people think I’m returning to my old job … but I’m definitely not

A reader writes:

Last year, I (he/him) left a job that I had been at for over 10 years due to a crushing workload and many frustrations with team culture. I left on good terms, but I was very unhappy, and from what I gather things have only gotten worse since I’ve left. While my new job isn’t perfect, I really enjoy it and have no plans on moving on. I work in a small, tight-knit industry, so lots of people at my new firm are friendly with people from my old firm and we often work on the same projects. I’m pretty happy, but lately things have taken a bizarre turn that’s got me pretty concerned.

Last week, I got some messages from former coworkers. The first one was pretty innocuous: “Hey, how are things going for you at [NewFirm]?” But since then, I’ve gotten a couple of messages congratulating me on coming back to my old firm! I’ve done some digging, and I found out a few things that have me super confused:

Someone heard from my old boss that she was getting dinner with me this week. That was news to me! I haven’t heard from her since I’ve left. They also said that my former boss has said things like, “Oh, that project will be great for [my name] to lead once he’s back at [OldFirm]” recently.

I reached out to one of the people on my former team, and they said that they were under the impression that the source of this is someone at my new company. I have no idea who it could be; I have been very positive anytime someone has asked me how things are going, and the few frustrations I’ve brought up have been minor things where we’ve made good progress.

To be clear, I have no intention of leaving my current job. And if I did, I would certainly not return to my old one. I haven’t really been in much contact with anyone from my old firm besides conferences and seeing them around town and can’t think of anywhere where I would have given anyone any reason to think I’d be interested.

My first instinct is to just ignore all this and chalk it up to wishful thinking at my old firm. But I’m starting to get alarmed. Like I said, I work in a small industry and I’m starting to worry that this could begin to affect my reputation, especially since it seems like this is not contained to just a small number of people.

Should I reach out to my old boss and shut the rumors down (or maybe wait to see if they actually invite me out to dinner)? I’m not even sure what I would say without sounding dramatic or paranoid. Is there anything to gain from reaching out to someone at my current employer in case they’ve started hearing these rumors too?

This is weird!

It’s possible it’s something totally innocuous, like that you have the same name as someone who is coming back and people are confusing him with you.

It’s also possible that it’s something stranger. Is a coworker at your new job trying to sabotage you? (This is a really weird way to do it if so.) Did it start with sour grapes from your old company — “He’ll be back soon enough once he realizes what he’s missing!” — and that got turned into “he is coming back”? But then what is this rumor about dinner with your old boss? Could your old boss be the one behind it, even if only accidentally — like might she plan to ask you to dinner to try to woo you back, and it’s getting overstated by others who hear about it?

It’s a big mystery.

As for what to do, I would indeed reach out to your old boss to set the record straight. This doesn’t have to be awkward or accusatory. The tone I would take would be, “I am hearing the weirdest stuff and wondered if you had any insight into what might be going on.”

See if she knows anything. If not, say very clearly, “I’m really happy at my new job and have no intentions of going anywhere, so if you could help me shut this down I’d really appreciate it.” Depending on your sense of her, you could add, “I’m worried about it getting back to my new company and causing issues.”

And since it’s a small industry, it could be worth saying something to your new boss too. This conversation does have more potential to be awkward because you probably don’t know each other well yet, so but you could say, “This is weird, but I’d rather address it than not. There’s apparently a rumor at my old job that I’m going back. I’m not! I’m really happy here. Normally I would ignore this completely but since it’s a small industry, the last thing I’d want is for you to hear that and think I’m trying to leave.” (Although … now that I type that out, it does feel awkward. So go on your sense of your boss with this one. I am a big fan of embracing the awkward and just plunging in and Saying the Thing, but be your own judge of whether it’s necessary here.)

Read an update to this letter here

{ 173 comments… read them below }

  1. Anna Badger*

    given the smallness of the industry I’d feel like I had to say something to my boss – Alison I don’t think your script sounds any more awkward than it would be for a manager to hear the rumours!

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I agree, and I think you could do it in the form of asking for clarification or even advice. “So, I’m hearing this weird rumor from people at Old Company that I’m going back to work there. And I have no intention of doing that – I really like what I’m doing here. Have you heard anything? Has anyone from Old Company contacted you? It’s just so strange, and I have no idea where it came from.”

      1. Antilles*

        I really like that framing. Making it a request for advice subtly helps drive home the fact that the rumors are ridiculous and you want to help squash everything.

      2. Sara without an H*

        This is an excellent script. And I, too, would definitely try to address it with the OP’s new manager — before they hear it from someone else, which would only increase the awkwardness.

      3. Insert Clever Name Here*

        This is a great script and as someone below mentioned, I think I’d *start* with NewManager.

        1. Caroline Bowman*

          Me too. New Manager is the crucial one in this tangled web of bizarreness. They’re the one OP wants to maintain and develop a good, trusting relationship with, they’re the one with the power to say ”yeah OP seems a bit unsettled, maybe they aren’t for us”.

          So definitely Name the Awkward Thing, but just chat to them whenever you have other things to discuss as well, OR when they ask you how you’re getting on (in the course of work). Then leap in with ”well, the project is actually really interesting, it’s so nice to be at a company where I can do X and Y, but since you ask, there is a very odd thing that I’m not sure what to do about…” then explain what’s happened and that you want to reiterate that it’s 100% not true, and if they know anything, you’d love to get a grasp on what misunderstanding may have occurred.

          No accusations, just a bit perplexed.

      4. Bemused Confused*

        I love this wording. Taking it head-on and asking it as a question all as one! It definitely hits home that there is absolutely no question of you leaving and no possibility of you starting the rumors.

    2. Popinki*

      And I’d far, far rather address the awkwardness head-on rather than let it go and then get called into a meeting with New Boss saying, “What’s this I’m hearing you going back to your old company? Why haven’t you told me yourself, so I have to learn about it secondhand?” which would be a far more unpleasant kind of awkwardness.

    3. Gingerbread Gnome*

      Yeah, I would definitely want to say something to my current boss that I’m NOT leaving! This type of gossip can be damaging (not getting plum assignments, expectations that you are unhappy, etc.) if it isn’t acknowledged.

    4. Sara without an H*

      As a manager, I’d much prefer to hear about it from OP, rather than through the grapevine. Much, much rather.

    5. LCH*

      i would definitely feel the need to say something to my current boss in case they are also hearing these weird rumors.

    6. Calm Water*

      After talking to the boss I’d also bring it up at lunch/coffee break etc and tell your new coworkers you heard the strangest thing! A weird rumour about you leaving? As if! Isn’t this too funny? Because as you have seen people gossip and you want the correct story to be out there.

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, I would definitely be more concerned about my new boss potentially hearing something than about what people at my old company think! I’d probably just say “Hey boss! I’ve been getting some weird messages from old coworkers who seem to be under the mistaken impression that I’m planning on going back to Old Company. I know how rumors can fly so I just wanted to make sure you know I’m happy here and definitely have no intentions of returning to Old Company.”

  2. Multicellular*

    Years ago I left a small-company job for freelance work (which lasted eight or nine years), and maybe half a year after I left, I heard from a person still working there that the owner was telling everyone I’d asked about coming back, but owner had declined that offer. (I hadn’t made any overtures–I was way too busy with the new work.) I assumed that it was the owner wanting to project an aura of “I’m the one who rejects people–they don’t reject me!”

    1. Multicellular*

      As a result of my experience, my first thought was that OP’s former manager might be trying to boost their own (or other team members’) morale by fabricating an “OP will be back!” narrative. (Does that seem typical of your former manager, OP? Still weird, though.)

      1. sacados*

        Yeah, if that is the case then I also wouldn’t be surprised that the boss was also saying things like “Oh yes I heard it from [Contact at OP’s New Company]” — which explains why the other former coworker was under the impression the source was someone at New Company.
        I mean it’s weird all around, but if Old Boss is the type of person to completely fabricate OP coming back, then I don’t see why she also wouldn’t fabricate a source for the info.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Yeah, I would really love an update on this one, whenever/if ever OP finds out what is going on!

    2. anonymous73*

      Yeah I had a former terrible manager who was famous for telling us all what she thought we wanted to hear and then doing the opposite. My team was very close and she was also famous for telling each of us a different version of her story, not realizing that we all compared notes. I had one team member who I was very close to who was full time remote (he lived in another state) and when he resigned, she told all of us that she did everything she could to keep him but the company wouldn’t approve a salary bump. It was total bullshit. She accepted his resignation without hesitation because she didn’t like that he was WFH.

      1. XF1013*

        That brings back memories. I had a boss take over the department as our new manager after being around the company for a few years. She scheduled first-day private conversations with each member of the team and proceeded to tell each of us that we were her favorite person to work with, as some kind of relationship builder I guess? But we all compared notes and thus learned on day one that she was a liar, which was portentous because she lied many more times after that. It just struck me as a weird unforced error to make right off the bat, lying about something so unnecessarily and assuming we would fall for it.

          1. BubbleTea*

            When I was at school, a boy told me that he wasn’t dating anyone, and told one of my friends that he was gay, while both of us knew he was secretly dating our (female) friend. He was astounded when it turned out we all spoke to each other now and then…

        1. Leilah*

          I had one boss that would lie about things he’d said just hours earlier….in emails. It did not go well for me once I got the backbone to say, “But right here in this (email attached) you said X, that is why I did X.” I felt like I was losing my mind working there, had a total mental breakdown.

          1. CaptainMouse*

            This is an example of actual gaslighting, as opposed to all the ways it gets misused.

            1. Boof*

              I tend to agree, though technically i think gaslighting implies deliberate intent to make the victim doubt their mind in order for the abuser to have more power, rather than just being a liar for other reasons. But it’s seldom possible to know intent so if the pattern is there of being otherwise controlling/abusive, probably good enough.

    3. Not Today*

      I left a big company in a niche industry that was then bought out by a competitor. I knew this was coming, which was part of why I left. My new employer was not a competitor but did serve a related market. The new head of my former department informed my former co-workers that I and a few other former employees were coming back (not true, we all had new/better jobs). They then claimed that I had to come back because I was violating a non-compete agreement, which not only was I not at a competitor, I never signed a non-compete. I was warned by a former co-worker they were considering suing me. I told her there was no non-compete agreement, I wasn’t at a competitor, and they couldn’t make me come back.

      I then called my former boss and told him what I was being told, as he did have a non-compete and I didn’t know if they were going after him too. Keep in mind, at this point I had never actually heard from the new owners, just what my former co-workers were being told. He did some digging and found out the previous owners had released the entire sales team from their non-compete agreements before selling, mainly because they were planning on starting up a competitive business. Several of the sales team members had told the company they would stick around if they brought back all the members of my team that had left including me. Rather than make me an offer, they thought I could be intimidated into coming back. It only stopped when one of the former employees, a lawyer, wrote them a cease and desist letter on behalf of all the former employees they were claiming they would sue. Throughout all of this, no one from the company ever actually contacted me. My dad worked there the whole time and no one said anything to him about it either. It was so weird.

      Five years later, they did indeed try to offer me a job, but I declined to even have a discussion with them. By that time the new owners had done something so bad it was used as a plotline for an episode of Law & Order.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        1) hilarious that they said you had to come back because you’d signed a non-compete and were working for a competitor since that is…not at all how non-competes work
        2) consigning the request for which episode of Law & Order. Or a random sampling of 3 episodes if you want to obscure your tracks :)

      2. DrRat*

        I generally don’t badmouth our competitors but once in a while someone mentions one particular one as being terrible and I will say, “Yeah, when you screw up so bad you end up on an episode of Forensic Files, that’s never a good thing.”

        1. Not that other person you didn't like*

          When long ago company was featured on 60 minutes, I knew it was time to polish up my resume.

        2. Mannequin*

          Forensic Files? Holy bananacrackers!

          I’d love to know what episode if you’re willing to share!

        3. Splendid Colors*

          Clinical fertility misconduct from my first university ended up as a subplot in one of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga books.

          The former head of the business school there may be indicted as part of the insurrection.

            1. AcademiaNut*

              There have been several similar cases over the years. (For non Bujold fans, the operator of the fertility clinic mostly using his own sperm for client inseminations, resulting in a large number of half-siblings).

              There can be some surprising gaps in actual laws governing a lot of reproductive stuff, as it takes time for the law to catch up with what’s technically possible.

              1. Ariaflame*

                And alas the solution used in the Bujold books would not be applicable here. (Dowries)

              2. Time Out*

                I actually know a person who is part of the big case in Colorado about this very thing. She has found many, MANY siblings, and all the women look incredibly similar.

        4. JustaTech*

          Man, I thought the New York Times having a vendetta against your holding company was bad! Forensic Files is much more impressive.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Oh definitely. My first thought was there is a malicious rumor…but I can see how misunderstanding is equally plausible.
      It’s even possible that someone misheard, passed on to someone who thought, “oh crap, did I miss a memo?” and confirmed it, “oh, yeah, that’s right.”
      But definitely go to your boss, OP and say you are surprised but there’s a rumor going around. You don’t have to say, “I hope you don’t think I’m leaving.” You can just end with, “have you heard that? I just wonder how many people this has gotten to, because it’s not true. It’s weird, nobody at my level ever asked me straight out.”

      1. Heidi*

        I once got an email from my old boss out of the blue that said she heard that I had been made an offer by another company and was leaving. There was no truth to that, either. I actually thought that whoever told her must have had me confused with someone else because there wasn’t anything for anyone to gain from this rumor. People gossip and get it wrong all the time.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I was reading, I was thinking please have an Alison, “so I wrote back to see if OP had talked to anyone and found…”

  3. works with realtors*

    I would just like to say I love the addition of pronouns to this, LW! I would love to see this more often, as I think we (and I’m including myself in this) make a lot of assumptions on gender when reading posts, so…kudos!

    1. Pyjamas*

      I beg to differ. There’s nothing in the letter that makes OP’s gender a relevant factor and the addition of he/him is more confusing. Is he/him stereotypically masculine who can “manfully” assert himself? Is he more on the stereotypically “feminine” scale: gentle tone, soft-spoken, accommodating? These qualities might well point to how OP should handle this dilemma but in the 21st century we can, I hope, abstain from foisting gender roles on people. Additionally, commentators have written in previous posts that making pronouns de rigueur forces individuals to state pronouns when they aren’t ready. Please, enjoy the pronouns when stated but don’t insist on them (and certainly not when you’re refraining from telling us your pronouns!)

      1. ThatGirl*


        nothing works with realtors said was about mandating pronouns; nobody is going to *make* anyone do that. all they were saying is that they found it helpful and would appreciate seeing it more. heck of a leap you made there.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        It tells us how to address him in the comments. It doesn’t harm anything. It’s not required from others, it’s just WWR was just saying it’s nice-to-have. Nothing to get worked up about.

      3. JB (not in Houston)*

        Ok works with realtors didn’t say anything about requiring or insisting on them though?

      4. Metadata minion*

        It’s useful to know what pronouns to use when referring to the LW, because they’re mandatory in English. Even if gender isn’t relevant to the situation, it’s not particularly remarkable for someone to want to see a response and comments referring to them with the correct language.

      5. Starbuck*

        Weird reaction, no one was insisting on providing pronouns but rather just being glad it’s noted as an encouragement for more people to do it. It’s still not super common to volunteer them (in my experience).

        Also pronouns don’t equal gender! It just helps us know what vocabulary to use, that’s all.

      6. Jean*

        How is adding he/him more confusing? That doesn’t make sense. Maybe sit and think for a minute about why you are having such a disproportionate negative reaction here.

      7. DataSci*

        So, I can’t speak for works with realtors. But presumably the OP knows that the practice here is to default to she/her when pronouns are unstated, and didn’t want to be misgendered, so he chose to reveal his. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone choosing to reveal their pronouns, or with someone else appreciating knowing they aren’t inadvertently misgendering someone.

      8. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        I didn’t think it was layoffs, but given that the two companies work close together on the same projects, I wondered if somehow they’ve (companies) agreed between themselves for OP to be “transferred”? And that it’s reached people at the old company, but not OP himself.

      9. trans and tired*

        I’ll be the first to say that we shouldn’t put people on the spot and ask for pronouns if they haven’t volunteered the information, but there’s nothing wrong with people sharing if they want to. And it makes sense that a male LW would to this blog would specify since the convention here is to default to “she” when we don’t know a person’s gender.

      10. OP here*

        Just wanted to clarify that I know that gender really isn’t germane to this specific question, but I included my pronouns so people in the comments would know how to refer to me. My first name is pretty non-gender-specific so I tend to include pronouns in my email signature anyways when writing someone I’ve never met in person regardless.

        1. X*

          Made sense to me! I think there’s some pretty big misunderstandings around pronouns and gender in this comment

        2. Ashkela*

          I’m a cis female and any time I see pronouns in a bio, intro, email, or whatever, it makes me smile because normalizing being able to share that information – both to make sure the correct one is used but also to telegraph that the person showing them understands it matters – is so wonderful.

        3. Ace in the Hole*

          I thought your intentions were pretty clear… there’s nothing wrong with saying upfront how you want people to refer to you. Not sure why anyone would take issue with that. It’s so easy to accidentally misgender someone (especially online), I appreciate not having to guess and risk putting you on the spot.

      11. SereneScientist*

        Sharing pronouns is inclusive and has nothing to do with “foisting gender roles on people.”

    2. ferrina*

      Yes! I thought it was a cool add. Even though I’m just an internet stranger commenting on someone else’s life, it feels more respectful to do so while using his proper pronoun.

    1. animaniactoo*

      In depth, with who started the rumor and who’s keeping it going, and what they were hoping to accomplish.

    2. OP here*

      Don’t worry, I’m an avid AAM reader and updates are my favorite. Just gotta gather my thoughts and read through the comments and figure out my next moves, but I’ll be sure to send an update no matter how it turns out!

      1. Rainy*

        We are anticipatorily loving this for us, but I am so sorry that you’re in this position! What a bizarre thing to hear about yourself! I hope you can get to the bottom of it quickly.

      2. Con Dar*

        Yes!!! Please update us as soon as you figure out what “you” have been up to with all of these work plans. If you have a doppelganger or evil twin, even better for this level of dramatic mystery! ;)

      3. JSPA*

        I hesitate to do this as it may out someone as about to resign…. but you could ask new boss if there’s someone else from Old Company returning to Old Company, because a rumor about that person has attached itself to you.

      4. Bronze Betty*

        Yes, please do send an update. I’m hoping it’s just a bizarre situation or misunderstanding and nothing more.

      5. Popinki*

        Make sure you let us know how the cheap-ass rolls and kneeling coworkers come into it ;)

      6. COHikerGirl*

        I am so glad to read this (updates are my favorite, too!). I hope everything gets sorted out and there are no negative repercussions for you! (Writing this…are positive repercussions a thing? Is adding negative redundant? Off to Google!)

  4. it's just the frame of mind*

    IDK, the script to use with new boss doesn’t sound awkward to me. I think it makes sense to call it out by saying that it’s super weird and you don’t understand it but yeah, just in case you hear about it, I do plan to stay here. Because otherwise you risk that they hear it and don’t know the truth and think you’re interviewing with other companies.

    1. Womanaroundtown*

      Yeah, I would one hundred percent say something to my new boss, especially if it IS a rumor coming from new company. That way you cut off the possibility someone is also saying things to your new boss about it.

      1. Artemesia*

        Absolutely. If you don’t pre-empt there will always be a suspicion that you were looking to leave. Being puzzled about this ridiculous rumor is the stance to take.

    2. Cj*

      I would absolutely not want my new boss to think I’m going/trying to go back to my old company. It’s especially concerning since the rumour apparently started with somebody at the new company, not the old one, so I would address it head on.

  5. Laure001*

    I would totally embrace the awkward and talk to the new boss. Where I work, my boss is a tad paranoid. He’s great otherwise and I LOVE my work…so if he heard the rumor it could turn into a thing which would complicate my job needlessly. Better to nip it in the bud.
    LW, talk to your new boss, have a light conversation (no need to make it dramatic) in a bewildered but fun tone. Then maybe you’ll both laugh about it later.

    1. Anonym*

      I would also reply to all the people who reached out with a correction. Each one is an avenue to help stem the rumors. A simple “oh no, that’s so odd! I’m actually really happy in my new role and have no plans of moving any time soon :)” would be completely reasonable.

  6. animaniactoo*

    I would look for a casual conversation to drop it into with new boss.

    “How’s everything going?”
    “On the actual workfront everything is going well, but there’s something going on that’s so confusing that I don’t know what to do or even if there IS something I can or should do! There’s this rumor going around that I am going back to my old company, and I have no intention of doing that, haven’t hinted it at or even made a joke in passing about it, and I am just so confused about where it’s all coming from.”

    General gist… also works in response to:
    • Casual conversations where somebody mentions needing to protect their work rep
    • Awkward situations
    • Gossip flying and how hard it is to combat
    • etc. and so on.

  7. bee*

    My theory: Old Boss is lying because your crushing workload has just been distributed to others without hiring anyone else/things have gotten worse there and you were doing a lot of work to keep things from going off the rails. She’s dangling the prospect of you coming back so that more people don’t jump ship.

    (this is totally my advice column fanfic though, and do please update OP!!)

    1. Just Me*

      Ohhh, that’s an interesting theory and one I could kind of see. Almost like a hiring Ponzi scheme–she says she’s hiring someone to keep the employees placated until she actually gets someone and then she can say, “Unfortunately things with OP didn’t work out, but look! In a few weeks we’ll onboard Fergus!”

      1. Decima Dewey*

        And a few weeks after that: “Fergus was supposed to start soon, but he’s decided to be a hermit in Nepal. So we’re onboarding Lysistrata next month! For reals this time!”

        1. CatPrance*

          And then, “Lysistrata isn’t going to be joining us because she fell off a cruise boat into the Bay of Biscay and we don’t have time for her to swim back, so we’re writing an offer letter to Jehoshaphat with a start date in May.”

          1. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

            Hilarious! This could go on and on. A couple of years later, they still wouldn’t have anybody.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Yes, this is my theory too. Some people just say anything to get people to stop asking questions and drag it out as long as possible. That’s why I’d skip talking to OldBoss and just mention it to NewBoss. Talking to OldBoss just reinforces OldBoss’ fiction of being in touch with the OP: “I just got off the phone with him now!”

  8. Jellyfish*

    A similar rumor went around about me switching divisions at a former job. I went to my new boss just to clarify my intentions, and she’d heard the rumor too. She figured I’d have to tell her eventually if it was true, so she hadn’t asked about it. Still, I felt better for acknowledging the weirdness and stating my plans clearly.

    Eventually, we figured out the source of the rumor, and it was innocuous – mostly harmless company gossip that lost the relevant details in passing from person to person.

  9. Persephone Mulberry*

    I think addressing it with the new boss is necessary specifically because of this:

    I reached out to one of the people on my former team, and they said that they were under the impression that the source of this is someone at my new company.

    1. XF1013*

      Yes! This detail makes it likelier that the new boss will hear about it, and you need to bring it up with them, LW. They need to hear your side of this. Plus, they’re in a better position than you to shut it down, because whether it’s malicious sabotage or just some baseless gossip, it can hurt you as you try to establish a reputation at the new place.

    2. Be kind, rewind*

      I actually highly doubt that anyone on his new team ACTUALLY has anything to do with this, and the old boss is just saying that to add weight to her lie. If she’s willing to lie about going out to dinner with him…

  10. Haha Lala*

    That old boss sounds like a boss I’ve had…
    If that were happening to me, I absolutely would not reach out to my old boss. I’d much rather stand by the fact that “I’ve had zero contact with Old Boss since my last day. I have no idea where she’s getting those claims from.”

    But I definitely would bring it up to my current boss, especially in a small industry. It may be awkward, but it would be much more awkward if your current boss hears about it from someone else. Especially with you being new, your boss’s opinion and impression of you may be more easily skewed by rumors they hear.

    1. Don’t put metal in the science oven*

      Same thoughts. If you call Old Boss they can credibly say, “Employee did actually reach out to me, so…”. I would casually bring up to New Boss with some of the suggested scripts.

    2. ferrina*

      Yes! I would absolutely stay away from OldBoss. Their actions aren’t adding up to me- “we’re going to dinner” when there’s been no contact? What would that morph into if there was contact? “OldBoss, I’m definitely not coming back” could easily become “We just got off the phone. We were discussing the details of the contract.”

    3. cmcinnyc*

      Yeah, I’m mystified why Alison thinks it would be LESS awkward to talk to Old Boss! I think it would be less awkward to give a heads up to New Boss and stay 100% out of the drama at Old Job.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Agree, especially if Old Boss turns out to be the source of the drama. I don’t know why that would be the case, but I also don’t know why they would lie about having dinner with OP so it seems like a real possiblity.

    4. Gingerbread Gnome*

      Yes, I would absolutely go out of my way to not interact with Old Boss in any way. You could then truthfully say you haven’t seen them since the last day at old job.

  11. anonymous73*

    I would actually reach out to new boss first. If the rumors are coming from someone at new company, new boss needs a heads up. And you need to let them know that you can’t understand how these rumors were started because you’re happy where you are now. Once you hear what new boss has to say, then I would decide if it’s necessary to reach out to old boss, because I’d be hesitant to trust old boss or any old co-workers given the rumor mill old company.

  12. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I would talk to the new boss, I don’t think it would be nearly as awkward as hearing it through the grapevine.

    I would not talk to the old boss.

  13. Love me, love my cat*

    I would definitely bring this up with the new boss. IF this rumor did start at the new company, is it possible layoffs are coming? Maybe old company heard about this in their “small industry” and assumes OP will come running back if laid off. Pure speculation on my part, hope I’m not causing undue panic for the OP.

    1. stampysmom*

      My first thought as well. Or that a portion of newcompany was being sold off to oldcompany that include OP. I’m more heads down in my work and pretty oblivious to the big picture a lot of the time. I tend to leave announcements and those internal emails to read once per week because we get a lot so I’m often late to know the things.

  14. Oliver Who Sticks*

    I learned quickly at my job that I had to shut down any joking comments about special projects. It was easy to go from “hey Oliver, you should do that, haha!!” to “we told Oliver to do it, haha!” to some innocent person overhearing and then saying “I heard Oliver was going to do that” and pretty soon everyone honestly thinks Oliver is doing it. I actually had to deal with upset higher-ups a couple of times early in my career when I didn’t do something they “heard” I was going to do. I got very firm about shutting down comments at the “hey Oliver!” stage.

    Maybe something like that at play here — where the old boss has made some sarcastic comments that got taken too seriously? “This project would be great for Bob. I’ll take him out to dinner and convince him to come back and do it” (haha) Or somebody from the new company saying “OMG Bob isn’t going to be happy to hear Thing X. He’ll probably quit and go back to Old Job.” And somebody overhears and tells somebody else, and the rumors start flying, and a week later everybody in the industry has heard it.

    If I were the LW I’d totally talk to my new manager about it, just to be sure they knew what was really up.

    1. Blueberry*

      I imagine it might not even been a sarcastic comment, but a comment about someone else and the game of telephone has twisted it from Bob coming back to Bill coming back.

      I’ve been there in jobs where you pverhear a vague call or conversation and suddenly Sally is running around filling in the blanks with her imagination, the people she tells assume she heard all the details, and then it never comes remotely close to happening and more rumors fly over why it didn’t happen.

  15. lost academic*

    My first thought is that OldFirm is buying NewFirm and it’s not public yet but some people know and are already divvying up resources in a callous fashion.

    But also it could just be a weird game of telephone.

    1. Beast ala Mode*

      My thought too.
      Similar happened to my spouse. He went to work for a smaller competitor, only to have it bought out 18 months later by his original company. He found out when one of the old co-workers called him and said “we kept your desk open! See you in a couple of weeks!”

      1. lost academic*

        This happened to a bunch of people in my current area who went to work for Smaller Nimble We’re Trying To be Like a Tech Startup (energy industry) Company (A) who had left Much Larger Older Stodgy Overly Calcified (also energy company) (B). B bought A. A didn’t tell anyone and almost everyone there found out from B’s press release……

        A lot of people ended up quitting rather then go (back to) work for B.

  16. learnedthehardway*

    I would worry less about your old boss / company / colleagues and more about your current boss / company. I would personally have a call or pop by your current manager’s office, alert them that you’ve heard this bizarre rumour, and tell them it has absolutely no basis in reality and that you’re very happy and have no intention of leaving.

    Your new boss may have some perspective – eg. if there is a known sh*t disturber at your new company. If not, they will appreciate that you’re checking in with them to put the rumour to bed.

    After that, I wouldn’t confront your old boss. Odds are this is a mix of broken telephone and wishful thinking. It’ll look a bit odd, if you phone up your old boss and tell them you have no intention of coming back, if they have no idea of what you’re talking about. And if they did spread the rumour – well, their judgment is way off, anyway, and the reality that you’re not returning will be better proof to them than any protestations.

    As for old coworkers, I would say that you’re really happy, and that you’re flattered that they would want you back, but you have no plans to leave. Or something like that.

    1. ferrina*

      I like this answer. I was also giving OldBoss some side eye. I’m not sure what Alison thinks will be gained by talking to OldBoss- this is someone who claimed they were going to dinner with OP when they hadn’t even talked to him! Talking to NewBoss seems critical though. Get ahead of the rumors and let NewBoss be ready if anyone tries to spread the rumor to them.

  17. Nonny*

    I’ve had two similar experiences to this.

    One was project related where someone came up to me and said “I heard the orientation schedules aren’t going to be delivered until the day of orientation! Is everything ok???” The person asking me this had nothing to do with orientation and was clearly looking for gossip. I side eyed them and said they were on schedule to be delivered two days before and given that orientation started at 7 am and our printer didn’t open until 9, that wouldn’t make any sense anyway. I had threatened the orientation committee that if they didn’t stop changing the schedule, they wouldn’t get them on time and I didn’t know if someone misheard that. I did start to be very careful when working with head of the committee on future projects because I had a good hunch they were the source of the gossip.

    The other instance was my boss telling me in a 1 on 1 they had around that I was job hunting. I hadn’t said anything like that and I wasn’t looking and told them as such. It wasn’t until much later I realized they made that up as a way to ask me that, but I still don’t know why they wanted to know. I wasn’t particularly frustrated with my job (at that time), so I don’t know if they were hoping I would be leaving soon? It’s a mystery!

  18. Nanani*

    I really hope it’s a name doppelganger or something like that and everyone involved can laugh about once the air is cleared.
    Anything else would be pretty shitty!

  19. Gnome*

    Is it possible that the companies are considering a merger of some sort?? Or that the new one plans to hire OP out to the old one? I know that’s unusual, but I’ve seen it happen (“our new client is the company you left. They asked for you specially”).

    This is so weird that I feel like it has to either be rumor mongering by someone or something higher up like a merger.

    1. OP here*

      Thankfully, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case since my industry doesn’t really have a lot of mergers, and my old and new company don’t really complement themselves that well. Someone else also mentioned layoffs, but I know that we are trying to hire some folks to support me in particular and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, so I’m pretty sure that things fall more into the misinterpretations and/or wishful thinking bucket instead of the privy to insider information bucket.

  20. G*

    I’m probably a bit of a stretch, but I would check credit reports and other places for potential identity theft. Maybe someone applied with their identity at their old company?

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      It could also be a new applicant with the same name.

      I work with a guy who has a pretty common name (think “John Smith” or “Jose Garcia”). Apparently there is another John Smith… who lives on the same street… with the same birthday… and went to the same high school. Unfortunately the other John Smith has a bunch of criminal convictions and an open warrant, which causes our John no end of trouble.

  21. Yellow*

    I recently heard a rumor about myself leaving my current job from several different people at my company. I had no intention on leaving, I haven’t even applied to another job in the multiple years I have been here. But it upset me to hear this rumor, and I knew I had to address it with my boss. It was really awkward, but I told him what I heard, that it wasn’t true, and that I was really happy in my job and dedicated to it. He hadn’t heard the rumor (yet), but was really glad that I came to him and celared it up before it became anything bigger. It was a big relief to just shut it down and move along. I highly recommened talking to your current boss and just letting them know you’re baffled and upset by the rumor, and have no plans on leaving.

  22. Aggresuko*

    I sorta had this recently, someone in another office said “Congratulations on your new role!” and I was all, what role? I’ve long since given up on job hunting and this job will never let me out of this position or transfer out again after my failure at the last transfer (for the noobs: I have a hell job, I finally got transferred out and the new group hated/bullied me, I got transferred back to hell job again). She kept insisting that she’d heard this and she seemed to think I’d be going back to the unit that hated me, which is now being RUN by my former bully! There’s no way in hell she’d want me back and they wouldn’t put me back in there! Finally I think what it was was that the manager there got another job (hence why my bully got promoted) and he said “Oh, Aggretsuko is going to take over doing X” and never mentioned it to me that he did that. Sheesh, people. Boy, did I not want to have to explain this situation to the woman to super spell out that I’ll never be in that unit again and why they hate me.

    As for OP, heck if I know what is going on there. That doesn’t sound like an oopsy/confusion point at all. If Former Boss was outright cited as making this up….YIKES.

  23. Fluffy Fish*

    I suspect it feels awkward to say something to new boss because it’s a silly rumor that in a perfect world could just be ignored.

    But remember its the people who made up and a spreading the rumor who made it awkward – not you OP. So any awkwardness you feel is there because other people created it. You’re simply setting the record straight.

    Also, I’m unclear OP if when people are saying these things to you if you are directly shutting them down. If not, then please do so! A simple “I’m not sure where that idea came from, but I am happy where I am and have no plans to leave.” should do it.

    1. anonymous73*

      I didn’t include it in my comment, but the not addressing the rumors in the moment was odd to me too. If someone approached me and made a comment ABOUT me that wasn’t true, I’d nip that in the bud immediately. Not as serious, but I was approached by several people after coming back from lunch one day asking if I was okay because they had heard I was in an accident. When in reality, I was in the car with colleagues and we witnessed an accident, and I was standing on the side of the road waiting for my colleagues to finish helping until the ambulance arrived. If you don’t shut it down, the rumors will spiral out of control and more information will be made up that could be detrimental to your job/career.

    2. OP here*

      I think the wierdness to bring this up with my boss comes because I’m mostly remote so I’d have to call them up out of the blue. I definitely did shut the rumors down right away (very, very, unambiguously) with everyone who reached out, I am just wary of making it a thing with anyone else who may not have heard the rumors yet.

      1. DrRat*

        Do you have scheduled individual check-ins, meetings, or coaching already set up? If so, that would be ideal.

        Otherwise, I also work remote and had to reach out to my manager recently about something weird. On our internal messaging system I just pinged her and asked if I could have 5 minutes to meet privately after a meeting we would both be in. I literally said it was nothing urgent, just needed a few minutes. She said she appreciated me letting her know it wasn’t a crisis and we had the whole thing resolved in no time.

      2. Artemesia*

        It might be WORSE that you are remote, because perhaps more plausible and not dismissed in the course of normal interactions with you. If you were seeing him every day, then you have less to fear from this. But as a less known quantity whom he also doesn’t informally interact with, this could explode on you. Pre-empt — acknowledge that it is silly or strange, but you want to make sure he isn’t hearing it.

      3. Nanani*

        Can you add it to a regular zoom meeting or email or however it is you keep in touch?

        “NewBoss, here’s the weekly deliverable. By the way I heard a weird rumour…”

      4. animaniactoo*

        Eh. I think you should assume that they WILL hear the rumor at some point – and from that standpoint – would you rather be in front of it or in back of it?

        If you can’t do it as a casual convo drop-in, do it as touching base about something and then say something along these lines:

        “I’m very confused by this, and if I’m confused, I can only imagine that you would/will be even more confused if you hear about it. So… if you haven’t heard this yet, there’s a rumor going around which appears to be running through both our company AND my old company. I have no idea how this got started as I haven’t even joked about such a possibility, and it’s making me very uneasy because it’s not only not true – but I feel like it could impact decisions that other people make about me and my work. So… this is all odd and all kinds of awkward, but I wanted you to hear about it from me before you hear it from someone else. There is no truth to it – some of the things I’m hearing are outright false. Other stuff sounds like maybe someone took something the wrong way or it was wishful thinking. But any which way – I am very happy here, and I am not even open to entertaining an offer from old company to go back to work there. Hopefully the rumors will die a natural death, but, well… there it is.”

  24. A Simple Narwhal*

    I would definitely mention it to your new boss. In fact, I would prioritize talking to the new boss over the old, since the rumors are more likely to be damaging to your current job. Not that it will definitely will be, but if newboss hears rumors that you’re leaving, that might lessen their opinion of you or cause them to make decisions based on false information. I certainly hope they would verify with you first, but depending on who they hear things from and how how much they trust them, there’s a chance that they won’t.

    I think it’s absolutely worth following up with oldboss too, but I think you definitely want to clear the air with your current employer.

  25. Bluebelle*

    I wonder if the old company is about to acquire the new company. I have seen that happen often in smaller industries.

  26. Jean*

    I certainly hope this is all due to some wacky misunderstanding and not a delusional ex boss. Good luck OP and please update!

  27. Former Retail Lifer*

    This is odd and awkward enough to be a Seinfeld episode. OP, please update us!

  28. DEEngineer*

    A few years ago I heard that a colleague had given notice, so I walked over to his cube to ask him about the details. He told me that it was the first he’d heard of his own resignation, and his manager popped up over the divider to say that it was the first he’d heard of it also! I turned out to be completely untrue, and that taught me to be careful with the source of that rumor (the source was not someone to whom the colleague would have confided). I’m glad I didn’t spread it. Being direct is always the way to go – as long as you keep the speculation to a minimum.

  29. Shiba Dad*

    A few years ago at an old job a coworker with ~30 years experience left. He did not leave for another job. He just neeed out of old job. Ownership told a couple of our larger customers that he was on a sabbatical. I don’t think that they really believed that as much as they were placating these customers.

    I think something similar is going on with OP’s old boss placating staff (and maybe customers too).

  30. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    Guess I am going opposite on this one. I would not say anything to either old boss or new boss. I would ignore it all unless someone brings it up directly with OP, then OP can respond. Sounds like a bunch of vague rumors with no solid point of origin, so I wouldn’t bother.

    1. Lydia*

      People have already brought it up with OP directly, so there’s a really good chance those rumors have made their way to the boss.

  31. BA*

    I left Old Job for a New Job. It was one that was tangentially associated with Another Job. The grand boss at Old Job was a jerk who at one point, while I was interviewing for New Job sat us all down and demanded to know if we were on his team or not. Of course we all said we were.
    When I got New Job, he told my former coworkers – people I’m still friends with today – that I had lied to him (and them) and told them he knew because he heard from Jane at Another Job that I was their guy long before I told him. I had told him within hours of getting and accepting my offer, and there’s no way Jane would have known that I was getting an offer before I did, as my New Boss was someone who carried herself extremely professionally and treated things with the appropriate level of privacy.
    Old grand Boss was a power hungry, control freak with a temper who chased off a number of great people before he got fired himself. I’ve never been shocked since that time what awful people can do to have the upper hand or to “save face” in a work environment.

  32. Thanks but no thanks*

    Something like that happened to me. My office split in half like a bad breakup, and the team that was leaving tried to poach me (with an unimpressive offer: a bit more work for the same pay, working with a higher concentration of jerks). At the same time, they were working on moving out – and someone assigned me a desk in their new place, in a way that was visible to everyone on that team.

    The higher-ups weren’t on speaking terms, but the rest of us were, and information got around pretty well. So the apparent confirmation of my jumping ship was perfect gossip and felt a lot like someone was trying to burn my bridge for me. I told my boss before she heard it from someone else.

  33. International Freeloader*

    I, strangely, had this same thing happen to me after leaving a toxic job. This happened about 4-5 months after I quit.
    My old coworkers started reaching out to me, telling me they heard I was coming back. Coworkers in other departments also asked me about the rumor. I was totally confused because I rage quit that job. I completely had it one day after about 3 years of nonsense and I walked out (first and last time I’ve ever done that). I also landed a better job only 2 months later. So needless to say, no, I was never planning to go back and hadn’t been in contact with my old boss or management since the day I left.
    I dug deeper after hearing this rumor from multiple people and it turned out my old boss just couldn’t handle the fact I’d left and was under some delusion (?) I would be coming back. He was going around telling people he was in contact with me and I wanted my old job back! That I would be coming back any day now! Again – none of this was true! We hadn’t spoken since the day I walked out, months before this event. The whole thing was bizarre but I never addressed it with him. Our industry is small, but this guy already ruined his reputation so I wasn’t concerned what anyone might think. I just set the record straight with any old coworkers that asked me.

  34. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    I am also a big fan of leaning in to the awkward, or otherwise addressing the elephant in the room.
    So many of the letters on AAM revolve around “should I say something” type questions. In this case it would seem like the office gossips are doing their thing and it needs to be shut down.

  35. Dona Florinda*

    My husband’s coworker resigned for a much better job in the same industry, but their toxic boss told everyone that coworker was changing industries (she wasn’t) and would be back as soon as she realized it was mistake.
    It’s been a year and coworker is happy with her now-not-so-new job, but boss still keeps the story that she’s just “experimenting” with other jobs and is coming back anytime now. I don’t know if people believed toxic boss, but if someone did, I can see how it could become a situation like this (in her case it was different industries, but small town).

    OP, maybe someone lied somewhere along the way to save face and the whole thing got out of control?

  36. BadWolf*

    I unintentionally started a similar rumor. My department needed a new manager and there was a person (Tina) in our business unit that had been a manager and was doing some intense project management work that was usually a temporary gig. At different times when my team discussed getting a new manager (we’d had the same manager for a long time), I said it would be really cool if Tina would come and be our manager. I guess I mentioned this wish one too many times and suddenly it came back around to me they heard Tina might be our manager. I did tell that person that was my wish (if she wanted to be a manager) and I swallowed my pride and told Tina that I felt like I had accidentally started a rumor. She said someone had asked her about it and thought it was weird. So I think I really was “the source.”

    Turns out, Tina got promoted shortly thereafter to be a higher up manager (manager of managers). I’m still haunted by the idea that I might have had a negative impact on her promotion. She’s continued moving up the ranks, so the answer is no, but man…definitely a “paving the way to hell with good intentions” sort of moment.

  37. NopeNopeNope*

    This is not advice, just a thought for OP.
    Could this just be some loose lipped wishful thinking that became rumor?
    Eons ago, I had a loquacious manager who, in all seriousness, thought that they could talk any former employee into coming back whenever temporary or part time help was needed. This included people who had quit on the spot because of the manager’s work style and told them so. It never worked.

  38. Alice*

    Rumours get started in the weirdest ways. Just a few days ago I read about the 1973 Toyokawa Shinkin Bank incident, which started with someone overhearing three high schoolers chatting. Two months ago there was a rumour in my friend circle that I was getting married in September and I’d already picked a dress (I’m not engaged nor I plan to).

    This just to say that it could be nothing malicious, maybe it was just someone making a throwaway remarks and someone mishearing/misinterpreting. Still, I think it could make things uncomfortable if this rumour gets back to your new manager so I like Alison’s script and the other commenters’ suggestions! I hope you have an update for us soon!

    1. Ariaflame*

      I think I heard a rumour that I was getting married, oh two decades ago now. I was in a relationship at the time but not one heading towards marriage. Apparently the fact that I’d bought an apartment had led some people to make some leaps in assumptions.

  39. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I’ve never had this happen to me – but – I have been asked to return to a company that I left — I left a company over money. I had tried to resolve my situation diplomatically, but management was not acting in good faith.

    So after three-four months of that b.s., I started looking outside, got a job (and a significant raise) and gave notice and moved on. Four weeks after leaving my phone rings at work.

    Old company – not a boss, but a colleague. Who asks “when am I coming back?” My reply = “Likely, never.” Him = “Well we can talk about fixing things if you come back.” I replied that it’s not fair to my current employer – AND – my price tag has gone up. WAYY-YYY up. If you couldn’t afford me before, how can you do so now?

    I suggested we continue the conversation later, when I got home. The suggestion was that I return at my old pay rate and they’d discuss increases.

    Yeah, right. I stopped negotiating a few months before I resigned. I would listen to any counter offers when I did give my notice, but none came about. I invited him – tell (the bosses) to put together a BAFO (best and final offer), mail it to my home, and I will either accept or reject it. But – coming back with “the way things were” is categorically, IMPOSSIBLE.

    They never made an offer.

    1. Nanani*

      You would not have been out of line in laughing in his face, in my opinion.

      Reminds of clients who want to pay a single digit percentage of my rate and try to promise future increases or “making it up in volume”.

      Put your money where your mouth is, Anon-2’s old boss.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        What else is bad – and happened to me – and I had to author and send my own equivalent of a “cease and desist” letter – a few weeks after leaving a job, I began getting headhunter calls asking me if I’d like to quit my new job and take a three-month contract on.

        I suspected that someone from my former employer sold my resume/CV to a number of recruiters; I did not use recruiters in the seven-eight years leading up to this, but the company had, essentially built CVs for each of us based on info as far as what we did.

        It got to the point where I was receiving 20 calls a week. Many for the same position. A few days after the letter went out the calls stopped. Now, I don’t suspect that my boss was behind the effort, but it did stop after I sent the letter so he did something about it.

  40. Anastasia*

    Wow, I really hope LW writes back with an update when he figures out what’s going on. I am SO curious!

  41. Lobsterman*

    OP’s old manager is spreading rumors, because that’s the kind of person that maintains a “crushing workload” for years.
    Reaching out to old manager is a waste of time; they’ll just lie and then start trashing OP.
    Best recourse is a soft block – don’t respond to queries from the old place and keep on keeping on.

  42. aaaargh*

    Well, this is disturbing! I would talk to your new boss immediately. If they think you are leaving they may already be working to replace you. That happened to my husband.

    Also this happened to a friend of mine in a way. A coworker of hers not only started a rumor but put in false papers making it look like my friend requested a transfer! Not sure how they thought this would work. Anyway. I would nip this in the bud immediately.

      1. Aaaargh*

        I think they were aiming for her position. Which could be ehat’s happening here, too. Someone at new company may be trying to sabotage the letter writer and then hopefully get their job.

  43. calonkat*

    You know, I think the relatively low # of responses is because a lot of us are just sitting in slack jawed amazement after reading this letter. I’ve read it a couple of times and still can’t really comprehend. It’s not the flat out awfulness of some letters, it’s not cluelessness, it’s some weird wishful thinking, fantasy world that is affecting the OP. Which could be a cool book to read, but not a fun thing in real life.

    I think all the advice upstream about talking to your boss is the way to go. Make sure your current employer knows this is some sort of fanfic being written by the other company, and then do your best to ignore it.

  44. I just work here*

    I too am a fan of embracing the awkward and think its the quickest way to shut this rumor down.

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