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

A reader writes:

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

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

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

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

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 242 comments… read them below }

  1. Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii*

    Do they really want to know or do they just say they do but turn on anyone who actually comes to them with issues?
    That is perhaps the mot important starting point here.

    Whether or not it can be fixed is secondary to whether or not they are the kill the messenger types.

    1. Kingsley*

      I’m currently at a company that’s had like 40 percent turnover in a year in our department and under one specific manger no one has lasted more then 2 years under this person. People have even complained directly to HR about this manager and they’re still shocked when people quit under them.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        Yup. The team I’m currently on (and leaving soon) is like that. People get fed up and instead of looking at WHY they just say that so and so couldn’t cut it. But when you have to advertise the role 4 times in 3 years…it sure as shit isn’t about the candidate pool.

        1. PT*

          “They just weren’t the right person, they couldn’t handle the job.”

          Well no, because you didn’t put “Toxic work environment, must bring own hazmat suit” in the job description.

          1. Koalafied*

            I’m having flashbacks to a role I hired for at a dysfunctional organization where, “Have you ever worked with difficult personalities in leadership roles?” and related follow-ups became a standard part of my interview question list. I figured, why dress it up like something it’s not? I’ve worked with people who were really good at just putting their head down and plowing through the dysfunction with purpose, and not letting themselves get emotionally sucked in. And I knew that for certain roles that would have to work closely with certain people who were not going anywhere, “hiring well” meant hiring that kind of person as much as it meant hiring someone with the right job-specific skills.

      2. LifeBeforeCorona*

        An OldJob had such a high turnover that their job posting on Indeed was semi-permanent. Everyone knew what the problem was but until the powers that be decided to deal with it, leaving was the only option for most people. Six years later the problem is still there and the door still revolves.

      3. WantonSeedStitch*

        I worked in a small office (less than 10 people at its biggest) where, when I had been there for three years, I saw half a dozen people come and go before I finally quit. I was in a bad place emotionally when I left, afraid I was incompetent and unfit for work (it was my first non-temp job). This should have been a sign that it wasn’t just me.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Ah, I had a supervisor who went through four or five accountants till she finally found someone who could read her mind (and then she retired. Her work was done). It never was a clue to her that the number of people under her were reduced till she supervised only that accountant.

      4. tamarack and fireweed*

        Yup. Whenever I hear someone (anyone!) complain about how “people nowadays have no staying power” or “you can’t get the employees any more who have a work ethic” I put 80% odds on the employer not having done due diligence on what toxic mess is driving away every new employee as soon as they can get out.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, I worked for a company like that. It was a never-ending treadmill – someone new would be brought in and hailed as the saviour, the person who would finally be able to do the job properly, the person who would turn everything around and make everything perfect. Then the hideously micromanaging company owner would micromanage the life out of the new person, interfere with everything they did, undermine everything everyone else was trying to do, and change instructions so many times that people would get fed up and leave. At which point the owner would start complaining about people having ‘no work ethic these days’ and ‘no staying power’ and how ‘you just can’t find decent people to do a good job’. And at which point the latest new-person-saviour would realise they were on a hiding to nothing and get out, and the whole cycle would start again.

    2. irene adler*

      Yeah. Kill the messenger is a legit concern.

      The “if only” statement removes any blame on management’s part for losing this employee -at least as far as management sees things. Hence, no need for them to learn why the employee left or to make any changes to stem any future exodus.

      If management had a genuine interest in retaining employees -and in taking necessary actions to retain them- they’d initiate things like talking to employees about their work experiences at the company. Are they happy? Are there things management can do to make for a better employee experience? They would not leave it up to the employee to alert them to any issues in this respect.

      1. Bernice Clifton*

        Or have people evaluate their direct supervisors at Annual Performance review time.

          1. Fran Fine*

            This. A lot of people will lie on these kinds of surveys because they don’t truly trust that they are actually confidential.

            1. TardyTardis*

              We had that survey. I had to answer it from my own work computer. You do the math.

              1. All the words*

                I recently filled out one of those surveys. The answer I gave to every question was “Neither agree nor disagree”.

                The first year they did the survey (many years ago) the responses they received were so negative management refused to share or discuss the results with the staff, as they had promised to do. The place has gotten much better since then, probably mainly due to the gradual changeover in management over time.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          This is something I’ve been trying to advocate for. I work in public libraries, so most of our managers work in different buildings. The person who supervises the managers is only in each manager’s building for a total of about one hour a month. So when it’s time to write the managers’ performance evaluations, most of the information they have at their disposal has come from the managers themselves. There’s no real way for the evaluator to know how well the manager is performing their duties without asking the people they manage. But in reality, I’ve only ever seen it done once and it was a case in which the manager in question had been reported to HR for multiple kinds of harassment and abusive behavior, so it was more a fishing expedition for termination causes instead of a desire to accurately evaluate performance.

          I also think that employers should ask for a supervisee reference for managerial candidates.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Only one of my previous employers believed in 360 Reviews, and they took employee feedback seriously. Leadership was evaluated by employees using a specific format; venting and griping weren’t accepted, and names were kept confidential whenever possible. I know several VPs were given coaching and training, and a few were put on PIPs. IIRC, one person was terminated. This was possible only because the CEO truly believed that the buck stopped with his leadership team.

          Without a commitment from the C-suite, owner, or whoever from high atop the thing, no one will get to ‘evaluate’ their supervisors except during their exit interview.

          1. allathian*

            Indeed, and maybe not even then, because they don’t want to jeopardize a future reference.

    3. A Girl Named Fred*


      If you’re a person worth looping in because I know you’re reasonable and supportive, and the problem can likely be fixed, I’ll reach out. If you’ve previously complained about other people raising valid issues, I’m not even going to consider talking to you.

    4. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

      True. I think it really depends on whether it’s truly ‘safe’ to bring up any issues. Some managers or employers claim that it is, only to turn on the employee who takes them up on it. They might make excuses why they ‘can’t’ change something they actually can and then treat the employee differently, or even decide that the employee is just not the ‘right fit’ for their culture. Those things might be true in some cases, but they are also sometimes used as a weapon by awful bosses. And sometimes it can be used against the employee if for some reason the manager is trying to get rid of them.

      But not all employers are like that. Others really do want to know if/when there is something they can improve upon to make the company or department a better place to work.

      I’d just be careful. You just need to assess what kind of environment you’re working in and decide from there.

    5. SlimeKnight*

      Many years ago when I worked retail, our store had the highest turnover and the lowest employee satisfaction scores. Regional did a big focus group. I was part of the group out the store manager’s toxic leadership-style. Regional was very supportive and promised change and support.

      …one day a few weeks later I came in and nearly everyone who had spoken up in the focus group had been fired over the weekend. It was quite a shock and I honestly don’t know how I didn’t get the axe, too.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I left one firm because I, along with many others, were being sexually harassed by a senior member of staff and our initial complaints were waved off with things like ‘that’s not harassment, that’s just being friendly’. Didn’t mention it ever again because…well, nothing was gonna get done.

      1. Mannheim Steamroller*

        What happened to the rule of “I perceive that he is harassing me, therefore he IS harassing me”?

        1. Kat in VA*

          It’s generally good practice to believe folks (generally women) who are complaining about harassment…especially if there happens to be more than one of them.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Exactly. Wish that firm would have understood that.

            It took 4 more years for that guy to get fired and it wasn’t for the sexual harassment stuff either – they found him giving supplier contracts to his friends. Bloody annoying that they moved real quick on financial fraud but groping the women? That was apparently fine.

        2. Keymaster of Gozer*

          …not quite sure what you’re asking here, can you clarify?

          (And he darn well was harassing me. And others.)

        3. Aquawoman*

          Maybe that rule continues to exist in whatever alternate universe you’re talking about.

    7. HR Exec Popping In*

      In the LW’s case I would think they would want to know that someone wants to do more technical work than their job is currently able to do and that as the lone female, she feels isolated. This is good feedback for an organization to hear and both are actionable.

    8. Sleepytime Tea*

      I carefully have brought up issues before and seen very mixed results. My direct managers have been receptive in several situations but without the power to change anything and higher ups refused to do anything. In one case it was 100% kill the messenger and I had to leave the job. I’m tired of being the one to bring things up and being more demoralized to see no changes take place, without any feedback as to why they might not be feasible to do.

      I am usually willing to express my concerns in exit interviews, but I’m careful with that too if I need a reference, and in my experience if they won’t do anything while you’re working there, they won’t do anything about it when you leave because they see you as the problem child who’s gone now so nothing needs to be done.

    9. The Messenger*

      This. That’s such an important point, and can be hard to figure out, unfortunately.

      My old boss was the type to do that—in company meetings, he would talk about how open he was to feedback and how you could talk to him. He would even say things like “if this isn’t the right role for you, that’s ok. Just talk to me, and we will work with you to find you something new, whether it’s here or somewhere else,” and making it sound like he was very flexible.

      Behind closed doors, it was a VERY different story—it was “well if people don’t like it, they can just leave” and even the slightest bit of criticism in employee feedback surveys was met with “well if someone feels this way, maybe this isn’t the right place for them and they need to be gone.” He would also try to figure out who gave less than positive feedback based on something like a person crossing their arms in a meeting.

      1. Dead Messenger*

        Yup I figured that one out too late. We were the golden team had everything we wanted, then we took the open feedback seriously. None of us remain in the organization and we’re deliberately reorganized under folks who made our lives miserable.

    10. Mockingdragon*

      Or if it’s just pointless. I worked at a company that hemorrhaged employees because they paid poorly and treated us poorly, so they were getting desperate and started making mouth noises about letting them know about anything they could do to keep us happy so we’d stay. I was getting progressively miserable, so I asked if I could shift my schedule half an hour, and do 9:30-6 instead of 9-5:30. Especially since my main job was to check others’ work, and we were caught up to the point that I spent a chunk of my morning doing busywork waiting for other people to be done.

      Nope, absolutely out of the question. Other things made it clear that they did not care about keeping us happy, but it was super frustrating to be shot down on such a simple thing after they went out of their way to tell us they’d try. I can’t imagine many other people were naive enough to even ask.

    11. Ama*

      My boss isn’t a “kill the messenger” type but she kind of only hears what she wants to hear. I’ve been mentioning on a semi-regular basis for almost three years now that my department’s workload is outpacing the amount of staff we have and that our growth is unsustainable without major changes, and yet it wasn’t until the stress from this past spring caused me to crack and break down in tears in front of her that it actually seemed to get through to her that we have a serious problem. And she still treats it like a “temporary” issue that’s going to go away as soon as my new hire starts this week, even though I have also said to her verbatim “filling our current open positions is so we can handle the CURRENT workload, if you want us to do more than that we need even more staff.”

      She’s going to be absolutely shocked when I leave (I’m looking pretty seriously), and she’s going to say “why didn’t you tell me you were unhappy here,” and I’m not even going to have a response because I have, many, many times.

      1. Pickled Limes*

        At one old job, I had multiple meetings with my manager about how my department’s workload was overwhelming and I was dealing with seriously high stress levels. Each time, she would write down what we talked about in a spiral notebook that she always kept beside her desk. And she would talk about how that was terrible and she would be sure to make some changes.

        A few months later she called me into her office to give me a lecture about how I was using too much sick leave and I pointed out that I tend to become physically ill when I’m under long term stress. Her response? “Why didn’t you tell me you were feeling stressed out?” I wanted to grab her meeting notebook and make her flip back to all our previous meetings when I had tried to tell her and ask for help. I left that job not long after.

      2. Windchime*

        “She’s going to be absolutely shocked when I leave (I’m looking pretty seriously), and she’s going to say “why didn’t you tell me you were unhappy here,” and I’m not even going to have a response because I have, many, many times.”

        No kidding. Reminds me of my ex when I said I wanted a divorce. “What?? Why didn’t you say anything?” Dude, I’ve been crying for 5 years.

    12. Selena*

      My thoughts exactely: sometimes it’s just a way for management to wash their hands and blame all problems on employees.

  2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Ugh. I think the boss and director are being Pollyannish. For those in “normal” positions, expressing the kind of dissatisfaction that motivates a job hunt is going to be volunteering for the next Reduction in Force or Going in a Different Direction. I think, in the big picture, everyone’s better off with the polite façade; the risks are just too high to abandon it.

    1. Colette*

      As the person who often brings issues to management that everyone is complaining about, that has not been my experience. Management can’t fix things they don’t know are a problem.

      1. the Viking Diva*

        Several commenters have already pointed out that managers can ask questions and not just passively wait to be told.

          1. Smithy*

            If management wants staff to feel safe sharing concerns, then they absolutely can and should be proactive in asking questions and demonstrating what they can do.

            Far too many people come to the workforce where that doesn’t happen, can’t happen, includes retaliation, etc. It may have nothing to do with any given workplace, so it’s on management to prove they’re different.

            I’ve also had plenty of leaders where I told them “this is a problem”, they say they hear and will consider doing something. Then when I’ve given my notice 6+ months later after nothing has been done, all of sudden that’s when “but had we known!!” comes out. More often than not, the folks who make those protestations when you quit only seem to be willing to do so when you bring the nuclear option (ie another job). If management somewhere wants to prove to me that’s not the case, then I’m going to need signs of good faith.

            1. Colette*

              You can’t make them act, of course, and if they’ve shown you that the will hold any comments against you, you might not want to say anything. But being targetted for layoffs because you told management there’s a problem (assuming you didn’t go in saying something like “if you don’t fix this, I’m going to quit!) is very much not the norm.

              1. Smithy*

                The worry about being targeted for layoffs is an extreme reaction, though not entirely unfounded.

                However, being viewed as someone with a bad attitude, impatient, not a team player and other softer versions of alienation are quite common. Additionally, I’m not someone who’s quiet when it comes to saying “hey, to best do my job – it’d be great if A,B, and C happened.” And then if none of those things happen? If you have to constantly remind? If there’s a lot of push back?

                There are very often 101 ways that managers and leaders can build trust for those more complicated conversation about needs and problems. Personally, unless your management has demonstrated that faith is well placed, I’d go softly. Because there are plenty of ways to penalize folks for speaking up without firing them.

          2. Kate 2*

            How about “Is there anything making you unhappy here?” or “Is there anything you would change?”

      2. Decidedly Me*

        I tell folks this all the time “I can’t fix what I don’t know about!”

        1. Cynic*

          Maybe I’m being cynical but if you were my boss, that statement by itself doesn’t imply it would be safe for me to stick out my neck to tell you about them.

          1. Decidedly Me*

            Fair! That’s just one of several thing, though it’s actually resulted in folks telling me specific details when they were holding back things that I could action on – most commonly, though not always, issues with a team member. “Someone is doing X” isn’t something I can usually resolve if I don’t know who that someone is.

            My team knows that I will listen to all feedback, taking action where I can and where it makes sense, and explaining why I can’t/won’t in other cases. No one has ever had a negative action taken against them for providing feedback (even when it’s about me specifically – that’s also invited).

            However, some folks can still be hesitant for all sorts of reasons. They don’t know me that well yet, they had a bad experience at another job, etc. You can create a good environment for feedback, but until someone is willing to actually try and see what happens, they may still be nervous, even if they’ve seen others provide feedback without issue. Since feedback tends to be provided in 1-on-1 settings, though, most don’t have an opportunity to see it go well. It’s hard.

        2. TardyTardis*

          Oh, so true, but if someone does tell you something and they’re out the door fairly soon after, we all know what kind of answer you want. It only takes one or two before you’re known as someone who doesn’t want to hear anything but ‘fine’. Those of us who have been with those kind of bosses aren’t going to believe you. Sad but true.

      3. MassMatt*

        True to a certain extent, but issues that propel people to leave are very rarely secrets. Management has some responsibility for knowing what is dysfunctional or otherwise driving employee dissatisfaction. This is part of what “management” means.

        It’s especially difficult when the problem is your boss, which along with more $ is probably the #1 reason people leave jobs. If one of the team leaders is a raging a-hole with 3-4x the turnover of the other managers and you are the 8th person to give notice you probably don’t want to watch the boss put on his surprise face as he tells you he is shocked, SHOCKED that you are leaving.

        If bosses are oblivious about their workplaces they will be blindsided by everything customers, employees, and vendors do.

        1. Jlynn*

          Goes to the saying. “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.” If the boss doesn’t listen or do anything, or worse, takes adverse action against the employee for saying something, they aren’t going to stick around.

    2. Fran Fine*

      I think, in the big picture, everyone’s better off with the polite façade; the risks are just too high to abandon it.

      Agreed, and I say this as someone who works for a seemingly good employer. You just never know how a manager, or the people above them, will take certain things.

  3. CommanderBanana*

    Someone on a previous post about a similar topic made a great point – their employer didn’t care when it was hurting the employee, only when it was hurting the employer (they were about to lose the employee).

    1. Kat in VA*

      Single Point of Failure Employee: “Hey, I’m not happy about blah blah and blurg blurg, how can we get these things to change?”

      Management Them: “Must suck to be you, nothing to be done for it, dig deeper, 110%, have you referred to our EAP on how to manage your grinding unrelenting stress caused by unrealistic deadlines and workload? It’s free, at least.”

      SPOF Employee: “Hey, I’m turning in my 2 weeks’ notice, I’ve gotten another job.”


        1. Kat in VA*

          The bummer is, there’s so many of them.

          How many times can you say you’re overloaded, oversubscribed, and burned out before you finally just…throw in the towel?

          Don’t get me started on the whole “Can’t get promoted or any kind of substantial raise without leaving” traps.

      1. Bubbles*

        I was literally told I was stabbing my boss in the back when I quit my last toxic job. He PUNISHED us every time we brought up a concern and threatened to make us work even more than the 60-70 hours we were already doing weekly. I don’t owe him anything.

      2. TardyTardis*

        Oh, my yes! And telling the employee how valued they are and how you know how hard they work–well, it’s a bit late in the day to be telling them that *then*.

    2. Well...*

      Yes. I feel like the way they are still shifting the blame to the employees (I’m losing talent and it’s their fault for not being sufficiently forthcoming) indicates they might not have actually fixed these problems proactively and would have just continued to blame lower level people.

      It’s a pretty ironic and revealing complaint tbh.

    3. CommanderBanana*

      And, also, I think vocalizing that kind of stuff is easy on management, because the employee is already leaving!

      Kind of like how management loves to ask for feedback and rarely d0es anything with it.

        1. Kat in VA*

          It isn’t about friendships (although work friendships can make life much easier).

          It’s about not going to a workplace so toxic, jacked up, and out of control that the thought of walking in the door or logging in fills you with existential dread.

          What a dismissive comment you’ve made.

          1. Esmeralda*

            But even in a not-toxic work place, it can still be well nigh impossible to get the changes you need to be reasonably satisfied. Or even an EFFORT towards the changes.

            I don’t like the increasing lack of autonomy in a key part of my job. I’ve spoken to my boss about it, too. Who has heard about it from other members of the team, and who has taken it to TPTB. Who don’t act on it.

            It’s very hard to get promoted within our dept (few openings — people get promoted and then don’t leave). We lose wonderful young and mid-level staff because they can’t advance in their careers in our dept. Over the years, our dept has trained a large percentage of the people around campus doing our key function. Which is great for the school. Not so great for us

            1. Aggretsuko*

              Yeah, our management knows what the problems are, but they can’t get any help or support from any other offices or higher-ups, so we’re stuck.

        2. so many questions*

          Did you lose the /s somewhere? Because what you said both didn’t fit the comment and is rude.

    4. Lucy P*

      I think you answered the question I was going to ask: do they (management team) really care if they are the root of the problem?

      1. CommanderBanana*

        In my experience? No. I worked somewhere that had an entire department turn over once a year because the manager was so awful. She was still a manager when I left.

        1. MassMatt*

          I’ve seen this too. The manager in question is awful to their employees but a total kiss-up to their boss. Basically paid all the necessary lip service and pretended to do what grandboss wanted while actually doing little to nothing. Grandboss couldn’t promote her enough.

      2. Smithy*

        I’ve seen this far too many times where professional complaints or requests for changes were back burnered, and then someone gives their notice and all of a sudden it’s ‘move heaven and earth to keep them!!!’.

        In my case, the two primary teams had major problems in leadership, design, and strategy. Fixing every was always going to be an uphill task, but even when those issues were flagged as discrete problems that could be fixed more reasonably – there was massive pushback. Then whenever someone gave notice, they were given the option of joining a recently formed team that had no leadership and no strategy. They could help join this new team and be apart of its creation!

        The harsh reality, is that this new team would still have to heavily collaborate with the two primary teams and their leadership. I completely understand that taking an issue like “the management and design of this team is doomed” is unlikely to see senior leadership excited for that kind of major overhaul. But when you see resistance to mentioning any challenges in design – it’s usually easier to see why the larger problems stay put.

        1. TardyTardis*

          That team reminds me of that couch at the Alpha house in ANIMAL HOUSE–‘oh, and here’s Abdul, Kareem and the dude in the wheelchair…”

    5. Kes*

      Yeah, I’ve certainly been in the case where I did raise an issue with my manager, and they were still surprised when I told them I was leaving. “Why didn’t you tell me??” Uh… I mentioned this every year in our review, and you have yet to do anything about it.
      I do think it’s worth bringing things up with a reasonable manager, because there are times they will in fact change things if they know. But plenty of the time they won’t or can’t.

      1. Former Usher*

        Actually said by former manager: “I knew you were unhappy but I didn’t think you’d leave.” It shouldn’t be surprising that I leave after you do nothing despite repeatedly voicing concerns.

      2. Fran Fine*

        To your last point:

        I’m in this situation now where I’m low-key job searching internally and externally because I’m bored in my current role and want to use the skills I’ve learned in the professional technical writing program I’m currently enrolled in (Wednesday’s last class and graduation, yay!) – but there’s no way to do so on my team. I’ve talked to my manager about the course and what I hoped to do with these newfound skills, but there’s not really much he can do about my dissatisfaction – the job is what it is. My only option is to leave or continue to sit here bored to tears and phoning it in. That helps no one.

        Therefore, I’m not bringing this up again and will just let him know when I find something else. If it ends up being an internal transfer, I’ll try to stay on long enough for him to get someone covering for me until a new hire is found, but if I find something externally, then I’ll be putting in my two weeks and letting him know then what I thought about this position.

  4. AdAgencyChick*

    Employers get the feedback they deserve.

    If an employer tries to fix issues that are raised, and doesn’t retaliate against those who raise them (whether that is by firing them or just branding them as “troublemakers”), then they will probably hear about problems before employees quit.

    If raising an issue gets you ignored, slows down your career growth because you’re a “troublemaker,” or even gets you fired…that company will hear about problems in people’s exit interviews, if at all.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Seconding. My employer isn’t perfect, but they’re open and transparent on important topics, and there have been many occasions where my supervisor and grandboss have opened the conversation with myself or others to make sure that the overall level of moral is much closer to “happy” than to “so pi$$ed off I’m job searching”.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      Employers get the feedback they deserve.

      Boom! This is it exactly. If managers want honest, timely feedback, they need to build that into their culture.

    3. HR Exec Popping In*

      There is nothing in the letter to make me believe the employer will ignore the feedback or label the LW a troublemaker. Yes, I know that can happen but I don’t think we should assume that of her employer without more information.

      1. Smithy*

        Too many people work in too many environments over the course of their employment where this is not the case. These are incredibly rational concerns, and honestly – if management isn’t more proactive in seeking information to make changes or adopting feedback into changes – then I think it’s the far more prudent choice to not give feedback.

        To me, giving this kind of feedback is very similar to sharing that you’re engaging in a job search. Employers/supervisors need to make the effort to show its a safe and positive space to share that information before I’d ever recommend someone do that.

        1. Fran Fine*

          To me, giving this kind of feedback is very similar to sharing that you’re engaging in a job search.

          My thoughts exactly.

      2. MassMatt*

        There’s nothing to indicate they won’t, either. Saying something entails risk to the employee and only benefits the employer. Heads I win, tails you lose.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          This phrase really gets my hackles up — it’s just so dismissive.
          HR ExecP.I. is making a point about the tangent this conversation has (understandably) taken. Disagree all you like, but let’s use specifics not issue a general accusation of naivety.

      3. Sacred Ground*

        I’m no HR Exec, but this popped out at me as a potential indicator of problems: “(we’ve gone from having five women on staff to just me and it’s pretty lonely here)”.

        Something is causing not just high turnover but specifically the women on staff have all left and not been replaced or replaced by men. All but one and she’s getting ready to leave, apparently feeling uncomfortable about being the only woman there. I know she doesn’t go further but maybe that’s a clue about the culture of this business and its leadership? OP doesn’t go into detail at all really and indeed puts this in parentheses but this seems like an important clue.

        A place that has a specific problem with recruiting and retaining women employees is probably also not a place where those same employees feel comfortable describing the problem to managers if managers are seen as part of or the source of the problem.

    4. Colette*

      If you’re ready to leave, you have little to lose by raising the issues. If they aren’t interested in fixing the problem or they react badly, you can still leave.

      1. Fran Fine*

        Yeah, but the issue is whether you’ll be leaving on your own time or theirs. You don’t know how long your job search is going to take, what financial position your company will find itself in or when (look at all the companies that ended up laying people off two months into the pandemic), and I’d rather keep my opinions to myself and quietly search for something else and then say something on my way out than to say something first, potentially put myself on the chopping block in the event there’s another economic downturn that happens before I can secure a new job, and then get laid off unexpectedly.

      2. Paulina*

        There’s a middle ground that contains quicksand: they pay some initial attention to addressing the problem, just long enough that you pass up the other opportunities you were interested in, or making things just better enough that you’re convinced to stick around (and then they settle back down again). Sometimes you’re letting them pick the timing of your departure instead of you; sometimes, if they’d rather keep you, you’re teaching them the minimum they need to do to string you along. Usually the fix is not something simple for them, so the muddle of maybe-getting-fixed-but-not-really can keep you hooked into a situation that’s not good for you.

        1. Fran Fine*

          they pay some initial attention to addressing the problem, just long enough that you pass up the other opportunities you were interested in, or making things just better enough that you’re convinced to stick around (and then they settle back down again).

          This has happened to me one too many times, smh. Hell, it’s happening to me now. I’m over it.

    5. Elbe*

      Agreed. If these managers are getting info in an exit interview that they’re not getting from current employees (or if they’re hearing vague mentions of problems but getting no details) that’s a huge sign that their team doesn’t feel comfortable going to them with honest feedback.

      If the managers want their employees to make an effort and go out on a limb to help the company, they have to create an environment where people feel able to do that.

  5. Cat Tree*

    Companies that care about retaining employees actively seek out feedback instead of waiting for employees to get frustrated enough to initiate the conversation.

    This complaining is just sour grapes, not a desire to actually improve things.

  6. Dust Bunny*

    It depends on what’s wrong?

    If my complaint is that specific processes are making a lot more work for me and could be changed to the benefit, by extension, of everyone, speak up.

    If my complaint is (in my case) that I’m not moving up . . . my employer can’t just fix that. They’re not that big and there are only so many positions to fill, so if one isn’t open, one isn’t open. So I may still leave but I don’t need to view this as my employer’s “fault” so much as, sometimes that’s the way it goes.

    1. So Tired*

      Additionally, if the issue is a toxic work place or something of that nature, there’s the distinct possibility that the employer doesn’t *want* to fix things. Or can’t fix it, in some cases. But if you have a toxic boss who reports to a toxic owner, there’s not a lot that a simple complaint will fix!

    2. Anon creative*

      Agree with this. If the issue is something to do with the work – processes, workload, equipment, that kind of thing – it may be worth speaking up, especially if you have a proposal to do it better. If the issue relates to people or organizational culture, I am not optimistic about employers having the will and/or the ability to fix it, because it requires a commitment to change that is unlikely to happen just because one person is unhappy. In those circumstances, I don’t feel under any obligation to perform free management consultancy work for the business by offering suggestions nobody wants to implement or even listen to.

      Also, if the boss is the problem, they may not be able to change even if they want to keep you. I’m not talking here about the total jerk bosses – but there are others whose management style is just not suited to the way you work. If the boss would need to get a new personality for you to enjoy working with them, there is no point in even having that conversation.

      1. allathian*

        I admit that I don’t go to work to find friends, even if it’s more fun to work with people whose company I enjoy. I don’t have to like a manager as a person to be able to work well with them, as long as they set clear expectations and give actionable feedback when necessary and pass on any positive feedback they get about me, and are fair in the sense that their answers to my questions and requests for PTO etc. don’t depend on their mood that day, I’m good. Bonus if they also welcome feedback from their team and can show that they give it some thought, even if they don’t end up implementing it.

  7. ENFP in Texas*

    “creating a culture where people feel safe expressing concerns and then actively soliciting input from people long before they start thinking of leaving”

    This, this, this. I cannot say emphatically enough how much this makes a difference. For me, the past couple of years have been rough due to organizational changes and shifting responsibilities, to the point that I ended up in a position with a workload that I REALLY disliked. But I soldiered on because I knew it had to be done, while considering looking for a new position.

    My manager, through our 1-on-1s and the culture that she created, knew I was unhappy and actively talked with me about what I wanted to be doing and where would I feel like I was contributing and feel fulfilled.

    This was a hard conversation for me, because I’ve always been a “do whatever is thrown at me and do it well” type, so saying “I’m really not happy in this role” felt like a failure on my part. But I was able to voice my concerns and my manager was able to adjust workload and responsibilities around on the team so I was able to take on other things. It turns out that some of the things I was struggling with were things others on the team wanted to do more of, and things that THEY were struggling with were things I was good at, so it turned into a positive outcome on multiple fronts. But I had no idea that was the case until I talked with my manager.

  8. Wisconsinite*

    This kind of attitude is problematic for me, because in some cases I’ve seen, they were willing to fix (problem) for (special person) when they complained or got so far as threatening to leave, but they weren’t willing to fix (problem) for everyone without that blackmail. This is particularly difficult when it comes to issues of pay equity.

  9. KHB*

    This sounds a lot like a toxic ex-boyfriend’s reaction to a breakup. “I just want to know whyyyyyyyyyyyy!” No, you just want something you can argue against so you can browbeat me into staying with you forever.

    Unless you have a contract that says otherwise, you’re allowed to leave on whatever terms you feel comfortable with. Always.

    1. PrincessFlyingHedgehog*

      Yes! You’ve hit the nail on the head.

      They know why. They ALL know why.

    2. Bubbles*

      Exactly this! It’s like my ex calling me FIFTEEN years after we broke up wanting to know why he never had a successful relationship after I broke up with him. If you can’t figure out why no one will stay with you get some therapy. And that goes for small business owners as well. They were both controlling jerks who wanted to squeeze as much a possible out of me and demanded my free time at their whim.

  10. Tracy*

    It may be normal management hand-wringing, but I think that it is up to the employee and management and how they deal with conflict resolution. Do you want to resolve the problems? Are you really interested in staying? How inclined is management to change things? There are a lot of factors IMO.

  11. Tryinghard*

    Worked at a place that had massive turnover in the 3 years I was there. Over 50% of staff left over that time. All did an exit interview and named the manager as the issue. HR shared that with the manager but nothing changed. And yes staff did share what they said to the rest of us. No changes lead to more people leaving. When I left I didn’t do an exit interview as it wasn’t worth the time. If nothing ever changes then staff will continue to leave. It only costs the company money but hey I left and really don’t care now. Their loss.

  12. Elizabeth*

    This is interesting because I had this exact conversation with my boss and then my grandboss on Friday. They’ve always said, “Don’t just leave, wave your hands in the air and PLEASE tell us!” So I did. I was that mad about the logistics thing (My Friday thread question) as well as some other issues. We’ll see how it goes, but I quite literally got an email as I’m typing this that they’re going to implement one of my asks. Here’s hoping it turns into a Friday good news story!

    1. Wisteria*

      I’m interested in how the logistics thing ends up working out. Is that the ask that they are implementing? I would expect that if you are asking a functional group, like logistics, to expand their role into something that structurally they haven’t done before, that it would be a hard no. Like, other companies have the logistics team ship thing, but this company has chosen to run the business differently, and that’s a business decision they get to make. I’m interested in whether you are able to change company culture and processes and how you presented it and were convincing. I’m also interested in how large the company and the logistics team are, bc I could see this change maybe happening at company of less than 100 but not at a company of 100s or 1000s.

      1. Elizabeth*

        It wasn’t so much that it was a business decision or even a part of their particular work process. They just really only manage the shipping on orders they feel like doing, with no rhyme or reason, and no one had any experience with freight forwarders or logistics teams until recently to realize what they’re not doing. Our company was a small company that suddenly grew very quickly, and people have been promoted internally with no experience at all. For example, my grandboss in charge of supply chain used to be a mechanic – he was only promoted into this role less than 2 years ago. He at least recognizes the gaps in his knowledge and hired experienced people (myself and several others) due to it. The lead of the logistics team is a self-taught former daycare worker, who reports to a senior level salesperson (and logistics isn’t part of supply chain at all). I’ve done my own shipping before (I’m not an expert by any stretch, but I know what an HS Code is and how to look it up) and I think they were taking advantage. I needed to speak with my boss and then my grandboss about my workload overall, so I was able to talk about this extra load. Grandboss’ first question was the right one “Why don’t they do it?” but he used more colourful language! The immediate fix is that I can start telling them I don’t have time, with his blessing, because he wants me on some more, different things.

        1. Wisteria*

          Oh, that’s a different situation than I was envisioning based on what you said in the open thread. There, you just said they don’t handle shipping without the added detail that sometimes they do it and sometimes they don’t. It sounds like you have fixed your immediate problem, which is that *you* don’t have to handle shipping anymore.

  13. Construction Safety*

    Eh, what’s the number? ~80% people leave their jobs because of their manager? That’s unlikely to be fixed by one employee leaving.

      1. highbury house*

        Right? When a sportsteam is doing poorly, the team replaces the manager, not the players.

        1. Richard*

          Teams often do both, though they’re usually more prepared to replace coaches/managers than companies are.

    1. Just Another Manic Millie*

      I left one company not because of my manager, but because TPTB decided that all of the employees who weren’t children or step-children of the owners wouldn’t be getting raises. FWIW my manager was not a child or step-child of one of the owners. I didn’t talk to TPTB about how unhappy I was, because I didn’t think it would do any good. Who knows, maybe they thought that I didn’t complain to them because it just didn’t bother me that I wasn’t getting a raise. It’s just as well that I didn’t complain to my co-workers in my department (who also were denied raises), because it appears that I forfeited my rights to complain to them, since I didn’t tell TPTB how unhappy I was, and that I was going to look for a new job.

    2. Momma Bear*

      I was once told, “People don’t leave bad jobs. They leave bad managers.”

  14. Anon for now*

    Wow, so timely for me. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’ve become really unhappy with my job. So much so that I am thinking of taking a significant pay cut to leave. Bear with me with my story here.

    My job is basically two things. We call these things (1) teapot glazing, and (2) samovar polishing. I used to enjoy both of these things a great deal, but was never fully trained on teapot glazing. It wasn’t too big a deal for a few years because I worked closely with a senior teapot glazer and we had a highly collaborative process so teapots still got glazed. The set-up was unique because we only glazed blue teapots. All the other glazers did red teapots. And I am not on the teapot glazing team.

    The senior tea pot glazer I worked with retired. Suddenly, everything changes and I am responsible for glazing all blue teapots. Apparently, I was doing things in a way idiosyncratic from red teapots or missing steps. The new senior glazer I work with, Fergus, who also supervises me proclaims no interest in blue teapots, isn’t collaborative, and condescends to me. I ask for training, including asking a new manager over red teapots for some training when Fergus was too busy with other things. Nothing happens. I start to seriously consider leaving, but pandemic hits, and there aren’t a lot of prospects. Red tea pot manager leaves and a new red teapot manager comes in, Jill. Jill and I have worked together before. Jill hears me out and promises more training, but I am skeptical because I’ve been promised this before. Jill reports to Fergus. I don’t think I need to use the words “I am super unhappy with the way things have been going over this training issue” because I have articulated that I need more training many times.

    Meanwhile, I am at “bitch eating crackers” stage with Fergus. And I dread having any interaction with him. Because every interaction seems to be about everything I am doing wrong all delivered with condescension. Have I mentioned Fergus badmouths others behind their backs? Because I also wonder what he says about me behind my back. Fergus is my main reason for wanting to leave at this point. I have made mistakes, but I just don’t see any sort of support to constructively address them.

    Meanwhile, I mentioned, I also do samovar polishing. It’s truly my best skill! My supervisor over samovar polishing, Craig, is great! Very collaborative, mistakes are communicated and corrected professionally. I am actually on the samovar polishing team despite half my job consisting of glazing blue teapots. If I could switch to samovar polishing only, I would. Craig has no involvement in teapot glazing and only tangentially knows what I do there, but he actually also reports to Fergus (Fergus is the manager over both teams).

    At this point, I think not working with Fergus or minimally working with Fergus may be the only thing that could be fixed. And I only see that happening if I can get out of blue teapot glazing. But literally no one else wants to do blue teapot glazing. Meanwhile, there is a vacancy on the samovar polishing team (that I’m already on).

    Do I say something to Craig about wanting to do samovar polishing full-time?

    I honestly do not see them restructuring my job like that even though if they don’t, they’ll need to get another blue teapot glazer anyway. And I don’t know how to articulate why I want off blue teapot glazing. I don’t think finally getting the long requested training on blue teapot glazing would help. Because at the end of the day, I can’t stand Fergus anymore.

      1. irene adler*

        In fact, if possible, start picking up the slack in samovar polishing created by the vacancy (cuz you are a team player!). To the point that, you have little to no time to attend to the blue teapot glazing.

        Additional benefit: Fergus is now free to find a blue teapot glazer that he’ll be happy with (since he’s been critical of your work). He might even be supportive of this idea.

        Win – win!

        1. Anon for now*

          This would be a dream scenario. Though Fergus has (joking?) said I have job security because no one else likes to glaze blue teapots. That makes me nervous. I don’t want to get forced out vs. leaving on my own terms.

          The situation is so weird because Fergus is my boss over blue teapot glazing, and my grandboss over samovar polishing (but my interaction with him would be much more limited if I only did samovar polishing).

          1. Dead Messenger*

            Blue Teapot glazing sounds like the work no one wants to do, and there is usually a reason for this. Trust me, as the person we says fine I’ll take one for the team and spend 10% of my time on glazing because I love the varnish job so much and there’s other crapper work I don’t want to do more than glazing. Fast Forward a few months and all I’m doing is glazing “because they though I loved it so much”

    1. Mockingjay*

      You don’t have to say specifically why you want to quit teapot glazing. Instead, focus on what you want to do – the samovar polishing. “Craig, I was initially brought on to do only the samovars. I didn’t mind helping out the teapots occasionally, but I’m not formally trained on the teapot process and it’s not the best use of my skills. [elaborate on super samovar skills here] Can we talk about a plan to transition me back to samovars full-time?”

      Since there’s a vacancy on your team, point out how you can help the newcomer when hired. Basically make your pitch that you are more valuable as a full-time polisher than a pinch-hit glazer.

      1. Cj*

        I wouldn’t say you don’t mind helping out with teapots occasionally. You do mind. If you say you don’t, you will still end up doing them. The rest of the script sounds really good.

        1. Beth*

          Anon could say “I was willing to help with the teapots” instead of “I didn’t mind”. Covers the necessary ground while closing that door a bit more firmly.

      2. Anon for now*

        I was not initially brought on to do only samovars though. They wanted me to do samovars and blue teapot glazing. So there would be no transitioning back. This would be different than what they hired me to do.

        1. Colette*

          “I know I was brought on to do both samovars and blue teapots, but I find that I really enjoy the work on samovars. Is there any possiblity I could move to doing that work full time?”

          1. SoloKid*

            I am pretty much in the exact same position (switch out “senior glazer retired” with “awesome manager, and another person I was training, were laid off”) and I asked my ‘Craig’ if I could do samovars full time.

            However, my ‘Craig’ asked offhand who would take over blue teapot glazing, and I wondered if that was my job to answer and not my (new) manager, who doesn’t know the first thing about blue teapot glazing.

            The person I was training was laid off so I’m in a “YOU figure it out” mindset.

            Advice? Right now I’ve been looking for external roles working with samovars in other companies.

            1. Wisteria*

              It’s not your job to answer, but it might your problem to solve if you really want that samovar job. The best response might be to work out a transition plan with your manager so that the blue teapot work gets moved to other people. If they were thinking of a new hire for the samovars, ask whether it makes sense to bring on a new hire for the teapots instead. If they just laid people off, there might not be new hires, though.

    2. Allonge*

      If you are at the point of leaving anyway, there is little to lose by talking to Craig. Do be prepared with some neutral answers on the ‘why not blue teapot glazing’ any more!

      1. Cynic*

        I don’t agree with everyone saying “you have nothing to lose” in these scenarios. You could lose a paycheck for the amount of time you need to get a new job, which can be as short as days/weeks but can be as long as months/years.

          1. Fran Fine*

            True. This is an incredibly delicate situation, and I think Colette gave some good tips on how to approach the conversation.

        1. Allonge*

          Talking to Craig about liking samovar painting better should not result in a firing unless something is really off with him though. Even a mediocre manager should be able to say ‘that’s good to know, unfortunately I see no possibility for you to do that full time, go back to blue glazes’, the end.

          Of course if Anon for now went for a full ultimatum, we do this or else, that’s a different situation. Usually though even if it’s really important, you don’t want to go there unless you are indeed ready to walk out.

          1. Arvolin*

            You need to be able to walk to issue an ultimatum, and that isn’t an option for most people in most situations. Most people prefer to have a job to go to when quitting, so they continue to get paid. Once they have a job offer firmly in hand, the answer to the ultimatum will either be “Bye!” or a counter-offer, and accepting counter-offers is dangerous. In something like a US civil service job, where it’s hard to fire you, and layoffs are by seniority, an ultimatum might be practical – samovars full-time or I look for another job! – but that’s not the usual situation.

    3. SS Express*

      If there’s currently a vacant role for a full-time samovar polisher, you wouldn’t really be asking to restructure your current job (which I agree is sometimes hard to do), you’d just be making an internal move to another role that suits you better. People make moves like that all the time! As for articulating why you want to stop glazing teapots – Fergus has been pretty open in his criticisms of your work, right? You aren’t trying to get away from him, you’re just taking his feedback on board and accepting that teapot glazing isn’t the right fit for you.

  15. Just Another Zebra*

    Before I left OldJob, I had a sit down with the ASM and Regional Manager to lay out my issues – specifically that with no store manager (they were dragging their feet with hiring), I was unable to take customers, so my commissions were severely impacted. I went from being a top seller to almost near the bottom, because I was doing ASM and SM work for $9.50/ hr. I told them I either needed a temporary raise to reflect these new responsibilities, or for the ASM to pick up more of the slack. They assured me things would change/ they were working on it/ just be patient. Two months later nothing had changed. I got a new job and handed in my notice (I gave them a very generous 3 months, because of when my new job started and I wanted to get as much of my commission as possible). I still remember the pearl-clutching look of horror on the managers’ faces, with pleas of “how can we make you stay?”

    That being said, I’m not inclined to offer advice to my employer. Empty promises and snide remarks about not being a team player ruined that for me.

  16. Beth*

    I feel like managers who make these kinds of complaints…if there’s a noticeable trend where people leave, and your boss knows it’s because they were unhappy with their situation while working there, and your boss’s only response is to lament after the fact about what they could have done if they’d only known, then the problem isn’t that no one’s telling them. They know. The problem is that your boss isn’t not doing anything about it. It sounds to me like your boss would rather complain than do the work needed to identify and fix the problem.

    If your boss was the one writing this letter, I’d want to ask: It might be too late to retain that specific employee, but what are you doing to retain your current team? Are you fixing the problems that your former employee brought up? Are you offering avenues for employees to tell you when they have a concern—and are you responding to those concerns respectfully and thoughtfully when they’re raised, to establish enough trust that people will feel safe to keep sharing them? Are you offering new benefits and opportunities to help increase retention? In short, whatever you’re imagining you would’ve done to retain these former employees, are you proactively doing it for your current employees?

  17. MishenNikara*

    Meanwhile those of us here in retail are amazed at the suggestion you have to option to not complain about work :P

  18. NowWhat?465*

    Currently going through this now with my employer. My team just lost four people to various reasons, but one of them the same reason I am considering leaving (working remote). Granted she was moving to the other side of the country and wanted to be permanently remote but they couldn’t make it happen while keeping her benefits. I have repeatedly asked to be remote 2-3 days a week so I can move closer to my partner 2.5 hours away while he’s in grad school.

    I have already brought up my own concerns multiple times and let them know that if they couldn’t make this work, I would start looking elsewhere. So far, only my immediate supervisor has taken me seriously because HR and other higher ups believe that I wouldn’t leave a job I love that pays above average just based on location. If I do end up leaving, I’m going to have to face a lot of “surprised” individuals even though I have had this conversation with all of them.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      The GM of my company just yanked people back full time with only two days notice and we’ve already had 4 people quit over it. One was a “well guess tomorrow is my last day” (they were informed Thursday that they had to be FT in office starting Monday) and they have children who are old enough not to require constant attention but not old enough to be left home alone all day.
      A bunch of other people are leaving (me included) and things will be in total freak out mode for a while.

      1. NowWhat?465*

        Yeah… I’m going to let the dust settle for a week or two and then bring up the conversation again. Hopefully they’ll prefer to avoid 6 months to a year of turmoil and grant me the hybrid model I would like.

        I can see a lot of our office outside of our team having the same issues of losing staff once we’re required to be back in the office. It’s not the reason 3 of the people left (one for family reasons and the other two were ready to move up and on) but it is the reason for the fourth.

    2. Irish girl*

      I had a former co-worker who had a dream of moving out of our state to one 2 over. We had an office in that state so benefits and all that would be fine so no issue with that. She would have wanted to work remotely since where the office was wasn’t near where she wanted to live. At the time we had no formal WFH arraignments and it wasn’t something most people did. Her team lead knew about it but the TL’s response is that “Company would never allow that.'”

      Meanwhile, another employee on our team that worked in that state in that office asked to work permeantlty from home and was approved by the TL’s and my manger. But it wasn’t something we all knew had happened since to us there was no difference in how we worked with him. It got to a point that she gave us even asking to move and work remotely and started looking at another company. While she was doing that, she was transferred our from the TL to our manager who found out that she wanted to move and was fully on board to support her. By that point and a few other things, she was done with the company. She wanted out as she didn’t feel valued.

      That spring/summer she interviewed and got a new job with a pay bump in that state and accepted it. Then she had to find a place to live before she could give her notice. We all knew she was going to that state by this point as she had shared the approval to work remotely but no one other than me knew that she was going to give her notice. Cue the surprised face by management when she left. It was too little to late that they offered her the remote option. She didn’t even leave for a remote job which surprised them even more.

      Now thanks to the pandemic, her new company is letting her stay fully remote and she bought her dream house/property out in the woods.

      1. NowWhat?465*

        This would be a dream!

        Currently my employer does have a license for the state I’m trying to move to, and it’s close enough that I could conceivably come in two days a week and stay with my parents who live 30 minutes from the office. But even though I’m remote for at least four more months, HR said they want to retain the right to recall me back to 5 days in office at any given time so they “strongly encouraged” me not to move forward with my plans to buy a home or sign a lease in the new state.

        So I’m looking for a new job, but it’s taking longer than expected and I don’t want to take the first thing that pops up regardless of what it is because I want to at least be happy (I will likely be taking a paycut no matter where I go).

    3. MissDisplaced*

      The WFH situation is going to spur some huge turnover across a lot of industries. I think it’s a good thing, but I worry the pressures of the economy and all the interconnection that forcing workers into the office supports (restaurants, big oil, car manufacturers, etc.) will basically supersede the will of the employees who want to keep that WFH flexibility.

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      “just based on location”… it’s not a trivial matter like the big city having more cafés, it’s a matter of being with your partner who’s going to be away for a good while.

  19. HailRobonia*

    We’ve learned that all our concerns will be, at most, given lip service. When we complained that our workspaces were being reduced to .75 of what we had previously, and that we had no privacy (my back was to the whole office, etc.) we were first treated with a super patronizing story from my boss about how she teaches her children to be happy with what they have, then a comment about “not everyone is compatible with every job.”

    The entire team has been job searching since.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, well. When you find a new job and resign, if she gives you any pushback and asks why, you can always say that “the time we raised an issue with the reduced workspace, you said ‘not everyone is compatible with every job.’ I simply took you at your word.”

      Raising an issue should be fine in a non-toxic environment, but “complaining” is unlikely to get you what you want.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      “Problem is, I’m not your child and you’re not my mother, you’re my boss.”

  20. Knope Knope Knope*

    Alison, thanks for the good advice as always! I wonder if there are any caveats here around how this is worded given your usually cautious (or just realistic) stance about people putting themselves at risk for being pushed out of their company earlier than they would like. For instance, if a valued employee had a concern serious enough to consider leaving the company over I would want to know no matter what so I could try to mitigate the issue. But if someone who was already on thin ice told me they were so unhappy they were thinking of leaving, I think it would be information that would not necessarily help their case if a round of layoffs or something were coming up that that management knew about but the employee did not.

    1. mf*

      Yeah, I would definitely adjust my approach if I was worried about being pushed out or concerned that it would take me a long time to find another job. Instead of “I’m so unhappy I’m thinking of leaving,” my approach would be more like “I’m unhappy about a specific aspect of my job–is this something we can work on changing either immediately or in the near future?” I’d express my unhappiness but not mention leaving. (Honestly any manager or employer should know that an unhappy employee is a retention risk, even if they don’t explicitly say they’re job hunting.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly — I wouldn’t usually say “and I’m thinking about leaving over it” (although there times when that does make sense, but only if you’re a highly valued employee with leverage). But generally a decent manager should understand that’s a risk if you’re expressing concern about something.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Tons of instances in the comments where the boss says something like “I didn’t think you’d leave over it” or “I thought you just liked to complain” … so as usual, we conclude that only GOOD managers realise there’s a retention risk.

  21. Jaybeetee*

    Um… no? Honestly, it’s not my employer’s business why I’m leaving a job. Maybe I have a better job lined up, maybe I’m not happy where I am. The idea that a) I owe my employer an explanation or b) that my leaving is “doing something to them” that they can feel betrayed about – strikes me as very 1950s company culture.

    I will say in my own experience – when I’ve left jobs in the past due to being unhappy, they tended to be situations where I already figured management/the employer wasn’t going to be responsive to complaints.

    1. mf*

      I agree. My only concern is my own happiness, not my employer’s retention problem. If I *really* want to stay at my current job, I’ll speak up. If not, then no, I don’t owe them a heads up or an explanation.

      The employee/employer relationship is not an equal one. In most scenarios, the employer holds most of the power. If they want their employees to divulge that kind of information, then they need to make their business an extremely desirable place to work (very good pay & benefits!) and they need to create a culture where I feel comfortable trusting my manager with that sort of feedback.

  22. honeygrim*

    My boss said something like this to me recently. She referred to two others who were in roles similar to mine; both of them left and my boss didn’t know they were unhappy until afterwards. She all but begged me to tell her if I wasn’t happy (I’m currently the only person who can do my particular job here).

    But no one tells her they’re unhappy because she doesn’t know how to handle non-pleasant information. She only wants to hear positive things, or for us to look on the bright side and focus on “solutions.” If I talk about an issue to her, she puts it back on me to solve, even if I don’t have the resources to do so.

    She’s good at playing a good listener; she says things like “I hear you” and “I understand what you’re saying.” But I don’t think she actually listens; instead, she filters everything someone says through her own ideas of how things should work (which aren’t always the way things actually do work here), and responds to her interpretation of what was said, instead of the actual words.

    1. In my shell*

      “or for us to look on the bright side and focus on “solutions.” If I talk about an issue to her, she puts it back on me to solve, even if I don’t have the resources to do so.”

      It sounds like she believes you do have the resources to solve it – ? maybe test that?

      1. honeygrim*

        Well, one main issue is staff morale, and one reason for low morale is that the staff are underpaid. Pay is set by people much higher in the organization, so her “solution” is to ignore low pay and try to raise morale in other ways. But everything else we try doesn’t work, because of the low pay.

    2. Anonforthisone*

      My boss isn’t a bad boss, but this was something I realized recently… I have to come with the specific solution to a problem, and even then… will anything be done for it? I don’t know.

      There is talk about transitioning back to the office and I expressed an interest in a hybrid schedule. This could probably be accomplished because our organization is so large and the central HR doesn’t deal in these sort of matters. I am well-respected and well liked, and my work is known to be good, so I could probably get away without working from home on our 2 least busy days of the week.

      When I mentioned that I think x and y job responsibilities were being completed more efficiently when WFH and that I think a hybrid schedule so I could focus on x and y at home and a, b, and c in the office would be best, she made a sarcastic comment about how I could go back to school for more education and then change jobs and that would be my reality.

      She seems very supportive and caring otherwise, but this really felt like the curtains were being pulled down. I never ask for anything, and any time there is a problem I basically come to her with the solution and she just has to okay it. There have been two times now that I have come to her with things I had concerns about that would have required work on her part and neither of those things were completed. It’s very disheartening to have someone who seems caring, but can’t or won’t try to listen to your infrequent concerns, and just makes it another thing you have to take care of.

      1. honeygrim*

        Ugh, a sarcastic response to a completely reasonable suggestion. I hate that; it’s just a slap in the face. My boss doesn’t do sarcasm, but does patronizing VERY well. A pleasantly-spoken “I hear you and I understand,” a metaphorical pat on the head, and then she disregards whatever I said. Makes me feel like she thinks I’m a child that needs coddling, instead of a professional who needs my legitimate concerns, questions, and ideas acknowledged.

        1. Anonforthisone*

          I can understand just what you mean! It’s like the unsaid implication of “I hear you and I understand” as the only response is “…and I don’t care.”

          I often feel like I am a professional party pooper because they come up with these ideas with no plan to implement them, and then you bring up the concerns and it doesn’t change their minds, but they also don’t forget that you had concerns.

      2. Allonge*

        Ah, that’s not cool.

        Would it make sense to try again? Some people don’t register things as a problem unless they are bugged about it a couple of times. It’s a pain when someone only really complains if there is an actual issue, but worth a try again, maybe with an added ‘has there been a discussion on hybrid schedules that I should know about?’ in this case.

        1. Anonforthisone*

          It definitely won’t be the last time I bring it up. There is supposed to be a transition period when things are hybrid for everyone for awhile and I’m somewhat hopeful that I can use that to try to make a case. I would honestly do great with 100% at home with only occasional trips in for a specific purpose, but in my line of work that would be rare to impossible to find.

          My job has a lot of benefits and they are good, but I am starting to consider if they are worth the rigid environment.

    3. mf*

      Yes, I have worked for this person. She solicited my feedback but didn’t actually want to hear it. If you disagreed with her on anything (even VERY minor things), she’d lash out. You can’t trust a person like that to have an open, honest conversation.

      1. honeygrim*

        Exactly. Sometimes I think that’s worse than the manager who openly demonstrates they don’t want a collegial relationship with those they supervise. She pretends she was us to work together, but doesn’t actually want our input, especially if it means she has to do anything that might be uncomfortable (like standing up for us).

    4. Filosofickle*

      Ugh, my grad school chair did this. Every semester they held “listening sessions” where we expressed our frustrations and what wasn’t working for us. They were extremely good at playing a good listener. Yet nothing changed, not even little things.

  23. Sarra N. Dipity*

    I’ve brought up issues to my immediate supervisor repeatedly over the years I’ve been here. They didn’t get addressed. The supervisors tried to – but they didn’t have enough power/influence.
    I’ve then brought up issues to my director, both individually and as part of the team. same story – didn’t get addressed.
    I’ve then brought up issues to the partner, both individually and as part of a group of my peers over multiple teams – didn’t get addressed.
    I then met 1:1 with the managing partner – didn’t get addressed.

    since January, about 1/3 of the office has given notice and left. Everyone has been very blunt in their exit interviews. after each one, none of the concerns got addressed.

    I’m leaving as soon as I get a job offer. There’s 2 others at my level currently looking. I’m not even going to bother bringing up what’s wrong when I have my exit interview. There’s no point.

    1. Sans Serif*

      I used to work at a place like that. Everyone was very explicit why they left. I’d say our whole dept left within nine months. And to add insult to injury, they refused to replace anyone and just kept doubling the workload. When I finally left, they were screwed because I was the only one who knew certain procedures and other info. They could have asked at any time and I would have been happy to explain everything to them. But they didn’t give a crap until I actually gave my notice. They screwed themselves.

    2. Mannheim Steamroller*

      As long as the official policy is to ignore employee concerns, you should just skip the exit interview. There’s no point.

    3. Azarean*

      I think it’s a very rare organization that has exit interviews, listens to feedback from then, and then actually changes something. They seem like an HR ritual that’s a best practice, but the results are ignored.

  24. I should really pick a name*

    As an employer, how do show your employees that it’s safe for them to bring their concerns to you?

    1. irene adler*

      That starts with establishing a track record.
      A track record of not shooting the messenger, or not ignoring issues brought to you, or not badmouthing the complainant, or not throwing the issue back to the complainant and demanding that they find the solution, or not violating a confidence.

      Maybe try a regular ‘check-in’ with employees (individually) and see if someone proffers something. Or if you identify an issue, ask employees how this issue affects them. Then work on a solution. Follow up to see if solution has resolved the issue.

    2. Sarra N. Dipity*

      1:1’s can be good, but a lot of employees will be intimidated if their 1:1 is with too high a level. I’d pass it down the chain of command that you want to make sure that employees are safe in bringing up concerns, and then actually do something about it if possible.

      If something gets brought to your attention, bring it up in a staff meeting. (not calling out the person by name, of course, but more like “i’ve been told that there’s a concern about XYZ. I hear you, and Manager Q and I are working with the vendors to find a solution which will work for anyone. Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention”. Something like that can go a long way.

    3. Heidi*

      At our on-boarding meeting, we show a slide listing examples of how feedback resulted in specific changes. Employees said they wanted more flexibility, this is how we changed the schedule. This procedure was creating a lot of delay, this is how we changed it. I think it helps to give an idea of the scope of issues that can be addressed.

    4. Pickled Limes*

      You also want to make sure you’re a regularly occurring presence in employees’ work lives. I had a conversation not long ago with a person high up in our organizational structure who was wondering why people don’t go to him when they’re having problems. But he only ever communicates with managers and supervisors. Maybe two or three times a year he’ll send out an all staff email. Most of the front line staff don’t know this guy at all, so they have no base of knowledge to draw from about whether he’s going to take their concerns seriously. You can’t expect an employee who barely knows you to trust you enough to bring up concerns when there are so many stories out there about people who tried and got fired for it.

      1. Brownie*

        This is a huge thing. When I had issues with my supervisor a few years back I ended up going to friends and AAM for advice instead of to my grandboss because I didn’t have any kind of relationship with my grandboss that I felt allowed me to go to him, despite the seriousness of the issues. Now, with everyone working from home, this lack of communication pathways has been highlighted and the company is working to figure out how to fix it because it is leading to people leaving. And from what I’ve heard it’s exactly what I’d encountered, a severe problem with a manager/supervisor/team lead and no way to bring that up to the higher-ups who could fix it.

    5. Rayray*

      One big thing I think is to allow people to voice their concerns and not get defensive or combative even if the complaint or concern seems far fetched or that the person is just whining. Let people talk to you and don’t make them feel like crap for it. When people make suggestions, listen to it and discuss things in a constructive way rather than just telling them why their suggestion would never work.

    6. Cordyceps*

      Even an anonymous/confidential employee engagement survey can be a great start. Most likely, an issue significant enough to cause one employee to look elsewhere is also negatively impacting other employees (not always, but again, this might be a starting point). Once these “big ticket” issues are identified and actually addressed (and it is made clear to the employees that it has been addressed), people will probably feel a lot more comfortable bringing forward concerns that may only be affecting them.

      That said, it should NOT be handled the way my current employer does. A “confidential” survey is sent out. People answer it honestly. The managers get pissed about negative feedback (it affects their bonuses) so they start calling around trying to suss out who said what on the survey. Those folks are then retaliated against in tiny, subtle ways. Management does a big presentation about the issues they’ve identified and what they plan to address. And then nothing happens. And then we go through the same charade the following year.

      TL;DR it’s all about building trust.

  25. hbc*

    Maybe this is oversimplified, but I think if you (as a manager or org) are paying attention, you know what the big reasons are. It’s almost like “The Missing Reasons” article about estranged parents who have no idea why their adult kids aren’t in contact–you’ve been told, but you don’t believe the reasons are big enough or real enough, so you simply don’t register it as a potential reason why they’re leaving.

    Near transcript of my resignation conversation at my last place:
    Me: I can’t do this anymore, consider this my resignation.
    Manager: Is there anything I can do that would make you change your mind?
    Me: I gave you a list of three things I needed to happen for me to stay in this job. None of them have been done, and it’s been five months. Can you tell me honestly that you’ve been working towards any one of them and that I’ll see any changes within the next month?
    Manager: …
    Me: Okay, what would be a good last day?

    1. Beth*

      Yep. It usually comes down to the same big things, doesn’t it? If you’re struggling with retention on a large scale, probably it’s about 1) compensation, 2) unreasonably high/stressful workloads, 3) work/life balance issues (not allowing remote work where possible, flexible hours where possible, etc), 4) no room for advancement or growth, and/or 5) there’s a toxic culture element that needs to be addressed. When you lose one or two employees, that’s normal turnover; when you see a broad trend developing, though, you should be looking for something like these. And if you find the problem, or people tell you what it is, and your response is “Oh well, too bad all those people already left, no point fixing it now!” then you’re going to keep losing people.

  26. Sans Serif*

    Maybe an employer could fix some of the problems, but in the end, it might not be enough and you’re still ready to move on. If you say something to them, and they fix a few things, it’s just going to make you feel obligated to stay and guilty to go after they put out the effort. And it’ll just make them more resentful.

    Unless fixing one or two clearly definable items would make all the difference in the world and you’d be happy to stay – that’s the one scenario where it would be good to tell them.

    1. irene adler*

      Obligated? Not a bit. Guilty? Not a chance.

      “Too little, too late” as the old saying goes.

      If the roles were reversed, and the employee improved on say, 2 out of 5 things they were asked to work on, the employer would have no qualms about replacing them.

      Cost of doing business- on either side.

    2. mf*

      This is a good point. I would only have a conversation with manager/employer about the changes I wanted to see *if* I was certain I would stay when the changes were implemented.

      Sometimes you get a point where you are just DONE with a job or an employer. At that point, even if they fixed all of the things that are bothering you, you’d still want out. If that’s how you feel, there’s no point in lobbying for changes what you really want is a new job.

    3. Allonge*

      Yes, by the time you are ready to leave, usually there are quite a number of issues – or a few big ones that are unfixable as such (e.g. you are underpaid and there is no budget for more).

      Problems that need addressing should be brought up (and resolved!) throughout the time you spend at a workplace, preferably before they become a capital-p-Problem. And there is no obligation to stay either way!

  27. Ran over my hands with one of those gym class scooters*

    Super relevant as this is my last week (leaving for a place that tackles everything I’m sad about at Current Employer, plus gives me a substantial improvement in pay + benefits). I can rest easy knowing I’ve done everything I could to improve Current Employer — list of things we can do to retain employees, blast emails to Upper Management, regular feedback to Boss and other leadership, regular feedback to HR. Very little meaningful change resulted; I usually got lip service that “the management team is discussing it” or “the current situation is actually very good because XYZ” or “we’re doing what’s legally required / recommended by the CDC and that’s enough”.

    And the company still frets and wrings its hands when people leave, and has quick team meetings to discuss how anyone who leaves a negative Glassdoor review was probably disgruntled and the reviews are not an okay thing to do (need to raise issues internally instead). Mind-boggling.

    To do better, I wish they’d (1) solicit feedback proactively rather than in a panic when people leave, (2) transparently and proactively make changes based on that feedback. Changes don’t always need to be sweeping revolutions, either; small “slam dunk” items that don’t make a large dent in the budget or really require any work from UM can have a massive effect on morale.

  28. rachel in nyc*

    A friend who was over worked and over stressed from her job- a lot of the problem stemmed from them hemorraging staff in her department after someone left when they didn’t get promoted (reasonable) and almost everyone they’d brought/hired on leaving shortly there after. The new person is fine- REALLY TRULY- but he started awhile after the other person left, so they just bled.

    And in the meantime, the company takes forever to hire someone (they have part-time, internal, temp recruiters- you can guess how well that goes) and pay under market.

    I’m not convinced half the reason, she took the job where she did was she went from interview to offer, including background and reference checks, in something like a week. It let her know there wasn’t going to be any problems hiring people.

  29. MissInTheNo*

    When you try to talk to management , all of a sudden it’s “this is a job…I do my job and go home”

  30. Bookworm*

    I don’t think they’re obligated to, but if there’s interest and management is actually interested in the feedback then I think it can be worth it.

    From experience, though, most organizations really aren’t at all interested and you (the employee) are not telling them anything they don’t know. They just don’t care.

    1. Windchime*

      Is it truly that they don’t care? I mean, it sure looks that way to me (especially at my last employer), but is it really that? Or is it just incompetence or, as someone said above, feeling like the issues are trivial and surely not bad enough for people to leave?

      I don’t know. I don’t get it. All of us worker bees are saying “managers don’t listen to us” and the managers are all saying, “I would listen if someone would tell me”. There is a disconnect someplace.

  31. Marsupilami*

    Definite answer: no.

    My interaction with my former team lead upon telling that I am quittung:

    “I do not understand that. You are so valuable to us, why did you not tell me you were unhappy before??”
    “Are you not aware of the 100 issues I have raised since you became team lead 6 months ago?!” (At which point I no longer enjoyed a job I loved before as did at least two team members who had already left at that point, without revealing their reasons to management, though.)
    “Yes, but I did not think those were THAT important. I just assumed you like to complain.”

    In retrospect, I should have quit much faster and not have tried so long to improve the situation with suggestions after the first few were completely ignored… still do not think you are obligated to raise even the first issue, but that is very much against my nature (and things were really good before the team lead changed, so everything I raised was in his power to change, so I hoped for too long…)

    1. TWW*

      Exactly. Most good workers are constantly giving feedback of the form, “This is what I (or my team) need to do the job well.” As long as the manager is responsive to that, it should rarely come down to the type of feedback that goes, “This is was I need to want to stay employed here.”

      That second type of feedback isn’t really feedback–it’s more of an ultimatum, which usually isn’t good for either party.

  32. Momma Bear*

    Obligated? I wouldn’t go that far. If management wants feedback, they need to create a space for that to be safe, they need to be willing to listen, and they need to take action. If employees feel like their jobs are in danger or that management will do nothing, then it’s self-preservation to just hold it and move on. I and others were really clear that a manager was bad news. It was stated to upper management directly that many of us were eyeballing the door if that manager stayed. They did, so we didn’t.

    1. Windchime*

      Yep. We had a manager who was systematically going through the department and either firing people or bullying them out. (I was in the “bullied out” group). HR knew and did nothing. Management all the way up to the great-grand-boss knew and did nothing. It was only when people started making noise to HR about lawsuits that finally some action was taken and the bad manager was fired. But it was too little, too late. The damage had been done, the department’s reputation was in tatters, and trust was destroyed forever.

  33. Alice*

    I quit my previous two jobs because of long-standing issues that I had brought up multiple times with my managers. Both times I got the shocked pikachu face. Fair chance that LW’s employers have heard the complaints but they chose not to listen because the issues affected their employees, not them.

    1. IdahoSmith82*

      Same here.

      They know the issues- and choose to pretend they’ve never been told. Which mostly means deep down- they were the actual issue.

  34. Quickbeam*

    I’m retiring in the next year. Not once in the 15 years I have worked for this very large company has anyone asked me how I am doing or if I am happy in my work. Nor have they asked me what could make it better. When I have gone to my manager about issues it was seen as a personality flaw on my part.

    So I’m saving it for the exit interview. This company may well say “If only QB had come to us!” but in reality they didn’t want that at all or make it a safe place for those conversations to take place.

  35. Fuzzyfuzz*

    The key really is ‘is it fixable?’ and there are some cultural issues that it doesn’t seem worth approaching anyone about.

    I recently boomeranged to an old job–the new job that I left for was a higher level of status and a bit more $, but it became clear almost from day 1 that the culture was just not for me and I was miserable. I quit after a few months (less than 6) to return to my old position, and the HR rep at my exit interview did really hit the “did you tell [boss] you weren’t happy? and why not?” hard–I left the interview feeling really crappy and immature that I hadn’t.

    But then I realized, how could I say “I’m really unhappy working somewhere where senior leadership criticizes people’s home presentation on Zoom in the middle of a global pandemic (we’re talking mussed blankets during a meeting with a bunch of coworkers, not crazy messes on a client call); that makes lightning speed decisions that they have to undo because people work fast not smart; and where senior leaders are not up front about performance problems with their staffers before moving them to the front of the layoff line for performance reasons.”? None of these things can be fixed by the person to whom I would have raised them, and cluing someone in would have jeopardized my ability to do and excel at my job. Plus, the window to return to old job would have closed and I would have been stranded in a place where I was deeply unhappy.

  36. J!*

    I’m trying to figure out whether “we’ve gone from having five women on staff to just me” means that the staff has shrunk to 17% of its previous size or if the company has done something where all the women seem to be fleeing the place, and I feel like in either scenario you don’t owe them shit. Trust your instincts and get out.

    1. Nanani*

      I’m guessing either women are being driven out on purose (I’ve seen it happen – when a sexist person is in charge of who gets laid off or has their hours cut, the gender they value less goes) or indirectly by refusing to take care of, say, creepy behaviour by other employees or problematic customers hitting on staff or what have you.

      Seconding the call to trust your instincts.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Normally I’d agree but this has been an unusual Pandemic year. It’s possible some of those women left due to child care or even normal attrition.
        Which still could be on the company if they don’t offer WFH or flexibility for working parents.

  37. Destroyer of typos*

    This is super timely! I’m psyching myself up for a conversation with my boss today about how I’m going to start job searching. He’s told me before that he wishes people would be more up front about their gripes before just handing in their notice. We will see if that’s helpful or not :) I’m in a management position in a tiny company (less than 30 staff) and it will be more difficult to replace me. This has been my favorite job of all my jobs, and I love my boss, but the amount of sloppy work that I have to deal with is ridiculous. I don’t see the culture changing anytime soon, since performance issues go unaddressed because no one has time or energy to insist on quality work. It’s just a mess.

    1. SentientAmoeba*

      Problem is, airing your gripes often doesn’t have the intended results. Complaints, even if very valid, are often ignored, downplayed or held against the person who made them.

  38. Ruby Rhubarb*

    Alison you mentioned sometimes being able to change the thing that was bothering them. I’m wondering what sorts of things?

    Just curious about whether I’ve called this wrong in the past…

    1. Mental Lentil*

      It could be anything! From start and stop times to when they take a lunch to who they report to. Sometimes it’s over what seems trivial to others, but sometimes people just need a small pivot to make their lives a bit more manageable (such as coming in and leaving 10 minutes earlier to avoid the traffic).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep. I’ve intervened to change whole departments’ workloads (when they thought that was impossible), terrible managers, communication issues between two departments, the way projects were getting assigned, all sorts of stuff.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      These are specific to my organization, but here are some examples, based on my experience.

      Easy things to fix, generally: reasonable schedule accommodations, switching seating assignments, assistance getting on board with that new project project that’s in an area of particular interest, most technology woes, obtaining training relevant to their role, retooling processes that are actually stupid, addressing unprofessional behavior, problems with benefits, changing management styles (or managers) who are abusive or run teams where everyone is miserable, updating onboarding/orientation to be more useful.

      Harder but not impossible (or even that difficult with a good business justification): Moving departments entirely, promotions outside the normal paths/schedules, retooling longstanding processes that are perfectly serviceable but could be better, any process improvement that involves two or more departments, adjusting management styles that are not great but not bad, getting special tools or software for limited people or purposes, adding staff to a team.

      Things that are not going to change: volume of work or always-on-call nature of professional services work, the office’s location or physical layout, not getting first choice of vacations/holidays every single time, having to do non-preferred core job responsibilities, the coworker that does good work but someone just don’t like personally (beyond trying to limit having to work together), the Staff Policy Handbook, not being able to make one’s own hours, inability to magic up experienced candidates in niche specialties on a moment’s notice.

  39. Rec*

    I think usually the employees have mentioned something but it has been ignored and manager has decided to forget about it and then pretend it is new information in the exit interview.

  40. Loredena Frisealach*

    Sometimes you tell them and they don’t hear. At the start of 2019 I was moved under a different manager with an eye to being mentored and promoted by year end. The mentoring didn’t happen, our regular one on ones didn’t get scheduled until I complained, and as year end approached my manager told me that it had been a bad year and no one was being promoted. During that convo I specifically said that while I was willing to accept that, I wasn’t willing to still be having this conversation in a year.

    Well, we reorg’d again, moving me back under my prior manager, and somehow I never received a review (and I did ask!) *and* multiple people had promotions announced – one having been in my role for exactly one year.

    I started looking, but then covid. So end of 2020 rolls around, I again don’t get review, I get restructured *back*, and oh by the way someone who was hired at my level earlier in the year was promoted.

    Now I’m being billed to my clients as the next level, but I’m six years in w/out a promotion, and I’m at least 10k underpaid versus my (male) coworkers and 20 under market. I’ve stopped complaining, I’m just going to take the first reasonable job offer and leave!

  41. SentientAmoeba*

    I’m struggling with a version of this right now. I have a brand new (less than a month in the role) supervisor who is trying to find her footing so she is not in a place to help. My Team Lead has a way of presenting any mistake I make, no matter how minor as the WORST. MISTAKE.EVER. or finding nitpicky things to harp on. I don’t want to go to Grandboss. To say what? TL talking down to me like a small child when I make a typo on a project that requires days of work and research to compile information is pretty demoralizing? Getting dressed down because I forgot to cc someone on an email where simply resending the email and looping them in solved the issue? The list goes on but it’s not blatant so hard to pinpoint the issues.

    1. A Person*

      Your team lead lacks soft skills, which are management skills. This is certainly something to bring up. “I feel like my TL is my adversary, rather than my team-mate” might be a good opening.

  42. IdahoSmith82*

    I’m pretty happy with my current job- despite some commonplace issues/nuances- but old job- lord-

    We had an employee who was a major issue. We’d all told boss more than once in group meetings, in one on one meetings- you name it- that said person was an issue (on top of the fact that we were all grossly underpaid- she was paid more than any other staff member for doing 10% of the work).

    Came time for a very awkward exit interview- she knew the issues- still pretended to be shocked when I mentioned it.

    I think the “why didn’t you tell me there was an issue when we have an open door policy” line is BS most of the time. It’s more often something that us employees have told you- more than once- and you’ve chosen to pretend it’s not an issue. Especially in a small work place or on a small work team.

  43. Chantel*

    A challenge is when management knows there is a problem (e.g., an employee) and refuses to do anything about it. What’s the use of anyone alerting management to a known problem? It’s not like that’s new information.

    I am experiencing a tail-that-wags-the-dog coworker as a widely-known problem, and plan to start looking elsewhere in about a year, when my skills are more honed. I don’t plan to share that with current boss as my reason for leaving, because it won’t matter. She is otherwise great but it’s this one area that is hopeless and a real morale-buster for many of us, and she simply won’t do anything about coworker. It’s super frustrating, as you can imagine.

  44. PurplePartridge*

    I think “actively soliciting input from people long before they start thinking of leaving” is really key here. By the time I was at the point of leaving my last job, I was too burn out/rundown to summon the energy to bring up my concerns. In addition to workload concerns, I had unrealized career goals/progression that just kept getting backburnered for other priorities. Whenever I brought it up (“hey, we agreed I’d do X hours on skill Y projects per week, but I didn’t get there because of existing skill Z projects”) the response was basically “I know, I’m aware, we’ll do better next week” and then nothing changed the following week either.

    It’s entirely possible if I’d laid down more of an ultimatum they’d have made it happen, but having to continuously advocate for things my manager had already agreed to was exhausting. I ultimately didn’t want to stay in an environment where it felt like I would constantly have to advocate for myself to get the career progression I was supposed to be getting, when I could just get a new job focusing on doing what I actually wanted to.

    1. Seacalliope*

      Agreed. By the time I was ready to leave, asking me what needed to change just felt like another deflection from management to make me do their job instead of them doing it. It should be a dynamic process with input from both sides — not just “we can’t make that happen” from management, but active solutions based on what the role can be.

  45. Nanani*

    Work is a business relationship. It’s not a breakup or a divorce, you don’t need to go through couple counseling and talk about issues before deciding to move on. Go find greener pastures guilt-free, OP.

    1. Wisteria*

      You don’t need to do that for break ups, either, but that’s a different blog.

  46. Solana*

    We’ve had so much turnover lately and have been so understaffed that the second in command wanted a sit-down meeting to discuss concerns. Only me and another coworker showed up, lists in hand. (I had spoken to my coworkers to make sure everything was addressed.)
    Huge waste of time. The concerns were brushed aside, or he would say, “Well, we’re better than other places!” Example, we’re not allowed to call in more than once in a six week period. (Yes, this started during the pandemic.) When I pointed this out, he claimed that other companies don’t let you call in more than once in three months. I told him that was unrealistic.
    The only concern he listened to was something tied into the union. Otherwise, I would have made a bigger impression on the concrete wall by banging my head on it.

  47. Message in a Bottle*

    Gosh, I want to know what were those things that were resolved within a week! We could be stewing over something fixable.

    Most of my issues in jobs where I resigned were fixable but no one wanted to fix them. So there’s no point in bringing them up when so many have before with no different results.

  48. Aron*

    In sixteen years, I’ve only ever had one boss who genuinely meant “tell me your work frustrations, and I’ll do my best to fix them.” That was a boss who wasn’t afraid to write-up and terminate people and/or afraid to ruffle feathers with new policies and workload adjustments. Best boss I’ve ever had, and that’s the only boss I’ve ever trusted to go to with work frustrations or complaints. One, in sixteen years. You kinda know when you have that boss, and, OP, since you’re writing in, I’m guessing you don’t have that boss.

    I’ve had toxic bosses who wanted to suss out any unhappiness so they could fire/replace people ASAP, and I’ve had genuinely great human beings who really did want to hear it but didn’t want to/know how to do anything to fix it (i.e., do what the Genuinely Great Boss would do). Most recently, one of those genuinely great human beings waited until I was giving notice to acknowledge he’d known I was unhappy and, on his own, accurately summarized why and acknowledged there was a real departmental problem, then said it wasn’t in his nature to fight to keep people or hold them back – and, if I wanted to leave, then he would support me and be happy for me. And he did and he was. For the last six months (long notice period!), my frustrations have been his frustrations because nothing has ever been done to fix those frustrations/departmental problems, and they’re struggling to find a person for my position. I feel bad, but I’ve seen it time and time again, when managers who “want to hear frustrations” don’t DO anything: skilled, effective people leave and problems stay.

    Don’t burn bridges but don’t spin your wheels by trying to help them fix what they haven’t demonstrated a willingness to fix.

  49. Machiamellie*

    I learned not to complain to coworkers or tell anyone I was looking. I once was doing a busywork paperwork project with a coworker and mentioned that I didn’t have enough work to do and was looking for another job. She went to HR, who wrote me up for being “unethical.”

      1. Machiamellie*

        Honestly, thank you. I’ve beaten myself up about it for the past 8 years. This was before I was diagnosed as autistic and the HR person also said I had poor body language, etc. in meetings and that was part of being unethical.

  50. MissDisplaced*

    Every time I’ve made it known that I’m unhappy enough to consider leaving, the situation either gets ignored and nothing changes, or things get worse and you’re seen as the “complainer” or a Debbie Downer. I’ve learned it’s better to just tidy up and go when you’ve found something.

    Honestly, I think most companies know they have manager or systemic issues and simply don’t care.

  51. IANYL*

    I feel like a real easy barometer to measure whether it’s worth bringing up complaints to management, at least in this scenario, is to ask the question what did they do after Fergus, Bergus, and Tergus left re the things they complained about? If they wrung their hands but then said “oh well” don’t bother. If they took action to correct issues, even if raised in hindsight… maybe they’re open to constructive criticism.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      yeah, the least they can do is check whether anyone else feels the same as Fergus and do something about it if they do.

  52. Must-go-anon*

    My workplace does a quarterly (used to be annual) anonymous survey, to give feedback on issues like this. 2021 Q1? new big boss/ department head has the worst scores ever – and then proceeds to excuse away issues, and compares himself to another department head … “well, our attrition is not as bad as … so we are doing okay.” No, you are not. But there is zero chance that my boss can do anything (and I am 100% certain that her boss – who was hired by big boss – would not listen if she tried.).

    But taking action on those surveys would be a very good start, instead of ignoring the feedback year after year. Now, the only reason I leave it/ answer the survey is because I believe part of their bonus is pegged to it, and I am NOT going to give him a free ride by having only the happy people (who haven’t been there more than a month – see “attrition” above) answer the survey questions.

  53. Llama face!*

    This question just makes me want to vent but I’ll hold back and just say, “past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour” and that includes whether there’s any use in pointing out issues. And the balance tips in favour of keeping yourself safe from being fired/discriminated against/seen as the problem employee, ie., you owe yourself more than you owe your job.

  54. cactus lady*

    I think this really depends on whether you are unhappy because you don’t like what your role does (this is surprisingly common I’ve noticed), or if you’re unhappy with something that has a solution even if you can’t imagine it. As a manager, I can do something about that second one. But if you’re unhappy with your role because you wish you were doing something else, I can’t help you. Are you unhappy with one project you have, vs what your role on a project is? I can potentially do something about one project (or if I can’t, I’d still like to know what about it makes you unhappy so I can keep that in mind for the future). If the problem is that you want to be a llama groomer but this team works on teapot painting, I can’t really help you. I have this problem on my team right now – one of my employees wishes she were a llama groomer, and I can SEE that, but she brings me various complaints about what she’s painting on teapots.

    I think a good rule of thumb here is to reflect on what you are hoping to get out of the conversation with your manager if you do choose to bring up why you’re unhappy. If that ONE teapot was just the worst to paint, it might be worth it to have that conversation with your manager (or try to). If you hate painting teapots, talking to your manager won’t help no matter how understanding they are.

  55. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    (the work isn’t as technical as I like and they could easily put me on another project)
    (we’ve gone from having five women on staff to just me and it’s pretty lonely here)

    If four women have left in a short time and the only woman still around is being given the fluffy, non-tech stuff, it does look like there might be some discrimination going on. Are they asking you to make the coffee?

    I’d say there’s a slight chance that they might balk at losing their only remaining “diversity” element if you leave. It could be worth having a conversation with your manager or HR, pointing out that women are not getting a fair chance to do the interesting work.

    Or, get out quick.

  56. Speaker to Students*

    One of the things I tell my interns is that PIPs go both ways, it’s just not formal when you’re doing it to the company.

    If you bring up a problem in your one-on-ones with your manager, and they tell you they’re going to do something about it, put a date on your calendar. If date comes and there’s no progress, start job searching.

    I left a job a few years ago after talking to my grandboss about issues with my manager. Six months went by with no changes, the calendar appointment popped up, so I found a new gig and told my grandboss in a one-on-one that I was leaving. They asked what they could do to keep me and my institutional knowledge. I told them that the only changes I had seen in my group were for the worse (Even more micromanaging! Yay! Saying one thing in one-on-ones, then announcing the exact opposite in team meetings!) and what had made me start the search was realizing that the only thing that would make me willing to stay would be making my group not report to or through NAME. I wasn’t willing to give the company that kind of ultimatum (or any more time) so I was starting my new gig two weeks from Monday.

    My manager was livid that I gave my resignation letter directly to grandboss because “it makes me look bad.”

    No, being such a crappy manager that people know the only way to get their concerns to the grandboss is to go around you is what is making you look bad. Having the whole group quit over the next four months made you look worse and was what finally got you pried loose from your job.

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