I feel guilty about leaving the team I manage

A reader writes:

I’ve been at my company eight years now and have seriously loved working here, working my way up to the manager of my location in that time. I am in my early 30s, and this is my first job with direct reports. Due to a variety of corporate-level decisions, my job has gotten harder to enjoy as my team has become more and more unhappy with the retail side of the company (pay, hours, staffing, etc.). Because of that, my employees have been moving into more back office positions, promotions that I have helped develop them for and supported. This has caused some severe staffing issues on my team and, due to the limited support from management and the company as a whole, my health has declined from the stress. I have needed to start taking anxiety medication to prevent panic attacks. I even looked at what I would need to do to qualify for medical leave due to stress and anxiety. I thought I could work through it and come out the other side, but I don’t think I can. I am just so burned out.

However, I feel so guilty over possibly leaving. With all of the staffing changes, if I left too, the stability in my location would be harmed, and the team that’s left would suffer (albeit temporarily). Compounding that, an employee is transferring from another location to mine specifically because he wants to work with me. I also had another employee recently receive an offer at another company for slightly more pay, but one major reason she elected to stay on my team was how much she liked me as a manager and the “stress-free” environment I create at my location (since she herself is going through some significant life changes and stresses).

I keep being told by friends and family that I don’t owe my team my health, and I need to look out for myself. But these are people I have emotionally invested myself in – I have sacrificed my time, energy, and health for these people, and the idea of leaving them is wracking me with guilt. People are turning down better paying jobs to stay on my team! One of my friends says that it’s because of this guilt I need to leave more than anything, and that I’ve lost all semblance of work-life balance.

So, how do I do this? How do I convince myself I’m not as important to these people as I think I am? How do I tell them I am leaving, when/if I find a new job? Will the guilt go away?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 86 comments… read them below }

  1. A good manager, or so they say*

    I love managing. I like to think that I’m more compassionate about it than many managers, and I know that my team appreciates that I look out for their professional and personal interests rather than just telling them to get the work done.

    I have also flat out told people in 1:1s, “Don’t fall in love.” They need to be aware that, although it won’t happen capriciously, at some point the company may need me in another position, or I might decide myself to leave.

    If you look out for your employees and try to give them a good experience for as long as they work for you, you have done more than most managers. You cannot be responsible for them after you are gone (though you can of course stay in touch and help them find their next opportunity, if they’re good). It is their responsibility to not fall in love and think that a great boss is forever.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thank you so much for this! I definitely have a lot (too much?) compassion for my team. I’ve done their job for this company and it’s hard!

      However, I wish someone would have told me “don’t fall in love” in one of my 1:1s. That is definitely hitting me (in a good way) and helping me do some serious self reflection. Thank you again!

  2. PeteAndRepeat*

    This is such a tough spot to be in – you certainly don’t owe the company your loyalty, but I understand feeling beholden to your staff. However, the bottom line is: this job is ruining your health! The stress-free environment you’re creating is at your own expense, and it’s not sustainable. What happens to your staff when you just can’t keep it going anymore? You’re not doing yourself or them any favors in the long run. Find a new job. They may be upset, but they will move on, just like you will. Ultimately your health and happiness are the most important factor here. Good luck!

    1. Nicki Name*

      You beat me to it! I had many of the same feelings as the LW when I was trying to leave my first horrible toxic job. I wasn’t a manager, but I had the same “I need to get out/But I’m abandoning my comrades!!” thing going on. That Issendai post really helped me understand what was going on.

      LW, get yourself a new job. You will feel so much better so fast that you’ll be amazed. And you’ll be able to look back and fully recognize that the job was messing with your head. It’s not your fault your team is suffering, it’s your company’s fault. You don’t owe it to anyone to destroy yourself trying to mitigate it.

    2. BasicWitch*

      Wow, I needed to read this post and this link today! I’ve worked in several jobs so outrageously toxic that I didn’t recognize the depth of the issues with my current job (just had my second cry of the day over work frustration, nbd). Much like how I thought a previous relationship was “good” because he didn’t hit me, I’m realizing my bar is far too low. :(

  3. Ms. Chanadalar Bong*

    One thing I want to emphasize, as I find myself in a similar situation as OP’s staff (turned down an opportunity last summer out of loyalty to my boss/promise of stability, but our company morale sucks right now), is Alison’s point that it’s a kindness to discretely let people know that you’re looking, if they’ve proven themselves trustworthy. As I look around for my next opportunity, my boss has let me know that they are also searching, and I really appreciate their transparency. It means that when I get my next offer, I can assign a more accurate weight to the positives of staying in my current role, because the possibility of my boss leaving isn’t just a floating hypothetical anymore.

    As you plan out your next move (and if you trust your team), letting them know before they make career decisions based on your leadership of the team will also reduce your guilt.

    1. Doozy*

      This is terrible advice, especially in this climate. Never tell anyone you are looking. It gives the company an opportunity to push you out before you are ready.

      1. Ms. Chanadalar Bong*

        YMMV. If you don’t trust that person to keep it to yourself, then don’t say anything.

        I’ve been completely open with bosses and possible hires alike, when I’ve felt safe to do so. I’ve been looking for about a year, and I’ve been open with my manager. And they have done the same for me. It’s not always the answer to be sure. But it’s an option if you’re in a safe, functional work environment.

      2. Anony*

        I don’t think this advice is terrible. It depends on the office. In supportive, trusting manager-employee relationships, sharing that you are looking for work and that your employers shouldn’t lean on your leadership as a reason for not taking a good job offer is a really thoughtful move.

        1. Derjungerludendorff*

          Also, LW would be sharing with their own team members, not their managers. Which is far less of a risk.

  4. Hiya*

    I’m a little concerned about how your employees are happy with you because you create a “stress free” workplace while you seem to be absorbing all of the extra stress and work from being short handed. I’m wondering if you have some feeling that you had to do this without delegating anything to the people you manage? It is not your job to create a stress free workplace at the expense of your own health. I think some of the stress comes from people pleasing when maybe some delegation may have been more appropriate

    1. AnotherAnon*

      I was coming here to say exactly this. OP might need to evaluate if some of that stress actually can be managed and is mostly a result of unnecessary self-sacrifice, which also sets a bad example for your team.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      It’s worth thinking a bit more about your (OP) motivation in “creating a stress free environment”. Are you consciously doing that or have you put “stress free” in quotes as that’s what the person said but you hadn’t really thought of it that way? Is it that your team is perceived as being a bit of an “easy life” since your reports don’t see how much you are actually shouldering? Is the team competent to do the tasks and (for whatever reason) you are not delegating, or are they not really able to do them independently so it’s easier to do it yourself? Or why do you feel you owe them a “stress-free” environment?

      Dismiss any of the above if it’s irrelevant of course, but they are questions worth thinking about from my own experience having managed people.

    3. Letter Writer*

      Thank you for this! There definitely is a people please aspect to this. I want my team to enjoy working here, and working for me but it’s clear I make it too easy for them. We are a customer facing with production goals so I think my mentality was always “its your job to hit your goals, its my job to not give you work I can do myself”.

      The idea that I make it easy which is why they like it, not necessarily because they like ME is an angle I conceitedly never considered. I appreciate that perspective, thank you!

      1. tangerineRose*

        “its my job to not give you work I can do myself” This can be a problem – managers need to delegate.

        Wishing the best for you!

        1. winter*

          Yeah I can do a lot, if we are talking about ability. But I have a team of 5 because we have work for 5+. If I would try to do everything I know how to do on my own, my team would be bored and me, in a hospital bed.

      2. goducks*

        Please reconsider the idea that a manager’s job is not to give work that they can do themselves! A manager’s job is to make sure the work is completed, and often that means delegating! Simply absorbing the excess and making yourself miserable to keep from delegating is a terrible strategy, and one you need to avoid bringing to your next job.

        Yes, don’t be the jerk manager who delegates everything and does nothing, show you’re in the trenches with the team when you need to be, but delegating is the expected, normal and responsible thing to do as a manager.

        As a manager, don’t shoot for beloved creator of easy, stress-free worlds. Shoot for reasonable, fair and transparent. That’s where the best managers land.

      3. Reb*

        Um. Deadlines permitting, I tend to figure my job as a manager is to only do the work my team can’t – and even then, to try and build them up so they can do that work in the future. I don’t always stick to this because it’s a lot easier to do the work myself, but it’s the mindset I try and have.

      4. Saberise*

        I’m curious. If you weren’t taking on so much so that your employees don’t have to would you dislike your job as much? Have you painted yourself into a corner basically? Not saying that be unkind. But we all know people that would rather just do everything themselves and than are unhappy that they have to do everything. I know you said things have changed there so perhaps that isn’t the case. I just can’t get a good feel for it.

  5. Workfromhome*

    “due to the limited support from management and the company as a whole, my health has declined from the stress” I know it sounds simple but you just need to leave. You don’t owe any loyalty to a company that gives you so little support that the stress it causes hurts your health.

    Its akin to an abusive relationship. They certainly don’t feel guilty about giving you so little support you get sick apparently they could care less. Why give your time energy and loyalty to a company that doesn’t care about YOU. Get out and don’t look back. It will take time.
    I left a toxic company a number of years ago to a much better less stressful job. I thought the stress etc would just “melt away” when I got out. Its didn’t it took more than a year before I fully realized that the old job was just not normal and that I stopped looking over my shoulder for a issue that was never going to happen or dreading Monday on Sunday simply because that was my habit.

    All you can do is believe all the many people that are going to tell you this” Once you leave in time you will look back and say why the heck did I feel so guilty. They treated me horribly and I should have left sooner” Its hard to believe but that’s what will happen.

    1. hayling*

      I think also the thing to remember is that it’s not your fault you’re leaving. It’s the company that’s failed all of you by creating a stressful, unsustainable workin environment.

    2. Mama Bear*

      OP, you are not beholden to the guy who wants to join your team to have you as a manager. You have serious health problems you need to address. Your employer will not care about you more because you sacrifice yourself. If moving to your department is a good personal move for that guy – great! If he’s only moving because of you, then HE has made a poor choice b/c situations change.

      Please take care of yourself and trust that your team can make whatever professional and personal decisions they need to for themselves. Sometimes the best thing we can do is move on and be available for a good reference. I have never regretted leaving a toxic job, only if I stayed too long.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Your departure might improve things for everyone else — it might be the kick in the pants this company needs to understand that their lack of support is a problem.

    4. Letter Writer*

      Thank you! Job searching has begun again after a pause during the peak of COVID. Hearing from people who have been through this is very helpful, and I appreciate the call out that the stress will linger but it won’t mean leaving wasn’t the right choice. I appreciate that, thank you!

  6. WellRed*

    Between this and the previous later, is it emotional labor week? I’m exhausted by all The Feelings!

    1. Rebecca*

      How about it. That first letter gave me a headache. What happened to – go to work, do the things, get money and benefits, and go home?

      1. Derjungerludendorff*

        Life happened, I assume.
        And humans happened. They break down sometimes at inconvenient times.

      2. James*

        The pandemic doesn’t help. The boundary between “work” and “home” was thin enough for many people. Now that many people are working from home, the boundary is all but gone. And since it takes up most of our time anyway, work is generally where most of us get our support networks, for better or worse.

        The nature of work has also shifted. In the days of my grandfather, where “work” meant “working with your hands”, you literally couldn’t bring work home with you–not unless you could transport a multi-tonne metal press! Now “work” means more intellectual labor, which is much harder to leave at the office. A good idea can happen anywhere, after all.

    2. Vina*

      I think that women, particularly American women, are taught to take on emotional labor for others. One of the most liberating things I’ve learned is to say no to that.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Wow this has been such an amazing experience, reading all these comments. I originally wrote this letter a few months ago, and things did get better as my work adjusted to COVID, but I see the same situations looming in the near future so this was a timely response for me.

        Hearing from all of you who have been in my position has been a huge help; and those of you who have been an employee to a manager like me has also help assuage the guilt I feel. I’ll try and respond to as many comments and advice that I can this evening because you have all been wonderful. Renewing the job search with gusto this time around, and hopefully I’ll be able to send an update soon!

  7. Bob*

    Good advice from Alison.
    If you feel safe to do so you can let people know one on one that your planning on leaving soon (and why if your comfortable saying so) and that you don’t expect them to take jobs at your company or stay after your gone.
    And take serious time off when your gone. Don’t rush to another job (hopefully you have some savings). Get some counseling and end the medicating.
    Work out how unemployment and health coverage will work beforehand, i don’t know the US system so i cannot advise there.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Taking some time off between jobs would be a dream! Hoping a new job will allow me to push out a start date so I can give a proper two weeks and then have at least two weeks in between to help process and decompress.

      1. Bob*

        Have you considered medical/stress leave from your current job, or negotiating a start time at a new job a few weeks out? Or both?

  8. Grouch National Anthem*

    LW, staying would be setting yourself on fire to keep others warm. You are already unraveling. Your company has made it clear how things will be. Jobs are replaceable (at relative degrees of difficulty, yes). You aren’t. Do what you need to recover.

    Signed,

    Someone very bad at taking her own advice

    1. Letter Writer*

      As someone also terrible at taking my own advice, I appreciate this. Good luck to you!

  9. Practicalities*

    Please also know that while you employees may express surprise or shock at first, by you moving to another organization, you’re also providing them with another opportunity—to expand their network. This is invaluable!

    1. Cendol*

      Yes, this! I’ll admit it felt like I was falling through the floor when a beloved manager told me they were leaving the company (I like to think my poker face held as I stammered out some words of congratulation, but who knows), but we kept in touch and several years later I even had the opportunity to join their team again. Think of it as being a good example to your employees. This may give them the push they need to find work in better environments as well.

    2. hayling*

      It also means when they want to leave, they can use you as a reference without tipping off their employer that they’re looking!

    3. Daffy Duck*

      Yes, this!
      And when you find yourself in a better situation down the road, with a healthy company, you can reach out to those excellent employees you know and give them a chance to get to a better place too! Think of it a leading the rest to a better life along with yourself.

    4. Nesprin*

      You’re also letting them know that their health is more important than company profits, that walking away from an abusive work relationship is the correct response, and that they have power in the work relationship, as they can always vote with their feet.

  10. The New Wanderer*

    That sounds so stressful! But you can’t save the company from the bad choices they have made/are making. It’s negatively affecting your health and that needs to be the most important factor in your decisions. It’s okay to value that more than loyalty to your team. And you also don’t owe them anything if they’ve chosen to stay with the team over potentially better offers elsewhere. They will have the opportunity to make new choices if/when you leave.

    Think of it this way: you’re already so stressed about how things are going that you are getting medical help. It doesn’t sound like a temporary situation and if anything could get worse, which means at some point you might not be able to continue to be the great manager they have now. Don’t wait until things get worse before trying to get out.

  11. The Ginger Ginger*

    I have been where you are. Literally. I was absorbing everything that upper management was doing to keep my understaffed team insulated and working happily, and it blew up my health too. And I want to warn you that long term stress like this can have serious repercussions on your body in ways you don’t anticipate. It may not just stay at panic attacks. My thyroid blew up – the whole shebang: hair loss, extreme weight gain, sleeplessness, MORE anxiety, lost my ability to regulate my body temperature, all of it. And I was in treatment for it long after I finally left the job that caused it. You need to get out. It’s already damaging your health, and it will CONTINUE to do so. You don’t owe an employer that, and you don’t owe your team that. The most you owe your team is honest references if they need them when they want to move on too.

    If you want to have specific conversations with the person who moved onto you team to work with you and the person who stayed to work with you, I think that would be a kindness, but that would be the extent of the kindness you owe them. You can offer to help the person who moved to transition elsewhere if they want. You can offer the one who stayed a reference if this changes their mind about staying. That’s it. Otherwise, you need to save yourself. You won’t even recognize all the ways this job is beating you down until you get out. I’m begging you to give yourself that gift.

  12. No_woman_an_island*

    Just commenting in solidarity. I recently wrestled with your same scenario, and leaving my team was by far the hardest part of it. I’d like to say it worked out swimmingly. But, as you’ve alluded to, you’ve probably absorbed the stress for them, thus negatively affecting your health. I did the same. So, when my replacement wasn’t willing to absorb the same stress I was, everything started to go down hill. The project is kinda falling to pieces right now.

    Please understand I am not telling you to stay because it’s all going to fall apart. I’m saying go, and in your next job, don’t absorb all of the dysfunction on your own. This will be a cycle that continues to repeat itself. Personally, this was absolutely the change my own health and life needed. But it showed me how unhealthy it was for me to just fix everything by myself in my previous role.

    Best of luck, and please know that your health is and time are the only things you can’t get back in life once they’re spent!

  13. Derjungerludendorff*

    LW, you seem to think that you have the option of staying and being a good manager, albeit at the cost of your help.
    But that might not actually be an option.

    You say that people like you as a manager because you support them, shield them from stress, help them succeed in their jobs and careers, and are generally a likable person.
    Could you actually keep doing all of that if your mental and physical health keeps worsening like you described? Can you still bring up all that energy and enthusiasm when your mind is burned out and your body is breaking down?
    Because as far as I can tell, everyone loses that battle eventually, and much faster than they expected.

    So as far as I can see, you can either make your job significantly less stressfull somehow, or you can leave. And you can leave earlier and in good order, helping your team to transition as best you can, or you can wait until you break down and are no longer capable of doing your job, with all the fallout that entails.

    1. James*

      “…or you can wait until you break down and are no longer capable of doing your job, with all the fallout that entails.”

      Let me expand a little on what this means. Most people don’t fully understand what’s involved. I’ve seen it first hand, and it’s BAD.

      I know someone who waited until they started to break down. It was a nightmare. They got ill constantly, in ways that no one could diagnose–a simple cold would linger for weeks, and a flue would last a month. They were so frazzled that they screwed up things on job sites that they’d never screwed up before–nothing life-threatening, but enough that they got kicked off of projects. This added the stress of not having enough work to everything else. Finally this person went to a doctor and got diagnosed with pneumonia (mostly for lack of a better thing to call it) and was put on strong medication and bed rest for a month. The job still demanded this person work on job sites, so this person got to deal with the overwhelming stress of the job, the stress of not having sufficient work, AND the stress of her boss riding her for not doing stuff she was told by a doctor to not do.

      When she finally left, she went into a deep depression. It took her months to get to the point where she could pretend to function normally again. It took her over ten years to not be constantly worried about being fired (partially due to her new career path, but this earlier experience didn’t help).

      She was lucky. I have seen other people die due to this sort of thing–they were so exhausted they fell asleep at the wheel and drove off cliffs or into overpass pylons, or their health declined faster than they anticipated.

      I’m not saying that will happen here. I’m just saying, it can. I’ve seen it happen more than once. And it’s really, really, REALLY bad.

  14. Liz W*

    Oh, I could have written this letter a year ago. I feel for you so much. I was in a management position. People liked working for me, turned down other job offers because of me, and recommended friends and others when I had an open position. But the job was so stressful and awful due to numerous other issues with my organization that was making me physically ill.
    Ultimately, I made the choice to leave. When they found out, they were worried about their own jobs and what a new boss would be like, but they were all super happy for me, too.
    Leaving a job–any job–often comes with a mixed bag of emotions. But Allison’s advice is dead on. I hope you listen and find something you can do that makes you happy and no longer makes you sick. I’m definitely happier for having done so, if that helps.

  15. Cygnata*

    The only think I would recommend is to contact the transferring employee and let them know BEFORE they transfer, so they can decide if they still want to move, or just leave the company entirely. Something similar happened to me, once, and I was a bit upset that things turned out to be worse than in my old situation. If I’d had forewarning, I’d have stepped up my external job search and not tried to stay within the company.

  16. Anononon*

    I am a very loyal employee to whatever company/business I’m working for, but I’m also very selfish in the sense that I will not hurt myself to better the company. I do my best work for them and I try to look out for the good of the company, to whatever extent my role allows, but I recognize that it’s a business relationship, and my needs and wants still must come first. OP, it’s okay to shift your focus to caring about yourself first. It doesn’t prevent you from being a good employee.

  17. Eether Eyether*

    This might be the “wrong” answer and I hope this doesn’t make you feel worse than you already do, but I took a job specifically to work with an attorney at a law firm several years ago. When I showed up for my first day, I was told that his last day would be that Friday. I NEVER would have taken the job had I known he was leaving. It was one of the worst experiences of my work life–and I’ve had some whoppers. I quit 4 months later–I should have quit that day. And, yes, the job would have been fine if he had stayed. The firm was dysfunctional, but he was a partner and given the hierarchy in law firms (I was to be his assistant), it would have been a great job. Being a partner’s assistant gives one “protected status” from all the craziness of law firms. If you are able to let the person know who is relocating to work with you that you are leaving, please do.

    1. MayLou*

      But it doesn’t sound like you are saying that the attorney shouldn’t have left – just that you would have made different choices if you’d known sooner. The OP shouldn’t take this anecdote to mean that leaving is a bad thing to do!

      1. Eether Eyether*

        No, the atty could leave, stay, whatever. I just wish someone had told me. I never would have accepted the job. No, I didn’t mean the OP should not leave. She should–I’ve done it for the same reasons more than once. Sorry for the confusion!

  18. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This hits home, both in having just lost a phenomenal manager recently and having to leave the team I managed to a dysfunctional cluster-ef previously.

    This is the time to be “selfish”, you do your best and give your team all you can when you’re their manager. Then you leave when it’s your time. You shouldn’t be running yourself into the ground and becoming ill over a job, I say that as someone who’s been in your shoes many times before and I’m sure I’ll be there again one day.

    You have to give yourself the permission to think of yourself. You have the permission of this internet stranger who gets it. Xoxo

  19. Alice*

    It’s not that I disagree with all the advice given here — but at the same time, if I transferred *to a branch with severe staffing issues* because I thought the manager was good to work for, and the manager knew that was the reason why I was coming, and then that manager resigned, leaving me at the stressful, understaffed location — I would not be thrilled.
    Sure, OP doesn’t owe her team permanency at the cost of her health. But there’s a difference between “as a manager I maintain good boundaries” and “I’m going to start observing boundaries for the first time now although I haven’t before.” It’s better to start observing the boundaries late than never to do it, but some people are going to get hurt unavoidably in the shift.
    All that is to say — your goal here is to get out of the stressful situation with your health intact and as little collateral damage as possible. Your goal isn’t to keep the transferring person happy — I think that ship has sailed.
    Good luck and good health!

    1. Frankie my dear*

      It’s not the manager’s job to “thrill” you. Sure, you’d be disappointed. You’d have chosen differently if you knew. But they didn’t know, so you didn’t know. And anyone who takes a job on the basis of one person is taking a massive risk and should not be surprised if that backfires on them. That’s their fault, not the fault of the other person.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        There are regions where “I’m not thrilled” is code for “I’m devastated,” “I’m broken up,” or even “your two weeks’ notice is ticking.” I wouldn’t take that statement at face value; I think it runs far deeper.

    2. Anononon*

      I don’t think anyone is saying otherwise. However, the manager was the one who wrote in, so Alison and the commenters are giving advice based on OP’s situation. Honestly, the feelings of the person who transferred have very little impact on the advice, so I’m not sure how useful it is to point it out when OP is already clearly aware that her choices will affect others.

    3. James*

      You’re not wrong in saying that someone will get hurt. The company has set up an untenable situation. The manager is under no obligation to put the company’s interests before their own health and safety.

      People leave positions all the time. Yeah, it sucks when you hire on to work under someone and they leave. I would be annoyed as well. However, that’s life. Unless there’s a contract, or the manager said “I’ll be here for the next five years, please transfer to my team”, there’s no moral concerns about the manager leaving. Think of it this way: Would you say that someone had to delay medical treatment, or their wedding, or childbirth, because it may inconvenience people who want to work under them? Before you say those are different: I have worked on jobs where people have died because they were put into conditions like the LW describes. They got exhausted, their health started to be affected, and in one case they fell asleep at the wheel and drove off a mountain road. So comparing this with life-and-death situations is legitimate, at least in my experience.

      As for boundary setting, that is blaming the victim. I know you probably didn’t intend for it to sound like it, but it sounds like you’re saying “You should have spoken up earlier, now shut up and take it” but in a nicer tone. It’s a not-uncommon statement in abusive relationships.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      OP clearly already recognizes all the stuff in the your first paragraph. That’s why they mentioned that person, because they feel guilty about it.

    5. tamarack and fireweed*

      One of the many useful minor ideas I got from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe is that of a “Somebody Else’s Problem Field”. It’s the company’s responsibility to create and maintain livable and reasonable working conditions. In the past they did this by putting the OP in charge – maybe even without intending to achieve this goal specifically, but it has been a result. The OP gets to leave and the problem reverts to the employer. The employer got to keep the benefit of the OP’s labor (minus compensation). The ball’s in their camp.

      This is not to say that there isn’t a range of potential circumstances in which someone might pause. If you live under a genocidal regime, and your leaving exposes your persecuted team members to arrest and imprisonment, for example. And in the vein of “the wing movement of a butterfly can result a tropical storm” you’re never completely sure what causal cascades you may set off. But short of specific concerns for someone’s life and safety which you might want to mitigate before moving away, this is something you get to do, and the responsibility for any harm caused subsequently — specifically, higher stress levels and mismanagement — is with whoever actually causes it.

  20. insert pun here*

    I was in a similar situation years ago — a wonderful manager who protected their team from a lot of dysfunction. And when wonderful manager left… so did I. (Well, it took me some time to find a new job, but that was when I really started looking.) And that was absolutely one hundred percent the correct decision for all involved. Was I sad about no longer working with wonderful manager? Yes, absolutely. But I wasn’t angry or resentful about it… I just missed their company and working with them.

  21. JBPL*

    I am 9 weeks or so into a new position. Before that, I’d poured my heart and soul into an organization for 12 years- managed staff and budgets and tried to be the barrier against the sexist and political lack of support from higher up. I felt so much guilt at the prospect of leaving that I cried every night for a month. I didn’t want to leave my staff out there without the support they needed. At the same time, they didn’t understand what the job was doing to my mental (and, eventually physical) health. There are some who resent me for “giving up” and who don’t understand why I thought the job was so bad by the end. Most of my staff, though, supported my decision.

    My health took an almost immediate turn for the better once I left. I was eating better, sleeping, and felt more energized than I had in years. I realized that the amount of stress I was under was actually physically hurting me more than I’d realized- and I thought I knew what it was doing to me. I still hear from my former employees, who mostly are just realizing why I felt I needed to leave. They don’t hate me, and I have found that no matter how invested I was in the success of that organization, I have not felt the guilt at walking away that I went into the change thinking I’d feel. I feel healthier.

  22. A Simple Narwhal*

    Work should never make you sick. Ever.

    It can be really hard to realize how bad things are when you’re in the thick of things, but there’s no amount of effort, gumption, or bootstrap pulling that will fix a job that makes you physically ill. I certainly couldn’t – I felt so horrifically guilty when I walked away from Oldjob, like I was a failure – but with a little distance I realized how bonkers it was to keep trying at a job that was making me cry and dryheave from stress every day.

  23. SomebodyElse*

    OP I suspect this is a really easy answer for you if you frame it the right way in your own head.

    Imagine this conversation:

    Your Employee : Boss, I’m resigning. I really love the job and the team and I don’t want to disappoint anyone but I feel like it’s the best time for me to leave because of these reasons; X, Y, and Z
    You: Insert what you would say here… I’m guessing something like “No, don’t feel like you have to stay, you have to do what is right for you. We’ll miss you and support you”

    So why would you think you deserve any less? Of course you have to do what is right for you. Of course some people are going to be disappointed. Of course it’s an inconvenient time (Hint: It always will be!). And lastly of course you deserve the same support and understanding that you give your employees.

  24. NW Mossy*

    I’ve gotten a lot of practice at goodbyes with directs over the years, since my org’s primary strategy when a leader exits the division/company is to reshuffle the teams under the remaining leaders. In fact, I’m in the midst of another right now – one sub-team is moving to another leader and I’m gaining a different sub-team.

    What I’ve learned is that while we know that good management is an inducement for people to join a team and stay on it, your employees are still independent actors and know that you are too. They have the ability to make new choices for themselves, and they also have different priorities and deal-breakers. You are not dooming them to a fate they can’t escape. They’ll take the new info, adapt, and make their own calls about what serves them best.

    Also, know that part of what you’re doing when you’re managing is teaching your staff how managers behave. They take the knowledge of how you acted into future jobs and potentially into management jobs of their own. Right now, you’re showing them that they should expect a manager to sacrifice themselves for their team, and that’s not a healthy outlook – you acknowledge as much. Use this opportunity to teach them instead about reasonable professional expectations, how to care for yourself as you lead people, and that change, while scary, is necessary for growth.

  25. Mel_05*

    Losing a good manager always sucks, but people will recover and it may help them go after opportunities at better companies.

    1. Cassidy*

      Yep. Life will go on. (Sorry – I just don’t understand people who believe that no one will manage without them, let alone get physically ill about it. Caring is one thing, but OP sounds a bit over-invested and short on boundaries).

  26. MO*

    From the perspective of an employee: my manager, whom I adore, just left his position due to health reasons and is taking a position with less responsibility. He is quite literally the best boss I have ever had in my 25 years of working life. I teared up when he announced it (as did half the staff), but I feel a lot of respect for him for taking care of himself. In no way do I resent it or feel betrayed. I do intend to keep in touch with him and apply to work with him again if he ever takes another leadership position, though!

  27. ggg*

    I did this. I left a department that I had been in for 15+ years and managed for 5. This group was like family.
    It sucked. I cried. But it was fine. I am fine, less stressed and happy in a new job. The team are fine, and have a good new manager with good new ideas.
    I do miss them, doubly with the pandemic going on, but overall it is better.

  28. JohannaCabal*

    I’m actually in the same boat although not a manager. I am feeling a mix of emotions but I tell myself I’ve done this before (eight years ago!) and that move was very beneficial to my career. I’m also leaving at a busy time.

    What I’ve been doing is telling myself that I’m at least taking action. One of my biggest regrets is not jumping ship from my first job out of college as a marketing specialist with a finance firm. Said firm had the brilliant (sarcasm) idea to develop a special investment plan and market it to union laborers in 2008. By staying, I ended up laid off at the beginning of 2009 and the rest of that year until about November turned into a nightmare.

    If I’d put some time into job hunting in 2008, it would have been easier to make a career move as it is easier to find a job when you have a job. And I was seeing the signs too.

  29. Feelings machine*

    The good news is that you’re not as important as you think you are to another person’s resiliency. You have you’re choices but so does everyone else you work with. I think some people conjure guilt as a way to feel like they’re doing “…something! Anything! If I didn’t care! I’d be bad! Bad person bad!” But in reality, this track only serves you.

  30. Blisskrieg*

    You seem like a very good manager, not just from your own assessment but by the people who have followed you or stayed because of you. As a very good manager, what are the chances that you would leave them helpless? I would say pretty low. Most people like managers that help them add to their skill sets and competencies, and increase their self-sufficiency. Have faith in that part of your management, that you have coached up a responsible and capable team. Even if something should collapse due to lack of allocated resources by your company, the individuals wills till be in good shape from having been mentored by you.

    Also, I wish you had visibility to some other industries–I work in a sector where people follow others from job to job like schools of fish. It really is a normal part of corporate life :)

  31. Nonprofit Nancy*

    My only other comment is, if I found out someone was passing up a pay raise or whatever to work with me, I would find a way to say, “I would never recommend someone make a career decision like that! I don’t know how long I’ll be able to stay at this location, so you should do what is best for you financially without taking me into account.” Honestly I would probably say that even if I wasn’t planning to leave!

  32. Kevin Sours*

    This is the point when you walk out the door without looking back. Tossing a match over your shoulder to watch it burn behind you is optional.

    Companies will absolutely weaponize employee loyalty — to the business or to their peers — to avoid spending resources and effort to fix the problems you describe. Don’t play that game.

  33. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    The bottom line is that nobody will take care of you but you. A company will not hesitate to let you go if it affects their bottom line. And an employee will not hesitate to leave for an awesome opportunity no matter how much they love you. These aren’t malicious acts, these are facts and I don’t mean to sound, well, mean. But you can’t pour from an empty cup and no job is worth the risk to your health and well being. You sound like a great manager who genuinely cares about your employees, but you need to let go of the guilt and do what’s best for you.

  34. pcake*

    Decades ago, at my first management job, I felt the same – I wanted to protect and help my team. I worked many, many hours, and the owner was a mess and demanded much. Finally I had a breakdown; I found myself crying when I didn’t even know it, and when I went to drive home, I found I couldn’t drive – I had my first of many mega panic attacks. I wasn’t able to work – anywhere – for over a year, and the company I had worked for had to replace me with two people to cover the work I had been doing alone.

    Please take care of yourself! I’ve never fully recovered from what my doctor called burnout syndrome, and it’s been over 25 years. I had years of truly paralyzing panic attacks that woke me at night and kept me from things I had done all my life like climbing stairs or driving over bridges. Not working cost me lots of money. My relationships changed, my feelings about who I am changed. I’ve seen other people here on AAM post the same.

    OP, please, get out!

  35. Anonymity*

    Way way too emotionally invested to an unhealthy degree. Also people will survive.

  36. I Love Teaching*

    I am a teacher and when I left my first position teaching kindergarten for a district closer to home, I felt guilty in a similar way to what you are experiencing. I worked for a really tough district in an urban district. Many of my students did not have parents in the picture, my school had limited resources, and I was basically a mother to many of my children. I had been there for three years and felt connected to my students and staff. By leaving I felt that I was letting these kids down when they needed me most. But I was also getting burned out and not sleeping worrying about them. I also had an hour commute to and from work each day, so 10 hours of driving a day. Something had to change.

    When I left I told my team and principal in person, but then I sent a school-wide staff email. I thanked every individual/team (custodial, lunch staff, specials, etc.) personally in my letter. It was heartfelt and true. I included my personal contact information and said I was always happy to help anyone out by vouching as a reference, writing a letter of recommendation, or even just being an ear to vent to. Doing this helped me leave on really good terms with everyone. People understood that I was making the best choice for me. I still keep in touch with many of them today.

    If you truly enjoy working on your team, I would highly suggest leaving with a positive message like this. Your teammates will appreciate it and it will make you feel less guilty about leaving.

  37. cosmicgorilla*

    LW, there have been some good comments about not owing your company anything, and about the possibility that you have more stress because you’re trying to hard to reduce stress for your directs. I saw you mention people-pleasing up-thread. I say definitely job search, but be careful that you don’t take the same patterns into the new job.

    Here’s a thought for you – I’ve been told that people pleasers are the biggest liars. You are lying to others about your preferences and needs because you want them to like you. You’re lying to yourself that people will only like you if you do want they want or make things easier on them. Please work on this so you don’t end up burnt out in your future fabulous new job.

    https://www.melanieshmois.com/people-pleasers-are-liars/

  38. yourmileagemayvary*

    The company will move on without you. No-one is truly invaluable to their company. I know it sounds harsh, but that’s the sad truth that companies can and will plod along. They’ll manage. You though, need to do what’s best for you. (In this case, it’s getting out, and let go of that guilt).

  39. Night Owl*

    “How do I convince myself I’m not as important to these people as I think I am?“

    It is not that you are so important to them, it is that they are very important to you. You are pegging your self-worth to how much you believe people like you versus how well they respect you as a manager. When you start your new job, you will have to remember that your first objective is to make sure that you are working as efficiently as necessary (not as efficiently as possible). This doesn’t require you to be cold or uncaring, but it does require you to trust your colleagues and to give them more of those tasks that you are hoarding for yourself. Your emotions will eventually fall in line.

  40. Mizzle*

    re: “How do I convince myself I’m not as important to these people as I think I am?”

    I had a manager last year who was an absolute joy to work with. I’ve never been as productive, nor had such a manageable amount of stress. I probably violated the ‘don’t fall in love’ maxim. He definitely was important to me, and I would love to work with him again. Every once in a while, I say ‘this wouldn’t have happened when X was our manager’.

    Even so, when he left, I didn’t blame him for one second. I expect that your team will feel the same way. If they don’t blame you, why would you feel guilty?

    As for how to tell them: it would be good if you can let them know that this is something you want and have chosen to do. Being happy for you will help to put things into perspective. (Or at least it did for me.)

    Best of luck!

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