update: how upset should I be about a re-hired employee’s quick resignation?

Remember the letter-writer who had rehired a former employee, who then resigned again after only three months? Here’s the update.

Today is Ariel’s last day, and despite the short notice she was able to put together a very complete transition document. We also finally talked a little more and I learned some new details about her other offer that make me feel a little less upset about not being able to retain her. It’s a new company started by people she’d worked with previously, and she’ll be the first person to bring expertise in her particular niche, so she can basically shape the company’s strategy from the ground up. She also shared some personal life circumstances I didn’t know about before, which helped to explain giving notice via a chat app instead of in-person and giving less than two weeks notice. It turns out neither the history with Ursula nor the recent incident with a colleague were a factor — she just really couldn’t turn down helping two friends start a company.

I’m still disappointed to lose someone so quickly, but your advice and the commenters’ perspectives helped me to be a little more circumspect. Ariel’s new company isn’t a competitor and the big trade-show next month is local, so I ended up inviting her to come to the show for at least a day to see the booth she designed. I think the bridge isn’t burned after all, it just needed some new planks.

As for me and Eric, we’ve talked and feel like we learned our lesson about cutting short an interview process just because someone’s a re-hire. No more “take her to lunch and ask her if she’ll come back” for us!

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. King Friday XIII*

    I’m glad you were able to get some more perspective from Ariel to help make sense of the situation. It sounds like in this case a more detailed rehiring interview might not have changed things, but I bet it’ll help you feel more secure in those decisions going forward.

  2. Brogrammer*

    What a great update! From the sound of it, having Ariel go through the interview process again might not have prevented this situation – it sounds like she had every intention of staying when she took the job. But it’s still good that you were able to learn from this situation and that you and Ariel were able to keep a good professional relationship.

  3. BioPharma*

    I know I’m being naive here, but can someone give me an example of a condition that would explain resigning via chat instead of a short phone call? Thanks.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      The OP was talking about chat vs an in-person resignation, so it doesn’t sound like there’s an issue about it not being a call instead. Maybe that’s how they prefer to communicate in that office. Maybe she lost her voice. Maybe her dog ate her phone.

    2. Product person*

      Perhaps I’m too creative and should be working as a script writer, but I can think of several scenarios :-). Here’s one:

      Jane’s kid has to go to the hospital to treat an illness right after received the irresistible offer that she decided to take; as soon as the doctor says everything is under control, but the kid would have to stay for one more day at the hospital in observation, Jane uses her smartphone to send the message via chat from the hospital in order to give the company as much advance noticed as possible and do it silently, without disturbing other patients or visitors.

      (In this and other circumstances, I’d add a note explaining why I chose to write rather than say it in person or via phone call, but still, if in a rush, I can see sending the relevant notification and waiting to explain the channel used later, like apparently Ariel did.)

      1. Product person*

        And yes, even if it doesn’t apply in OP’s case, like Lily in NYC said, some offices favor chat via email.

        A few days ago I was having lunch with a CIO who told me she never answers emails from her direct reports (???) — “they know better to IM me if they need a reply”.

        1. BioPharma*

          I hate using our work’s chat app because sometimes they get ignored (accidnetally or not), so you never know if it was received, then have to follow-up with an email anyway.

  4. Muriel Heslop*

    Great update! And super-helpful for me personally. My team has been communicating with a former colleague who would like to come back to our school and this was the push we needed to have her go through the same interview process as anyone would. So many have things may have changed in her life since she left and we need the opportunity to assess that. Thanks!

  5. AvonLady Barksdale*

    Alison, a heads-up– you usually put a link to the original column in these updates, but there isn’t one here. Apologies if that was by design!

  6. The Other Dawn*

    I agree with others that a longer, more involved interview for her wouldn’t have mattered in this particular case. Maybe if she was leaving again because of the previous issues, yes.

    Honestly, if someone came to me with an opportunity like this, I’d jump on it, too. I’ve been part of building a company and department from the ground up, and it was an awesome experience (most of the time!).

  7. AnonEMoose*

    This is a great update – thanks so much for sharing it, OP!

    It sounds like Ariel is being as helpful as she can about the transition, and that she wants to leave things on a positive note with the company, as much as possible.

    I also agree with the lessons learned about interviewing. Maybe it wouldn’t have helped this time, but it could be really helpful in future.

    1. TootsNYC*

      There are lessons here for anyone who is in a situation where they need to leave and are afraid they’re burning a bridge: Do your absolute best to make the transition as easy as possible. And be as candid as possible (and as wise, of course) about your good reasons.

      We’re all human, and most of us can hold two emotions at once (negative ones about you leaving, and positive ones about other aspects of your professionalism).

  8. SL #2*

    I really liked the way you phrased this, OP: I think the bridge isn’t burned after all, it just needed some new planks. I’m glad you and Ariel were able to sit down and have that open conversation about why she’s leaving that quickly and that she is being as helpful as she can. And Ariel will probably remember that you and the company were gracious about her departure despite the short period of time and less-than-ideal way it happened. You’d be surprised at how useful that goodwill becomes when circumstances change and opportunities arise.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I really liked that, as well. I was so happy to hear that this was not a burned bridge and that the situation resolved in a way that seemed to make OP feel better about the transition. This update was a pleasant surprise :)

  9. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    This is so interesting. I was critical of Ariel on the first post, and even moreso now. It doesn’t sound like she left to escape an untenable situation; she just found something she’d rather do, after making a commitment to come back to the company. That’s not good.

    1. Roscoe*

      There are sometimes opportunities that are too good to pass up. maybe has to do with money, or professional goals, or something in your personal life. It sounds like for her, this was one of those things. And what exactly was the “commitment”? Its a job. The commitment you are making is to provide a service and in exchange receive payment. She did that. There was no contract or agreed upon length of employment. It doesn’t sound like she was looking for something better, but something better fell in her lap

    2. SleeplessKJ*

      Sometimes personal ties are more valuable than allegiance to a company. It sounds to me like Ariel had strong personal reasons for helping her friends out. Not necessity that it was something she would “rather” do. Frankly, in the scenario as described, I’d make the same choice.

    3. Workfromhome*

      Hey Victoria Larry and Sergey really want you to help them build a new company from the ground up. You will be one of the founders. Not sure what it will be called yet maybe oogle or noogle..maybe they said Google?

      Victoria:No sorry I just started back at Dunkin Doughnuts as assistant manger 3 months ago at 2 $ an hour over minimum wage. I really need to stick to my commitment to this job. I can’t be leaving them in the lunch and becoming a founder/owner of some company called company called Google. How is that going to work out for me in 2 years when I could have been promoted to MANAGER at 20$ an hour. ;-)

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I feel like I’ve had this conversation on here a bunch of times, and I clearly don’t share the values of the majority of the commentariat. To me, accepting a job involves making a commitment. It’s not unbreakable, but there are consequences for breaking it — including that I will think less of you for doing so. It baffles me that folks here think this is so extreme.

        1. paul*

          It’s a commitment to do your job, not stay there indefinitely.

          That said I certainly wouldn’t blame the company for not ever hiring her again either given she wasn’t there very long at all this time.

          This may sound really callous/harsh, but sometimes it’s worth burning a bridge, and it sounds like that may have been the case here. It doesn’t mean the other people are wrong for being irked, but I can’t really fault her for it either.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Sure — I totally agree that sometimes it is worth burning a bridge (and, happily, it seems like she didn’t have to do that in this situation — her bridge is perhaps a little worn, but intact :)). I’m just surprised that so many folks push back so hard at the idea that her doing so would affect my overall opinion of her as an employee.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’m with you on this. Doesn’t mean she shouldn’t do what’s right for her, but it’s reasonable for the employer to feel burned.

            2. paul*

              Yeah, no, I agree with you on that; I just read more into your comment about a commitment than I guess you meant. I don’t get why anyone would think they should hire her again, TBH.

              1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                I’m not sure you did read more into my comment than I meant! I do think to accept (or offer) a job is to take on a commitment; that’s why I think it reflects poorly on her to break that commitment (and why it would cause me to think less of her).

            3. The OG Anonsie*

              While I understand if the LW gets the short end and this turns out to be a burned bridge, I would also hope that the circumstances of such a thing would mitigate their response. Getting an unexpected opportunity is different in how you were handling your commitment to the company than if you just came back not intending to say and kept on job hunting.

              I think people hope that the circumstances are relevant to the employer you’d be leaving, and that they wouldn’t have to choose between all the goodwill and good work they’d put into that company over the years and making big positive changes in their lives. So I don’t think the LW (et al) being upset is unreasonable, but I would also really hope that they would also feel that an employee’s commitment to the job has limits and not consider all the work they had already done for them to be binned because they reasonably put themselves first in a major decision.

            4. Insert name here*

              The reason people push back is that it’s never a two way street. You are supposed to be committed to an employer who isn’t expected to show the same level of commitment to you (and in fact you’re often considered entitled or naive if you do expect that). Most people will push back against an unfair balance of power.

              All yous general of course.

              Now I actually did stay with my last employer for several years and I’ve never left an employer in the lurch but that’s because I was happy in my jobs. Instead of being concerned with what an employee “owes” you, focus on treating then well and you’ll retain them. I probably could’ve gotten a higher salary elsewhere but the benefits at my last job were absolutely incredible and they were extremely flexible with my hours, plus I was paid well. So I wanted to stay. But if I’d gotten a better offer elsewhere I’d consider it. Sorry you would think less of me for doing so.

        2. Statler von Waldorf*

          I suspect the majority of the commentariat (including myself) have been burned in the past by managers who demand commitment to the job from their staff, but have no commitment to their employees. Now, to be extremely clear, I’m speaking in generalities, and I’m not directed this at you at all specifically. Once you’ve been treated as something disposable, it’s really easy to treat future employers the same way, even if they don’t deserve that treatment.

          I think the root cause here is related to the doctrine of at-will employment. This Canadian still thinks at-will employment is dumb, and that two-way commitment to a job is a thing best enforced with legal contracts. However, this is an area where I don’t seem to share the values of the majority of the commentariat, so I’ll just leave it at that.

          As for Ariel, she absolutely made the right call here, and it was really nice to see someone write in with a story about how they fixed the burned bridge instead of dumping more napalm on it.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            A lot of it comes down to the balance of power. From a more moral sense, you can say that your employer has no loyalty to you, so you don’t owe anything to them. But from a practical perspective, when your employer lays you off, they don’t want anything from you in the future. But when you quit, you still want something from your employer, generally a positive reference later on. If you’re willing to burn the bridge, you do so knowing that it may have an impact on this. It’s not necessarily fair, but it’s the reality.

            In the reverse direction, you could have a situation where an employer lays someone off with no severance and marches them out of the building, or lays them off a month after hiring them. Then they realize they need the former employee to document the role, or pass over passwords, or help to train someone. In that case, the employer has likely burned the bridge with the employee, and is not going to get the consideration that they otherwise would have if they had, say, provided reasonable severance or an extended notice period.

        3. Student*

          If companies want and expect more than that from their employees, then they owe the employees a similar commitment in return!

          That is commonly done through contracts, which can specify a period of time that the employment is guaranteed both ways. There are actually many countries where that is the norm for professional work. In the US, there are some industries where such contracts occur, and there are also union-related contracts. In the US, we’ve decided as a country that we generally value company flexibility and personal flexibility of this type of arrangement much more than we value the idea of making a longer-term commitment in matters of employment.

          If you want a committed business relationship, you are free to enter into contract-based work instead and spell out those commitments in ink. It’s absolutely nonsense to say that the employee has a commitment to the company when the company has no reciprocal obligation to the employee, though. That belief is actually extreme and well out of the norm.

        4. Workfromhome*

          I think the majority actually agree with the idea that accepting a job implies commitment. I think that the extent of that implied commitment is where your opinion seems to differ. I believe if you accept a job you make a commitment to give your best effort to do the job as long as you doing that job is mutually beneficial to you and the employer. You give a commitment to give the appropriate notice should you decide to leave (usually 2 weeks). Beyond those expected things anything else would need to be in a contract to be any kind of commitment. Ariel stayed 3 months and did her job. She gave notice . If there was more commitment expected (staying for a year or more) there should have been a contract so that the commitment to length of employment was TWO way. I mean if you were to say “Ariel I’m really disappointed when we rehired you I expected you to stay more than 3 months” Isn’t it reasonable to say “Wow if you wanted me to stay a year why didn’t you give me a year contact and commit to me for a year?”

          1. atexit*

            As someone who has been laid off three times in the past 15 years, I have no problems with Ariel quitting after 3 months.
            If an employer wants “commitment” then have a written contract.
            Employment at-will means just that. The employer can tell you not to come to work the next day. And you as the employee can quit anytime you want.

            In addition the chance the shape a brand new company is not one that comes one’s way every day.
            Heck, I haven’t had that happen to me in 30 years of work.

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