)

* What’s the messaging to the rest of the staff about you leaving, and the timing for that message?

* Are there other things that you can do to make this period go smoothly? (This is a question to ask your manager, and it’s a good way to acknowledge that she’s giving you a graceful way out and making things easier on you than another manager might have.)

One other thing to keep in mind: You probably already know this, but this kind of agreement isn’t an ironclad guarantee that you will have a job for that full period. Managers who operate in good faith will do their best to ensure that’s true, but if you were to suddenly start doing less work or lower quality work, or to be a toxic presence in the office, assume that you could be let go earlier. It’s also true that if your manager found the perfect replacement for you and the person needed to start earlier, it’s possible that you could be pushed out sooner than you’d agreed. A manager operating in good faith won’t do that, but it’s a possibility you want to be aware of. Not that you’re likely to embark on a leisurely job search, but keep that in mind to maximize good results here.

And again, good for you for being honest with yourself about what next step makes sense. So often, people aren’t able to do that and it leads to much longer-term unhappiness all around.

{ 118 comments… read them below }

  1. KR*

    This sounds like it was a really scary conversation to have and I applaud the OP for being direct and looking at the job realistically. I hope you’re able to find a job where you’ll feel more comfortable in the future.

    1. Letter Writer*

      It was just about the scariest conversation I have ever had and honestly if it hadn’t happened organically/impulsively, I don’t know if I would have been able to do it.

      The quick update is, I have a new job! I’m starting three days short of my agreed upon 60 days. But thanks to being open throughout the process, everyone seems to be in a good place. And more importantly, I took a new job that is an all around better fit from duties to compensation to environment, and because everything was out in the open, I didn’t feel like I had to just jump at the first offer.

      1. snuck*

        I’ve just come in to say “Congrats! You have just shown how professional and amazing you are as an employee! and your workplace for all it’s quibbles sounds like so far it has a good manager too”

        Level up! This is a conversation I’ve had a couple of times with staff and it’s hard, but it’s also amazingly productive for everyone… and it’s totally worth it – instead of surreptitiously sneaking out if you have a good boss you should be able to talk to them and resolve this through Alison’s coaching there.

        The bonus is it means that your boss can give a great reference about you, your professionalism, acknowledge your ability to remain focussed and professional while unhappy/under stress, and is more inclined to do so. If you can commit to the sixty days then do so, an alternative is to say that you will commit to thirty (or whatever is reasonable) and then ramp up the job search after that thirty knowing most places will take at least 30 to organise themselves into a new hire…

      2. KH*

        It sounds like you had a great manager. They gave you 5 months to find a position? Not many companies would do that.

  2. KT*

    Let me just say that Alison’s advice is spot on. For an old job I was hired in, my predecessor had been drowning. She was working 14 hour days and crying daily because it was just too much. She had asked to hire assistants and they had refused. She finally quit and they brought me on. It’s not that I’m better than her, it’s just I had the technical know-how to automate a lot of the work, so I never had to work late and found the work load quite manageable.

    I’ve also had people give long-term notice when it just wasn’t a good fit, and it can be a relief for both the employee and the company. Having an open and honest discussion about it is a great start and can help you bridge to the next role nicely.

    1. NJ Anon*

      So much this. I had a co-worker who also couldn’t get the job done, thought the workload was too much, had a lot of anxiety, yada, yada. She left, new person had no problem doing the job in an 8 hour day. I think skill set and ability to use technology to streamline functions was key. Different strokes for different folks.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      That is so sad nobody saw the possibility or helped her with automating things.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Though, on could argue that she was hired under the expectation that she’d have the skill to automate things.

        1. Liane*

          If so, that expectation should have been made during the interview(s) *at latest*, and making it part of the job description would have been better. That way she could have self-selected out.

          1. JessaB*

            This, and if they didn’t realise with the first employee, going forward that skillset should be part of the job description and interview questions. It’s marginally possible that the office didn’t realise that they needed to make sure those skills were available, and decided that they didn’t want to train for them. I do think that if there’s that kind of mismatch, an attempt at training should have happened early on, rather than letting the employee work all that OT. That kind of lets me know that the management had no real idea what the job should look like or how long it should take. After all, they LET the employee burn out.

    3. Letter Writer*

      My sincerest hope is that the next person they hire can do the job and it do it really, really well.

      I believe in my organization’s mission and I want it to succeed. And I think they have a good chance, with my complaints going from “complaints” to being the reason I am leaving, they are actually looking at changing the workload of the position and bring in paid service providers to take some of the work off this person’s plate.

      I have added a ton of technology for this role and built out a lot of processes, but a lot of what I do can’t be automated. I work for a non-profit and my title is “Development Manager,” but my work falls into three areas:

      (1) I manage a portfolio of 175 mid-level donors ($1,000 – $20,000). I am expected to see all of them for at least one cultivation and one solicitation ask each year.
      (2) I am also responsible for our events. We hold 3 “signature” events each year that range from 300- 1,000 people – two of which are fundraisers that net just over $1m. I am also responsible for 6-8 smaller events ranging from cocktails in board members homes, lunch and learns, volunteer days etc. Just about the only thing we outsource is catering, so I do everything from selling sponsorships, to invitation design, to crafting centerpieces.
      (3) I do all of our annual giving activities – direct mail, email, outreach (city-wide giving day, State Employee campaigns, UW campaigns), etc.

      In addition to this, because we have no marketing team, I do a lot for multiple departments. At lot of this came to head when multiple people I really respect in my field all started pointing out that we were trying to stretch our resources (me) to thin and do to much.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s … an officially unreasonable workload, seriously. I usually have some healthy skepticism about this because one’s person’s unmanageable workload is another person’s done-in-40-hours, but that list? Really not realistic.

        1. Bibliovore*

          I agree- way too much for one person. Sometimes this happens when you grow in your position. Although I adored my ex-job, I was seriously stressed by the end. They split the position into one part time-three day a week director, one full time teacher, one adjunct instructor- one graduate level class/3 advisees a semester.

          1. Letter Writer*

            That’s what happens here. When I first came on board it was primarily as a gift office with light annual giving activities.

            Last fiscal year the board decided that we needed to “ramp up” our events and some how that fell to me.

      2. toa*

        I am in development and have seen teams of 4 with a smaller workload than you. Good for you for leaving!

      3. GRA*

        So you’re a major gift officer, events coordinator AND annual giving director? Those are, at minimum, three separate jobs. And for those three jobs there should be some sort of administrative support. I can’t imagine how they’re going to hire anyone with that job description. Congrats on getting a new job!

      4. GlamNonprofitSquirrel*

        Oh Letter Writer! I have been you and I am so glad you were brave enough to be open with FormerBoss and to find a role that’s less completely batshit crazy (that’s a technical term). Your ED and Board have ridiculous, unreasonable and unsustainable expectations of a Development Director. At most establishments, that workload would be managed by no less than 3 people with support from marketing and administrative staff for event planning. Plus, you’d have at least 3 – 4 interns to help with each of the events.

        I hope NewJob appreciates you and your skills. They are lucky to get such a high performer … and if you are ever looking to relocate to Michigan … holler! :)

      5. Development Professional*

        I just want to say that I have a job with a similar scope but smaller scale (i.e. fewer donors and events) and I have an assistant AND a marketing department AND the budget to hire vendors for design, decor, even PR when needed. Wow.

      6. DCGirl*

        People often ask me why I got out of fund raising and into the private sector. After a serious car accident, which left a significant gap in my resume, I ended up working for very small non-profits in positions with crushing workloads like the one described in this response. I with the OP all the luck in the world in her new position.

      7. babblemouth*

        So you have to have 175 one to one meetings with donors every year, who are, I assume, all people with a schedule of their own to manage? Considering there are a total of about 250 working days in one year, that seems close to mathematically impossible, since you probably have to prepare each of them too…

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          She actually has to have 350 one-on-ones a year (a cultivation meeting and a solicitation meeting with each donor). But that, on it’s own, isn’t crazy; one can have multiple meetings in a day. Buuuuuut then you add the events and campaign work and jeez!

      8. Clever Name*

        That’s really insane. And I have to say, on top of all that, you make the damn center pieces yourself? I’m speechless.

  3. Bibliovore*

    This is a great opportunity. I had just this same discussion with report and she insisted she was happy, that she loved her job. That I was being unreasonable. That the cause of any unhappiness on her part was because of my working style not hers.

    This is not OP. I bring this up because as a manager, I would be thrilled for this employee to be job hunting for a position with a better fit. I would allowed time off for interviews. As Alison said- this is not iron-clad. If you receive an offer, you CAN give you notice despite the fact that agreed upon projects are incomplete.

    1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

      Is it possible she was lying because she thinks if you knew she was job searching that you’d fire her?

      1. K.*

        Yeah, I’d guess that’s the case. It sounds like that fear is unwarranted, but she may not know that.

      2. Sadsack*

        I’d say it’s pretty ballsy telling your manager it’s her fault you aren’t getting your job done, whether it is true or not. I’m not sure that is a smart approach either way.

        1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

          Ballsy, yes, but we don’t have the employee’s side here. A lot of people don’t trust anyone in management for good reasons.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah I think most people would freak out if their manager tried to have that convo and do just that “I don’t know what you’re talking about I’m fine”, then go start job search asap. Except the rare case you’re close with your boss and have a special rapport like this case.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t think you have to be close and have special rapport. I think you just need to know that your manager is reasonably trustworthy and has integrity, and not have internalized lessons from previous workplaces or family that you should never have such conversations (which might be the case with Bibliovore’s employee, for instance).

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            I see what you’re saying. Before my current job I didn’t trust and/or was afraid of most of my bosses. Sadly.

            1. Bibliovore*

              It is true that we did not have a great relationship. I was hoping that I was modeling transparency and trustworthiness through my words and actions. This was a painful experience (on both sides) and the strangest managerial experience that I had ever had.

              I discovered later that part of the pain from her end was a misunderstanding that the administration was going to promote her into a management role and that I would not be directly supervising the daily running of the department. This could have happened but within two months of my hiring there were so many issues with her meeting the expectations of her position- not meeting external deadlines, not meeting inter-departmental deadlines, poor customer service, blaming others for incomplete or inaccurate work, not telling the truth, not taking direction, and simply not completing tasks.

              These are not the issues of OP but after my first six months every one-on-one concluded with this employee explaining that every failure on her part was a communications misunderstanding on my part. By that time- every, and I mean every communication was followed up by a email documenting the conversation, the expectation, what part of her job description this task referred to.

              1. Ruthie*

                Sounds a lot like my report. I refer to that employee type as an Amelia Bedelia because anything not stated as explicitly as possible in writing WILL get misinterpreted. I can’t bear to do follow up emails of every conversation, so I had my report complete a spreadsheet of daily, weekly, and monthly responsibilities, if/how she confirms with me they’re complete, and how she’ll be held accountable, and when they’re due. It helped, but not enough, so we had the conversation about her seeking a better fit elsewhere. She handed in her notice this week!

                1. Bibliovore*

                  Oh Ruthie… I feel your pain. and thanks for the laugh. Amelia, draw the curtains. Amelia, dress the chicken.
                  This employee was on a year and 1/2 PIP.
                  The emails came in very handy when she started filing grievances against me and I had to have almost weekly meetings with her and the union reps.

                  And yes- I had a weekly spread sheet that we planned together ” of daily, weekly, and monthly responsibilities, if/how she confirms with me they’re complete, and how she’ll be held accountable, and when they’re due.” She would mark that tasks were completed, they were not, she would assign them to other employees (really) and mark them completed. (that explains when I noted that something was done incorrectly, she would look blank) or she would claim that the date was incorrect and that wasn’t what we had discussed or that she didn’t think she had to proceed the way I had directed on a project…the step-by-step directions that I gave her orally and in writing were just a suggestion.

                  All that saved me was that the HR director had my back. (I was warned that the step discipline process could take more than a year) I had the self confidence from years of managing employees who adored me. (I was beloved…there was much wailing and rending of garments when I left my ex-job) As well as large network of ex-employees that I had mentored and supported as they spread their wings for new responsibilities.

                  Oh and AAM and Evil HR Lady

  4. themmases*

    This is a great way to handle this; I wish it were more common. Long notice periods can be great and when I had one, it helped me a lot to be job searching with my boss’s blessing.

    In the OP’s situation I would also want to clarify whether I could use them as a reference in my current job search, and whether they have any concerns about giving a positive reference as long as I keep up my end of the agreement.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I was going to say the same thing. Instead of companies trying to force people out with nasty, underhanded techniques, why can’t they just say, “I know your unhappy. This position isn’t working out for you. Let’s work out a transition plan.”
      I can think of twice in my work career where I would have jumped at the chance to have a graceful departure.

    2. the_scientist*

      I can think of a couple of things to add:

      1) as you mentioned, what is the boss going to say when called as a reference? OP should discuss with her boss and come to an agreement.

      2) In the event that the OP hasn’t found a new job by her last day (which could be sooner than 5 months, depending on when a replacement is found), is there a way that health insurance could be extended for a month or so? What about applying to UI? I’m not talking about defrauding the government for UI but there may be a way to do this such that OP can get UI while continuing to look for a job.

      3) How will OP’s exit be recorded in official company records? Is it a termination? Would OP be eligible for re-hire at the company? Those things are important; OP doesn’t want to have to check off that they’ve been fired on a future job application if they can avoid it.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah I’m wondering some of this too. If she hasn’t found job in five months, how does she explain to interviewers why she left?
        And yes, sometimes an arrangement can be made with mutual resignations like this where you can still get unemployment benefits, the employer just has to say you were laid off or position eliminated . Get this in writing of course.

    3. Tommy*

      I don’t know. For me, my two weeks were brutal. I was so demotivated and ready to move on that I couldn’t even force myself to do good work (which I wanted to do to ensure that my employer would give me a good reference in the future). I cannot imagine how someone who does that much work or, like another case mentioned elsewhere in the comments, cries nightly after a 14-hour workday, could possibly go 60 days working with the added attention that comes from putting their boss/others on notice.

      This might work for someone who likes their job and is only moving on because they’d like something better, but otherwise I’m calling BS.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Often there’s less scrutiny once a transition agreement is made, because at that point you’re just looking to wrap things up professionally (on both sides), there’s no more need for coaching, etc.

  5. TootsNYC*

    The one problem with this is that the OP is now going to be out of work, without any income–maybe without health insurance–in 60 days. Maybe she’ll get a job in the meantime, but maybe she won’t.

    That a major de-motivator for having that sort of openness with one’s boss.

    Is there any way for an employee to manage that conversation that results in unemployment insurance, at least?

    This very problem is why, when I had a somewhat similar situation with my boss, the end was sort of open-ended. It probably went on too long, but it was coupled with a sort of, “try to do your job better” situation, and I genuinely tried. But I could not afford to voluntarily say, “Here is the end date,” and I was terrified that she’d call me in an say, “OK, I’ve been patient, so now let’s wrap this us; next Friday is your last day.”

    1. Kyrielle*

      Well, the boss said until the end of the fiscal year – if they keep that promise, unemployment is 5 months away. I also suspect that what results in UI will depend in part on the state.

      1. The IT Manager*

        Yes – The LW commits to staying for the next 60 days. The boss commits to not firing the LW until the end of the FY (which is probably Sept 30th).

        Benefit for the boss: She can conduct an unrushed hiring process and maybe get the replacement on the on the job a little before the LW leaves.

        Benefit for the LW: Time to conduct a job hunt while employed rather than finding herself out of work right now.

        I think this kind of thing is win-win for both because they both get breathing room for their search.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          And I think there is an extra win for the OP. It sounds like the boss understands that the OP is trying hard and is a good employee, but the job isn’t a good fit. I’m guessing the boss will be happy to give a good reference which will make job searching much easier.

      2. Christy*

        And fiscal years vary, too. For the US government, it would be the end of September. That’s a ton of time.

      3. fposte*

        If you’re a dice-roller, sure, you can think “I bet they won’t get it together to fire me at the end of five months” and say no. I think that’s unwise, because the solution on their part is likely to fire you earlier.

    2. Jimbo*

      I once had a similar conversation with my landlord about my future plans to buy a house. We got along well so I was open with him that I was starting to casually look now. He asked me for as much notice as possible and I told him I would keep him in the loop. It typically takes 60 days or so to to close so I said I would let him know as soon as my offer was accepted. The next day he was waiting for me with a new one-year lease in one hand and an eviction notice in the other (I was month-to-month at that point). I took the eviction notice because I don’t like ultimatums and everything worked out. I found a house really fast but not before I had to leave. I moved in with my parents for a month or so which allowed me to paint all of the rooms in my new house and install carpet before moving in.

      1. OhNo*

        Wow, what a jerk. I understand that the landlord (or in OP’s case, the boss) has needs in this kind of situation, too, but asking for favors from you (giving them plenty of notice) and then turning around and delivering an eviction is just an a**hole move.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        What a stupid landlord, did he think you were going to rent the place indefinitely? Thank goodness the eviction didn’t prevent you from buying.

  6. LawCat*

    Figuring out how to move forward has to involve a clear discussion about unemployment insurance and how the organization is going to report my departure to the state unemployment entity. Did I quit or was I fired? Because it doesn’t seem all that clear to me from the agreements outlined above and it would matter to me a lot.

      1. LQ*

        Unemployment varies from state to state. Most states you are eligible if you are laid off. Most states you are eligible if you are fired (as long as you didn’t do something like steal from your employer or punch someone). Most states you are not eligible if you quit.

        My state you would likely be eligible if you have an end/quit date, and they get rid of you before that date, or at least you’d likely be eligible for the time between being fired and when you planned to quit. This varies from state to state. Check your local state for more.

        (If possible I’d try to see if this could be structured as a layoff, or discharge if not.)

        1. Kimberlee, Esq*

          Actually, the agreed upon end date in a situation like this (for OP, the end of the fiscal year) is usually “This is your last day unless you find something else first, in which case, you give X weeks notice.” So, assuming that’s reasonably explicit in the agreement, OP would be laid off/fired on that day and eligible for UI. The end date is basically the date until which the employer is willing to keep you on despite your job-searching and the fact that they now know they need to hire someone else.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I would recommend having those conversations to anyone else who does this. I was in such a mindset of I want out, that I probably jumped at the chance to do it gracefully without asking enough questions.

      I was confident that I would find a new job in five months, so I didn’t think through those things. I found a new, awesome job that will start just before my 60 days is up, but if I was still looking, I would probably be asking those questions right now.

  7. ThursdaysGeek*

    It’s also true that if your manager found the perfect replacement for you and the person needed to start earlier, it’s possible that you could be pushed our sooner than you’d agreed.

    But it seems to me that if you find an excellent job and they want you sooner, you are free to go to that job too. It goes both ways, in spite of your agreement to stay for 60 days, right?

    1. Letter Writer*

      It did in my case. My new job is starting just shy of the 60 day mark, and my boss has been flexible and great about it.

      I’m also making sure every single thing is wrapped up, including creating materials that won’t be used for 3+ months.

  8. Newbie*

    I was in a similar position a few years ago, except that I initiated the conversation with my boss. In a meeting with her, I brought up the issue that I wasn’t sure I was able to meet the objectives of the job and the office in the way that she wanted. Like you, I had the work of multiple people on my desk and was not receiving any support in minimizing the workload or getting extra help. I was sort of hoping the conversation would take the form of my boss finally understanding how overwhelmed I was and us working through strategies to better manage the workload. Her response was basically that she didn’t think I was best suited for the role anymore and she’d do what she could to help me find another role within the organization. Not the outcome I’d hoped for, but I was already job hunting because I knew I couldn’t physically keep working the long hours under such stressful conditions.

    I don’t have any better advice than Alison provided, but wanted you to know it can be much, much better on the other side. I’m now in a role that has much more reasonable expectations and workload (I can take a vacation and leave the laptop at home! I’m not up at 4 a.m. on weekends trying to play catch-up with work!).

    I hope you find a position that is much more reasonable with expectations and workload!

  9. Jerry Vandesic*

    Unless there is a significant chance of being let go in the short term (and given the current work load, that might be unlikely), it doesn’t look like there is any benefit to the OP to committing to be out by a certain date. The OP probably can’t know how much time it will take to find a job, so any commitment is a big risk to their income.

    My suggestion to the OP is to significantly ramp up your job search. In the meantime, manage your workload so that you don’t add too much stress to your life. When you find a new job, give two weeks notice. If you are terminated by your employer, don’t be surprised since you already told them that they need to plan for your leaving.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I read this as “this agreement gives you five months when otherwise we’d likely fire you before that.”

        1. A Bug!*

          And, perhaps more importantly, it lifts a huge weight off the OP’s psyche. An ever-present feeling of dread might appear to be a great motivator to get out, but it often has the opposite effect, because just going in to work every day takes everything you’ve got.

      2. Jerry Vandesic*

        But unless there is a real risk of being fired (which I would argue is unlikely since the department is already overworked/understaffed), there is no benefit for the OP. The OP now is out of a job at the end of the FY. I don’t see any upside compared with silently searching and then giving two weeks notice.

        Alison, in the past you have argued that giving extra notice is usually not worth it to the employee. What do you see different in this situation?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hmmm, no, I’ve encouraged generous notice periods if you work somewhere that makes it safe to do. That’s pretty much my mantra on the topic, actually!

          When I’ve had this conversation with employees, it’s because I’m starting to think the job isn’t the right fit for them. If we can come to a mutual agreement, that’s the best outcome for both of us. If we can’t, I’m prepared to start going to down a path that ends in letting them go.

          1. Jerry Vandesic*

            “If we can come to a mutual agreement, that’s the best outcome for both of us. If we can’t, I’m prepared to start going to down a path that ends in letting them go.”

            For most rational agents this would mean that you never want your manager to think that you haven’t come to a mutual agreement, regardless of what the employee actually thinks. The power imbalance is too great and the risk too high for the employee. Instead, the employee should do their job, actively search, and then give notice when they find a new job.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’m confused about how this is any different though. You agree to set an end date and you job search. If you find something before the end date, you give two weeks notice, and leave earlier. The agreement doesn’t preclude that; it actually encourages that.

              1. INTP*

                I read it as the employer was offering a 5 month period before definitely forcing her out if the OP agreed to not leave within the next 60 days, so that leaving for another job before then would be a breach of the good faith agreement. Otherwise, if the OP is free to leave at any time after a two-week notice, what was the point of even discussing the 60 days?

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I read it as “I’d need you to keep up your regular work pace for this period, but then we can arrange for things to ease up on you while you job search.”

              2. Jerry Vandesic*

                That’s absolutely true. The kicker is the part of the agreement whereby you will lose your job at the end of the fiscal year if you haven’t left already. That’s a big risk in my mind.

                1. Kimberlee, Esq*

                  The end date is the date you’re basically guaranteed a job thru unless you get one first. If you’re noticeably unhappy and your boss suspects/knows you’re looking, they have every reason to immediately look to hire your replacement… and when they find that person, you’re the one being fired with 2 weeks notice. Having a 5 month job search period is only a downside for the employee in a situation where they are basically guaranteed not to be fired in the interim, and it’s rare (though not unheard of) for people to be doing exceptionally well at jobs they hate.

        2. Turanga Leela*

          With or without the risk of getting fired, it seems like a benefit to have the boss’s support and be able to transition out of the job smoothly. This way, the OP doesn’t have guilt about leaving or anxiety that she’s in a job that’s not a good fit. She knows there’s an end point, she can maintain a good relationship with her boss (probably better than if she were getting a lot of poor feedback), and she can wrap up this job gracefully.

          1. Jerry Vandesic*

            “This way, the OP doesn’t have guilt about leaving or anxiety that she’s in a job that’s not a good fit.”

            An employee should NEVER have any guilt about leaving a job, especially if that job is poorly managed.

            1. Turanga Leela*

              Sure, but lots of people do. It shows up on this site all the time. People worry that it’s a bad time to leave or that their boss won’t be able to replace them.

    1. Anon for this*

      I think many people with large work loads assume they are safe from being fired because of the work load, and at least in my organization all that does is delay a firing it doesn’t stop it.

    2. Letter Writer*

      In my case, there wasn’t a significant chance of being let go. I was meeting all my goals and benchmarks, I just wasn’t happy with the expectations.

      I also work in an environment where long notices are really, really common and firing someone during their notice is reserved for something egregious (i.e embezzlement). In fact, the goal is to have people overlap so there is a smooth transition of the work.

      It was really a case of knowing my company’s culture and knowing my manager.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ah, I read it through my own lens and didn’t hone in on that aspect of it. Although “My boss told me I need to think about whether or not this is the job for me, and if so, commit to the job description as it is or work with her to develop an exit plan” certainly sounds like she was saying that!

        I did once have this conversation with someone who was doing a pretty good job though — it’s actually described in the post I linked to in my answer:

        1. Letter Writer*

          After I wrote that I thought about the fact that I could have a skewed view — just because I am meeting goals doesn’t mean I couldn’t be fired.

          I was complaining a lot…to a lot of people. There are also some other management (or lack of) issues I was raising, so letting me go probably was on the table. I felt like I had an ultimatum of (1) create an exit plan or (2) keep doing my job and cease all complaints. But the third option of keep complaining and get fired was there.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            That’s a good distinction though — sometimes this conversation is “let’s come to a mutual agreement for an exit plan or we’ll go down a path that may lead to firing,” but in your case (and the one I linked to) it was “the stuff you’re complaining about won’t change, so we need you to either stop complaining or leave, and the leaving can be a joint plan or a single-sided one.”

  10. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

    This makes me nervous. I was in a similar position a few years ago. Boss said it was obvious I wasn’t happy (unrelated to workload) and asked if I was looking elsewhere. I confirmed I was and she said no problem, she’d give me time off to interview. That’s where the conversation ended and that’s probably what the problem was. Nothing is guaranteed, but we never discussed timelines and it didn’t occur to me to ask about them. So I was quite surprised when, a couple of weeks later, she asked me when my end date was. It ended up with her giving me a last day (I wasn’t going to quit, I’m not that stupid) and me being filing for unemployment. And then her trying to fight it! Ugh. I do not miss that job.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Yeah, I had a friend who was in this situation. He tried to suggest that they lay him off, as the requirements of the job had changed. “Oh, are you quitting?” they said, and they tried to maneuver him into essentially saying that he wanted out. So they could fight the unemployment claim.
      He had to be very adamant and wily and keep saying, “No, it’s not what I want; I want to continue and to be able to do this job well. It seems that what YOU want is for me to leave. It’s OK w/ me if you do that, you can lay me off.”

      1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

        Yeah she didn’t try to do too much manuevering. She asked for my end date, I told her I’d think about it and get back to her. I got back to her and said I didn’t have one in mind, what did she think. She came back awhile later with a date. She didn’t ask for a resignation letter or anything. So when she fought it I told the UI office flat out, look, she gave me an end date, which was two weeks out. That’s not me quitting, nor is it me getting fired (now that I’m thinking about it, she fought it saying that I was termed with cause). The UI office found in my favor.

  11. HardwoodFloors*

    Tough situation. My advise would be that OP retain a lawyer to explain to them what the agreement with the boss should encompass in case they don’t find a job and want to collect unemployment benefits.

    1. fposte*

      Unfortunately, I think bringing in a lawyer is going to kill the good-faith arrangement on the spot. This isn’t offered as a contractually binding agreement–it’s just something that two people might be able to work out to make things better.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I didn’t think HardwoodFloors was saying the OP should have her lawyer contact the boss.
        Just that the lawyer should adviser her, the OP, about what that agreement should have in it that would protect the OP.

        I agree that mentioning, “my lawyer says” would kill the good-faith-ness, but the OP might be unaware that some thing she has agreed to, either verbally or in writing, would eliminate her eligibility for unemployment insurance.

        1. OhNo*

          I also agree. Mentioning that you saw a lawyer would be serious overkill, but there’s nothing wrong with consulting with one to make sure that you are asking the right questions and filling out all the right boxes.

          Unemployment rules vary so much depending on where you live that the only way to be really, really sure that you’re going to get it is to consult with someone who specializes in it where you live.

          1. HardwoodFloors*

            +1000 I didn’t mean the OP would say ‘ My lawyer said…’ I meant the OP would learn her rights and what steps she needed to do to protect herself and she would keep quiet about any consultations (legal) she did on her own.

  12. Anonymour for this topic*

    I initiated this conversation in my last job. It was really scary and I applaud anyone who has done it. I asked a HR friend for advice. She said to make sure I had a written agreement that spelled out my last date, gave me freedom to job search and how the termination would show up in the system when someone checked. I also negotiated a severance agreement for the months that it was anticipated that I was not working, but may be out of work.

    Echoing what others have said. There is light on the other side of the tunnel. I ended up getting a job beyond my planned end date that waited for me to start (an extra month). I worked my butt off until the end so my employer would be covered and answered any follow up questions. My new job is better suited to me and I am much happier.

    OP, good luck. Great things await.

  13. INTP*

    I’m curious about Alison’s and everyone else’s take on the request that the OP commit to the next 60 days. It seems like in previous posts the consensus has been that a boss asking you how long you plan to stay in your job or asking you to commit to a certain amount of time is essentially strong-arming you into that commitment because revealing otherwise could threaten your job, and it’s not unethical to agree and then leave anyways if something comes along. Would it be the same in this case, since the 5-month offer could be taken off the table if the OP doesn’t agree to the 60 days? Or would the OP be just as unethical for agreeing to the 60 days and then still seeking job offers that require her to start before that as the employer would for agreeing to five months and then not doing whatever possible to make that work?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The employer is basically saying “this isn’t working out. Letting you go on the spot wouldn’t be good for either of us — you because you’d be out of a job and me because I’d be stuck with no one to handle some important stuff coming up over the next two months. So how about you stay to do that and then take up to three months to job search, and then we part on good terms?” But implicit in this is “we need you to leave the organization and we’d love it if we could avoid firing you.” So if the person ends up finding a job sooner than planned — during those first two months — any decent manager will understand (and, frankly, will be glad they were able to wrap up the transition sooner rather than later). You don’t have this kind of conversation without understanding that the person will be job searching and may not be able to perfectly control the timing.

      The exception to this is if they’re really explicit about saying something like “we absolutely must have someone in your position for the next two months because of event X. If you can 100% commit to seeing that through, we’ll give you three months afterward to job search while you’re still on our payroll.” But that doesn’t sound like the case here.

      1. Sparkly Librarian*

        Seeing your reply, Alison, I realize that I took the conversation to be much closer to the “must have someone in your position for the next two months” example, and I would have thought the manager would be displeased if the employee gave notice to resign before the 60 days were up (possibly affecting the reference). Obviously this would need to be fleshed out in another conversation between the employee and manager to avoid the misunderstanding!

        1. Kimberlee, Esq*

          And it also sounds like OP basically lived up to that (being a couple days shy of 60 days isn’t a big deal). I suspect that OP would endanger their reference if they left, under this agreement, at 30 days instead of 58 days.

    2. Sparkly Librarian*

      If I were in that situation, I would plan to work at the usual pace/scope for the next 60 days to clear projects already onboard, and if also actively job-searching, I would expect to set a start date at a new company no sooner than the end of the 60-day period. I’m sure that legally (where I live) I could leave at any time, and the company could fire me at any time, but in good faith I would expect to leave the company voluntarily sometime between [end of 60 days] and [end of 5 months], without worrying about being laid off before then.

    3. AVP*

      I think this also depends on what’s happening in the next 60 days. If the project is “plan a major fundraising event that’s already scheduled for April 30th and you’re the only event planner,” the professional fallout for leaving early would be different than if it was, say, wrapping up some newsletters that need to go out and could be handled by someone else without too much stress.

      1. Letter Writer*

        You hit the nail on the head :) The 60 days was to get us through our Spring Gala. I’m leaving a little early, but will be there for the event and initial wrap-up, I just won’t be there for some of the reporting and post-event stewardship.

        Though everything is in place for that!

  14. ziggystarduster*

    Hi all,

    I’ve mentioned here before that I’m in a very similar situation to this, and I really want to echo Alison’s advice regarding clarifying workload expectations in your remaining time. I am in month 6 of a 10-month notice period, and still have not been able to find out what the expectations are for me. In hindsight, I wish I had pushed harder to have those convos earlier on, as I see now that they are never going to happen. So, if you have any doubt about how any part of your transition is going to work please do yourself a favor and get it in writing now!

    Also, on the off chance you are considering a career change, you may want to consider asking to use some of your remaining time volunteering with other orgs (i.e. an afternoon slot here and there). It’s something I’ve been doing, and it’s been hugely helpful as I figure out what is next. YMMV, and good luck!

  15. Jimbo*

    I wish more managers would have these conversations. There are a couple of guys on my team that constantly complain about not getting promoted and/or getting significant raises. It is painfully clear neither of those will ever happen so I wish our manager would just say that to them. These guys are mediocre at best and don’t even give their top effort. If they hadn’t been here 10 years, we would probably push them out but our company is fiercely loyal. Length of service is often weighed more heavily than performance.

    I think you do everyone a favor by clearly stating that nothing is going to change so they need to change their behavior or leave. But if you both agree that leaving is the best option, I’m all for making it a planned resignation.

  16. bopper*

    ” But I’ve also seen people convinced that their workload was way too high, and then the next person came in and handled it just fine. ”

    I have also heard stories where they needed 2.5 people to cover the person’s work as well.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Of course, that happens too. That doesn’t negate the point that sometimes it’s the other way around.

      A good manager who’s managed people doing that type of work before will often know (correctly) that the job is doable by one person. When the person in the role is insisting that it’s not, it’s a tough situation (because that person understandably feels that they’re being treated unfairly). My point is that it’s not always the way it seems to the employee, and if you’re on the employee side, it can be helpful to have that context.

    2. brighidg*

      Also, I do wonder how much experience plays into those situations. They hire someone with less experience (because they’re cheaper) don’t train them and they fail at the job. Replacement has more experience so even without training or leadership, they can succeed at the job.

      I’ve been both the person who needed 3 people to pick up her work after she left and the person who failed at a job that someone else was able to do. A lot of it has to do with experience and skillset and lack of those that can be mitigated with good training and mentoring but a lot of places don’t want to bother with the latter.

  17. art_ticulate*

    So this actually just happened to me (I wrote a letter to Alison, actually, but I already had a feeling how it was going to shake out), and I ended up getting fired on Monday. Basically, my employer threatened to fire me in December, I agreed to look for another job, and then nothing was mentioned of it again until February, when HR questioned why I was still working here and insisted that I had already “verbally resigned” in December (is that a thing?). I then proceeded to ask for clarification for the situation, was told I had to be out by the end of April, and pressured to put in a resignation letter immediately. I asked for clarification multiple times as for what all the exit plan entailed, was refused, and on Monday, when I again refused to resign until I had clarification, I was escorted out of the building.

    It’s honestly a relief for me, because I was burnt out and they treated me horribly, but it’s a cautionary tale for me going forward. I wish my employer had handled it like the LW’s!

  18. Anonymous Educator*

    I had a situation like this once. In fact, I could have written that first paragraph almost word for word. I talked to my boss, said it wasn’t working out. Part of it was a lack of cultural fit, but part of it was the workload (about four full-time jobs). For a while, my boss hemmed and hawed, eventually conceding that the workload wasn’t likely to change any time soon. I said I’d be looking for a job. My boss was on board and wished me the best—offered to be a reference. I helped search for my replacement. When my new job made an offer, it was a bit earlier than either I or my boss expected (still able to give two weeks—in school time that isn’t a lot of notice), so I did everything I could to move that replacement hiring process along as quickly (though thoroughly) as I could to do right by the school. It all worked out. My replacement’s still there and happy, and I’m not there, so happy.

  19. HarryV*

    This drives me crazy. I’ve been in OP’s shoes and it makes zero sense for the business to not acknowledge the employee who is working double or even triple! I had a situation where I took on 3 completely separate roles. It was supposed to go from 3 roles down to 2 but the person they brought in clearly didn’t have the skills to do the work. He ended up getting moved under me and I had to lead 3 teams who used to be led by individual managers. I could’ve easily left and the company would have to bring in 3 new hires which would cost them much more. After 3 years, I finally got the promotion I asked for.

  20. Anonymous for this comment*

    Wow – thank you so much for this column, it came at just the right time for me. I had to have this conversation with my own supervisor a while ago, and I’ve had anxiety about deciding to be so open with her about my decision to look elsewhere.

    I feel extremely vulnerable, because although she made all the right noises (I’ll help you find something, we’ll make it a smooth transition) she then turned around and blabbed the news to pretty much everyone else in our group that I’m looking for other work. I found this out when I confided in some co-workers that I was starting to job search, and they said, “Yeah, we know. Supervisor mentioned it to us a week ago.”

    I’m doing everything I can to be discreet, but when another co-worker “tattled” to her about a private conversation, she chastised me that it was “unprofessional” for me to talk about my job search because it was “encouraging other employees to leave too.” I’m pretty much damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t at this point. (You can see that her behavior is part of why I’m leaving.)

  21. Not an IT Guy*

    This is perfect timing…I’m about to initiate a similar conversation with my boss in the hopes I can get a transfer. Ironically, I’m unhappy in my position because another manager thought I was unhappy in my previous position and instead of initiating some conversation with me he removed me from his department and stuck me in my current position which I’m struggling greatly with.

  22. Vicki*

    OP –
    Wow. You’re “doing the work of 2.5 people”, that’s not going to change, there’s going to be more work… and you and your boss are in agreement that you’re leaving.

    Does your boss have any idea how stupid this plan is?

    So, you’re leaving, and they’ll be without anyone in this position, trying to hire and having to explain the crazy workload to the next person.. and if they’re not up front and honest about that workload, the next person will be writing in to AAM very soon!

  23. 3 weeks?*

    Thanks for submitting this post, OP. I need to have this conversation with my boss soon, but hesitate to bring it up before I have a firm offer elsewhere. In that case, I would probably be giving 3 weeks notice (we have someone internally who could replace me instantly; my job consists of work she “no longer wanted to do”). Is 3 weeks notice a bad idea?

  24. Emmaline*

    I recently went through the same thing – a job that didn’t really mesh with my strengths, but with a company where I liked the people and believed in what they were trying to do. Every time I had an intersection where it would be logical to leave, something would happen that would cause a hardship to the company if I did (mostly because I had all the historical knowledge).

    The CFO and I discussed a transition, and it was elaborately staged for 60 days…during which time I’d be able to take some time to do a job search while at work.

    I put my resume out and applied for one job on a Thursday, was called for an interview on Friday – interviewed the next Wednesday and was given an offer that I truly couldn’t refuse financially …the next day. There went my 60 day transition. I had been worried that I’d be job hunting for awhile. This new job was so exactly what I liked to do in an environment in which I like to work, that it was seriously Meant to Be. The pay increase was icing on that cake.

    I only tell the story so that you will have Plan B for your transition in the works if this kind of thing happens to you. Since you are doing so much and hold a lot of the company’s information, you will be tough to replace, but they have to let you go – and you have to let go, too.

    I’m helping here and there with phone calls and emails, but they are by and large figuring it out for themselves at the old company. I know it’s tougher without me, but they are clearly demonstrating that it’s not impossible for them.

    Congrats on your decision to move on!

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