are you obligated to speak up when you’re unhappy at work?

A reader writes:

I’m in the process of looking for a new job, and have many decent leads. My skills are in demand and I’m pretty sure I’ll be giving notice in the next few months.

Whenever anyone has left my company, my boss and the director always moan about how the person who left didn’t first come to them with their complaints. They say this as if it’s a horrible thing to do. “If only Fergus had told us he was unhappy, we could have made it better.”

Do you think employees have an obligation to speak up when unhappy?

For context, this a mid-level engineering job. And while some of the things I don’t enjoy could be fixed (i.e., the work isn’t as technical as I like so they could fairly easily put me on another project) there are other things they can’t really (i.e., we’ve gone from having five women on staff to just me and it’s petty lonely here). It’s a good job and I’ve enjoyed my time here (two years) but I don’t see long-term potential, so moving on just makes sense. Does an employee ever really “owe” it to the employer to bring up complaints first before looking?

You’re not obligated to bring up complaints before you start looking for another job. You’re allowed to decide that you want to leave at any time, for any reason or for no reason.

That said, I’d argue that part of being a good employee working for a good employer is that you should talk to your manager about things that are making you unhappy enough to consider leaving if (a) the things are fixable and (b) you would stay if they were fixed.

A big caveat here, though, is that (a) can be hard to judge accurately. In my own work, I’ve drawn complaints out of people who weren’t speaking up on their own because they were sure it couldn’t be fixed, and I was able to change the thing that was bothering them almost immediately (sometimes in less than a week). Sometimes something that seems insurmountable to you turns out to be relatively easy and painless for your manager to address — and sometimes she would actively want to address if she knew about it.

But certainly if you don’t think you’re working at a decent employer to begin with, it’s reasonable not to invest the time, energy, and capital that it would take to talk through the issue, in part because of the Why Bother factor (meaning that there might be plenty of other problems and addressing a few will still leave you in a cesspool of dysfunction, so why bother).

I do think, though, that if you’re not willing to bring problems up to someone positioned to do something about them (whether or not they actually will), you forfeit the standing to complain to others at work. If your boss and director are saying “If only Fergus had told us he was unhappy, we could have made it better” because they learned Fergus was complaining to other people, I think that’s legit.

But if they’re wringing their hands like this just because someone left? That just business. And if they really want to hear about people’s concerns before they leave, there are lots of ways to do that — like creating a culture where people feel safe expressing concerns and then actively soliciting input from people long before they start thinking of leaving.

{ 185 comments… read them below }

  1. Not Karen*

    My manager at LastJob said the same thing to me (“If only you had told us you were unhappy, we could have made it better.”) when I put in my notice. Except I had told him I was unhappy and the entirely feasible things he could have done about it and he had told me too bad, deal with it.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah. I’ve often found that managers who make this complaint had plenty of warning signs, even at dysfunctional workplaces, but they chose to ignore them or punished that person for complaining. And it’s that ignoring/punitiveness that leads someone who’s actively unhappy or constantly dreading work to leave. It’s basically management through benign neglect (which can happen at good employers) or through Machiavellian craziness (which is usually characteristic of dysfunctional employers).

      It also doesn’t reflect well on those managers—if something was a problem, why is it only worth correction when someone’s leaving?

      But as Dizzy noted, it’s also entirely possible that people leave for reasons completely unrelated to “happiness” at work. So I don’t think you have any requirement to disclose how you feel OP, with caveats that if your employer is moderately reasonable/sane, it could be worth raising the complaint internally, first. But at bottom, you don’t need to give them an opportunity to “correct” the problems you raise before seeking a new gig.

      1. Anon Anon*

        I also find when employers say they wish that the complaints had been shared earlier they are saying that to make themselves feel better. I think it’s rarely meant unless if was shared with employees before they turned in their notice.

        Heck, I know in some of my past employers they offer lip service to the wish we would have known this person was unhappy, but freely admit that they wouldn’t address any of the reasons why that person was unhappy. And I tend to believe that in order for someone to be unhappy enough to find another job and turn in their notice that there isn’t just one or two things that need to change. There are massive sweeping changes that often aren’t even possible.

        1. Dizzy Steinway*

          “I also find when employers say they wish that the complaints had been shared earlier they are saying that to make themselves feel better.”


        2. Stanger than fiction*

          You just brought to mind yelp reviews where the business responds “thank you so much for bringing this to our attention. We’re actively working to correct this issue” and then you see another review later about the same issue, and another and another.

    2. Jamey*

      This exactly. I had been complaining to my boss for literally a year and a half that I was underpaid and didn’t get enough vacation days, and he INSISTED that what I was getting was standard in the industry, even though literally everyone I knew at other companies got better pay and benefits.

      So I went job hunting, got offered a position that paid nearly twice as much and 3 times more vacation days. And my old boss is saying things like, “What can I do to convince you to stay???”

      Uh… nothing?

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Heh, seriously. I once quit and an employer said, “would you stay if we would let you telecommute?” My response was, “If you double my salary.” (I was being paid PEANUTS.) They kinda laughed and we ended the conversation there. But even if they had said yes, I would have taken the other offer, because after that one doubled salary I would never have had another raise again, whereas at the company I went to, my pay only went up from there.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        My husband had one of those. His response actually was “You’d have to double my salary to match what they are offering me.”

        And yes, he’d made it well known that he thought he wasn’t being paid enough.

    3. LawCat*

      Yep. At one job, as soon as I gave notice, a change that couldn’t be made suddenly maybe could be made. Uh, no. Too late to start thinking about this. (Even weirder since manager knew I had been looking months prior. Maybe thought I had given up?)

    4. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

      Yep, last time I left a job, I got this exact line, and I said, “Boss…you tell me, dude, I’ve had four meetings with you to discuss my concerns about staffing and a major gap on my team and you told me after each and every one that you’d get right on it.”

      Blank stare. “Oh. Wait, the whole thing where you were asking for a GIS person?”

      “Yes, the GIS person I’ve been asking for for the last year.”

      “Oh. Well, you didn’t say you’d leave over it.”

      “And that’s why I’m leaving over it.”

      *derpy look of confusion*

      1. ArtK*

        What did he want to hear? “Fix this or I’m gone?” Personally, I don’t do threats. I’ll bring up issues as I see them simply as issues. If management weren’t aware enough to pay attention to those, that’s their problem. If I say I’m leaving, then I’m gone.

        1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

          Yeah, I think they brushed it off because it wasn’t an ultimatum, or something. I don’t do threats either. If I tell you something is an issue, and tell you how it’s affecting my team’s productivity and ability to meet deadlines, it should be obvious that it’s important. If you need me throwing myself on the tracks to do anything, I may as well peace out.

        2. Stanger than fiction*

          Right? ‘Cause ultimatums are always a good way of dealing with your boss.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Right. I too don’t make idle threats – my supervisor now knows I’m planning to leave sometime this year. I even had the SVP of my division talk to a manager in another division about me so I can send the new guy my resume to keep on file for when he has his next opening. And I plan on handing out my resume on the sly at a conference my division’s sending me to in two weeks, so I hope to be in a new job (either internally or externally) by the summer.

            When I turn in my notice, my supervisor and our manager better not act surprised, lol.

    5. Jessesgirl72*

      Yes, exactly this.

      Or it’s something that should be pretty obvious- like when I got turned down for a promotion twice within 2ish years “because if we promote you into your new position, there’s no one we trust left to do your current position” (despite working on training someone else in the time in between)

      That managers often times actually mean is “I didn’t know you were upset enough to quit”

      It’s not normally appropriate to give your boss an ultimatum, and who wants to work for someone who only fixes things as a last ditch effort?

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        if we promote you into your new position, there’s no one we trust left to do your current position

        Sometimes it doesn’t benefit you to be a great employee.

        1. Princess Carolyn*

          Well, sometimes the only benefit to being a great employee is developing the skills and reputation to get a much better job.

        2. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

          This happened to me when I worked retail. I was managing a store in an area the region considered a challenge. I didn’t find it a challenge, despite having to clean up the previous manager’s mess (they apparently did nothing at all…), and fail to see why it would be considered so challenging they couldn’t get anybody to stay there.

          After twice promising to transfer me to the stores in the area I wanted to be in (they promised me this store was only temporary) but not following through, and discovering they paid me dramatically less than other, newer managers, I left the second I found another job. When I left, they were like “Is it the money??? We can pay you more!”

          Way too little, too late.

    6. MashaKasha*

      Yup, I had the exact same experience back in the late 90s.

      October: I interview for a job, get an offer, but am not happy with the compensation package (the pay was average, the benefits sucked). Hiring manager spends 30 min on the phone with me and convinces me to take the offer “because we are cutting-edge and you will gain valuable experience with us”.
      November: I start at Job and on the very morning of my first day, I am rented out to my new manager’s friend to work at a location 65 miles from my home supporting an outdated app. I am told that this is part-time and temporary.
      January: Manager tells me that the new arrangement is actually full-time and permanent. He sees the look on my face, apologizes, says that he knows this sucks but there’s nothing he can do. I start interviewing.
      February: I file my resignation, company owner pulls me into his office and says “Well you should have told us that you were unhappy with Arrangement! We would’ve done something!” YA THINK? I could’ve been telling it to them till I was blue in the face. They would’ve done nothing.

      1. HR Bee*

        My husband had a coworker who just went through this. Coworker was hired for a position on Team A (my husband’s team), then right before he began work the offer was changed to a position on Team B, which is related but not the same type of work. He was assured that he would still be doing at least 50% Team A type work, so he accepted the altered offer.

        Big surprise, turns out when you’re on Team B, they want you to do Team B work, no matter what the hiring manager promises. Eight months later, when he turned in his resignation, the hiring manager and everyone on Team B were completely shocked and took it very personally. My husband and everyone on Team A were like “well, what did you expect?!” They literally pulled a bait-and-switch on this guy and then were shocked when he wasn’t happy with it.

    7. Artemesia*

      Reminds of people who say, when some poor person steals food ‘oh if only they had told me they were hungry we would have offered them free food’. Yeah right. Bosses who allow you to be browbeaten often know exactly what your issues are; they just don’t do anything that requires effort on their part.

      Of course if a slight adjustment of your duties will make you happier, sharing that with the boss and seeing what you can work out makes sense. Many good managers will do their best to create a work situation that the employee thrives in. But if enough things are accumulating to drive you out chances are good it is obvious and the comment is insincere.

  2. Dizzy Steinway*

    “Whenever anyone has left my company, my boss and the director always moan about how the person who left didn’t first come to them with their complaints.”

    But leaving doesn’t necessarily mean the person was unhappy or had complaints. Sometimes they just want to move on to a new opportunity.

    Also, I’ve been in a position (in a toxic, dysfunctional workplace) where the stuff that was wrong should have been blindingly obvious to my manager and the fact he didn’t see it as a problem was part of the reason why I left. When I handed in my notice he seemed taken aback and half jokingly asked: “Was it something I said?”

    Well, I kind of cracked (I had been so obviously unhappy and stressed that I couldn’t believe he didn’t see it coming) and said actually, here are all the reasons why I’m leaving. He hadn’t realised any of it was a problem. The fact I even needed to point it out was an issue, you know? But that was possibly an extreme situation as my complaints included my manager constantly undermining me, grandboss sending daily emails about how we all sucked, and my manager refusing to performance manage people who weren’t doing well and instead informing everyone that I would be sending a daily report to grandboss on exactly what everyone had done – then writing in my performance review that I wasn’t getting on with the team (uh no, because you’ve made me report on them daily). The final straw came when I asked to spend ten seconds changing a software setting on everyone’s computers which IT had told me to do and which prevented us missing a crucial deadline and he told me off for disrupting the team.

    That’s not normal though obviously! But you should be asking staff for feedback regularly. I have an awesome employer now where I have ways of communicating when there are issues e.g. staff forum reps, 1-2-1s.

    If you don’t open the door, you can’t complain that nobody knocks on it.

    1. J.B.*

      I love love love your last line. I have seen more than once when a manager is the issue, and staff keep leaving, that manager is great at finding ways to justify their departures. Or bashing them, “obviously they are the problem and not me”.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Slightly off topic, but ToxicJob used to engage in character assassination anytime anyone left, including when they left on good terms to do things like go to grad school (!).

        My coworker and I both quit (not coordinated, but it happened within a week of each other), and our ExEmployer went to great lengths to cover up the problems we’d flagged and identified as “reasons we were leaving.” One of the lies they concocted was that I moved out of the region because I didn’t want to live there, which they repeated to all my former coworkers and every organization I’d ever worked with. So imagine my coworkers’ surprise when they see me at a coalition meeting 3 months later, ask how life is in [other part of the State], and my response is puzzled confusion and a comment that I’d never moved. It was even worse with organizational partners, because they knew I hadn’t moved and couldn’t understand why ExJob kept insisting that I had left the region.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Oh, it’s ok! But thank you for the sympathy. At the time it sucked, but I learned a lot about professionalism and what not to do. And I was lucky to have already built a strong track record in my field/region, so no one really believed anything my ExEmployer was saying, anyway (except for former coworkers, but they were part of why I left, y’know?).

            In retrospect, it’s amazing to me how much effort bad managers will put into covering things up when they could have spent a fraction of that time/effort on just correcting an issue.

      2. SusanIvanova*

        When a high percentage of the engineers started leaving after a merger with a company with radically different expectations (their part of the country was in a bust, ours in a boom), someone asked the VP of Engineering (who’d come from the other company) what they were going to do about it.

        “Only you can protect your job.” In a tone of “you should be grateful you didn’t get laid off.”

        Recruiters were circling like piranhas. Another dozen resumes went out that day and got snatched up.

        1. JustaTech*

          I had that happen at my company when we got a new CEO. He was asked point-blank “what are you going to do about all the talent and knowledge leaving the company?”
          His reply? “We’re really concentrating on the sales team.”
          Buh bye when half the institutional knowledge.

      3. Artemesia*

        I think maybe the biggest failing in American business is the failure to manage managers. Bad managers routinely louse up productivity and make the lives of everyone around them miserable and even when there is high turnover, their bosses rarely evaluate them and hold them accountable.

        1. Security SemiPro*

          And a failure to train managers. And in several industries, a failure to value management as a skill and a practice that takes time and energy. When managers are expected to do a “real job” on top of management, and were never trained to manage to begin with, you can get a lot of really cruddy management for tiers up the org chart.

          1. krysb*

            So much this. My company, which I love 85% of the time, puts people in management positions, but fails to train them in management. We’ll eventually have a leadership training program…. after I’m done making it, of course, and I just don’t have the time right now.

    2. Eye of the Tiger*

      “The fact I even needed to point it out was an issue, you know?”

      THIS. I felt the same way at my old Toxic Job. The turnover rate was through the roof, and management did nothing about it despite the glaring unhappiness of all their employees. I in no way felt obligated to share my concerns when I left. The problems should have been so obvious to them already that the fact that they didn’t know, was in itself a problem.

      1. A Person*

        I had the same experience. I could have told management all the reasons why their bottom tier workers were jumping ship as soon as they were able but they wouldn’t hear it over the sound of both their egos and the entrenchment of their middle tier workers.

      2. Windchime*

        I declined to do an exit interview for this very reason. I had shared concerns with my manager, her boss and the boss above that, as well as with HR. Nobody cared, so I left. Old manager has since been promoted and continues to wreak havoc and chaos. Sometimes I feel I should have done the exit interview but I didn’t have anything new to say and besides, they didn’t care while I was there. And it’s not my job to help fix that dysfunctional place.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Companies that set people up to not feel inclined to do quality exit interviews are shooting themselves in the foot. I get really valuable feedback out of my exit interviews, particularly when a number of them say the same thing. When I was promoted, I asked for all the exit interview summaries for the past three years, and the themes were very consistent, so that’w what we focused on first. I also used the data to push a c-level person who was getting in my way. It wasn’t just ONE person who said X, it was 85% of departed employees, and the biggest complaints were from the highest dollar value departments. That spoke volumes, and it wasn’t “just my opinion”.

  3. BBBizAnalyst*

    Depends on the culture. I’ve told managers I’ve respected that I was unhappy and they tried to help me with better projects and/or finding roles internally.

    When I was at that awful dysfunctional multinational, I knew I didn’t want to stay so I did my search discretely. I was right in doing so because my manager at the time ended up badmouthing me to every department I worked with once I gave notice. *eye roll*

    You have to do what will be best for your career.

    1. Mabel*

      …my manager at the time ended up badmouthing me to every department I worked with once I gave notice.

      Because that’s going to change your mind about leaving.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      One of the good things about this is that I’ve found that other companies know whose word to trust. I know that doesn’t help intra-company, but it gave me a significant amount of peace of mind when I realized that my ToxicEmployer had less clout than they thought they did.

  4. She's Moving Home*

    I gave notice at my ToxicJob last Wednesday, citing family reasons. The main reason I am moving is because of family reasons, so I didn’t see the need to go into all the ways this job was toxic. But my boss tried for three days over many, many conversations about why I was leaving, and was it just the family reasons or was it also because I was unhappy? (And because I won’t accept her proposed compromise to let me spend some time at home and then come back, then it must not just be because of family reasons.) I’ve brought complaints to this boss before and had been ignored, and I knew nothing was going to change. But should I have been upfront about my unhappiness about this job? Or would such conversations only burn professional bridges?

    1. Parenthetically*

      I don’t think you have to discuss your feelings about the job, and the fact that your boss is hounding you about your reasons at all is really awful. If you decide you want to give some feedback, and don’t think it would jeopardize your reference, I think you could say something like, “I value independence and the ability to make day-to-day decisions on my own. This job requires me to check in far more often than is my preference. I value the ability to leave work at work, to use my vacation time as I choose, and to completely unplug from work on the weekends. This job requires me to be available to work or troubleshoot and to sacrifice personal time far more often than is my preference.”

      But otherwise, if you feel such a conversation would diminish your chances of a good reference or just sour your last couple of weeks, or if you simply don’t feel like having the conversation… grey rock her. “You must not be leaving REALLY because of family reasons.” “I’m sorry you feel that way.” “But evidence XYZ!” “OK.” “You’re not engaging with this to my satisfaction!” “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Don’t JADE (best acronym ever, Justify, Argue, Defend, or Explain) anymore.

      1. She's Moving Home*

        That is really helpful advice. Thank you! I will definitely remember that acronym in the future.

      2. CM*

        When somebody is hounding me or repeating things that I can’t do anything about, I often just listen but don’t respond, other than with a vaguely sympathetic look. It drives people crazy but is effective in getting them to go away.

    2. Stanger than fiction*

      The fact that your boss is pushing the issue tells me she knows there’s problems.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Exactly this. You don’t owe her an explanation, especially if your current place is Toxic. And frankly, she should not be hounding you this way. I agree that non-engaging with her and evasion are totally appropriate in this limited context.

  5. Marissa*

    Does salary ever fall into category A? I would stop job hunting for a while, if I were paid ~$10,000 more. This seems like a lot on paper, but I know I am being underpaid and my company seemingly has some money become available due to a shrinking office (I say this as someone looking in from the outside, and don’t know the financial status behind the scenes). My 10-person office has been reduced to 6 over the past 3 years (one person left, one person was laid off, one person went on mat-leave recently and another person retired), and I know we will not be replacing these people.
    I have taken on many extra responsibilities in the 3 years I have worked here (I started as entry-level but now report to Big Boss and am the only person in the office who can do my job), but I have not gotten a raise to acknowledge this. I would voice my dissatisfaction with my salary with my boss and ask for this raise; but if they don’t have more money to give or the answer is just no, she will 1) know of my dissatisfaction and 2) know I will be looking to leave.
    Should I speak up in a case like this, or quietly keep trying to line up another job where I am paid market-value?

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        I think you have more leverage than you think. If you’ve taken on this many responsibilities and you’re doing them well, I bet you’d be very difficult to replace, especially at your current salary.

        So I think you can talk about it with your boss and not be afraid that she’ll know you’re planning to walk if you don’t get what you want. Because honestly, the fear that you’re planning to walk if you don’t get what you want might light a fire under her butt to get you paid what you’re worth!

        This is not to say that you go in saying, “I want a raise or I quit.” It’s more of, “This is what I think I’m worth now that I’m doing X, Y, and Z.”

    1. Squeeble*

      I think you have a great case for at least asking, especially if you know your boss values your work. Would your boss react badly if she knew (or suspected) that you were trying to leave? Or would she try to advocate for your raise if she knew that was a possibility?

      1. Marissa*

        She’s a very reasonable person, so I don’t think she would react badly. But I think I am being taken for granted. I have a feeling people just assume I’ll stick around, especially since there aren’t many jobs (full-time with benefits) in my field right now. Last year, I asked for a raise but only got a very paltry amount. At the time, I had a colleague who was performing certain aspects of my job parallel to me. Now, it’s just me; so I do know that if I left now, my branch would be totally up the creek without a paddle. That is an advantage I didn’t have last year. I’m just afraid of showing my hand without something else lined up.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Asking for a raise is not showing your hand.
          The boss is not going to assume no raise means you are leaving.
          You’re not going to say, “Give me a raise, or I quit”, right? Talking about quitting is a totally separate conversation.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          You’re not showing your hand—you should definitely bring this issue up (not as an ultimatum, but as reopening the conversation in light of significant shifts/changes in your responsibilities and workload).

          But the fact that your organization keeps shrinking, absent other information, can be a troubling sign of financial problems (or it could mean that they’re wrapping up and discontinuing certain projects, etc.). Do you know if the organization is in sound financial health?

    2. MommaCat*

      I would say you should make a case for a raise, citing your increased responsibilities, and leave your dissatisfaction out of it. Then, if they say no, you can quietly job search.

    3. Adlib*

      One thing I’d like to add to the other good comments is that it might help to do research on what you should be making because if they say yes, you don’t want to sell yourself short. For example, when she left, my team lead did a salary report for both of our positions. It was a spreadsheet that listed ranges for the geographic area v. nationally as well as what our industry paid, similar positions, highs/lows/medians/averages. It was really cool, and although she did this as she was out the door, I still got a raise to the market level. (Will I ever see an increase again at this company? Hard to say – they were trying to keep me from leaving.)

    4. RB*

      Totally speak up. I think you’ve laid your case out well. I’d ask for more than $10K because they will try to get you down to a lower number, most likely.

    5. copy run start*

      Ask for the raise!

      I once worked for a manager who was very adept at forecasting labor needs. He had longterm plans for lowering labor in certain areas and increasing it in others through attrition or shifting people around based on how things looked fiscally and just by observing how our clients needs changed. He also had a nose for who would be best where, and who would be willing to shuffle for a few years as budgets dictated. The office shrank while I was there, but there were no budget issues because it was well managed (in that aspect). No one was ever laid off, just retirements and a few folks moving to new positions. It’s possible your office is adjusting for the future by not refilling those positions, even if it hurts temporarily. It’s expensive to hire and train someone for a job that you might not have in a year or two, and sometimes it’s better to adapt to that change before you have to. Since you’re doing more in your job, you should absolutely ask for more! There very well could be money there.

  6. Massmatt*

    IMO if the organization has higher than average turnover they should *proactively* be looking for reasons why–pay scale, inflexibility of schedules, bad manager, etc.

    And while it’s true sometimes people just move on without necessarily anything specific (got a better offer, want to go back to school/change careers, etc) that multiple people are leaving without letting them know they were unhappy might be a signal that this organization isn’t receptive to hearing complaints and perhaps might be shooting the messengers. I worked at a retail chain many years ago where new ownership unveiled policies that seemed sure to hurt the company. Store managers that raised the issue were ridiculed and held in contempt; at one point one of the co-owners announced that this train was moving to its destination and everyone who didn’t like it could get off. And then were surprised that many managers (of course, mostly the best ones) left. the managers were right, of course, both revenue and employee morale took a nosedive.

    1. Kristine*

      My last company had a similar problem. Upper management never wanted to hear a word of dissent against their constant reorganization of teams, policies, and procedures. When I say constant, I mean every 3-4 months they would overhaul everything. And nothing was ever communicated effectively or in full to all employees. It was chaos. I spoke up when they did a complete 180 on my role (took me off every project I enjoyed and had me doing work I really disliked) and their response was literally “shut up and row” (aka my way or the highway). Yet somehow they were shocked when I left.

    2. Dizzy Steinway*

      This has reminded me how much I love my current employer. They actively solicit feedback on what they could be doing better, even though they already have good staff retention as it’s a great place to work. It’s very positive and proactive.

    3. Julie Noted*

      My last organisation had several years of much higher than average turnover for our industry. The organisation had a few hundred people in the same location, so it wasn’t hard to do a mental headcount and figure out that the high rate was driven by a few specific administrative lines (as in, groups based on reporting structure, not job type).

      A few of us suggested to the Exec Committee that it would be useful to do a statistical analysis of turnover to see if there were outlier areas not explained by demographic or market factors. No, let’s not look at it at all because we can think of a superficial reason that might apply, so we can handwave the problem away. Why subject a theory to testing when accepting it on face value lets you avoid the possibility of confronting uncomfortable results?

      It was a research organisation…

      In the most egregious reporting line, everyone who reported to Adrian left, in a much shorter timeframe than average. Often after a period of deteriorating from energetic, capable staff into people prone to crying at work and using a lot of sick leave. Several of Adrian’s colleagues left following total breakdown in their working relationship. I left after explicitly raised concerns about Adrian over an extended period, citing senior management refusal to deal with Adrian as one of the factors driving me out. (Adrian was particularly bad at the non-management parts of the job, too, so this wasn’t a case of toxic genius.)

      6 years on, guess who still works there?

    4. Chaordic One*

      IMO if the organization has higher than average turnover they should *proactively* be looking for reasons why–pay scale, inflexibility of schedules, bad manager, etc. ,

      Yes, they should be looking for reasons why but, let’s face it, a lot of the time they aren’t going to. A lot of organizations, especially things like fast food and retail, seem to expect to have a high rate of turnover and they seem to be built on the premise that there is an endless supply of qualified workers ready to replace the people who leave.

      When I worked at a dubious nonprofit (where managers were quite highly paid), people who quit were shamed and accused of not supporting the mission.

    5. Lab Monkey*

      This is my org. Huge turnover, to the point their goal turnover for this year is under 20%. The pay is good on paper, but not for the reality of the job: non-exempt, no set hours, no set days off, very physical, medical work. My days can start between 4am and 2pm, can last 4 to 16 hours, and I get no preference or say in where I go or who I work with. Management are baffled why people quit constantly.

  7. MollyG*

    Speaking up is a dicy idea. I have spoken up before, with careful planning and consultation with trusted people ahead of time. It did not end well. I would not recomend speaking up unless you really trust your supervisor or you are prepared to lose that job.

    1. Pipsqueak*

      Yep, I agree. Speaking up can quickly backfire. My boss used the old “My door is always open” adage but when I tried to tactfully bring up some concerns, I was more or less told that she didn’t see any issues with what I found problematic. I always feel like I should just keep my head down and do my job unless something heinously wrong happens.

    2. HungryBeforeLunch*

      Agreed. I had a VP that wanted to give me more work and, since I felt that this new VP seemed open to ideas, I pointed out that I was already quite taxed for my time and the new responsibilities would just make things harder and I pointed out some other issues with the current workload situation. I didn’t get the added responsibilities but the VP told my boss that I was a silly busybody and my concerns were of no merit.

      I was quite hurt. My only comfort is that the VP left in a hurry under a big cloud of suspicion.

    3. Dizzy Steinway*

      We’ve spoken lately about how dysfunctional workplaces skew your idea of what is normal. This conversation is a perfect example of this.

        1. Dizzy Steinway*

          I actually meant that posting on AAM saying you should never give feedback shows your normal has heen skewed by bad workplaces.

          People in this thread with supportive bosses are not lucky. That is where normal is meant to fall.

    4. JM in England*

      I have spent a sizable chunk of my career to date in temp/contract jobs. This has made me wary of complaining, having felt in too precarious a position to do so. Sadly, this habit carried over into when I have perm roles. :-(

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Test the waters.
      I have done this and I have had it done to me.
      I ask the boss for a small thing. It makes no big difference to me if the boss helps or not. I am looking for overall reaction. I am willing to accept a NO answer because more than anything I am watching how that NO is delivered.

      When I took over supervising a new-to-me group it was very choppy at the beginning. After a few weeks I noticed they started asking very simple questions. I knew they were using the questions to get to know me as their supervisor. I made sure to answer each question and answer it with respect. Sometimes I had to say no, I explained why. And I also explained that I wanted to hear more ideas.I said we would not be able to do every single idea but I would like to use as many as possible. Of their ideas that would work, I made sure we put those ideas in to practice as soon as possible.

      What happened next blew me away. Their ideas got sharper/better. We used more and more of their ideas. It was an amazing experience.

  8. AdAgencyChick*

    Employers get the kind of feedback they deserve.

    If management punishes employees for raising concerns, or ignores them, then management should not be surprised when employees start walking without talking about what was wrong.

    If management listens to employees’ concerns without retaliating, and either makes changes where appropriate or explains to employees why what they are asking for is not possible, then they’re more likely to hear from unhappy employees before they quit.

    1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

      Yep. My buddy is dealing with this right now. “My door is open if you ever have concerns or questions.”

      “Hi, Boss, I have a concern.”


    2. M*

      This. At my last job I had a great boss and was able to give reasonable feedback without backlash. I was able to give my boss a month’s notice because I was confident she would not retaliate. I just gave two weeks notice at my current toxic job because, well, it’s a crappy place to work. I chose not to give a long notice because I predicted his behavior would be bad. Longest two weeks of my life.

  9. Dhya*

    I think this depends a bit on the company culture, but I’d want to know about a person’s complaints/dislikes/reasons for leaving even if they weren’t something I could change. It at least means you’re aware of the problems and might be able to do something in the future about them if circumstances change.

  10. anon for this*

    I am unhappy in my current position (although I still really like the company I work for, and really like my manager). I decided to tell my manager that I was unhappy, and her first response was, “What can we do to make it better, if anything?” Part of my issue is that I’m feeling burnt out on what I am doing, so some of the suggestions have been to move me into different positions where I would be doing something outside of my main skillset. I don’t think that will solve the problem, nor do I want to necessarily do jobs outside of my skillset. So the question mutated to become, “what can we do to make your current position better?” – that is what really needed to be asked from the offset. There are some changes in place, and we’ll see if they help make things better for me, but I do have some feelers out – not actively looking yet. I want to give them a chance to make it better here first.

    But the ability to have an open and honest dialogue with my manager and her manager has been amazing, and really makes me feel like I’m wanted here, which does go a long way. In any of my previous jobs, I would not have felt like this is a conversation I could have, so it’s definitely dependent on your environment and your manager.

    1. Parenthetically*

      Yeah, this is terrific. If you do end up leaving, with a process like this in place, your departure will be so much healthier, IMO, with everyone knowing that the job just became the wrong fit for your skills and preferences. Much better than leaving at the tail end of an accumulation of miseries.

      1. anon for this*

        Yeah, I’m super lucky. I’ve been doing this job for 5 years, but it does feel like there’s very little room for growth or change – I’m literally doing the exact same tasks with the exact same tools that I did when I started. I’m just tired of it. The changes that can be made will be a long time coming, and things I’ve been saying I’ve wanted done differently for probably 3 of the 5 years I’ve been here. This manager (I’m on manager #4 in 5 years) seems to actually want to make a difference and push my thoughts through, so we’ll see.

        [and, against Alison’s advice, part of the reason she is such a good manager to me is because we were friends before she became manager and have remained so since. I feel like I can be open and honest with her and she’s not going to retaliate against me for it.]

  11. Stitchbot*

    I’m currently in sympathy with this problem, since I work for a company that wants feedback and will agree that things (salary too low for position or more people needed for amount of work to do, for example) need to change, but then won’t actually do anything about them until someone actually takes another job somewhere. Which means, since they’re slow at hiring, that the same things get worse for those left for at least another six months. Yes, I’m looking, and I’m positively anticipating the day I have my exit interview.

  12. BlahBleh*

    This post could not have been more timely for me. Thanks for posting this, Alison, and I’m eager to watch the comments roll in.

    For me, it’s a combination of the various reasons that the OP and commenters provided: no room for growth (I have been promoted three times in eight years, but now I’m stuck) and a manager who knows what could be changed to help me stay, but never follows through.

  13. Sharon*

    Before I finish reading all the replies, I noticed some that mentioned that sometimes managers know why but have their heads in the sand (paraphrasing). I’m working on an internal transfer right now into a different team and if that doesn’t work then I’m job hunting externally. My manager gave me a raise/minor promotion in January because she thinks I’m doing a great job. But somehow missed the fact that I’m utterly miserable on this team. When we talked about the problem, I pointed out how I don’t fit the team, it requires skills that I don’t have and uses none of the skills I do have, she tried to deny all of it and say that I was a great fit for the team. Ugh!

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think sometimes managers here feedback like this as an employee’s self-doubt/impostor-syndrome as opposed to an honest analysis of the current situation (which is why she started insisting you’re qualified). But it’s really frustrating when you have legitimate criticism. I had a boss who would do this—I’d come with objective, professional feedback, and she’d respond with some really offensive gender-stereotyping comments. All it did was convince me that I needed to leave sooner than later.

      1. Supervisor*

        I think this DEFINITELY came to play in my situation. I kept saying I have enough work, don’t need assistance, etc. but it’s almost like my boss thinks I’m being modest and that’s why she promoted me and gave me raises. No, I really don’t have enough to do. I think she personally had the experience of being overloaded and underappreciated in the past, and now she’s trying not to do that to me.. but at the same time, she’s doing so much projecting that she’s not listening to me at all, and it’s having the opposite effect on my work satisfaction — I just feel like she doesn’t listen to me, and I’m incredibly bored because of this.

  14. stelmselms*

    I just read a quote a few days ago that said 75% of people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. If that’s true, probably not a lot can change there as many have pointed out the bosses often don’t think they are the issue.

    1. MsMaryMary*

      I don’t know if that statistic is true, and I think it’s really unfair to good managers at poorly run companies. For a while at OldJob, voluntary attrition was unusually high. Senior management called all the middle managers together and told them “employees don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses” and told middle management to fix the problem. Senior management ignored feedback that below market pay, crazy long hours, and a lack of resources (especially technology) were causing people to quit. It wasn’t until the vast majority of exit interviews said, “I love my direct manager but that’s not enough to keep me here” that senior management took any responsibility. All remaining employees got “market adjustments” (I think mine was a 13% raise) and there was a technology overhaul. After that, attrition dropped dramatically.

      TL;RD Bad managers can cause employees to leave good companies, but good managers can’t keep employees at bad companies.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Annnd, good managers can cause people to stay a little bit long than they would have under other circumstances. Unfortunately, upper management does not realize that Good Manager is a buffer zone between the employee and the company.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yes. I have had several very good managers who stood between me and stupid senior management and organizational rules that would have driven me away years earlier. In my case, I stuck it out because my immediate managers took a shitload of shrapnel for me, and we now have very good senior management. The moronic, counterproductive rules hindering performance and driving good people out went away with the installation of the new senior managers.

          Every time a new senior manager was hired, they also did 15-30 minute sit-downs with their peers, the management layer immediately under them, and their departments to discuss pain points and issues. I think the woman hired to clean up one of our worst departments is a goddamn miracle worker, interestingly with almost all the same people who worked under the prior, shitty manager. That was a clue that it wasn’t the employees, it was the control freak over them that wouldn’t let them do their jobs.

      2. designbot*

        Ha, your OldJob sounds like my OldJob. We also got a “market adjustment,” largely because our pay had become a function of when we were hired (recession vs. post-recession) rather than our experience, responsibilities, etc. and everyone who had any marketable skills was quitting.
        That said, the market adjustment was generous and what ultimately made me leave was my manager hiring a friend of hers and letting the friend ruin all of our projects while piling more and more work on me.

      3. Zombii*

        > I don’t know if that statistic is true,

        Doubtful, since it’s a fake statistic. :) I’ve heard “people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses” (which is an attempt to get companies with toxic cultures to reevaluate how they operate—good luck with that). Adding a percentage is the internet-approved way to imply an idea is scientifically valid, despite no such study existing. Unfortunately, toxic companies just use this cliche to blame managers for the companies’ failures instead of trying to correct the underlying issues.

      4. Hrovitnir*

        To be fair, I’m not sure where the line between job and boss is, but I would potentially characterise “senior management sucks” as quitting your boss – or at least due to management. (Also they were super gross putting that on lower level management but that’s what toxic people do.) It’s getting a bit nitpicky, but I characterise the statement as more “people tend to leave due to fixable interpersonal issues and being treated with no respect more than because the job itself is a bad fit.”

        This is both true and well written:

        TL;DR Bad managers can cause employees to leave good companies, but good managers can’t keep employees at bad companies.

    2. A.*

      This has been true for me in the jobs I’ve left and I hope it’s a real thing and I’m not weird.

      I really enjoyed my current job under old boss but when I tell new boss what I’m unhappy about and suggest really simple ways (that don’t even cost money) to improve things, I’m told I’m wrong and it’s bad for the rest of the team’s morale for me to say anything.

      I’m positive my manager is one of those who will be shocked and won’t see it coming when I find the right opportunity and move on. But I’m glad I made suggestions, because now I know for sure after having them rejected like that moving on is the right decision.

      1. Zombii*

        It’s a real thing. You’re not weird. Having suggestions rejected definitely gives good peace of mind; you don’t have to feel residual guilt for not having tried to fix a toxic company, etc.

    3. deets*

      This really resonates – I enjoy the actual work of my job and most of my coworkers, but strongly dislike working for my boss. Said boss is one of the owners of the company and is very resistant to feedback, particularly when it’s about him. When I leave I’m going to be really tempted to submit a resignation letter that says that I’m leaving so I don’t have to deal with Wakeen. (I won’t, but some days it’s tempting!)

      1. Zombii*

        I wouldn’t necessarily put it in the resignation letter, but if you have an exit interview with anyone (even Wakeen…), it would be valid to mention that part of why you’re leaving is his resistance to feedback in general, and inability to view feedback about himself objectively in particular. Functional companies won’t take issue with this.

    4. Mark*

      Here main issue is the unrealistic expectations of a boss. It is not good to expect someone to become a good public speaker he is naturally bot good at it. It is like expecting a fish to climb a tree.

  15. Elizabeth*

    I left my old job after speaking up and not having much change. I told my boss that I was bored and needed more engaging projects otherwise I’d probably start looking. Sure enough, eight months later, the day I gave my notice was the day they were planning on announcing a new role for me that they hadn’t once actually talked to me about! Whoops. [I still think I made the right decision.]

    1. Not Karen*

      I think you did too. They should have talked to you about it earlier. Is it possible they were lying when they said “but we were planning on announcing a new role for you!”?

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        Yeah, I’ve gotten sucked into this cycle at my current job. I spoke up originally a couple of years ago about needing more engaging projects or more responsibility, and I have heard for two full years now that those changes are “just about to happen.” But there’s always some strategic initiative or project that needs to get done first: “as soon as we are finished with our peak sales season.” “once the ACME project is complete,” “after we roll out the new campaign,” etc.

        Finally I realized that there would always be some manufactured obstacle to string me along. I’m looking for something else now, but I’m sure there will be shock all around if I mention lack of growth opportunities when I give notice.

      2. Elizabeth*

        No, I think it was legit. A few months before I quit, I’d been invited to a meeting about a project I was definitely interested in on a casual level (i.e. outside my job duties but within an area of personal interest); I was invited to provide a bit of feedback based on previous experience with similar projects, but definitely got the vibe that the project was going to be completed by people in a different department from mine, if it moved ahead at all. The role they had in mind was to move ahead with the project and put me in charge of it, but at no point had this been presented as a possibility or was I asked anything about my interest in doing said job.

        1. designbot*

          yeah, “announcing a new role for you” isn’t the way to go about this. Discussing a new role with you is. If they had actually engaged you in a discussion about your development instead of viewing development opportunities as some gift from on high, things could have turned out differently.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      How absolutely remarkable that position was being considered on the VERY day you gave notice. What a coincidence.

      Good companies routinely work to retain their employees. It’s part of going about running their business. Even if the boss could not dig up a new role for you, he could have looked for something to help you stay engaged. Retaining employees is not something to do JUST when they give notice, it something to do daily/weekly/monthly while they are actively employed there. You should have seen other signs that your boss took your concerns seriously.

    3. Zombii*

      The fact that employees can leave at any time for any reason or no reason is a decent incentive for companies to maintain communication with employees about future decisions that might affect those employees, especially if the employee has made noises about not being content with the current relationship.

      Storytime. At Toxic ExJob I had a coworker whose wife had just had a baby and he needed to coordinate his schedule to account for childcare. Our department had just redone schedules lottery-style and he didn’t get one of the 4 schedules (out of 10, there were 10 of us) that would have worked for him.

      He asked around with others in our department and found 3 people who were willing to trade schedules, then went to our manager with that solution. Manager said no. No discussion, no explanation, just no. (There was no valid reason why any of us needed to work a specific schedule, we were identical as far as the company was concerned.) He said he wouldn’t be able to continue working there if they couldn’t agree on a schedule that worked for him. Manager reminded him that he had signed an agreement upon hire stating schedules could change at any time and no shifts were guaranteed for anyone, end of discussion. She also wrote him up for insubordination for threatening to quit instead of taking the schedule he’d been assigned. 3 weeks later, he quit, which was a minor surprise because he’d been at the company for 7+ years, and we assumed he’d gotten used to this sort of nonsense.

      Manager spent the next month nearly foaming at the mouth because she had apparently gone to her boss and her boss’s boss attempting to find an alternate solution (which was unnecessarily over-complicated and involved changing everyone’s schedules instead of just switching because the person who made the schedules had taken offense at people wanting to trade I guess?) but hadn’t bothered to tell the employee about this.

  16. Jumanji*

    Alison said “you should talk to your manager about things that are making you unhappy enough to consider leaving if (a) the things are fixable and (b) you would stay if they were fixed” — this had me thinking.

    I am currently unhappy at my job. In a nutshell, my boss and my colleagues are trying to meet a grant funder’s specifications to deliver on something they have absolutely no skills or background in. They hired me — someone with that background — as their method to be able to deliver on their charge. The problem is they are relying 100 percent on me for absolutely EVERYTHING. I am not unhappy about having too much work. I am unhappy because the fact that my boss, my boss’s boss, and my colleagues have little to no background in what I do makes it very challenging to set boundaries on what is appropriate for me to take on and what is more appropriate for someone else with an appropriate skillset to take on.

    I find myself having to conceive of and propose setting a proper workflow and division of labor according to skillset instead of a model where the new hire (me) does everything. I would like to add that in our nonprofit, I am the only person whose work hour allocations and funding comes 100 percent from the grant. Everyone else is 5 to 10 percent on the grant. Therefore, a lot of the problems stem from the way my bosses have structured the expectations and everyone’s work allocations for my job and everyone else’s jobs. Since I am the only one 100 percent on the grant they expect I do everything. Some staff are grumbling because I am asking them above and beyond the 5 or 10 percent they have allotted. Their allotments, of course, were not based on realistic projections for the project we are doing. Since they didn’t know what they are doing last year, they assumed work percentages way off from what it really takes for a team to get things done — this was true for budget, manpower, work allocations, division of labor — everything! When I came on board and were giving them tasks and asks beyond their allotted percentages, I am getting a lot of grumbling and pushback — yes, even from my direct supervisor.

    So to address Alison’s comment:

    (a) Is this fixable
    (b) Would I stay if it were fixed

    I am not sure if this is fixable since work hour and funding allocations for grant-based projects in nonprofits is pretty rigid. I don’t see them having the flexibility to get more money or hours for key people. Their model of “let the new guy do everything” is flawed from the beginning and I am suffering the result of their bad planning.

    Would I stay if it were fixed? Yes, I would consider it. It is a good, prestigious organization. Pleasant colleagues, good worklife balance and decent pay and benefits. If they can fix their operations so the model of “have the new guy do everything” is altered, I would consider staying.

    But is it even worth it to raise this issue with my boss? I doubt if he can do anything about it. One thing I might consider telling them is if they plan on maintaining this project for the long-term they need to plan and allocate resources way better than they did it this time with me. So the next guy would consider staying.

    BTW, I am all of six months into the job and am actively job hunting.

    1. CAA*

      On the “is it fixable” question — would it fix (or at least improve) things if instead of depending on 10 people to work 10% of the time you had 2 people working 50% of the time? I think you could ask for a reallocation and you might be able to negotiate some changes in that area.

      1. Jumanji*

        Our team is very small. The workers allocated to me are three people at 5-10 percent or so each on the grant. The Directors are at 5 percent to the grant. The grumbling is happening because I am giving them tasks that are time consuming and effort intensive.

        In previous jobs I had 2 to 3 people working fulltime on this type of project for a successful outcome. This is my first time with a grant funded project based nonprofit where work allocations are so stingy.

        Not sure if re-allocation will fix things fully because if I get one person at 30 percent (instead of three at 10 percent each) I still need more from them than 30 percent. I could very easily use a half time or a fulltime person on this type of project

      2. Jumanji*

        For the record, I have raised the issue with my boss on what happens to the project when the work hour allocations for these folks run out? The response was that the Vice President in charge of the division reassured me (via my boss’s boss) that they will do everything possible to make sure the project is a success. And allocated some time for me with a program assistant. That helped some. But since that time I don’t think I am on my boss’s “favorite people” list.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      In your specific case, Jumanji, I think it might make sense to cut bait and leave when the grant concludes.

      A functional workplace would take your feedback and incorporate into their planning going forward. I worked at an organization that allocated grant responsibilities this way, and their time estimates were always wildly off, resulting in some staff working the equivalent of 1.5-2 FTE’s of work, while others contributed very little because all of their time was split in 5% increments across all program areas.

      That said, nonprofits often bring someone on for 1-2 years to work 100% on one grant, and in my experience, they really don’t have the capacity to dedicate any additional employee-hours to those grants (aside from low-time level estimates for supervision/management). And I’m not surprised the boss has been a little frosty—when a boss brings someone on for the express purpose of implementing a specific project/grant, they usually don’t like hearing that person needs support or has insufficient staffing so early on. That said, a reasonable boss who recognizes they have no expertise in this area would also be open-minded about listening to your complaints and trying to realign resources.

      If they’re not willing to consider they need to restructure or reallocate resources to meet the grant deliverables, then it’s not going to change going forward. It sounds like they’ve done what they can do within a fairly short amount of time. If they can’t make further changes to time allocations, they could contact the donor to renegotiate their deliverables. Are you also doing grant administration? That’s something that seems reasonable to reallocate, but otherwise, based on your post and follow-up, I don’t think they’re going to be able to give you what you feel you need for the project to be successful. So I think the focus for right now has to be on what can be achieved in the duration of the grant.

      1. Jumanji*

        Thank you for the feedback! It is indeed very sobering to realize the realities of the nonprofit setting I am in. With that said, the project is an IT/technology project. It is being implemented by a department and bosses who know nothing about IT or technology beyond being users of it. I am a technologist and the reality of IT and technology project management needing specified resources and manpower is running against the bad planning of my non-IT bosses. I am actively job hunting and will cut this project loose if I get a decent offer from a more stable organization. I am applying for jobs out of the grant-based, project based NGO world. I am treating this job as a mistake

        1. Troutwaxer*

          I do break-fix and low-level installs for networks and I’ve been looking for a place to volunteer and hone some of my other IT skills. I speak fluent Linux, do a little programming and have a Juniper cert. Do you have any openings for a volunteer?

    3. Not So NewReader*

      It sounds like they woefully underestimated the labor costs of this project, meaning the amount of people hours it will take to do this.

      They are either by the book, or overworked, or have bad morale. I say this because very seldom do I see people calculating out what 5% of their time looks like. From what I have seen at NPOs everyone just drops what they are doing and bails out the sagging project, all the while praying they can catch up to their own work later on.

      Will they understand numbers?
      If you gave examples of other projects with 2-3 people working 40 hours per week for x number of weeks, would this help them to see what they need to do?

      Pursuing the 5% thing because this fascinates me, that means given a person with a 40 hour work week, that person could spend TWO hours a week working on your project. How many people are allowed to spend 2 hours a week with you? Let’s say Y, so it would be Y number of people times 2 hours per week.
      Yet at your other projects you had 2 people at 40 hours per week, which means 80 hours PLUS your hours.
      Then you had a project with 3 people at 40 hours a week, which means 120 hours PLUS your hours.

      I’d put this into a chart for them to compare columns and how long the project took. Then I would show them what you are up against. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. If the resources are not there, then that’s it.

      Is there any way you could do a much, much smaller version of the project and stay within the grant money allotted?

      1. Jumanji*

        A few months ago I did break down for my bosses a more realistic breakdown of hours for a tech project of our scope. I defined for them on very specific terms on a spreadsheet how the allocations they had will not work and I needed much, much more.

        I raised this with my boss initially and he accused me of “freaking out” and having a “negative attitude” — he wanted to get me to agree that we will find a way to make it work using his original allocation of hours.

        I took the issue above my boss and got his boss and the VP of the division to see the light. They committed to making the project a success. The way the VP’s directive is playing out is that I got some extra time from a program assistant, but the directive from the VP seems to be playing out as “everyone will work above and beyond their allocated hours” on my project. This seems to be causing grumbling and resentment because the hours I need are not trivial or minor.

        This is the direct result of inexperienced, non-technical people planning and defining the scope for a technical project that they have no clue what it takes to actually accomplish. I am reaping what their seeds have sown.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Ugh, that sounds like a nightmare, Jumanji. FWIW, not all non-profits are like this, but it’s true that even at good nonprofits, there’s often a significant underestimation gap when it comes to IT.

  17. NPO Queen*

    I’m in this situation OP, I feel you. At my last job, I was closer to my boss, so I could tell her about my issues at work. Most of them couldn’t be changed because of a budget crunch, but she knew about them and tried her best to give me opportunities when she could. At my current job, I don’t feel like I could talk to my boss the same way. He’s hardly ever around, and it becomes difficult to solicit feedback (for more reasons than just his absence, but that’s a big factor).

    If you have legitimate issues and you have a fairly good relationship with your manager, you should talk to them. Frame it wanting to grow with the company, accept more responsibility, or do more technical work. If you don’t have a good relationship, well, relationships are a two way street. If your boss doesn’t create an open environment where you feel like you can speak up, then they’ll never hear anything from their staff.

  18. Art Vandelay*

    I am job searching and hope to leave my CurrentJob for something better in the near future. I tried to switch departments last year and take a job that would have provided me with a substantial raise, better title and work that was aligned with my background. I decided to stay in my CurrentJob because my bosses promised to give me whatever I wanted to stay. In return, I got a paltry 2.5% raise, my workload doubled and I never got the title change I wanted. I felt swindled and I’ve been carefully looking ever since. I politely and diplomatically brought this up with management two more times and each time, nothing was done.

    When I leave, should I bother explaining why?

    1. The Not Mad But Sometimes Irritable Scientist*

      I would. They’re betting you’ll shut up and take it. Helpful to know that actual human beings don’t take that well.

      1. Art Vandelay*

        I shut up and took it because the company is probably top 10 as far as name recognition and cultural impact. I didn’t want to rock the boat too much, and instead put all my efforts into leaving. I think you’re right in that they know this and use it to excuse their behavior.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think it depends on if you need them for a reference. If you don’t, and you’re not worried about potential backlash, then go ahead and let them know. They way they’ve treated you is reprehensible, and calling them on it in a matter-of-fact way is reasonable (“I would have loved to stay and stayed longer than intended because I was promised a substantial raise, better title, and work more closely aligned with my experience. However, none of those promises were kept.”).

      But if you think they’ll be similarly slimy and you want to minimize their nastiness, then I also think it’s ok to just peace out without an explanation. If they’re legitimately surprised, then I have a bridge to sell them.

      1. Art Vandelay*

        Yes, I’ve been here for a few years and it’s a prestigious company. I keep going over diplomatic ways of explaining how I got stiffed because I will need a reference. I just wish I could be upfront because even a year later, it still stings.

  19. Cube Diva*

    “I do think, though, that if you’re not willing to bring problems up to someone positioned to do something about them (whether or not they actually will), you forfeit the standing to complain to others at work.”

    THIS. I have a coworker who is on the verge of quitting because he’s (justifiably) frustrated. BUT he has done nothing to try to fix the situation with his boss or the processes he complains about. Part of me feels bad because things can definitely be frustrating around here, but I also want to tell him to get over it, because I am NOT frustrated, and I deal with the same processes and projects. For me, it’s been as simple as bringing things up during meetings with my boss. Then readjusting when things get out of whack again.

  20. Junior Dev*

    The gender ratio thing is so hard to bring up as a complaint. Like, it’s possible your boss is going to try to help fix that but I’ve met so many men who don’t think it’s a problem that our industry is heavily male-dominated, or else they think it’s a problem generally but it’s not THEIR problem.

    1. deets*

      My company currently has a stated goal of trying to be more diverse (we skew male and have no POC), but they’re not actually doing anything to achieve that goal – including examining why the (straight, white, male) managers keep hiring homogeneously. Basically they all think it’s a problem but not their problem.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’ve found these things don’t change without active participation and change coming from higher up the chain. Sometimes that means giving them information on how to achieve the goals they want—I’ve had a lot of success doing this, but then retention becomes a challenge. Aside: For some reason, a lot of employers don’t understand that diversity is not a one-time-only hiring push but requires active retention strategies—mentorship, coaching, and professional development opportunities. But I’d rather have a retention problem than a recruitment problem.

      A different employer was not great at this, even though they advertised that they were actively seeking to increase diversity in their legal department. Despite putting in substantial work that was definitely not in my job description, they had such entrenched implicit (and explicit) bias issues that I got to the point where I wouldn’t recruit or recommend the employer to POC/women because why subject someone to a low-grade racially/gender hostile workplace?

      So if you can raise the issue with some concrete proposals, and emphasize that men int he organization have to take active responsibility for the issue and not rely solely on other women to handle the “gender” stuff, you may gain more traction than an open-ended complaint. I’m tempted to tell them to go check out Emma Watson’s “He for She” initiative.

    3. OP Here*

      I’ve actually commented on how few women work at our company several times (and this was back when more women worked here) and my boss definitely did not see it as a problem. He feels he should hire the best engineer, not seek out a woman. Sigh. The more I read these comments, the more I realize that a) I have it pretty good at my job and b) I really don’t think there’s anything they could do to make me stay. Most days I don’t have any non-work conversations with anyone. It’s all work, all the time. At best, my manager will talk about his life to me (I like him, but he has a habit of talking too much about his own life and never asking about myself). Or my office mate (who is twice my age) will talk to me about how hard it is to eat a low sodium diet.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Just because we’ve worked awful jobs doesn’t mean your situation is less serious! It sounds like your company is not giving you what you need, and you’re feeling super burned out and socially isolated. If that’s not what you want from your workplace, it’s ok to say that and act on it!

        I also just get my hackles up anytime anyone in a position of power (and relative privilege) says something like “I want the BEST [fill in the blank] and don’t care about [race/gender/LGBT, etc.],” as if diversity and competency goals are mutually exclusive. But I’ve also often found that people who say this have entrenched biases about what makes someone “the best” engineer, and it’s hard to push them to see that without some intense defensiveness. I’d be even more concerned if my employer didn’t even pay lip service to the idea.

        1. OP Here*

          Haha, thanks, I think because this job has been by far my best job of my career, I feel bad wanting to leave because I’m so lonely. But you’re right, I do feel really burned out and very isolated and those are good reasons to look. Each job I’ve taken has gotten better than the last so hopefully the next one will be even better!

          And yes, I absolutely cannot stand it when people say they only want the “best” and don’t care about diversity. As if to hire a woman or a minority they’d have to lower their standards. It’s a problem I’ve seen a lot of in engineering from a lot of normally smart and relatively progressive guys.

  21. Kyrielle*

    I think it depends on both what the reasons are and how management is likely to react.

    For example, when my issue was that I was (wildly) underpaid relative to the market, and I had a supportive manager who appreciated my contributions, I just went to them and said directly, “You know, I’ve been looking at market rates, and it looks like I could get a fairly significant pay bump going to another company even if I had no specific expertise in their domain and had to learn it all…” And we talked numbers and I got brought into line on salary (and was happy there for years after).

    But when my company had been bought and I had a job for “the foreseeable future” (a statement about which I was dubious, but that they were firm on), but (a) that job would have gone from a mix of A and B (where A is desirable career-wise and also fun, and B is necessary but not either of those things) to almost-exclusively B (“but not immediately, we will still need A for 12-18 months), and (b) the role I had been planning to aim for in another year or two would be phased out as no longer needed (so I had no upward promotional track), and (c) the new company had a butts-in-seats mentality that meant I’d have to be in the office every day instead of working from home once a week and (d) I might have to work five days a week instead of four because of a paperwork issue in the transfer….

    I didn’t say a word. I job-hunted, I gave notice when I’d accepted, and I politely deflected attempts to retain me by saying I’d already given my word to the new employer and I keep my word. The company that had bought the place I was leaving had no reason to change a or b (seriously: it was a good business decision for them, just no good for me personally!), and no wish to change c (or d, but they probably didn’t have much of a reason there, as I think I was the only person affected).

    Nothing good could have come from raising the issues, and it also made no sense to stay. Also, it was easier to get out before (d) could happen since that did leave me one day a week to interview without having to take time off.

  22. Searcher*

    I don’t think I’ll ever tell a boss if I’m unhappy again. I did that at OldJob when the nature of the position completely changed and I was being made to do a job very different from what I was hired for (not to mention being given double duty and no change in benefits), and after bringing up my concerns and frustrations to my boss, he conferred with his boss and the next day I was let go.

    I have anxiety and agonize over telling anyone I’m even moderately uncomfortable, and if I’m going to be let go for trying to work things out? I guess next time I’ll suck it up and smile until I find something else.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That sounds absolutely awful, and I’m so sorry, Searcher. I know this is not going to be super helpful, but it’s important to remember that that’s not a normal way to treat people. It sounds like a toxic circumstance, which can really skew your perception of what’s reasonable/normal. Good managers should be able to hear feedback/complaints without firing you.

      1. Searcher*

        Thank you, Princess Consuela Banana Hammock – it wasn’t a great environment and I’m starting to learn this isn’t normal. I’m glad to know I’m not crazy, so thank you! :)

  23. really anon this time*

    I’m curious about how others feel after they speak up about a situation that’s worth quitting over. Because I did it recently and feel absolutely terrible and wracked with anxiety.

    I work for very reasonable people and it’s a good workplace overall. I’m known as a fixer, not a complainer, so I believe I’m being taken seriously. I think my grandboss is trying to address the problem, but it’s a big one and is directly related to my direct supervisor’s management style. Knowing that I’ve spoken very frankly about my direct boss’s shortcomings has left me feeling completely vulnerable and exposed. I have good reason to believe that my direct boss was in hot water already, and what I shared may get him fired. I believe that speaking up was the right thing to do, not just for myself but for the rest of our team. However, not knowing how/when/if that will happen is sending my usually-controlled anxiety into overdrive. If this situation goes badly — absolutely nobody should feign shock or surprise if I leave.

    1. Sibley*

      You spoke up in good faith, sharing valid concerns about problems being caused by an individual. You did nothing wrong. If you get blowback for it, then sure, go ahead and find a new job. But right now, try to let it go. Behavior and decisions have consequences. Sometimes those are bad ones, and your direct boss is going to find out the hard way.

    2. RB*

      But you did what needed to be done. The repercussions won’t reflect poorly on you — they’ll reflect on your manager, as they should. You shouldn’t feel bad for doing the right thing. If direct boss stays and there is retaliation, you should definitely also mention that to grandboss.

    3. Anon for Answering*

      I have been the grandboss here, and thank you for speaking up. It sucks and its hard, but I have few ways of seeing how my direct reports are doing as managers unless their staff talk to me. And while I use that information to coach and manage my direct staff, there’s often not a whole lot I can say back to my grandstaff beyond “Thank you so much for talking with me, I’ll do what can be done to address this.” or “We’re following appropriate processes, please bear with us.” Which leaves them where you are – a primary source of information that is being used in the ugly parts of performance management, without being able to get much feedback about how those processes are going.

      Here’s what I can share for what help it can offer:
      – My job is to coach and grow my staff, and management is rough because they are learning and growing while managing actual, live staff. So with a lot of other skills you can tell someone to go back and try it again, with management, I do that knowing that they’ve hurt someone and may not be able to fix it. But I can’t even get to the coaching part unless I know what to coach them on.
      – You, yourself, probably can’t get your boss fired in any functional company. They can get themselves fired by not responding to coaching and not being willing or able to do their jobs appropriately. PIPs exist for managers as well.
      – Your grandboss, if they are a decent manager, will not only be trying to support your boss toward being a good manager, but will be doing everything they reasonably can to take care of you as well. Someone who is a fixer, who can see management issues and ask for them to be addressed, is good and they want to keep you. (I would anyway.)
      – Take care of yourself. No one can fault you for looking after your own interests and health.

  24. Dan*

    To directly answer OP’s question, an employee owes it to the employer just as much as the employer owes working with an underperforming employee before firing them. Nobody *owes* anybody anything, but there are “right things to do” under most circumstances.

  25. MegaMoose, Esq*

    I’m been trying to get my mother-in-law to speak up about her job for years now. She works for a tiny company owned by longtime friends (yeah, I know), she’s underpaid, works insane hours without OT (legally, but still frustrating), and is constantly stressed out because of lack of support or clarity about what’s her responsibility and what isn’t. Not rocking the boat is a Midwestern value as it is, and toss old friends and a low sense of professional self-worth into the mix and it’s just impossible.

  26. regina phalange*

    Alison, curious if you can share the example you mentioned of fixing something in less than a week that was making someone unhappy (that they would not speak up on)?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There have been several! One was something that was aggravating the hell out of our IT director — a workload expectation thing where they were being overloaded with projects, things were having to sit for months if not longer, and he just assumed there was nothing that could be done about it. I got him to lay it all out for me, and we dramatically changed his team’s workload within a week. That’s an example of something that seemed huge but actually was quite fixable once I knew about it.

  27. Maximus Minimus*

    When I brought my concern to my manager and tried to resolve it, she told me it was not “fixable.” So, I started looking for another job and received an offer. However — just recently, and before I turned in my notice, she let me know that the issue was indeed fixable and it has been fixed! So now I’m in a quandary. I wouldn’t have been looking for other positions except for that one issue, and now that it’s been fixed, I don’t really want to move on. But I’ve accepted this other offer and am expected to start work there on April 3. I have no idea what I’m going to do.

    1. Hannah*

      I’d stay where you are if you don’t want to leave. Unless you signed a contract of some sort with the new place, you can still decide to leave. There’s no sense in leaving someplace that a) you don’t want to leave and b) has already shown you that they value you enough to make changes in order to keep you. When you start a new job, you never know 100% what you are really getting into. Better to stay someplace you know you like.

      The new job probably won’t be all that happy, but I’d say their slight unhappiness is worth it.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I totally disagree. You’ve already accepted another offer, so at this point you’re breaking an implied agreement, which can have an impact on your professional reputation. You can still do it, but it doesn’t come without risks.

        More importantly, they told you it wasn’t fixable and didn’t keep you updated until you were about to turn in notice. If you can let it go, then that’s your choice, but there were probably several reasons that motivated you to apply for other positions. The non-fixable issue was probably just the biggest reason. I think it merits at least a second analysis before you decide one way or the other.

        1. Zombii*

          I agree with PCBH, reassess at the very least.

          If you decide not to take the new job, tell them as soon as possible. They deserve to be able to start their job search again quickly, and hopefully before the day they expect you to start.

          If you do decide to take the new job, make sure your manager knows why. Even though they fixed the “unfixable” issue, it’s a question of too little/too late because you already found a new job where that issue didn’t exist in the first place.

          I would really consider telling them about the new job, even if you don’t decide to take it (depending on circumstances), because a lot of companies don’t seem to understand that this philosophy of “under-promise and over-deliver” isn’t a very good way to manage—if you consistently under-promise on things that people consider dealbreakers, sometimes they won’t be delighted that you over-delivered, they’ll just be pissed off that you lied to them.

    2. RB*

      That’s a tough one. If the salary is not a deciding factor, then are there significant differences between benefits, and especially the monetary benefits like 401K contributions? Does either job offer a pension? Is the commute significantly different or other quality of life issues like vacation time or working from home? Tuition reimbursement? It’s ok to ask for more information or details about the position or benefits, even at the offer stage. Have you read the Glassdoor reviews?

    3. Artemesia*

      I’d take the new job since you committed unless it really is not a job you want. Too bad about the old boss — they told you it couldn’t be fixed and you moved on. That is what happens. Maybe next time they won’t wait until you are fed up.

      If the old job is really far better (but then why would you have agreed to leave) you have a moment to reflect here, but unless it is obviously a huge mistake, it is probably time to move on.

      Don’t act guilty to the boss. You told them. They told you. Too little, too late.

  28. Hannah*

    How explicitly do you spell out that X thing, if not fixed, will cause you to leave?

    I recently expressed that I felt that I was unfairly being held back from being promoted. I made a case that I deserved a promotion, and my boss agreed with me, but said that she was not able to promote me because our department was only allowed to have X number of people at that level. I said that that felt unfair, because I did the same amount and level of work as the others, and should be paid at the same level, and that the others had all been in junior positions a shorter time than I had been. She agreed that my work was the same as the others’ but said that was just the way it was.

    I took this as code for “look for another job.” Which I am doing. Should I have explicitly said “if I am not promoted, I will start looking for another job?” That feels so threatening–and a lot like a violation of the rule that you don’t tell your employer you are looking to leave.

    In the weeks since then, my boss has started putting me on even more senior projects that require long-term training and knowledge, so it kind of feels like she doesn’t expect me to leave. But as soon as I can, I am out of here because I need more money.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In most cases, I wouldn’t recommend saying explicitly “or I will leave.” The thing is, managers know — or should know — that there’s also an implicit understanding that if you’re saying X is making you unhappy, you may leave if X isn’t fixed. You don’t need to spell it out, and spelling it out can come across as overly aggressive and otherwise make the situation harder.

    2. designbot*

      I don’t think you should be that blatant. For one thing, they could always turn around and say “well if you’re not invested in staying here you can leave today.” For another, I think that’s the subtext to any discussion of that nature and your boss shouldn’t need it spelled out. She likely already knows, and thinks that putting you on higher level projects is throwing you a bone in terms of advancement, not realizing that in your eyes advancement primarily means money.

      1. Hannah*

        Maybe, although I did say that I was already doing the work of someone a level above me, and was unhappy that I was not getting compensated at that level….so it isn’t that logical that I would be happy with even more work but not extra pay! In my case, if I were promoted, my responsibilities would remain the exact same.

        1. designbot*

          For some people advancement means money, but for others it means increased responsibility, for others the title/recognition is what they crave. Often a person’s feelings like this change over time with their circumstances too. Anyway, I wouldn’t assume that your boss follows the same logic that you do unless you’ve spelled it out for them. Heck, right now I want a promotion for the parking spot alone! I’m tired of going to tons of off-site meetings and constantly having to walk back and forth from my car between 2 and 5 blocks away. If someone offered me more money that’d be nice for sure, but without that status bump that gets me a parking spot my problem won’t be solved, and I’m not going to assume the powers that be get that.

  29. Supervisor*

    Part of my dissatisfaction with my job is that I was promoted to supervisor, and I never wanted to supervise people. For the first few years here, it was suggested repeatedly that I get an intern — but I didn’t even really have a full work week’s worth of stuff to do for MYSELF, so I kept saying no, that I didn’t need help. They kept pressing this, and I got the feeling that it was reflecting negatively on me to not get an intern (even though, again, I said repeatedly I didn’t need help) so I finally gave in, with a long list of demands for such a person, and at least THOSE were met. However, then I was informed that they had offered a job to the former intern (which they’d done without asking me) and were going to make me manager ( I was not asked, I was told). I was gobsmacked, because I’d said REPEATEDLY I did not need help, and never acted like I needed help, either — I met all my deadlines, never stayed later than 5pm because I never needed to, and heck, when I went on vacation, my boss did an hour’s worth of work to back me up– that was all she even needed to do. I guess maybe right at that moment I could have said “Um, no, I will not do this,” but as they already offered her the job, and didn’t ASK, I felt like I couldn’t say anything. Saying “No, I don’t want to be a supervisor” would have looked like I wasn’t a team player or something, based on how insistent they’d been for years that I at least get an intern. And what about the fact that they’d already sneakily offered the former intern a job? I think that was what made me not say anything, ultimately. It felt like a crappy position to be in.

    It’s strange because I’ve been told repeatedly that my work is valued, and I was promoted, and I am making 50% more than when I started.. This seems like a company that values me, yet they didn’t listen to me when I said “Really, I don’t need help, I have more than enough to time to take on these upcoming projects,” nor do they listen to me when I provide input on policies in the areas that I have expertise (which was supposedly the reason I was hired). It’s a very, very strange position to be in…

    1. Anna Pigeon*

      I wonder…are you the only person in the company that did what you do before they hired your employee?

      Most well managed companies, if they can afford it, try to make sure everyone has a backup. So for a unique skill, even if there isn’t really enough work two people, they may hire a jr employee anyway, so there is at least basic back up for that key skill/function.

      Of course, if this is the case, they should have said so, and involved you in the hiring process.

      1. Supervisor*

        You are correct, I was the only one who performed this function (prior to my employee being hired). This was .. brought up once or twice in the years prior to my promotion, but was never made out to be a driving force. It’s also been mentioned that our company is looking to nearly double their staff in the next five years, so I’m sure this was kind of part of that — adding someone before they were needed. But the position was primarily framed to me as “We like you and want to promote you, so we are making you manager and hiring someone for you to manage.” Well if ya really liked me, you would have asked what *I* wanted…

        BUT it does make me feel better that other companies hire people as backup even when there isn’t a ton of work for them to do (at least, yet). To be fair, I missed a few days of work due to a medical issue earlier this year and it was certainly good to have someone taking care of issues in the office.. but I feel bad the rest of the time when I just don’t have a lot of work to give her.

  30. New to Miltown*

    I got back from vacation last year and told my boss that I was bored and needed new challenges at work. She was very excited to push me out to other ideas and responsibilities, but in the end 8 months later now I’m still stuck doing the same job. I just have a handful of other responsibilities now that I don’t have time to get to now. It’s frustrating because I need the experience of the hands on work that I wouldn’t get somewhere else. However, staying here I don’t really have time to follow through on 70% of my new responsibilities because I keep getting sucked back into my old/current dept. Oddly enough I walked out today, saying I needed a few mental health days to figure some things out.

  31. Piblets*

    I’m on month 3 in NewJob, and I gave my ex-employer a pretty firm resignation. I had told my supervisor repeatedly, had told his new hire replacement in training, and the President of the company individually, and in very serious tone over the course of the prior several months. The problems I had were not insurmountable- I needed a move away from a coworker fond of perfumes I’m allergic to, I needed more support and cooperation from the rest of the management team, and I needed support when someone was actively futzing with my work for no GOOD reason.

    However, when the president wanted to talk about why I was leaving them…I focused on being able to use my skills and grow, and how much I appreciated OldJob.

    OldJob had worn out it’s usefulness to me professionally by year 3, but I kept working to finish my degree due to their reimbursement of tuition. I was miserably unhappy, having had all of the fun and interesting assignments be taken away to allow me to focus on the huge and boring, unpopular, and generally undervalued project. But I needed a solid reference, as I don’t have a lot of prior employers to tap, so I played nicely.

    The management team at OldJob and I talk occasionally, and NOTHING has changed. They hired a replacement for my role, and she’s not up to speed, yet.

    But I was able to takeover at NewJob completely. My predecessor retired about 2 weeks ago, and I have full autonomy in my day, I’m using the skills I went to school for, and I’m going back to school for my Master’s once I’m a little more solid.

    I don’t feel like I “owe” OldJob anything. I’m grateful that they paid for my schooling, but they chose not to use the skills they sent me to school for.

  32. Uzumaki Naruto*

    I feel like employers should be eliciting feedback, and making clear that it’s safe to give honest feedback. But even having a legitimate open door policy, and no fear of reprisal, isn’t enough – they actually need to periodically ask for feedback.

    Otherwise, I don’t see how employees really could owe their employer feedback.

  33. Critter*

    Is it not a two way street? If firing a person should not come across as a surprise, because an employer should have addressed issues that would warrant firing in advance, should an employee leaving not come as a surprise because they ought to have brought up the possibility?

    1. PollyQ*

      I think the power imbalance between employer & employee makes a big difference here. An individual losing a job can be catastrophic for herself and her family, while it’s rare that an employer will suffer as dramatically if one person quits. Because if this asymmetry, criticism and feedback coming from an employer are much less risky for the employer than feedback coming from an employee.

    2. Artemesia*

      The power differential makes that a bit silly. You don’t do things that jeopardize your survival. if the job is not what you want, you look for a new one and don’t mention that until you give notice. If the place is generally congenial and you trust your boss, you raise issues of change you would like to see in your role, promotions, whatever — but if this is not the case, let them be surprised. They are in a position to see the big picture and see what they should do to retain you. They know they are paying you less than you deserve, not providing promotional opportunities, discriminating against you because you are a woman whatever whatever. It is never news to the boss.

    3. Zombii*

      > Is it not a two way street?

      Absolutely not. If my company criticizes my performance and I retaliate by quitting, that hurts me more than it hurts the company (in most cases). If I criticize my company and they retaliate by firing me, that also hurts me more that it hurts the company (in most cases).

      Although, functional companies who treat their employees fairly aren’t usually surprised when employees leave, because if employees aren’t afraid of companies taking their departure as an attack, employees are more likely to discuss their impending departure and attempt to negotiate for a mutually beneficial solution when possible.

  34. Purple Jello*

    Me to Boss: How do I get a promotion to the job I’m already doing now?
    Boss: See HR, I can’t do anything.
    Me to HR: How do I get a promotion to the job I’m already doing now?
    HR: See Boss. Me: He sent me to you. (silence)
    Me to LastJob: I got a new job, 2 weeks notice.
    LastJob: wait! what?! you can’t go, what do we need to do to keep you? Anything you say! (but not really)

    This Job: We love you, what do we need to do to keep you happy?

    1. Eye of the Tiger*

      Purple Jello, I am glad you have found happiness at your new job! I think the scenario you described is all too common. Congrats for moving on!

  35. Eye of the Tiger*

    I wish I could tell my supervisor my concerns. The problem is that she *IS* the concern.

    She gets to work late and leaves early every day (in a job where it’s important to be available during all office hours), she keeps information to herself that is relevant to others (and subsequently gets mad at the others when something goes wrong due to their lack of knowledge), she is overly brute with everyone in our office, she has a major temper and has physically kicked things around before, she scrutinizes small errors, but never admits to her own (larger) mistakes, she expresses verbally how much she pours her heart and soul into her job (but in no way does her work ethic imply this), she has made multiple people cry over small, small, issues (and then cried herself for upsetting said person), and is just generally very unpredictable and unstable.

    Aside from all of that, I love the work I do. I’m good at what I do, and I enjoy coming into work every day (aside from the occasional unpleasant interaction with Supervisor). I recently got a considerable raise, have a great work-life balance, and get along great with all of my coworkers. I never know if my supervisor’s issues are worth bringing up to Big Boss or not.

    It’s true that she makes an otherwise wonderful job less wonderful, but I tend to err to the side of caution and think it’s best not to stir the pot.

    1. RB*

      Alison often says that it can be more effective if you band together with others who share your concerns. Surely some of those people she’s made cry would be on your side. Maybe you could speak with her manager or HR?

  36. Jennifer*

    I’m seriously debating whether or not to speak up, but I just don’t think they are willing to go as far as they would need to go in order to improve the climate here. I think they care in general, but not enough to make any major changes in say, personnel.

  37. Enginerd*

    I disagree. You are paid by your employer to do a job, in this case engineering work. You’re judged at the end of the year on how well you perform that job. Your manager on the other hand is paid to manage you. Part of that is determining what’s working and what isn’t. Retention is part of what they’re paid for. If they’re saying if only Fergus told us he wasn’t happy, the bigger question should be why didn’t you know? If others new it really shouldn’t be hard to find out.

    1. Zombii*

      > Retention is part of what they’re paid for. … If others knew it really shouldn’t be hard to find out.

      Adults are supposed to solve their problems by addressing the problem, not by complaining to everyone else within earshot and then expecting the necessary parties (after finding out by way of rumor) to come forward and go out of their way to fix everything like “Oh I wasn’t even going to ask, but since you offered…”

      I have family members who act like this, and I avoid them at all costs because the interactions are just exhausting. There’s no way I’d put up with that bullshit at work.

  38. Lisa B*

    When I left ToxicOldJob it should have been a surprise to absolutely NOBODY, but my supervisor was shocked. I’d been passed over for a promotion which was handled incredibly poorly (I got more feedback from the gossip-chain than directly), my best projects and departmental mentors went cold, and I could never tell my higher ups that they were a large part of the issue. New RainbowsAndSunshineJob has been the best thing to happen to my career since I started having a career.

  39. RB*

    These stories are all too familiar. The thing I like about this thread is that it’s really pointing out the differences between a good company or boss and a bad company or boss. A good company may not be able to entice you to stay but they will at least be familiar with your concerns and dissatisfactions because your boss talks to you about those things and explains what she may or may not be able to change. Then, if you do leave they already know why.

  40. Sam Foster*

    No, absolutely not. Unless one already has clear and open lines of communication with management (which means they’d already be aware of the issues), all this does is makes one the squeaky wheel who doesn’t get grease but grief from management. I’ve worked for big companies and small companies and I have never seen this go well.

  41. Piano Girl*

    A few months ago we received 2% raises instead of the typical 3%. I suggested that since my raise wasn’t going to be what I expected, that perhaps we could discuss a promotion instead (from Staff Accountant to Senior Staff Accountant). I laid out my reasons, specifically including a big project that I do every month, and the fact that I stepped up to cover part of my supervisor’s position when he was out on medical leave for several months. I even indicated that I would take the promotion without an increase in pay, as that had happened before. My boss agreed and took the suggestion to the president of the company who declined it, stating that promotions required raises (which was obviously not true). Flash forward to last Friday, when I was laid off. I have been there longer than the other staff accountant, but believe that since I complained, I got the axe. I find myself less upset and more relieved – if they don’t want to listen, why am I bothering to be there??

  42. Big Glasses*

    I really agonised over this before choosing to leave my current position. I didn’t really make my concerns completely clear, in the end, and the reason for that was that my main overriding problem with my job was one person I had to work with. Is there a way that you can professionally express a major concern about your job when that concern is a *person*? To be clear, I had already discussed some issues that this person’s work was causing with mine, avoiding the outright character-flaw reasons, and my manager agreed, but by the end I had a long list of complaints about working with this person at all. I think the problem is ‘fixable’ but at that point I’m basically calling for somebody to be fired, which I’m not comfortable with and which I think they wouldn’t have chosen to do anyway. He’s also a good friend of my line manager so it just seemed like an un-havable conversation all round. Is there a reasonable way to approach this that I didn’t think of? Or was I right to bow out this time round? To be clear, I think many of the concerns I didn’t share were valid but would have come across as really personal complaints that I didn’t know how to soften/deliver more professionally (things like ‘lies to my face about work related issues I need to know about’, ‘pushes blame onto other people’, ‘doesn’t respect anybody else’s time’, ‘doesn’t tell you things you need to know’, ‘patronises everyone’ etc).

  43. The Data Don't Lie*

    I spoke up repeatedly about something I was unhappy with at my previous job–to both my manager and my boss. I made it clear that I was unhappy with a particular policy they had but also that I understood they were in charge and they had the right to make rules and enforce them (even though I didn’t agree). I also started looking for a new job, however, and I soon found one and quit. Later my manager found out the reason why I had quit and told me he “had no idea” that I had quit over that and he didn’t realize I was so unhappy with it. Um, I told you and the boss multiple times so if you had no idea that’s on you, not me. This just confirmed to me that leaving that position was the right decision.

  44. LabHeather*

    I have been speaking up almost since the day I got hired.

    Que me with a look of utter shock and bewilderment.

    I fought, I put up signs, I held safety presentations for the students, I read up on all the legislation I could find pertaining to this country, I brought it up in meetings with all the legislation and advice/best practice from relevant governing bodies, I talked to students, I confiscated coffee cups and threw away water bottles.

    All it got me was the stamp of troublemaker and “making things bigger than they are”. Especially one of the staff was absolutely adamant (and is actively freezing me out) in her resistance and even enlisted her buddy-buddy in a certain governing body to counter all the advice from their own agency so that she can continue the way they always have. My manager pretty much just pats me on the shoulder, agrees with me in private, but refuses to say or do anything in public or to any of the staff, except to tell me that “Yes, I agree, and I know Sansa is difficult to work with, but we need to work with the staff, not against them.”.

    People are still eating and drinking in the lab. It drives me up the wall when I see a water bottle standing right next to their petri dishes. Or when they bring in chocolate because it is the last day of term.

    Luckily this will be OldJob soon. At some point I just gave up.

    1. NPO Queen*

      I’d love to hear more about where you’re moving to and get your boss’s reaction when you resign! When I was in school, we had to destroy a whole experiment because of food and drink, so I can’t imagine what it’s like in a professional lab.

      1. LabHeather*

        What grates me the most is that we are educating science teachers. So this bad and potentially hazardous habit could stick around even after PreviousGeneration retires. I am also afraid that if a Health and Safety Executive stopped by, there would be some serious liability claims.

        What do you say though? “Hey, could we please stop breaking the law, it’s making me seriously anxious.”?

        @NPO Queen – I am moving back to my home country to get a PhD at my old university. They’re the best in the country, so I know I won’t have to deal with that there!

  45. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    My workplace is big enough that they do an anonymous quarterly engagement survey, and I let em have it pretty bluntly in a way that I wouldn’t talk to my manager about, but I feel good that I’m putting it out there. There’s also a pretty big distinction between my department and the larger company, so sometimes there’s something really specific to my department that I’ll talk to my manager about, and other times it’s stuff that the larger company does that my manager, or even the exec leadership of my department, just don’t have much or any power over. I like that there are several options for voicing my concerns, and I can take whichever route I feel most comfortable with.

    If you work for a large enough employer to do this, I highly recommend!

  46. Decima Dewey*

    I’d say speak up only if it would make a difference. In my own situation, my boss is driving me crazy doing things she has every right to do. So I suck it up, knowing that nothing is permanent (even in civil service), and I could find myself with a different boss next pay period.

  47. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

    I would absolutely speak up. Because if you don’t, They (the Powers that Be) will just assume that you are ok with everything. Such was case with me. It was another admin and myself. She covered 1 half of the group (about 30 people and I covered the other half –another 30 people). Turns out, her group was not happy with her and the immediate supervisor informed me that they were going to let her go and get someone else. Well, they let the other admin go, but they didn’t get anyone else. (I could just picture the immediate supervisor and the manager discussing between themselves how I could handle the extra load) As a result, I was left cover 60 people (and counting) by myself. And I did, for about 3 weeks. It became unbearable. When I asked my supervisor about getting more help, she said it wasn’t in the budget–blah blah. At that point, I debated whether or not to complain. Well, I decided to complain. I explained to them how I cannot cover 60 high-maintenance people and that I practically had a mini breakdown. Well, three weeks later, they got another admin. I’m sure that if I didn’t complain, they would have just kept piling stuff on me and I would have had a complete nervous breakdown.

  48. Student*

    I agree with the solutions this blog gave to the question. If you are unhappy in your working environment or with something that is being done, then you should talk to your manager or someone higher up about the situation to fix the problem. It is not worth being unhappy every day. I think that it would benefit to speak to others about the problem to see if they are unhappy too, and so you can have strength in numbers. I also agree with the response that if you are already entering a work environment that is known to be bad, then leave rather than staying to address the problem if you know little will change.

  49. Newbie*

    In my last job, I told my supervisor in our one year review that I was interested in growing my responsibilities and we brainstormed tasks and projects that I could take on or help out with just to have nothing come from it besides empty promises. When I handed in my resignation months later my boss admitted that she wasn’t surprised because I had expressed interest in growing my responsibilities… Maybe that means that you should have followed through on what we agreed on then? Ultimately it all worked out for the best, but speaking up doesn’t always mean that something will be done about it. It depends on the manager hearing the complaints.

  50. Willow*

    I tried speaking up and nothing was fine sbiut it. Worse, my boss blamed me for my coworker’s inability to do basic data entry after nearly 3 years. Guy is from Jamaica. Says he speaks & reads English but did not previously do it at a fluent level. I have an IN from him screen-shorted admitting he learned Patois, another language, way more fluently than English. It is no wonder he didn’t comprehend what he was being trained on and made incorrect choices in the text-only data entry menus. But the forms are almost all text except for the case specs.

    The company imho did not vet him enough, and I still cannot take more than a day or 2 of vacation for fear he will screw up everything and I will have to fix it. Oh and he hates reading even though it has been suggested to him to read for fun to get his English skills up. Dude wants a masrer’s degree in finance. I’m sorry but he’s going to have to be able to read the frigging text book.

    I am actively searching for a new job because I have realized nothing will be done about him. If I want to be able to take my pto, I need a new job.

  51. Willow*

    Argh…nothing was done. Typing this on my iPhone and no way to edit the above.

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