when should you expect your boss to apologize?

A reader writes:

I’m working in a job that was oversold to me. (Yes, I did due diligence and talked to people who knew the organization before accepting it.) The hiring manager told me I’d have considerable creative freedom, but in reality I’ve been stuck with a lot of rote, mindless, procedural work. I get to spend maybe 15% of my time on substantive work — if I’m lucky. Now, I believe my manager truly thought the job would be creative, but underestimated the time and labor involved in making a new product while working within existing systems.

This has been going on for a year, and though I spoke up months ago, I’ve only been told that we *might* be able to hire more people to help me soon. As you can imagine, I don’t particularly trust that this will happen. The business is generally a decent place to work, and I’d be slightly more inclined to stay (and trust these people) if I got an apology. I’ve followed your advice to ask only how things might be fixed in future, and I certainly wouldn’t ask for an apology flat out. But in an ideal world, it’s something I’d like to hear. So while we’re talking about ideals, let me ask you some questions about how you think apologies should work in an employer-employee relationship.

1) If you were the manager in this situation, would you apologize to the employee? Do you think that’s something managers should make a habit of doing, even if they’re not entirely at fault?

2) Would it ever make sense for an employee to ask for an acknowledgement of this kind of wrong? Would you, as a good and experienced manager, want to know if your employee thought you hadn’t kept your word? Outside of the office, we humans repair breaches of trust by apologizing. It that just a no-go in the professional world?

3) More generally, what would be your ideal norms around apologies in a hierarchical business environment?

I think you’re asking the wrong questions!

Yes, people who wrong each other in a business environment, even if unintentionally, should acknowledge that and apologize. That’s a part of being a flawed human working with other humans and it’s an essential part of trust and relationship-building.

And yes, if I were the manager in this situation, I would apologize for not accurately understanding what the job would be and relaying that correctly during the hiring process. That’s a really big deal, and the manager should take responsibility for it happening. That doesn’t mean there will be anything they should do about it — but they should acknowledge it happened, and have an open conversation about where to go from here (which might just be figuring out if the person wants to stay in the job as it is, and making it easy for them if they want to move on).

And certainly as a manager I’d want to know if someone felt I hadn’t kept my word! That’s a big deal too, and managers should be grateful for the chance to address it.

That said … I think you’re more fixated on an apology than you should be. Apologies are lovely, but they’re not going to fix this situation, and I’m concerned that by focusing on it this much, you’re missing the much more important actions that are needed here.

Let’s say you get an apology from your manager. Great! But now what? You’re still in a job you wouldn’t have accepted if it had been presented accurately to you, and you don’t trust the situation will be fixed any time soon. That’s probably not a situation you should stay in — and an apology won’t change that.

Focusing on an apology would make sense if this were a personal relationship — one where you needed the other person to understand and acknowledge how they’d hurt you before the relationship could move forward.

But this is a business relationship. Having the emotional pieces of it fall into place is a bonus, but the business side is more important: Is this a job you should stay in? If there are things that would make you stay, can you negotiate those, and would you rely on them if you did? Or is the right thing for you career-wise to leave?

You deserve an apology, but you may or may not get one. Ultimately these things are the pieces that matter far more here.

{ 108 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. The Original K.

    OP, what do you ultimately want out of this situation? I think that’s what you should focus on. Would your boss acknowledging that he messed up make the job more palatable, or do you actually want to be doing a more creative job? If it’s the latter, I think you should take steps to get there rather than focusing on the apology.

    Reply
    1. NotAnotherManager!

      I completely agree with this. I see the apology as a formality and looking back rather than looking at what can be done going forward to make this more into the job you were hired to do. I am admittedly not a touchy-feely person, though, and I’d rather have a solution than an apology.

      I think apologies in the workplace should be free-flowing when warranted. I apologized to an employee yesterday because I followed up with them on sending me something that… they’d already sent me. I’ve apologized to someone for snapping at them because I was overloaded with other things and didn’t have the patience I should have. My boss has apologized to me for cancelling meetings last minute and for forgetting to do something she’d offered to help with.

      Reply
    2. Washi

      Yeah, I totally get where the OP is coming from, but I think it might be helpful for her to dig into the assumption that she would be more ok with the situation if there were some more acknowledgment/apology from her boss that this sucks.

      Would a sincere apology improve your outlook on the job enough to want to stay? Or, knowing that your boss felt bad and very much wanted to keep you but couldn’t ultimately change anything, would you just feel a little more guilty about looking elsewhere? If you know in your bones that the best thing would be to leave, maybe it’s good that your current job isn’t making it a difficult choice.

      Reply
      1. Fortitude Jones

        All of this. I was misled in my previous job search about how much work I was going to be stepping into and the kinds of projects I would be involved with. I wasn’t friends with my boss or her office pet, so I didn’t get the types of meaty assignments the rest of my team, who are all friends with said boss, received. I put my head down, did my job, created projects for myself, and applied for better paying, interesting jobs elsewhere. I didn’t wait around for an apology, even though I expressed to my boss several times how I felt misled about my workload and duties – her apology would have meant nothing to me in the end because nothing changed. So I changed – I found a new job where, three weeks in, and I’m already being brought into high level corporate calls and doing work for customers in the EU, Singapore, Spain, and the US. The company I left did not have that kind of reach and none of my coworkers, including my boss, were doing things on this level. And I got a sizable pay increase with better benefits, more time off, and the ability to work from home full time – this situation actually ended up working to my advantage.

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        1. Falling Diphthong

          Her apology would have meant nothing to me in the end because nothing changed.

          I think this is really important. Day-to-day circumstances trump words, and trump intent.

          I fear OP has gotten into “if just this ONE THING happened, then everything would be fine” which is very likely not true.

          I think an apology might make sense in a personal relationship–“I’m sorry, when we got the dog I really thought I would be able to be home at a predictable time, and I realize that you have stepped up all the nights I worked late.” There’s an implicit “and I will make this up to you by not screwing up this way in the future” which really isn’t there for a boss who misled you about the nature of your job.

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        2. TootsNYC

          My army-sergeant brother used to say: “I don’t want an apology–I want you to fix it.”

          In religious terms, “repentance” has a very specific meaning–it doesn’t mean “regret.” It means “to turn around and go the other way.” And forgiveness comes with repentance, not regret.

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        3. JSPA

          It sounds like the percentage of creative vs rote work–in the OP’s situation–might change with time, though. The apology would reasonably be coupled with a reworked timeline for how the job will change to allow OP more “creative” hours. That said, the first go-round with the legacy system is likely to be slower and more painful than future iterations. So even without a change in the duties, the job might end up being (say) 50% creative time, in another couple of years. And the non – creative aspects may become so rote that they barely register (like brushing teeth).

          Reply
    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Came to say the same. It sounds like the problem is the job, and that there’s no plan for the job to change. Regardless of an apology, if this isn’t what OP wanted to do, I think it’s time to make a plan to get back to what OP wanted to do.

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    4. boo bot

      There is one useful thing I can think of that an apology would provide, and that’s basically, proof that the boss is a decent person who didn’t put the OP in this position deliberately, which might help prevent feelings of resentment if they’re stuck in this situation for a while.

      So I think there’s a real thing of value that they’re seeking here, but I agree that it’s not the thing of value they need to be seeking.

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      1. Massmatt

        This goes to what Alison mentioned about an apology being more important in a personal relationship than a business one. If the OP were going to use this person in her network, for example. But in this case it’s probably best to move on to something better ASAP given the OP has already put in a year there.

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      2. Ms. Ann Thropy

        Agreed. OP wants (and deserves) an apology AND the job she was promised. It doesn’t look like she’ll be getting either from her manager, so it may be time to look into moving on.

        Reply
    5. Sleepytime Tea

      Big Ditto from me. The thing is, as lovely as apologies are, they don’t mean squat without actions behind them. I think maybe part of the issue is that the OP sees an apology as, perhaps, a type of “contract” which means “I will do what I can to fix it because I’m acknowledging I’ve wronged you and the only appropriate next step is to make it right.”

      Unfortunately, their boss may not be in a position to change anything, and then that apology is going to feel hollow and we’re going to be right back where we started.

      OP, I think Alison is spot on. Focus on the actions you want taken and/or the outcomes. An apology without the rest won’t mean much.

      Reply
    6. Legal Beagle

      I agree with this being the big question, but I disagree with other commenters saying an apology is pointless or valueless. I’m a person who gets emotionally invested in my job, and what OP is looking for would make a big difference to how I felt showing up at work every day. Maybe “acknowledgement” is a better word than apology? That’s how I’m thinking of it. No, it’s not going to change the situation, but having your experience validated can make it more bearable, if you have to stay or would prefer to stay.

      Reply
  2. Moray

    I don’t think you should expect an apology, but that doesn’t mean you can’t…capitalize a little bit on any guilt. If there are trainings, conferences, etc you’re interested in for future career growth, you could delicately spin them as compensation for the job being more tedious than you were led to believe.

    Reply
    1. staceyizme

      I LIKE this! (And I don’t think you have to be delicate about it. Maybe frame it as professional development that will support the development of your role, citing concrete and specific impacts. But you could be VERY optimistic in drawing a few of those connections, provided that the rest of the learning was relevant.)

      Reply
    2. Sara without an H

      I like the way you think. Yes, OP, while you’re looking for a job more in line with your ambitions — and that’s the important part — see if you can get them to give you some professional development opportunities. In the long run, that will be worth more to you than a purely ceremonial apology.

      Reply
  3. RachelGrr

    This happened to me with my last role: was sold an Operations Manager position with significant HR duties – which turned out to be 9-5 diary management for six (6!) partners. No apology was forthcoming, I was slammed for being no good/very bad at constant scheduling, and eventually let go (I would have left off my own steam, but desperately needed the money).

    Alison is right: an apology would be nice, but it sounds like you need to GTFO as fast as your feet can carry you. Yes, it would be emotionally fulfilling to have them acknowledge the bait-and-switch, but do you – a valuable, creative professional – want to work in an organisation that either doesn’t know what it wants from its staff, or does but needs to disguise it? You’re better than this and if they have to learn it the hard way, so be it.

    Reply
    1. Minocho

      I had a job where the hiring manager was not involved in the third interview – instead the third interview was with a potential coworker, and a client. While with the client, it became clear that there were significant problems in the client relationship involving realistic expectations and trust. When the client left, the potential coworker started badmouthing both the client and potential employer. What was being advertised as a technical software development job with some project management was revealed to be a client / relationship management position where the relationship was already damaged.

      I got an offer for the position, and turned it down. The hiring manager’s manger called personally to ask why, and I explained that the third interview revealed the true nature of the position, and it’s not a position I either wanted or felt I could succeed at. If I really tried very hard, I might manage to avoid failure in such a position, but I could never do well. He explained that they advertised the position the way they did because they couldn’t get any responses when they described it honestly. I didn’t really see how I could offer anything more to that conversation, and just thanked them for their time.

      Ugh, bullet dodged.

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      1. Sara without an H

        He explained that they advertised the position the way they did because they couldn’t get any responses when they described it honestly.

        Wow. Just…wow.

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        1. Minocho

          It worked out. I leveraged that offer to push another company I was interviewing with to hurry their timeline.

          Company #2’s offer was lower than crazy company’s offer, but comparable – and the job was actually in line with its advertisement.

          I have been at Company #2 for four year, have just received a promotion and am very happy with my decision. So it was still worth the time spent interviewing!

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        2. The New Wanderer

          I’m glad it worked out for Minocho, but man the logic fail is just stunning. I mean, if the job is so bad that no one will take it when it’s clearly described, why in the world do they think anyone they trick into taking the job will stay, much less do well since they probably won’t even have the actual skills needed for the bad job? If anything that’s more motivation to leave quickly, and the company is still left with a broken stair of a job. Their only move is to fix the bad job internally.

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          1. Minocho

            Oh, yeah, there’s only short term “wins” even for the company in that situation, an overall it just seems dumb to try to fool people that way. If you need a person with both technical background / expertise and the social skills to handle a difficult client relationship, you need to advertise for that – it’s an unusual set of skills – and be willing to pay for it. If the job is undesirable on top of that, you’re going to have to figure out how to make it worthwhile, or make it stink less horribly, or something.

            All I knew is, I sure wasn’t up for it, and while I found the potential coworker’s behavior rather shockingly unprofessional, I am grateful to them because they saved me from a lot of grief.

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        3. Nessun

          My company just did this!! They listed a receptionist role as an administrative assistant role, because there was no interest when it was called “Receptionist”. I know it’s hard to get a young, motivated, intelligent person who wants to sit at a desk isolated from the rest of the office…but you can’t lie about what the job is!!! It’s such a bait and switch, and it looks so bad.

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        4. Don't get salty

          I had that same experience. I stayed at a job for three years amidst terrible treatment by my direct manager. My boss, the one who hired me, said that if he had described the true nature of the job to me, I would never have taken it.
          Before me, they couldn’t keep anyone in the position for longer than two months.

          Because of me, my direct manager was finally fired after nearly a decade on the job because I was diligent in reporting the behavior. But I found that even with my direct manager gone, there was really nothing to keep me there, so I left before I had another job lined up.

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      2. Hey Karma, Over here.

        “Well if I told you what you’d REALLY be doing, you wouldn’t have applied now would you?”

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      3. Lance

        Also: a client was in the interview? Was this an internal client, then? If not… is that even normal?

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        1. Minocho

          Yeah, it was a client. It was very weird, I was taken aback. But I think it was like a corporate structure thing – this entity is ultimately owned / beholden in totality in some way to the other (or an owner of the other?) and thus while this is technically a client relationship, they can have no other service but the one they currently have.

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      4. Psyche

        I really want to know how often advertising a portion as something better actually results in hiring someone who stays and is good at the job.

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        1. alphabet soup

          I’d venture to say very rarely.

          But that’s the thing with these kinds of jobs– they don’t need a rockstar to stay forever; they just need someone “good enough” to stay for the next 1-2 years to get through whatever project is most pressing at the time. (Or at least, that’s been my experience in my current role that was falsely advertised)

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      5. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Oh man…when I got no responses when I listed my old job [argh] it never even passed through my mind that I should just try to lie about it to get some one in there to sell a load of crud to, I cannot believe that crosses people’s minds. Okay I can believe it but I wish I didn’t.

        The problem was the wage for my job, it’s baffling that the job was so awful that even at the wage they offered, that allowed you to get a better offer that they couldn’t get anyone to at least try at it. Yikes, what a nightmare.

        Reply
        1. Minocho

          They were selling it as a high level technical job. The usual applicant for that type of job is not going to want to do a lot of stuff requiring large amounts of emotional intelligence, like managing a strained client relationship. They definitely sold it as a highly technical senior software development job – then that third interview happened.

          I would never characterize myself as someone with high emotional intelligence – I have worked hard to improve my abilities there, but still consider myself on the low end of that spectrum compared to the general population. The job sounded like the definition of hell to me, personally. The salary offer was quite generous – more than I would have asked for on my own.

          My only regret is that commute would have been nice – for the short time I would’ve held that job before I crashed and burned spectacularly, or simple burned out.

          Reply
    2. That Girl From Quinn's House

      Ugh I had something very similar happen to me. I applied for a role in marketing and ended up a receptionist/calendar management.

      After awhile they were like, “You’re not good at this so we’re going to end your contract,” and I said, “Yes, I am not good at this. I have no experience as a receptionist, there’s nothing resembling receptionist experience on my resume, and I didn’t apply to be the receptionist, so I’m not sure why you hired me to be one.”

      Reply
      1. lnelson in Tysons

        The bait and switch technique really doesn’t benefit everyone long term. At most you will get a body in the chair so to speak and fingers crossed will do an okay job at whatever the position really is, and pray that they are so desperate for a paycheck that they won’t jump ship after the first few days.
        Then the bait and switcher just needs to go to Glassdoor and read multiple review about false advertising their open positions.

        Reply
  4. Snarkus Aurelius

    If you have to ask for an apology, then it’s not a sincere apology. You can certainly tell someone that s/he did X, which resulted in your hurt feelings, and then an apology can organically come from the other person. But flat out asking for an apology defeats the whole purpose of it because you’re giving the other person the idea to do it rather than let that person come to a sincere conclusion, i.e. you’re doing the emotional work.

    As my childhood bully once said to me when no adults were around, “The only reason I apologized is because Teacher made me. I’m not sorry.”

    Even if your employer does apologize, what difference will that make in your life? I had a boss apologize to me all the time, but he still kept doing unintentionally hurtful things. Never once did I think he was truly sorry. He only apologized because that’s what was expected in the work environment, but he didn’t change overall.

    Reply
    1. Heidi

      I’m seconding this. It sounds like maybe what OP wants is for the manager to 1) publicly admit that she got a bad deal, 2) acknowledge his role (or fault?) in her getting a bad deal, and 3) feel as badly as she does about this whole situation. This can be sort of cathartic, I guess, in that OP gets to redistribute the unhappiness to the person who instigated it, but it cannot be forced. Nor will the apology materially improve the OP’s work situation. It seems like demanding an apology as the price for OP staying in this job is asking for something they can’t reasonably expect and letting the bosses off the hook too easily at the same time.

      Reply
      1. Snarkus Aurelius

        Because you can’t make another human being sincerely feel a specific emotions no matter how justified you think s/he should.

        When it becomes apparent to the other person that’s what you’re trying to do, then you ironically decrease the chances of that happening. People understandably resist being ordered to display specific emotions. Those are behaviors only we can regulate for ourselves.

        Reply
        1. boo bot

          I would actually disagree with this, at least in personal relationships. Yes, “You need to apologize to me right now!” isn’t likely to move anyone without more context, but if someone tells me, “Hey, that thing you did hurt me and I’d like an apology,” then I’m extremely likely to sincerely feel sorry for hurting them, and by telling me they want an apology, they’ve made it clear what action they want me to take.

          I think it’s a little bit hair-splitting to say, if “I have to tell you to apologize, it’s not a real apology.” I think one of the common paths to conflict is one person expecting another to “just know” what they want or need, and it’s worth it to be direct, even when it really, really feels like someone actually should “just know.” (For example, yes, if someone says “Hey, that thing you did hurt me,” I’m going to apologize even if they don’t ask, as well I should.)

          Reply
      2. Sloan Kittering

        This reminds me of yesterday’s letter when the writer said they were “fixated on justice in the workplace.”

        Reply
  5. Perpetuum Mobile

    Years ago I was brought into an organization as a contractor, with an explicit promise by my then-manager that at around 6 months mark I would be made permanent. More and more promises were made, mainly by other managers who I got re-assigned to, over the years. But it never happened until I was laid off 4 years and 10 months later (yes, I know…all these “various reasons”…). I grew pretty bitter and at the end was actually happy to leave. I am still in touch with my first ex-manager as I consider her somewhat of a mentor. But it never dawned on me to ask for an apology. Kinda seems…a waste of time?..

    Reply
    1. Minocho

      I had something like this happen to me too as a temp employee. After a year and a half they announced they were letting me go end of the week. That Friday I was informed they wanted to extend my time because they didn’t realize how much I did, and they needed time to line up a replacement. This went on for about a month on a week to week basis. I was happy to keep earning as I desperately searched for other employment. Once I had a position, I resigned from the temporary one. I got complaints that I only gave them one week of notice…

      I eventually heard the reason they let me go because a new state law went into effect saying that you couldn’t keep temporary employees for more than 6 months, then the position wasn’t temporary and you had to hire the temp employee in.

      Reply
  6. Exhausted Trope

    You might speak to management about what you want your role there to look like. Be abundantly clear on your needs and get a time line for implementation. After you’ve assessed how willing they are to make the changes you need, decide whether you want to go or stay.
    But apologies should not be your focus.

    Reply
  7. Amber Rose

    “Outside of the office, we humans repair breaches of trust by apologizing.”

    I disagree. Apologies are not solutions ever. They are step one of a multi-step process that involves addressing the actual problem. If I get an apology and nothing else, I actually feel more upset since I’m apparently not worth more than the literal minimum of effort, and now all the emotional labor is on me since I’m expected to forgive automatically.

    Words are meaningless. Action is everything. And if you’re thinking you’d get some kind of closure through an apology, you probably won’t.

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    1. Lora

      +1. When I think of all the things people have done wrong in the world, an apology doesn’t really cut it. What I want to see is that someone who has done something wrong will not do the wrong thing ever again.

      Some people learn to do the right thing via training, reading and observing. This is best, because in this way you avoid many mistakes altogether simply by learning from other people’s examples.
      Some people learn by making their own mistakes. This is not great, but at least they do learn – albeit slowly.
      Some people fail to learn entirely for whatever reason; they are not educable. These are the ones you have to fire. What gets up my nose is when the clearly unteachable fail upwards through family/network connections/privilege, and continue to get chance after chance after chance to screw up, never ever learning from it. Do you really care if these guys apologize and feel terrible about themselves?

      Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Agreed on the action caveat. If nothing changes, an apology is pretty hollow. I think OP would be better served by observing whether any action backs up the contrition about a bait and switch. It sounds like nothing is changing or will change.

      So OP can either put it on their boss to create a plan to make OP less unhappy (I think this may be a long stretch that won’t yield what OP wants from the job), accept the status quo, or leave.

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    3. JB (not in Houston)

      I’m not sure why you are picking on the OP’s turn of phrase here. Not every person apologizing expects automatic forgiveness? Plus, the OP didn’t say trust is repaired with *only* an apology. If someone has broken my trust and they change after that but never apologize, I’m still going to be hurt. A sincere apology is part of the package–and for some things, an apology really is all that is needed.

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      1. Amber Rose

        I’m not picking on anything. I’m just pointing out that the apology is kind of a low priority when its probable nothing will change, and that may be partly why one hasn’t been offered here and why focusing on that likely won’t offer closure.

        An apology is fine alone if you have accidentally stepped on my foot or bumped into me. Less fine if you have impacted my daily life and do nothing about it.

        As I said, its step one. Not step only.

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      2. LabTechNoMore

        I’m glad you’re pointing out the turn of phrase. I took what OP was saying less literally. Rather than expecting the boss to explicitly say, “I’m sorry,” I assumed the OP was looking for some acknowledgement from their boss that OP was put in a difficult situation, and acknowledgement about the boss’s responsibility in all of that.

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    4. Lucy

      The Love Languages people have also come up with Apology Languages (as I discovered down an internet rabbit hole recently – my precise terminology will be wrong but Google will help).

      It could well be that LW values apologies differently from Alison and commenters (for some people it’s the literal words “I’m sorry; I apologise” that matter, which haven’t yet been uttered).

      It’s also possible that the manager thinks she has apologised (for some people it’s about acknowledging the “victim’s” feelings, so if the manager has expressed regret for the current situation she may think that box has been ticked).

      Either way, I firmly agree with Alison and the commentariat that the apology is the least of LW’s worries, and probably a red herring.

      Reply
        1. JSB

          For anyone who hasn’t explored this, learning about Apology Languages has had a bigger impact on my relationships than Love Languages! I am Accept Responsibility and my partner is Express Remorse. Any time I would mess up and own it was my fault, they would be like, “…and…?” After we took the quiz, I started adding, “…and I recognize how that made you feel and that was really crappy of me.” Works like a charm!

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  8. BRR

    I heard somewhere about dividing thoughts, actions, and words. If you look at the difference between actions and words here, words won’t fix your situation. I was in a job where I felt undervalued and unappreciated. I was told I was a valuable member of the team but it always felt hollow because there wasn’t any action to make me feel valued. I don’t think an apology will fix things on its own. I think an apology would be best if it was part of a complete package.

    Reply
  9. CatCat

    I was kind of annoyed by an apology from an ex-boss. It didn’t fix the work problem (finding another job is what did that) or otherwise do a dang thing for me. I got the sense she did it because she felt bad and apologizing made her feel better about herself.

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  10. Tomato Frog

    OP, do you need an apology, or do you just need an acknowledgement of the problem to show that it’s real and understood by your manager? I’m not clear from your letter whether you ever got the latter, and I’m wondering if you’re confusing the need to have a problem recognized — which is likely something that would help you get where you want to be! — vs. getting the emotional satisfaction an apology.

    If it is the case that you don’t feel the problem is fully seen by your manager, I think you can constructively focus on communicating and outlining the problem to your manager. If you really are just looking for emotional satisfaction, though, it’s probably time to accept it’s not going to happen.

    Reply
    1. Name Required

      “OP, do you need an apology, or do you just need an acknowledgement of the problem to show that it’s real and understood by your manager?”

      I think this is hitting the nail on something a lot of folks seem to be missing. An apology *is* a way to show that the manager understands that this problem is real. When you apologize sincerely, you take responsibility for how you’ve contributed to the issue. The manager didn’t proactively acknowledge the change in responsibilities, and gave what seems to be a lukewarm response when the employee did. That doesn’t exactly say, “You’re a valued employee, we’d like you to keep working here.”

      That might be the message the company is intending to send. If it isn’t, a sincere apology would correct course in a way that a flat acknowledgement of the situation would not.

      We’d like to think we have totally detached emotionally from the workplace, but that simply isn’t true. A little human kindness goes a long way.

      Reply
    2. ShwaMan

      Nailed it completely.

      I know at work it’s easy to mix up feelings and outcomes. As a somewhat stoic personality at work, I tend to view feelings as a *means* to an outcome, and nothing more. But I know others are different — they can get stuck on a feeling, and it prevents them from effectively pursuing an outcome.

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    3. Coverage Associate

      Yes. Alison asks about, Would you accept promises of change to the role? But without management acknowledging the problem, it would be hard to trust (again) their representations about the role. Whether they actually express contrition, they need to sincerely acknowledge the bait and switch.

      Reply
    4. Legal Beagle

      Yes! I said in the first thread that it read to me like OP was really looking for acknowledgement and validation. “No, you’re not doing the job you were hired for; we are sorry, it wasn’t an intentional bait-and-switch.” Then, the crucial piece is that the manager lays out a clear path for fixing that situation. But I think the first part is important, too. Just recognizing the reality and validating the OP’s frustration could go a long way, if the manager cares about keeping OP in the job.

      Reply
    5. MissDisplaced

      This was my thought (having been there myself)!
      OP feels they are not being heard.

      It’s not about the apology per se, it is about being heard, understanding the magnitude and impact of the problem, and actually looking for solutions and taking steps to rectify the problem.

      I’m very sorry to say though that there is a good chance it won’t happen. Because you’re there “working” and as long as work gets done it’s easy to ignore that you’re unhappy with the role as it is.

      Reply
  11. MommyMD

    What good is an apology really? Accept that this position may be exactly what it is today. It’s a decent place to work. Not ideal. You either decide you want to pursue something else or you frustratingly accept it. If you accept it, it may make going in everyday easier.

    Reply
    1. Lily in NYC

      True. Also, it doesn’t seem like the manager acted with malicious intentions and was not purposely pulling a bait and switch.

      Reply
    2. Fortitude Jones

      From my experience, accepting that your job sucks and probably isn’t going to change doesn’t make it easier to go in every day. My last job was soul sucking because I rarely had any work to do – I became highly resentful of having to get out of bed every morning, especially on days when I didn’t feel well, and dragging myself into an office to just sit and stare at my laptop all day. It was a waste of my time, and I knew the longer I stayed in that situation, the more my skills and brain cells would atrophy and I’d be crap on the job market.

      Reply
  12. staceyizme

    Absolutely perfect advice! When you’re focused on what someone else may/ might/ should/ ought to do- you’re passive and at the affect of their actions. Strategically, that’s an unsustainable posture in any relationship. You want to recognize, consider and fully leverge your own agency in choosing to stay or to go, and on what terms. Their apology would be the frosting on the procerbial cake. It’s irrelevant now, though, because the whole cake is missing. Now what? You’re the one best equipped to answer that.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      My wise friend pointed out that when we say, “If only my person would do x, then everything will be alright” this can be a crutch enabling us to avoid a larger problem.

      Granted, OP, I am not you. But please think about how this plays out. Pretend that you got your apology. Now what. How do you feel about doing the same old stuff everyday?

      The apology itself probably lasts five minutes at most. Then it’s back to the same old stuff. How do you imagine Future You processing this.
      I know for myself the longer I wait for an apology the more angry I get. My solution was to stop looking for apologies. This has been very helpful.

      Reply
  13. londonedit

    Totally agree with Alison. I know you said you’ve spoken up before, but have you had a specific conversation with your boss about what your expectations for the role were, and how you feel they haven’t translated into what you’re actually doing? It might well be that the boss will naturally apologise for the situation once you have that discussion, but that isn’t what you really need – an apology won’t change anything. You need to have a proper discussion about how your role as it is doesn’t meet your expectations or your ambitions for what you’d like your job to be, and see whether there’s any way you and your boss can work together to make things better for you.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Friends/family used to talk about “plugging in an employee” kind of like plugging in a fan or a coffee pot. Plug the employee in and let them run and forget about them. Kind of like forgetting about the coffee pot until it breaks. “Whooops, I need to pay attention to the coffee pot now that it’s not working the way it was.”

      They plugged you in and then forgot about you, OP. Look around. Is the same thing happening to others? I am thinking suppose they give you the level of responsibility you are looking for, will they just leave you there like they did this time?

      Reply
      1. Imelda Rivera

        Just wanted to say that the ‘plugging in’ comment gave me a lot of clarity on my current work situation – it gave a phrase to what I was thinking and feeling but couldn’t articulate to myself. Thank you for this.

        Reply
  14. Not All

    I’ve come to the sad conclusion that a lot of managers quite deliberately like about what a job actually entails…at least my last 2 did. The first one did it consciously because he wasn’t getting anyone he wanted to hire to consider the position as it actually was (I wouldn’t have either). The current one…well, I can’t decide if he did it deliberately or if he’s just completely clueless. (Both is also a distinct possibility.) From that manager, an apology wouldn’t make me stay but I’d really like him to fully acknowledge it just to reduce the odds he’s going to do the same thing to the next person. I’ve actually had the discussion with both his supervisor and HR about just how badly the position was misrepresented and how little my official PD resembles my actual job. It doesn’t change that I’m going to spend every break job searching, but hopefully it will save them having a whole series of people being miserable and leaving quickly!

    (Official PDs are a big deal in my agency and “other duties as assigned” cannot make up more the 10% of your time…it’s more like 85% for me.)

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      OP, I have a parallel theory. I believe that many managers do not remember what the job entails any more, if they ever knew. I take a job description and pick out the parts I don’t like and figure that will be where I spend the bulk of my time. This has not failed me yet, I am sorry to say. However, I can plow through almost any headache now, I am good at it. Which means I get gifted more headaches.

      It’s helpful to take a serious look at the company. I had two subordinates who did not like their jobs,they wanted to do something else. I said to them if you want to flip burgers instead but we do not have any burgers that need flipping. What we do have is this [mind-dulling] machine that needs constant tending.* That’s what we have. I had used the same advice on myself. I kept saying “when do I get something interesting?” I made myself look around, “uh, there’s not too much interesting going on anywhere.” I was hoping for something that did not even exist with this employer.

      *I said it a little nicer than that. That sounds really snotty there, but it wasn’t the way I said it originally. They understood, this is what we have. We never revisited the question again.

      But do look around. Does this employer even have the ability to get you what you want?

      Reply
  15. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    I don’t think you should ask for an apology; I think demanding an apology is a power play. If only they ask for your forgiveness, then you can trust them again? Then what…they’ll owe you one? You’ll have capital to spend? That isn’t how this will likely play out. The boss will probably resent being treated like a child, and the implication that they were dishonest — you even acknowledge that they “truly thought the job would be creative.” Be prepared that they’ll suddenly find all the ways that you aren’t performing your job up to their expectations, any more than the job is meeting your expectations.

    Reply
  16. Clay on my apron

    An apology would feel a bit weirdly personal to me. Unless you have a close relationship with your manager. At the same time, in this business relationship, you have essentially been sold something broken. it would be appropriate for the manager to express their regret that you aren’t in the type of role you were promised and ask you how you would like to proceed. In the same way that a hotel would make amends for putting you in a broom cupboard after you booked the penthouse suite. An apology on its own would be insufficient and you’d want the situation to be rectified, but at the same time there is a limit to how much of the damage can be fixed. If you really don’t want to be in this job, and the company can’t offer anything suitable instead, you should start looking for something else.

    Reply
  17. pcake

    Let’s say that – imo best case scenario – that your manager sincerely apologizes and feels bad. In that case, at a guess, it means upper management is tying the manager’s hands, and nothing is going to change. If your manager is the one keeping you doing work you do now instead of the work you were promised at hiring, then how sincere could that apology be? If your manager felt bad, he/she would adjust your work so at least some more was the work that you agreed to upon hiring.

    Unless the potential apology includes adjusting your work so you get at least a little more creative work, your days will still be filled with repetitive, emotion-sucking drudgery. An apology lasts seconds or minutes; work lasts hours, days, weeks, months and so on.

    Reply
  18. YetEvenAnotherAlison

    I agree with Alison, ideally the employer should help the OP exit the situation with grace if that is what they wanted to do. And as usual, Alison is spot on – OP should not be so focused on the apology – but whether this job is right for her, and whether they want to stay in the role. Once they determine whether they want to stay or not – then the next steps are pretty obvious. I would caution the OP – a classy employer would acknowledge the situation, if not overtly, then with helping OP move on to another job outside the company – but NOT all companies are classy like this. Some companies would start looking for your replacement on the downlow and then terminate you when they found one. OP already had one conversation, the employer knows the deal – if OP wants to leave better to give your energies to doing great work in the current role and finding another position without letting her employer know she is looking. Leave with them wanting more of you :)

    Reply
  19. Jennifer

    I agree that you are too fixated on getting an apology. I think you want more of an acknowledgement that you were misled, or to be “right,” but that’s not going to change the job. You need specifics on when or if this job is ever going to change so you can plan your next move. I’d take that any day over a probably insincere apology.

    Reply
  20. Princess prissypants

    Dude, it’s not personal.

    Your choices aren’t between a) being mad someone misled you, or b) being placated. Your choices are a) put up with a job where you believe people are misleading you, or b) get another one.

    Reply
    1. voyager1

      Exactly. I am blown away at the sense of entitlement in the LW. I have had managers do far worst then this. The nature of the job changed, it happens all the time. LW has not been harassed, bullied or retaliated against in any way or for anything.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Whoa, wait. It’s not entitled to be really upset when you’re promised one job and given a different one. That’s a really big deal! Just because harassment or retaliation is worse doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be significantly upset over here.

        Reply
        1. I GOTS TO KNOW!

          For real! Pain Olympics are not at all useful. Just because there are people here without jobs or with managers that constantly harass them, that doesn’t mean the LW doesn’t have the right to be upset about their job being significantly different than what they were interviewed for.

          Reply
        2. voyager1

          Being upset about the situation not being ideal is reasonable, but the recourse is just too move on OR accept the job as is. But sometimes jobs change and/or evolve. An apology just seems silly in that case IMHO.

          Reply
          1. alphabet soup

            But there’s a difference between a job changing over time, which involves growing into new/different responsibilities, and the job turning out to be completely different than what was advertised from day 1. The latter either happens because the hiring manager intentionally misled candidates about the role, or because they are too clueless about what the job actually entails and what skills are needed to be successful. Either case does not bode well for long-term job satisfaction. I think it’s only human to be upset when someone has intentionally misled you or when you’ve invested significant time and energy into landing a job that turns out not to help you achieve your career goals.

            I agree that the LW is too focused on the apology, but only because they are unlikely to receive one/it’s unlikely to make a difference, not because they don’t have a reason to be upset.

            Reply
            1. voyager1

              I disagree, a job can change without growing, you can get a new manager who decides that instead of doing A,B,C instead of 1,2,3 like you have been doing or this which happened to me:

              My Manager left, the VP above him delegated his duties to the team and then proceeded to tell us on the team that those new additional duties were permanent. Yeah I was doing my former manager’s job, oh and I didn’t get a pay increase or title change. Here is the kicker, I had applied for my manager’s job when he left, and didn’t get it. However I got about 40% of his duties. I left in 12 weeks after that change. Even the HR Director who did my exit interview said I got a raw deal. I don’t remember if she apologized though.

              I get the LW is annoyed but leaving is really the only thing that is going to give her any thing resembling closure.

              Reply
              1. alphabet soup

                I still think we’re talking about two slightly different scenarios that aren’t 100% analogous to each other.

                I’m in a situation very similar to the LW. I took my current job to work on a big creative project, which my manager told me was a “big opportunity” with “lots of room for growth.” But I’ve worked here two years and haven’t made any progress on big creative project because I mostly do administrative tasks (think: data entry and Excel Hell). I’ve brought this up to my manager multiple times, and he always pretends that he has no idea what I’m talking about and says that “maybe next quarter” is when we’ll finally have time for more creative work. I chose this job *because of* this project. I had other offers (that paid better) for other Excel Hell jobs, but I turned them down, because I wanted to build a creative portfolio. Now, it’s two years later and I have no portfolio and I also don’t have the extra $40k I could have earned somewhere else. I wasted two years of my career here.

                I think that’s a little different than working somewhere for a while and having additional duties above your paygrade foisted upon you. That’s still a really unfair situation that shows there’s some crummy management going on (I’m glad you decided to leave and were able to find a new role quickly!). But it doesn’t carry the same bait-and-switch feeling that the LW (and myself) seem to be feeling.

                Reply
                1. voyager1

                  Your situation definitely sounds like a bait switch, but the LW is way more nebulous about it. She says she was oversold on the job while saying the manager didn’t realize how much other stuff there was. That doesn’t sound like there was malice on the manager’s part to me .

        3. Not So NewReader

          I have to thank you, Alison, for so clearly saying this stuff.
          Our society needs to change it’s collective thinking.
          It’s wrong for employers to misrepresent a job. For years I have watched the response to a question like OP’s be along the lines of “Oh well, sucks to be you!”
          And this needs to be recognized as the breach of trust it actually is.

          Reply
      2. Vanilla Nice

        I agree with Alison. The LW seems self-aware of their own negative feelings and is trying to figure out how to best deal with them productively.

        Reply
      3. Elspeth

        The nature of the job didn’t change – the OP was actually misled as to the day to day and it looks nothing like what was presented to him/her. If I were the OP, I’d be applying for other jobs pronto because it doesn’t look like the situation is going to change at all.

        Reply
  21. Bananatiel

    In my personal experience promises of hiring another person often doesn’t pan out, FWIW, but on the topic of apologies, I’ve often found that they don’t mean much if there’s not action accompanying it. Especially in an office environment– so I’m not sure receiving one would have that much of an impact in the case when you’re already very dissatisfied with the position as much as you are.

    At an old job, I once found out through the grapevine that someone in leadership suggested that a project I had worked on was sexist. She immediately escalated the situation to the CEO as my boss and I were finding out about the feedback secondhand. I do creative work that can be subjective but there was no merit to her comments and the way she handled it was inappropriate. I was personally very hurt, to the point that I even cried during one discussion with my boss about it. My boss told me that the CEO agreed and that I would receive an apology from the leadership team member. Never did. The whole situation was quickly swept under a rug without any other action or direction, too.

    On some level it might have helped to get that apology, but I realize now that it was a wake-up call I needed to leave and move to a place with a better culture. And I am in a much better place now!

    Reply
  22. Vanilla Nice

    I agree with others that an apology is unlikely to fix this situation and that the OP would be well-served by looking for another job.

    I’m not saying this is necessarily what’s going on in the O.P.’s situation, but earlier in my career, I stayed in an unhappy job much longer than I should have. I wanted to “prove” to management that they were wrong about various things and that I was owed an apology. It ended up being an exercise in complete futility. I would have been better off professionally I had walked away early, and it would have been better for the organization if my manager or grandboss had had the foresight to say “this doesn’t seem like it’s working out in terms of fit.” (I was just barely average at performing the job duties, but it was a place where no one was ever let go unless you did something illegal).

    When I finally did leave and started another job, I had two realizations almost immediately: (1) I should have changed jobs years earlier, and (2) any apology from my old manager or grandboss would have accomplished nothing, because they NEVER admitted to being wrong about anything and NEVER listened to employee feedback. I’m still in touch with a few old co-workers there, and other than a few administrative reshuffles, nothing else changed in the 8 years since I left.

    Reply
    1. Windchime

      Yes. I was in a situation similar to yours. I also should have left several years before I did, and no matter how many times people apologized, their actions remained horrible. Now that I am in a good place with non-horrible people, I can see that. Hindsight is 20/20, after all.

      Reply
  23. GetOut

    To commiserate with OP, I once found myself in a similar position – working at a job that was totally different than what had been sold to me. I’m not a touchy-feely person, but found myself really craving the company to acknowledge that they had put me in an awkward situation / were asking a lot of me that was really different than what was described in the interview. Not acknowledging it, and minimizing the difference, was one of the reasons I left very quickly – if the elephant in the room had been addressed, I would have felt less crazy.

    Reply
  24. Massmatt

    This situation stinks because it seems like the OP took the steps to make sure the job duties would be as described by talking to future coworkers etc and still got screwed.

    Whenever I interviewed I always tried to talk to other people in the office, especially if I would be joining a team. It saved me from this situation once, a job was described as mostly desirable x with a tiny bit of undesirable y, and a potential to soon start doing extremely coveted z. Talking to what would have been my coworkers and that description got major eye rolls. “the job IS y, you do x maybe once or twice a month. And Boss has been saying we’re about to start z soon in the six years i’ve been here!”

    Appalling how many bosses mislead like this, I think most do it deliberately, some are clueless about what their staff are actually spending their time doing, and some are delusional. Really they deserve to have the employees they misled quit on the spot, or just completely slack off and spend their time looking for another job.

    Reply
  25. cmcinnyc

    I had a coworker who was overpromised (spoiler alert: she left) and I kind of get why OP is fixating on an apology. I’m an EA, the other EA in the (very large) department left, we hired another one. Except she’s been sold a whole bill of goods and given a different title. Then someone comes to her desk and wants her help with the fax machine and she says, “That’s not my job.” And tells me, “Why would he think that’s my job? That’s your job.” Yeah, on my side of the floor. We’re supporting 65 people and I did it alone for 6 months but… So not only was she lied to (spoiler: the manager that hired her was fired–not for this, but it fit in with the general pattern of promising the moon and delivering a wedge of Laughing Cow Light Cheese), but she felt demeaned and disrespected every day. Emotionally, that is really, really hard and can fool you into thinking you need people to acknowledge you, apologize, feel bad, whatever–when really, you just need to go. Which she did. On the eve of a major office move.

    Reply
    1. alphabet soup

      “promising the moon and delivering a wedge of Laughing Cow Light Cheese” OMG that’s brilliant. :)

      Reply
  26. Liz T

    Yeah I feel like people are pretending apologies have literally no value, just because they don’t magically solve all problems.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer

      They do have value when they are sincere, when the person sees what they did wrong and tries to make amends. Simply saying “I’m sorry” isn’t going to ultimately fix the OP’s problem. Maybe it will make them feel better momentarily but ultimately they need to know if they need to stay in this job or go.

      Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      If someone steps on my foot and apologizes, then steps on my foot again, the apology is meaningless to me.

      I actually don’t put a high value on apologies alone. I think that I became this way because of being in the work world. There are people who think apologizing buys them the right to do the same thing over again. Early on I got pretty tired of that line.

      The second half here is that nothing magically solves all problems. The fact that a problem occurred is not something that is erasable. There is an effort involved in moving beyond a problem any time a problem occurs. If an apology does occur, the mess still has to be fixed.

      Reply
  27. Argh!

    The supervisor isn’t the one who pulled the bait-and-switch, it seems, so why apologize? Apologize on behalf of the organization?

    Also, apologies are time-sensitive things. If it’s been a year, it would never occur to anyone to apologize. LW is still there, so what’s to apologize for?

    I applied for a job described as having some weekend and evening hours, and that’s exactly what I wanted because I wanted to continue my volunteer work. Then when I asked about my schedule I learned that it’s 8-5 M-F. I tried to volunteer on my lunch hour and weekends for awhile, but I’ve basically given up on it. It sucks to be tricked.

    Turns out that was just the first of a lot of dishonest moves by management. LW should just start looking for a new job. The storyline of “It wasn’t challenging enough” is a good reason for leaving a job.

    Reply
  28. Close Bracket

    But this is a business relationship. Having the emotional pieces of it fall into place is a bonus, but the business side is more important:

    I would argue that getting an apology is part of the business side bc building relationships at work is part of the business side. Building trust between manager and employee is part of the business side. Manager damaged that trust by making promises they couldn’t keep, and manager should, not just ideally but really should, repair the trust by apologizing. I get that Manager won’t, but there is a business case for doing so.

    I’m in a really similar position to OP where my manager presented things as one way, and things are in actuality completely different. Of course, I did not just fall off the turnip truck yesterday, so I knew manager was not being honest in the first place. I am fully prepared to walk out of here, not right away, but eventually, over it, and then my manager gets to hire someone else. Not making promises in the first place would have been the best way to build trust, but since he did make promises, admitting that he did represent things as being a certain way and apologizing for how things are working out would improve his chances of retaining me. Just apologizing without fixing things would go nowhere. However, apologizing and fixing things would have a better chance of retaining me than fixing things without an apology. So, business case for apologizing.

    Reply
  29. fhqwhgads

    Here’s the thing: I can see how in the moment right now, OP is in the middle of all this “but they’re nice!” and the company doesn’t seem terrible or like lying liars who lie, and it just didn’t turn out the way she’d been led to believe but it wasn’t on purpose and what not… she seems like she wants the apology because she wants to like it here. And apology might feel more concretely like there’s no malice or no scheming in it. And that might make her feel better for five minutes.
    But – I get the apologies ALL THE TIME. I was totally misled about the nature of my role, and I’m stuck because what they need right now is for me to keep doing work that is totally not what I signed up for and not what I’m interested in but that’s the work that needs doing, and I can do it, so I’m gonna. And when that pattern continues. And you get the apologies. And the vague confirmations of the intention to make it better in the future – but no idea when that “future” is… it doesn’t feel better. The first apology? Sure. Made me more optimistic. “Oh they’ve realized this isn’t what we’d discussed. It’s in progress. Change is on the way. Great!” But now here we are and nothing’s change and I can tell it’s not going to, so the apologies…including the first one really, are meaningless. They were sincere. I didn’t have to prompt for them. They were made with the best of intentions. But they’re bullshit.
    Decide if you can be happy enough in this gig due to other positives, or start planning your escape. Even if you get that first apology, it’ll only feel a little bit better for a very little while.

    Reply
  30. Mimmy

    Oh I can relate to this! I feel like I was oversold on my current job as well and was upset that the managers didn’t acknowledge that the job didn’t turn out to be what they had said during the interview. My direct manager did eventually acknowledge it, but she didn’t outright apologize. (And, tbh, she’s not the one who I wanted an apology from). I’ve long accepted that I wasn’t going to get an apology and resolved to (professionally) express my feelings if I leave and am offered an exit interview.

    Believe me, I get it…I’m the type that expects an apology in work and non-work situations. However, I think it’s better to not dwell on what didn’t happen and to move forward and bring up issues that are *currently* impacting your ability to do your job effectively.

    Reply
  31. moneypenny

    I recently completed a contracted position which was created for me, or the work I do rather, and everyone was on board. My boss was excited, she got financial buy-in from the business, everyone was made aware, I showed up for my first day. And then that week, the floor dropped out. The role changed, there was no work to do, and I spent the next six months digging for something to add to my resume. My skills were stagnating, no one had work for me to help with, and I got very frustrated and worse, bored. My boss ultimately killed my contract early because the business discovered that I wasn’t doing anything for the pay, and handed me my two weeks. She apologized so, so many times. The scope totally changed and shrunk, and she felt terrible about it. She offered references, tried to connect me with people who could help, and attended my going away happy hour. All of that to say, it was clear it wasn’t her fault and she couldn’t do anything to change the situation.

    The goal here seems to be, what CAN be changed about LW’s situation and at which level? Can it be affected by LW or the boss at all in the first place? Or is it time to cut bait?

    Reply
  32. Pomona Sprout

    Boy, do I ever feel this LW’s pain! I had a boss once who totally changed the content of my job several months after I started working there, including the hours, from a typical 9 to 5 schedule to one that involved having to come in at all hours of the day and night, which I could not even do. (HELLO! I have a 9 yesr old child and a husband who works nights, you wretched nit!) He was forced to dump the crazy hours part on a coworker, and he expressed exactly ZERO regret to either of us. While I would have really appreciated a sincere apology, it wouldn’t have stopped me from lookjng for a new job.

    The kicker was his obvious surprise and annoyance when I turned in my resignation a couple of months later to take a much better job. Like, wtf did you expect, genius, a thank you card for trying to screw up my life?

    Reply
  33. agnes

    oh, I sure hope you can get to a point of not being distracted by things like wanting an apology and instead focus on the much more important issues of the job not being accurately represented and what can be done about that.

    Apologies are cheap and while they might help you ‘prove’ you’re right or temporarily minister to your hurt feelings, what you want is the job you thought you accepted. Focus on getting that.

    Reply

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