my boss told me not to tell anyone I’m quitting

A reader writes:

I work for a small nonprofit that underwent a leadership transition earlier this year. A few months later, I’m the only surviving member of the staff, all of whom had long tenures with the organization (up to 35 years) and stellar service records. I won’t go into details about all of those terminations/departures—suffice it to say that a lot of them were pretty shady, and I’ve been edging toward the exit for awhile.

This week I gave my boss notice that I’m starting a new position next month. Right after that meeting, I responded to emails from two long-time volunteers about the volunteer schedule for next year, and let them know that while I was leaving, the organization valued their service and that when my successor was chosen, they would be in touch with them about the schedule.

This morning, my boss called a meeting to tell me that she had “heard from a few people” that I disclosed I was leaving, and dressed me down about making the organization look unstable within the community. I was then instructed not to tell anyone else, including members of our board, about my departure because it might “mar my contributions” if “word gets around town.”

Now I’m not sure what I should have done and should do now. Was what I told the volunteers really inappropriate? Would it have somehow made the organization seem more stable if I had let them wait to learn I was gone until they tried to contact me again and received an undeliverable notice? Can she ask me to basically cut off contact with my professional acquaintances this way? Is it really appropriate to keep *the board of directors* in the dark about all this? And am I right to read the bit about “marring my contributions” as a veiled threat to badmouth me within the community if I tell anyone else? That was how it felt in the moment, so I stammered my way out of the meeting and am now sitting here worried that if I, say, update my LinkedIn, she’s going to find out and retaliate against me. And what would be my recourse if she did?

Nah, that’s not reasonable.

It’s one thing for a manager to say, “Can you give us a few days to figure out the plan before you announce it to others?” That can be reasonable, particularly in a situation where hearing someone is leaving is likely to generate lots of anxious questions about how their work will be covered, or what it means for the X project, or so forth.

But a few days only. After that you need to be free to talk about your plans with others and to start working on transition items (which is much harder if no one knows you’re leaving).

It sounds like your boss is worried that with all the turnover the organization has had in the last few months, when people hear that you’re leaving too, they’re going to think the organization is fully crumbling or something horrible is happening. So she wants to control the message … which in this case seems to mean completely hiding the news.

It’s obviously not a good long-term plan, because you’ll be gone in a few weeks and then what? She might just be stalling for time … but who knows what story she might come up with to explain your departure, and who knows how that story will reflect on you.

I don’t know if the “it might mar your contributions” bit was a threat. It sounds like a threat! Or it could just be a desperate statement without any real intent behind it. Interpret it through the lens of what you know about your boss and how she operates.

As for the board of directors … in a lot of nonprofits the staff doesn’t have much contact with the board, but I’m guessing that you do since you’re bringing it up. Either way, “do not tell the board this thing that affects the operations of the organization” isn’t okay as a general rule (and the board likely wouldn’t be thrilled if they found out she told you that).

I’d say this to your boss: “I can wait a few days so you have time to figure out the messaging about how my work will be covered, but I can’t not tell professional contacts that I’m moving on, especially since I’ll be updating my LinkedIn and my broader network.”

If your boss is normally a reasonable person aside from this (it sounds like she’s not, but just in case) you could add, “I of course don’t want to do anything to hurt the organization. I do need to tell people I’m moving on — that’s not something we can hide — but maybe there’s a way I could frame it that will address your concerns.” (You don’t need to offer this! But if your boss is otherwise sensible and not vindictive, this might get you closer to the outcome you want.)

As for potential retaliation … she could decide to tell people something false about the terms of your departure (like that you were fired, or couldn’t hack it, or who knows what). She could badmouth your work in general — although when there’s already a mass exodus going on, that kind of thing doesn’t usually carry a lot of weight. She could also have you leave earlier than you’d planned, meaning you could potentially lose access to the contact info for people you wanted to inform — so gather that now and make sure you have it at home with you (assuming that doesn’t violate any rules of your workplace). If she does misrepresent things, it’ll help to have contact info for people so you can set the record straight … and potentially warn the board that she’s defaming you and they have a legal obligation to stop her.

But again, how much you should worry depends on what you know of your boss in general. For some bosses, asserting yourself and pointing out that you do need to inform people would be enough to get them to back off. For others, you’d want to have a lawyer in the wings. So pay attention to what you’ve seen of her up to this point.

{ 105 comments… read them below }

  1. KHB*

    You’re not the one who’s making the organization look unstable. Whatever they did to prompt the entire staff to leave within a few months after the “leadership transition” is what’s making the organization look unstable.

    1. Heidi*

      Yes. No doubt this organization already looks unstable within the community. It’s also short-sighted to hide the resignation instead of using whatever time is left to ensure a good transition.

    2. Momma Bear*

      Agreed. Hiding the fact that someone is leaving will just make it look abrupt and weird vs giving people time to transition being professional. If I were a client/customer and my point of contact vanished with no transition plan, I’d question the company’s ability to support my future projects.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Hahahaha, I’ve asked multiple times at my giant org when someone retires, who is my next point of contact and gotten…crickets.

    3. KHB*

      The more I think about this, the more upset it makes me. Leaving a job you’ve been at for 35 years – since 1986! – and where you have a “stellar service record” is a really big deal. These staff members were almost certainly planning at staying with this organization for the long haul, and they’ve probably survived some “leadership transitions” in the past. This isn’t a run-of-the-mill “meh, the new boss has some different priorities, so I’m going to try my luck elsewhere.”

      OP makes clear that there’s a lot of backstory here she’s not telling us – e.g., how many of these long-tenured staff quit and how many were fired – so I know I’m filling in the gaps with my own imagination. Still, I’m quite confident in concluding that this new leadership sucks.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        I think the 35 years and stellar service records referred to the departed co-workers. “… all of whom had long tenures with the organization (up to 35 years) and stellar service records.”

    4. Your local password resetter*

      Yeah, the organization looks unstable because it is unstable.
      And if this is how the bosses normally behave, then I’m not suprised they have serious problems keeping people on staff.

    5. JelloStapler*

      And not telling people appears to give her license to continue to ignore those issues and rug sweep.

    6. prismo*

      Totally. This reminds me of the nonprofit I worked at that had a TON of turnover because it was such a toxic place. When I had been there a few years one of our partners around an annual event commented on how nice it was to actually have the same person to talk to multiple years in a row instead of having to explain things again to a new person every year. We tried to cover up for the mess as best we could but eventually the truth gets out.

      This is the same place where the boss threatened to ASK MY COWORKER’S NEW BOSS to push back his start date at a new job because he was like the tenth person to quit in a year and she really couldn’t afford to lose him. Of course she didn’t want to admit that so she tried to guilt him into staying. She made it seem like he was being irresponsible by quitting at a bad time and that if his new boss knew what a lurch he was leaving the old place in, it would reflect badly on him. Fortunately none of that happened and we both have jobs at a much better nonprofit.

  2. MBK*

    This is a ridiculous and desperate request. You’re leaving, and it’s better for the people who have to carry on without you to have as much time as possible to make the transition. Unless you’re somehow spilling trade secrets, confidential personal info, or anything protected by law, I can’t imagine what right your boss has to tell you not to talk to people about changes that affect them.

    1. Hatchee Malatchee*

      I don’t agree with this one, and I say this as someone who has generally good longevity of my staff, but just handled a somewhat similar situation.

      An employee, who was promising but generally hard to direct because she tended to be self-centered and hard to coach, resigned. She a. told lots of people before telling me or the rest of the team, creating some hard feelings and communicating badly to others and b. she also turned on an autoreply immediately upon telling me, leaving me to field lots of questions while she was right there and I’d asked her to outline some specifics of her contacts to communicate appropriately with all of them in the transition. Altogether, it was unprofessional and selfish, and it didn’t make us look great. I ended up ending her employment early because it turned out that she thought she’d just continue to draw a paycheck at my place while doing work for the other and ghosting on some other transitional duties, and I also had to edit her farewell message substantially because she thought it would be cool to spend most of it telling people how to get in touch with her at her new position. So…I actually don’t think that employees have an unvarnished right to tell people while in your employment and working for your organization in whatever way they like, whenever they like.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        That’s a terrible employee and an extreme situation, but it doesn’t really justify not wanting to give any employee ever permission to explain and room to make a smooth and professional transition. There’s always a follow-up caveat about their behaviour after that point, and if they are failing to make that transition professionally. In your case, in fact, rather than mentioning it to 1-2 people in a normal professional way, like the OP appears to have done, your employee *started* by being inappropriate in how they tell their peers and management alike, and only got worse.

      2. NeutralJanet*

        While that does sound obnoxious of your former employee at best, it’s also a completely different situation than the one in the letter, and doesn’t even really address MBK’s comment that you should be allowed to tell people that you’re leaving, so I’m not sure how it’s really relevant.

        1. Hatchee Malatchee*

          I like to remember in these situations (advice column) that we’re always starting from the perspective of the person who writes in, who may/may not be a reliable narrator. Specifically, it’s not totally clear what her manager intended long-term — it is clear that she wanted her to hold on telling people and that was addressed because she didn’t consult her manager about it before doing so. So…short version here is I am not certain that the narrator’s perception is reality, and I could totally see my employee saying something pretty similar, even though that’s not what it looked like from my end or my HR crew’s perspective. And I like my former employee — I am not going to trash her. But she wasn’t incredibly professionally mature, she had an inflated notion of her own strategic acumen, and that had the potential to create long-term damage to the organization if we just let her express herself as she wanted, when she wanted, according to her own whims.

          The manager is right to be concerned with how transitions are communicated, and I can see how she might communicate poorly about that if she’s on the defensive after an employee has failed to do that. The LW shouldn’t agree never to tell anyone she’s leaving, but the right way to do that would be to schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss how to communicate the transition from the perspective of the organization.

          Incidentally, my organization has a routine multi-step process, which involves putting together a transition plan, making formal announcements, doing exit interviews, etc. It’s a lot of work and completely disruptive to the rest of the business if someone goes rogue there.

          1. Darsynia*

            I believe we’ve been requested by Alison to generally give the letter writers the benefit of the doubt? At the point at which you’re comparing them to an employee who was disruptive when they left, it seems like we’re beyond that, personally. Additionally, I’d like to hope you didn’t make comments when your employee left about how their contributions might be seen differently if they did something like inform THE BOARD that they had resigned. It’s just… not comparable, if we’re trying to reasonably intuit some things the LW may have left out.

            With respect, I think maybe your bad experience is causing some unintentional bias against this writer.

            1. Hatchee Malatchee*

              *I’d like to hope you didn’t make comments when your employee left about how their contributions might be seen differently if they did something like inform THE BOARD that they had resigned*

              To be clear, I think this is also an area where it’s possible that the employee’s grasp on things is off.

              In my office, people may communicate with individual board members that they manage, but they’re not allowed to communicate directly with the board to begin with. There’s a process — announcements of that sort come through a central communications office. So doing that on one’s own while still employed by the organization and not working with your manager on it would be a serious misstep.

              1. Darsynia*

                Just to clear one thing up– the way the boss is described as informing them not to tell the board is where I got the notion from (so, different from thinking they could or should sit down and fire off an email about it, fwiw). In that context, it seems like deliberate concealment, or if we’re being very generous, an attempt to control the message. And hey, that could be just fine! But the overall sense from the whole letter is one of ‘you have no right to tell anyone about your leaving and if you do, you’ll find out there are consequences.’

                Over at Reddit’s legaladvice sub, we sometimes *do* have a feeling that there’s more to the story, but there as here, IMO, if the person seeking advice has misrepresented things, the resulting advice will be imperfect and/or harmful. So there really just isn’t that much need to come to detrimental conclusions about the letter writers. We have no stake in it (we don’t get ‘points’ if it turns out they were in the wrong), and it could drive some of them away.

              2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Not being allowed to contact the board sounds woefully dysfunctional to me! At the non-profit I volunteer at, anyone can write at any time to . I had to once, when I needed support and my official support person was part of the reason why I needed support. The Board immediately reached out to someone else to help me. I’d probably have resigned if I couldn’t do that.

          2. Kevin Sours*

            The one thing that is clear is that the manager didn’t ask OP to hold off on saying anything until after she had told the volunteers she was leaving. You want to follow a plan you need to start laying out the timeframe in the initial meeting. Because if you don’t tell me what the plan is, I’m going to start making my own.

            And, while I have every desire to work within in your plan and make things as smooth as possible, I have my own interests. I want to ensure that my profession contacts have my latest contact info. I want to make sure that a reasonable version of the transition is communicated to them. If your plan doesn’t take my interests into account, I’m going to make my own.

            It really doesn’t sound like OPs manager clearly communicated the plan or took her interests into account.

          3. Feral Fairy*

            I am inclined to trust the LW’s narrative here, not just because of Allison’s request that we take the LWs at their word. The fact that so many people with long tenure resigned or were fired is a major red flag, in addition to the boss’s response.

            I worked at a very tumultuous non-profit with high turn over. The executive director was a mean, paranoid, and all around difficult person. We were a direct service organization and the majority of our clients were homeless and experiencing active addiction. When staff resigned, it was really important that we approached it sensitively with clients, especially the ones on our caseload. There’s no indication that that is the type of work the LW does though because the people they planned to inform were volunteers and board members. I understand that in certain public facing roles, the messaging about a person leaving is important but the ED is specifically telling her not to inform anyone she’s leaving at all, even after she’s gone! That seems like a big overreach.

      3. Feral Fairy*

        The LW already turned in her resignation by the time she was letting some of her contacts know that she was leaving. That is pretty different than telling everyone before she turned in her resignation, though honestly I think that giving some colleagues a heads up that you’re about to resign isn’t an inherently objectionable course to take. It is not something I’d personally do unless it was coworkers I was particularly close to, but my reasoning there would more be out of fear of the employer firing me before I could resign. I can see being irritated about finding out important information secondhand and I agree that it’s not a great practice to tell everyone you work with before you tell your boss, but the LW’s situation is completely different than what you’re describing.

  3. Sparkles McFadden*

    It sounds as if your boss is panicking. The comment that your departure may “mar your contributions” sounds like a desperate attempt to scare you into silence. That’s someone hoping that issues will magically go away if ignored. Or not. No matter the case, it’s not going to be your problem to solve.

    “I do need to tell people I’m moving on so let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to mention to address your concerns” is very generous. Then just go ahead and keep doing what you’re doing.

    Good luck in your new position!

    1. Daffodilly*

      It sounded to me like a threat. That the manager *would* trash talk her and make her look bad if OP didn’t play by the manager’s playbook.

      1. Amaranth*

        Frankly, I’d give one attempt to have a reasonable conversation with the boss, then I’d go talk to whoever I work with on the board and describe the situation, and see about getting someone on the board and previous leadership/coworkers to be references instead.

        1. La Framboise*

          This all the way. What is she going to do to you in the short OR the long run? I’d call her bluff if you felt up to it, but then I am unwilling to be threatened and to back down from confrontation. But your boss sounds shady and panicky, so maybe being super stealth about it might work better. Could the volunteers you told then go to the board and let them know? When volunteers speak, it sometimes has a bigger impact on those who are attuned to potential shortcomings.

    2. Anonymous for this reply*

      “That’s someone hoping that issues will magically go away if ignored.”

      Oh my goodness, I think you just answered my burning question, Sparkles! I gave my notice in early June that I am retiring in March, 2022 so my company can plan for my workload to be taken over. I am the only person in my office who does my job and it generally takes years to become proficient. She doesn’t want to announce my leaving yet. Even to the immediate office staff. I’ve approached my boss several times just asking what I can do to help get that ball rolling and…..nothing. I think you hit the nail on the head.

  4. Pants*

    Sounds to me like Boss is trying to save her own skin. Perhaps she is the reason for the high turnover?

    1. Sarah*

      When I left my first job out of college my boss got mad, and this was why. He was a terrible manager, and the previous person in my role had also been a fresh college grad who left fairly quickly. I was going to grad school so it actually didn’t have to do with him, but I guess he thought it would make him look bad.

    2. Momma Bear*

      I had a previous role like that. Several of us warned the higher ups about the new manager but they didn’t listen, so a chunk of the team left within 6 months.

  5. Gerry Keay*

    I’ve had a client-facing job where I was asked to not tell anyone I was leaving. It was utterly bizarre, obviously they would come in one week and see I wasn’t there. I genuinely don’t understand how people think that saying nothing somehow gives them more control over a narrative.

    1. PT*

      It’s because they’re going to lie about why you left. If you say, “Well, my last day will be Friday November 6, you’ll be working with Tangerina starting then, let me spend the next two weeks helping you transition!” then the clients can chitchat with you. “Oh where are you going?” and you can say “Switching departments/same type of job, different company/to grad school/moving back home to be closer to family” and the clients can say “Oh well how nice for you! Best of luck to you!”

      But if you just…disappear, then the company can tell all sorts of lies about your absence. They shuffled staff/client assignments around, nobody left; you were fired for performance; you just didn’t show up one day, how unprofessional.

      1. Gerry Keay*

        Hm yeah that makes sense for the “oh they were reshuffled,” but I guess I just don’t understand how “this person was fired for performance” or “just didn’t show up” looks better than “they left the job because sometimes people leave jobs.” Just feels so misguided!!

      2. MissDisplaced*

        I think you’re exactly right PT!

        If I’m resigning, I get to control the narrative.
        I want people to know I’ve quit and am moving on. Many companies will lie if you keep it a secret for them. So do not let them control the message.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      They could do what my grand boss seems to be doing with a very much former co-worker who we haven’t heard from in over a year now and just keep referencing “when Fergus returns from his leave”. He was trapped out of the country by boarders closing and travel restrictions when the pandemic hit and told he could NOT work remotely internationally so he could use up his sick and vacation time and then be placed on unpaid leave. He is definitely not coming back but she just keeps saying “when he returns”.

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          Sort of… he is the only one who does his job here, and a large part of it must be done physically in-person so while we were all “shelter in place” he couldn’t do it anyway and no one requested his help; but now that we are semi-back everyone keeps asking for the service he provides and… …. … She hasn’t posted the job to find someone else and she isn’t admitting he’s gone (I hope that he’s actually OK…he stopped responding to his personal email address too.) But they also haven’t deactivated his org email account and the little notification in Teams still indicates he is Away. It’s Orwellian.

    3. Sleepless*

      Right? I left a job a couple of years ago and I was told not to tell any clients I was leaving, until right at the end when they would have something pending for like the *next day* and I needed to tell them they would have a different point of contact. (They were trying to make absolutely sure I didn’t steal any clients, either by actively soliciting them or the clients following me…something that was exceedingly unlikely for reasons of geography.) It just bothered me that I had no idea where they told clients I had gone. For all I know, they told them I got fired for cause, or dragged outside and shot, or…who knows.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I’ve had to do this and to customers it’s almost always benign. “Jane has left the company. We’ve transitioned all her accounts over to Jim, and here is his contact information. Thanks for understanding.”

  6. Don*

    This seems totally bonkers to me but my attitude when leaving jobs was always to work towards getting less involved with the organization, not more, and that includes drama and conflict. So if I were in your shoes I’d do my best to avoid saying bupkis to anyone about my leaving *while in the building/using company resources/during work time/through normal work channels*. If something came up about things happening past my departure date then I’d refer them to my boss “because she’s asked me to hand over scheduling of these matters going forward.” True enough and let her deal with the fallout of being unable to do any transition planning if that’s the way she wants to handle it.

    On my own personal time she’d get 72 hours before I lifted embargo and if stuff finds its way back to the workplace then tough noogies, bub. Any pushback on that would get a “I kept it under my hat here, as requested. I wasn’t going to lie to people in my personal life.”

    As far as retribution my feelings about that sort of thing have always been that I can’t control if other people want to set things on fire but I can avoid giving them any fuel. Someone who’s gonna be a spiteful liar will have a harder time maligning your performance when you worked somewhere for an extended time. I once did some employment verification calls for someone and the immediately prior employer hadn’t taken the departure well. Lots of lousy things to say about this person and her work ethic. This employee was so bad that he had employed her continuously for more than four years. Uh huh. We hired her and she was great.

    1. anonymous73*

      I personally keep my life drama free and would do as little as possible when leaving a job to create any. But how you leave, and who you tell what completely depends on the type of job you have. If all you have to do is document things that you do and roll out, then you really don’t have to tell anyone other than your boss. But if you have to train anyone, or transition your duties to a colleague, or provide clients with information they need once you leave, etc., it’s not always that simple.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I agree. But in most cases, in professional environments, people appreciate the opportunity to say goodbye and good luck to a valued colleague. And honestly, if a manager wants people to shut up about leaving, then they’ll have to deal with the fallout, including whatever gets lost in the transition because people couldn’t be open about leaving. That simply doesn’t happen in a decent, non-toxic office environment. If it happens, I bet there’s plenty of other stuff that’s iffy at that employer.

  7. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    You destroyed the plausible cover story for massive turnover by not fitting under the retirement umbrella. Now she has to face questions that she doesn’t want to answer.

  8. anonymous73*

    If you aren’t comfortable using Alison’s suggestions for language, I would at the very least tell her that you won’t go around telling people you’re leaving, but you won’t lie about it either if asked, or if something comes up that forces you to let someone know.

    1. Feral Fairy*

      Yeah, though hopefully LW can also tell their boss that once their resignation period is up, they will be updating their Linkedin and whatnot. An addendum to your suggested statement could even be “Of course once I have formally left X organization, I plan to update my LinkedIn and inform my professional network that I have started
      my new job” or something to that effect. The of course is to convey that their plans are completely reasonable.

  9. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

    Yeah I have had a boss like her, she is trying to spin the fact that every staff member has left in a manner that will save her own skin. It will likely not look good on you. My old employer told people I was let go because I was bad at my job. In reality they had to let most of my unit go because they were hemorrhaging money. I personally would not be confrontational but I would go back and say that after thinking about it you do not think that it is a good idea to not tell agencies you work with that you will be leaving as it will seem abrupt, that you plan and making an announcement “in a few days” and see how long she thinks she needs. I would also ask her what she plans to tell people about your departure, you may get a hint of what she is planning.

  10. Another Michael*

    Manager is in the wrong here, though I do think the timing on volunteer notification could have been more thoughtful. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t hear it from you soon, but it’s reasonable to want to have a communication plan for this transition, especially for someone who works with volunteer stakeholders. I would not want to tell the volunteers and donors I work with about my job transition until I could also give them information about what the transition would look like for them and what resources are available to them until my replacement is hired.

    1. KWu*

      Yeah I agree with this. Letting volunteers know immediately after having given notice to your boss risks the rest of your management chain learning about your resignation as a surprise from outsiders rather than from the staff. Typically when giving notice, I’ve asked my manager how they’d like me to proceed with sharing the information amongst our team. Usually it’s phrased in a, “I’m very committed to ensuring a smooth transition and documenting my knowledge” + “I’m deferring to the manager on how/when to share the news since they’re the ones that will actually still be sticking around to deal with the transition” + “but obviously we’re going to tell people before my actual last day.”

    2. Jack Straw*

      As a current volunteer coordinator and a current volunteer myself for multiple organizations–hard agree on this. Yes, your boss is being weird and unreasonable, but telling volunteers you’re leaving right after giving notice and/or without an actual plan isn’t great. They’re a different group of people. Ones who usually 1. have a strong loyalty to the org and/or the volunteer contact/coordinator, and 2. can disappear into the wind easily.

      If either of the volunteer coordinators at the two orgs I volunteer with on a regular basis sent me a “I’m leaving and someone, at some point, will be in contact” I’d get nervous.

      1. Skytext*

        But that isn’t the same situation. OP didn’t send unsolicited “I’m leaving” emails to the volunteers. Two reached out to her with specific scheduling questions about next year, and OP truthfully told them that she wouldn’t be there to handle that, and the new person in her position would reach out to them. I think that’s better than putting them off by waffling about with some non-answer, if they normally discussed these things at this time.

        I also volunteer, and if I normally scheduled something at this time with OP for an event next year, and suddenly this year she was all evasive, THEN I would be worried: is the event maybe not going to happen next year? Are they unhappy with me and not wanting me back for some reason? With OP’s answers I would know not to worry, and also tone n the lookout for a call or email from an unfamiliar person.

  11. memyselfandi*

    About 10 years ago I left the first job I had every had outside of academics. It was with a non-profit organization. I gave six weeks notice. My boss was shocked, even though she had made my position part time the previous year and had told me I needed to pull in my own salary in grants in order to return to full time. She asked me to sit on the news while she found a replacement and could make the announcement of my leaving and replacement at the same time which turned out to be over 3 weeks. One of the grants program with a regional and national profile and she was concerned about damaging confidence in the organization. Stupidly, I agreed, and it was the worst thing for me. I was moving out of state and I was unable to say good-bye to local coalition members I was working with and other professional connections I had built over the 5 years I was in my position. I would have to sit through meetings knowing I wouldn’t be at the next meeting and not be able to say anything. I was moving out of state and I found it difficult to start packing, find a new place to live, and move on in general. Not to mention that my mother had just died and my cat got ill and had to be put to sleep. There were a lot of good-byes to say and I never got to say those that should have been the simplest. I don’t know why managers think they have a hold over people who are leaving. I have had staff leave and my reaction was to congratulate and facilitate an easy transition. I just left a job and the grand-boss there could not seem to shift her thinking to my not being there and kept trying to find some way that I would still be doing work for her after I left (but think of the needs of your program! – but it is no longer my program!). This time I was polite, but firm, in telling her that I was moving on. Felt good to say this!

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Your manager wanted to pretend you weren’t leaving because she didn’t want to “risk the grant.” She didn’t want to deal with reality. She wanted to pretend you weren’t leaving full stop. I’m sorry she made this a bad time for you. I’m happy you are sharing it so others can have an object lesson about employer needs vs. wants.

  12. Meghan*

    I mean… you’ve already told people right? You could ask a trusted contact to spread the news for you. That way, your hands are technically clean. That said, if her treat holds water, that might not be something you want to do.

  13. nb*

    I had a boss ask this of me (13 years ago) when I gave my 2 weeks after 8 years with the company in good standing (promoted twice, consistently positive reviews). Turns out she did this to spin things that she pushed me out to reorganize the department. Found out during my notice when a couple of her peers shared she was doing this & I then told everyone I was leaving for a new opportunity… and then she was dead to me ;)

  14. Celeste*

    My immediate thought is that your boss is trying to keep you from telling anyone so that she can spin this as you being flighty, impulsive, and/or unreliable, and to explain away a pattern of departures that would otherwise make people probe deeper.

      1. Catalin*

        Exactly. She’s been there for the entire lifetime of people who are now management-level. Soooo flighty.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I agree that boss wants to control the narrative, but since OP said most people left because they retired, I think that OP’s boss wants to use this as a cover story, too.
      Which makes me realize that OP’s source for her colleagues departures being retirements ALSO came from her boss…hmmmm.

  15. Rat race wheel*

    When talking with her I might also bring the implied threat into the light. “When you said it might mar my contributions if word got out, that sounded threatening. I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way with all the legal implications THAT would carry, so can you clarify what you meant by that?”

      1. Gerry Keay*

        I think straight up slander would be a potential risk — false statements with the intent to damage a person’s reputation.

      2. I was thinking*

        This talk might make a bully/boss think twice before trashing the employee’s reputation. Bullies can get thrown off their game when their target pushes back. Saying it all out loud and letting them know you’re on to them and their tactics and they might be in legal trouble usually stops the bully.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Bringing up legal issues is a good way to get all further communication done in writing via the legal department. Don’t bluff.

      3. Mike*

        That was my first thought too, but if you tilt your head and squint there might be some. The manager may be preparing (unintentionally) to commit defamation, and tortious interference with a business relationship.

  16. SomebodyElse*

    As a manager I will ask this of a resigning employee, especially a manager or anyone client facing. But as stated in the response it’s a very short term ask. Between the time that I get a resignation and it’s announced is usually 24/48 hours and here’s what I’m doing in the background.
    1. Updating my boss
    2. Putting together a short term coverage plan
    3. Reviewing the job description and updating if necessary
    4. Reviewing the org structure to see if any changes should be made
    5. Starting the justification for backfill requests
    6. Preparing a notification for internal stakeholders and client/customer facing message for them to share if applicable.

    While this is all going on I ask the resigning employee to start documenting what they have open, their activities, and to start thinking about suggestions for coverage (short term)

    Then we announce it to their team together (I ask them to announce it in a team meeting, and then I’ll take over to explain the short term transition plan (or tell them I’m still working on the short term transition plan))

    Asking someone to wait is not necessarily nefarious nor trying to hide anything. It is about controlling the message so not to freak everyone out (especially when it’s their boss leaving) and to make sure that everyone hears the same thing who is directly affected.

    The OP’s boss however does seem a bit off in their reaction and does have the whiff of rotten, but that’s not always the case.

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      Yeah, sure, but you’ll be telling the resigning employee that this is how you want to do it and why. You don’t expect them to read your mind.

      Also, if for some reason your well laid-out process doesn’t happen (you’re on leave, there’s some rush in the timetable, whatever), it’s not a catastrophe either. You wouldn’t be dressing down a leaving employee who for some reason wasn’t informed how this was supposed to work and informed people on their own.

    2. anonymous73*

      Yours is a reasonable request. OP’s boss never told her not to disclose her leaving when she provided notice – OP is not a mind reader. And boss gave no legitimate reason on why OP should keep quiet.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      Hmm.. Maybe I wasn’t as clear as I meant to be in my own head :) And now rereading I can see that I wasn’t.

      I fully agree that the OP’s boss doesn’t seem to be on the up and up with their actions and comments, my comment was more to address the ‘why would a manager ask an employee not to say anything question’ I realize all of that background stuff isn’t necessarily well known from the employee side.

    4. Urbanchic*

      Was going to comment this, but you beat me to it. This. It is common courtesy after submitting your resignation to ask your boss how they want to handle communication about your departure. Obviously its unreasonable to say “leave without a word at the end of your notice period.” However, it is also not the best idea to take communication into your own hands without being guided by your boss.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      Right. This is how it should work!
      Especially if the exiting employee has a lot of outside clients, accounts or contacts, you’ll both want to have a benign transition message worked out for those external communications.

      It’s perfectly reasonable to be asked to keep the news mum for a day or two. But I’d be wary otherwise. I think perhaps OP should have waited to tell the volunteers the news-not that her telling was bad or unprofessional, but just that it would’ve been better to tell them who was taking over or who to contact.

    6. JB*

      Yes. And I think maybe what happened here was a mismatch of expectations?

      I’ve never been a manager, but I’ve certainly moved on from some jobs in my time. I’ve never been explicitly told what to do/who to tell, but I’ve always implicitly understood this to be the way it’s done:
      1. I tell my boss.
      2. I tell my direct teammate, if I have one, in private. (I’ve been in a lot of jobs where I was working closely with one other person who shares my role/title, and it would feel very odd for them to find out I’m leaving at the same time as the larger department.)
      3. I wait for the manager to announce to the larger department that I am moving on.
      4. Only then do I start telling people outside the department, which I think would include people like the volunteers here.

      I’ve always done things this way, and seen others do it this way. I wonder if LW’s boss was also following this assumed script, was taken off-guard when LW disclosed to the volunteers before then, and panicked a bit.

  17. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    At this point in my career, I would double down in telling everyone immediately — not disparage the org even if they deserve it — but definitely put it on social media and cheerfully tell people I’ve got a new exciting job and my transition timeline is x number of days/weeks! Yay exciting! Be as super helpful and cheery as you can.

    1. InsufficientlySubordinate*

      Yeah, I’ll wait three days if asked to wait. If nobody gets back to me from management in that time or announces it themselves in a meeting, then I tell people as I judge necessary. The last place I resigned from (small company) the CEO told me good luck in my new endeavors on the first day after I resigned and then nobody in management ever spoke to me again although my direct boss did email me once about something really petty. So, I told who I wanted what I wanted. I was reasonably discreet, but since everybody had heard the shouting matches between my boss and 4 of the 5 employees on his team , I don’t think anyone really needed to be told why all of us left within about two months of each other. Admittedly my raised voice was quieter and shorter than some of the others, (mostly consisting of me saying “Are you calling me a liar?” very loudly), but still.

    1. JKB78*

      Same, I’ll ask where so-and-so has been and find out they quit some time ago. Then again, being in an office most of the day, it’s hard to keep track of people on the main floor sometimes. Flipside is that my previous boss was told NOT to tell her assistants that she was leaving until a week or two before she was transferred out. She had to point-blank LIE a couple of times, she admitted later.

  18. BlueK*

    Honestly, depending on your relationship with the board, I would strongly consider sending an email to them. Something that convey how much you value the time you’ve spent there and where you are heading next. That sort of thing happens in nonprofits and especially with long term employees. It’s such a reasonable step to take, it’s not public, etc. So she’s going to look a bit odd to them if she pushes back.

    My experience has been that preemption a false narrative is much easier than having to do damage control. Her frantic overreaction suggests she had been spinning a story about all these departures.

    Obviously only you can judge if it’s worth burning your bridge with her to protect it with others. And whether you want/can to risk being asked to leave on the spot.

  19. Sarra N. Dipity*

    When I left my job in June this year, they told me to not tell any of my clients – they wanted to handle it. They told my primary client less than a week before my last day. They never told another few. I’m so glad I reached out to them proactively on LinkedIn telling them I was leaving. They seemed really shocked that they hadn’t been notified. It would’ve Not Okay if they’d emailed (which they tended to do several times a week!) and gotten an auto-reply which said “Sarra’s no longer with the company”. What, did I get fired? Quit without notice? Die? Ugh.

  20. tamarack and fireweed*

    “It sounds like your boss is worried that with all the turnover the organization has had in the last few months, when people hear that you’re leaving too, they’re going to think the organization is fully crumbling or something horrible is happening. So she wants to control the message … ”

    Yes – and to a degree, it’s reasonable to let her. Except that it’s up to her to say to the LW “OK, with the turnover in our organization I would like to avoid giving our customers the impression that things are unstable here, so here is how I want to go about communicating this…” That is, it’s not up to the LW to anticipate this desire and abstain from completely normal conversation about doing a completely normal thing (changing jobs).

    Also, even if the boss makes a request, but the request is unreasonable (eg. never mentioning leaving at all) I think the LW should be free to make their own arrangements while honoring the request for relative discretion. The LW has also their own reputation to consider, after all. That is for example they could email their contacts on their last or next-to-last day with hand-over information. What’s the boss going to do, fire them?

  21. Goldenrod*

    I had a boss who routinely did this, to the point where it was ridiculous. A few colleagues/friends of mine secretly told me they were quitting, and felt like they had to keep it a secret, even when their 2 weeks notice had passed!

    When I quit, I was planning to absolutely refuse to keep it a secret – but by that point, she knew better than to ask me, I think. :p

    1. Viette*

      That’s always the baffling part — it’s a secret until you leave, but what are they gonna do when you’re gone?

      That being said, we have had letters here where the company will keep a person’s name on their website well after they’ve quit in order to look more stable. So who knows what this boss is planning.

      (Also: your username made me smile; love that plant.)

      1. Goldenrod*

        “(Also: your username made me smile; love that plant.)”

        Thank you! :)

        My alias is actually a reference to Roz, my favorite character from Monsters Inc., who insists that Mike fill out a form on goldenrod-colored paper. :D

  22. RedinSC*

    At my work we contracted out for a CRM (Customer Relationship Management system) and the staff at the company was SUPER unstable in that in a year we’d gone through like 3 customer success managers. So, Stephanie was the longest running person in that role, and it turns out she’d left the company, but they were still using her email address and her name and such. I saw that she had a new job on LinkedIn.
    This honestly blew my trust in the organization! Change happens, you figure your stuff out, but don’t lie to me, your client! It was so bad that I almost demanded all my money back and back tracked us to our old CRM while we started a whole new process.

    I think it’s really bad policy to lie, in general, but also about things that are just so very public, like your employees quitting.

    LW, I think you have it right, I think your message to the volunteers was perfect and I hope you’re able to continue letting people know that you’re leaving.

  23. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP, you didn’t make the organization look unstable. Your bosses who engendered 100% turnover did.

  24. Mr. Random Guy*

    I think I’ve told this story here before, but my boss did this to me. It seemed to be some sort of mind game. He told me he’d tell the board and asked for a few days to figure out the messaging, then angrily stomped into my office two days later and demanded to know why I hadn’t told anybody I was leaving. He made a lot of comments like that in my last days, and I’m not sure whether the goal was to make me feel like leaving was a hasty and stupid decision, to somehow get me to stay longer by highlighting all the transition work I hadn’t done, or just to feel a bit more power over me. It was confusing, uncomfortable, and unfortunately didn’t end on my last day.

  25. Teacher no more*

    I had a boss do this. I was moving because my husband got a job in ANOTHER STATE, but whatever. I was a teacher and stayed through the end of the year, which gave them several months notice, even though my husband was already gone. This boss saw anyone who left as a betrayal, no matter the reason. He made me speak at a parent meeting as if I was returning, then stood up and told them I was leaving, making me look like a liar and an idiot. I was so mad! No warning he would do this. Made me glad I left!

  26. Political Nonprofit World Too*

    This sounds familiar. I left my position a few months ago after being told to find a new position after 8 years. I was also told to tell no one I was leaving or go into details as to why. So, they found out through my email response when I was gone. Still one of the strangest exits from a position I’ve ever hard.

  27. Feral Fairy*

    The whole “document everything” suggestion is kind of an AAM commentariat cliche, but in the case of
    a boss who is making vague threats about LW’s reputation, definitely save all emails and written communication between the you and the boss that pertain to you’re resignation. It sounds like her requests are centered on a desire for control, so it’s a good idea to prepare for the possibility that she will lie to people about your resignation. I am guessing they are mostly empty threats but I would be concerned about the fact the new leadership has engaged in shady behavior in the past. If she starts full on slandering you, I’d consult a lawyer. Hopefully it doesn’t get to that point and she realizes that it would backfire. I’m sorry you are worrying about all this when you’re getting ready to start a new job.

  28. The OTHER other*

    Chastising you for telling the basic truth about your moving on is short-sighted and dumb. But putting the OP’s saying that prior resignations were sketchy or shady and the fact that there has been a lot of turnover of LT a upper level employees into account here also is a whole different bunch of crap. In this context, the reference to “mar your service” definitely seems like a threat. I would tell coworkers and especially vendors, the boss here seems to be setting you up for blame for overall turnover.

  29. Bookworm*

    OP, this is really a reflection of the organization and not you at all, which perhaps your boss at least understands on some level.

    I was recently at an org that was in a somewhat similar position. We had a lot of departures but no explanation (some were genuinely temporary, some were pandemic-related, some were for reasons I won’t bore you with but had to do with the general dysfunction) and there was never any sort of explanation from management other than “yeah, this will probably stop soon” like they expected it and didn’t care how it looked.

    It was increasingly unnerving and I would have appreciated hearing more about the whys because this did fundamentally alter the organization’s structure. So while what you choose to do is ultimately up to you, there are probably people who do *need* to know as Alison says and/or there are people who would appreciate the heads up that you’re leaving. Your boss clearly isn’t one of them and you’ll have to figure out how to handle that but ultimately it’s not Boss’s choice (you could, I suppose and leave them with more confusion and mess). Your letter also already pretty much says it but I’d also say it affirms why you are leaving. Good luck!

  30. Make Mine a Double*

    I have been in a similar boat to OP – I actually gave notice weeks ago, but was told not to say anything despite large client facing projects – and a need to set up a transition plan with the people on those projects. Finally a few days ago I pulled some trusted folks aside and gave them a heads up so they wouldn’t be blindsided. I’m 99% sure that because our company is hemorrhaging people that they are trying to make every departure as quiet as possible (they’ve been sending out emails like “so and so’s last day was yesterday) By telling anyone I foiled that plan.
    FWIW, I think it’s all about controlling the narrative, and there are sometimes good reasons for that. But, having now been “threatened” in a similar way as OP (I have such a good reputation and it would be a shame to trash it in the last week) I am inclined to meditate on the idea that in its frenzy, the company forgets that reputation works both ways. By acting this way, they have confirmed my decision to leave was correct – and that while I won’t trash the company, I will remember the people that treated me this way as I move on to new things.

  31. MCMonkeyBean*

    Definitely sounds like a sketchy situation! I do think it was probably not a good move to start telling outside parties like volunteers literally immediately after giving notice though, already talking about succession planning before your boss has had any time to process the information or discuss with upper management or anything. I would probably have saved that kind of communication for near the end of your notice like “Goodbye, it’s been great working with you, if you have any questions in the meantime you should contact” or whatever.

    But a blanket band against you telling anyone even inside the company is worse, though it does seem to come up here surprisingly often! Very unreasonable expectation on your boss’ part and it certainly won’t make planning your replacement easier.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      If the boss wanted to time to handle things, she should have asked for it. And provided a timeline. It probably would have been smart for OP to bring it up but the onus on a managing a situation falls on management. In this situation time is of the essence. There is no time for management to dither and failure to take the appropriate steps can reflect poorly on OP. She has her own reputation to look out for.

  32. Cold Call Catastrophe*

    At my last job, we weren’t allowed to tell ANYONE but our boss that we were leaving. So one day a coworker would just disappear. If you were laid off or fired, the company would issue a “rap sheet” about you to the ENTIRE COMPANY of all the things you did wrong. It was completely unhinged.

  33. Junior Assistant Peon*

    I always assume someone was fired if they disappear suddenly without warning. Don’t cooperate if you boss asks you to make your departure a big secret, or everyone will think you were fired. All you have to do is tell a few individuals and let the rumor mill take it from there.

  34. Shiba Dad*

    Had something like this happen with a coworker (I’ll call G) leaving an old job about 6 years ago. He had 30+ years experience. He wasn’t leaving for another job. For a variety of reasons he had enough of that job.

    None of us were supposed to tell anyone he was leaving, which we all thought was weird. Of course, after he left and clients found out it caused issues.

    One of our oldest and largest clients had concerns and had a meeting with the ownership and sales. The owners said G was on a “sabbatical”. One of the owners had known this client for 2 decades and lied to his face.

  35. Overit*

    Whrn I resigned from my last job at a non profit, my boss refused to tell anyone, including the volunteers I directed. I did so because it would have been unprofessional, as well as rude, to just disappear. But she refused to tell anyone outside that circle because turnover was so high (due to her toxicity) and I was the sole long termer left. To the point when my replacement appeared in the newsletter, apparently tons of calls and emails were fielded asking when I left and why was an announcement not made. The organization is now at 100% turnover this year. Such a sutprise.

  36. K*

    It’s right up there with the old “don’t tell anyone else how much you make.” That’s not a thing and you should ignore it.

    My wife actually said a little while ago along the lines of “well of course we [her coworkers] can’t tell each other what we make because it’s illegal” and I had to stop her and clear that up real quick.

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