can I ask my employee why she’s leaving, I think my boss and I see the same therapist, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Is it OK to ask my employee why she’s leaving?

I am a fairly new manager, managing a team of about 15 people for the past year. I just received an email from one of my best people letting me know that she is resigning (we are all remote). I have no idea why she is leaving – she had never expressed to me that she was unhappy and she has only been here a little bit longer than me. In fact, I had just recommended her for a raise and title promotion this month (which she knew). I feel a bit blindsided because I thought we had good and open communication, but now I am wondering if I missed something and questioning my skills as a manager. My question is, is it appropriate to ask her why she is leaving? Not with the intention of convincing her to stay, but to know if there are other issues on the team I should be aware of? I genuinely wish her the best and want her to do what’s best for herself and her career, but now I’m worried other team members might be unhappy too. But I also don’t want to make her uncomfortable or overstep personal boundaries.

It’s okay to say, “Would you be willing to talk with me about what led to you deciding to leave? No pressure if you’d rather not, of course, but if there’s anything I missed or should be looking at with other team members, I’d be grateful to know.” From there, leave it in her court — you’ll have issued the invitation and it’s up to her whether to take you up on it.

But also, keep in mind that people leave jobs for all sorts of reasons that shouldn’t make you question your skills as a manager. She might have just felt ready for something new, or found a shorter commute or more money, or all sorts of things. It’s worth asking the question in case there is something you should know, but as a general rule it’s smart to assume that anyone on your team could be thinking about leaving at any time and know that you won’t always see signs of it ahead of time.

2. I think my boss and I might see the same therapist

In my office, we share Outlook calendars. Late last year, I noticed that my boss had an appointment after hours whose title was the first name of the therapist I’ve been seeing for years, virtually since Covid. It’s not an unusual name, but it’s not a super-common one, either. I’ve since noticed that my boss turned that meeting private and has a recurring private meeting weekly at that time. When I looked at several weeks on her calendar, the only weeks she didn’t have the private appointment at that time were the weeks my therapist was on vacation. I’ve also noticed my therapist asking me about work (not the reason I’m in therapy) quite a bit more lately. All of this could be a coincidence, but it’s enough circumstantial evidence that I’m not sure what to do next. I know my therapist wouldn’t be allowed to tell me if my boss was also one of her patients, but if she is … I feel very weird about it.

It’s possible you are indeed seeing the same therapist, but if that’s the case, your therapist should have an absolute firewall between you and she definitely shouldn’t be asking you more about work because of it. Is it possible that’s confirmation bias — that since you’re worried about it, you’re noticing it more? Or that she has legitimate reason to be asking about work more often recently (unconnected to whether your boss is her patient)?

If it keeps bothering you, the best way to address is actually to tell your therapist how you’re feeling — not in a way that sounds like you expect her to confirm or deny (since as you note, she can’t for privacy reasons) — but you could say, “I’ve gotten the sense recently that my boss might be a patient of yours, and while I know you can’t comment on that, it’s making me really uncomfortable and I wonder we can talk about that without violating anyone’s confidentiality.” You could also say, “It feels like you’ve asked me about work more recently, and if you are treating my boss, that would worry me too.” Put it in her lap — it’s part of her job to figure out how to address stuff like this (and to do it without ever revealing if your boss is in fact one of her patients). You might end up feeling okay about things, or you might not — but that’s where I’d start.

3. How to respond to questions about an awesome opportunity… that I hated

I’m currently on a sabbatical — my partner got a short-term research opportunity abroad, so we’ve moved for a few months to let him take it. Given my work and needing to care for our child, I couldn’t reasonably work from our current location, and my company was kind enough to let me take leave so that we could do this. I know how enormous of a privilege this is, both generally and within my company.

However, I have hated this experience. I’ve traveled abroad before, but only for a couple weeks at a time, and doing it for months is a different beast. I don’t speak the local language, I can’t work or volunteer here, I miss my home and my family and friends. I’ve found a couple things to keep busy one or two days a week, but overwhelmingly I’ve found the whole experience really destabilizing, and I’m experiencing many symptoms of depression as a result. I cannot wait to get back to our home and even back to work.

I’ll be back at work in about a month, and I’m expecting a lot of excited questions about how great it was, how much fun I must have had, etc. etc. etc. I don’t know that I can reasonably handle a lot of people gushing about how great it must have been or talking about how much they would have loved the opportunity. That’s very far from my current reality, and I don’t think people would really understand how or why. How can I handle these questions gracefully and move people along to talking about literally anything else as quickly as possible?

How about, “It was a great opportunity but it’s definitely hard being away for so long when you don’t speak the local language! I’m glad to be back. How’s (work topic) going?” Or you could condense that into, “Definitely interesting, but I’m glad to be back. How’s (work topic) going?” Or with people you’re closer to, “It was more challenging than I expected! A great opportunity that I’m grateful for, but it’s a big adjustment to live so far from family and friends and I’m glad to be back.”

You’ll probably have some people who want to hear more than that and who might probe for more details, so ideally you’d be ready with a couple of stories that you can share without a ton of turmoil — maybe about a local food you fell in love with (or despised but couldn’t avoid), or how your kid liked being there, or a funny story about the language barrier or a cultural difference. Even people who probe will probably be satisfied with one or two stories and then you can switch the subject back to work.

4. Who gets the rewards points for business travel?

I work at a nonprofit and recently helped book travel for a few of my colleagues going to a conference. When I was confirming the dates, times, locations, etc., I made it clear that I was booking through a third party service that gives you rewards points to use on future stays (think Expedia, Travelocity, etc.). No one ever mentioned an organization account or what to do with all of the points these bookings will earn (and let me tell you.. it’s A LOT of points). All of my friends are saying that these points are mine to use if they didn’t say anything. I think that I should ask my manager what to do, but I’m worried that they would have otherwise been okay with me keeping them but if I bring attention to it they would ask me to find a way to use them for the organization. What should I do?

Organizations normally have policies on who gets to keep the award points from business travel. Often the people traveling get to keep them (which makes sense because business travel can be a hardship; you’re dealing with airline delays, being away from home, and all the other stresses of travel), although some stingier organizations (and particularly some nonprofits) want to keep them for employer use.

It’s almost never the case, though, that the points would go to the person booking travel for other people. If I’m reading correctly that you’re booking the travel but not traveling yourself, it should definitely be one of the two options above. Check with your manager if you’re unsure which it is.

5. My job title is misleading

I am starting my job search to move away from the company I’ve been at for the past few years. My current position was a fairly big leap from my last one, but I’ve grown a great deal at this job and am confident I can pivot into a related position in a different field, about 50% of which I already do.

I’ve always thought my job title was really vague, and very cursory googling when I was hired didn’t turn up too much. Today I looked again and found out there is a fairly specific set of duties associated with it — very, very few of which I actually do. Imagine being called a train specialist and collecting data about arrivals and departures, when most people with the same title advise their C-suite about what models of train the railway should buy.

What should I do? I’m pretty sure asking for a title change isn’t an option. There was a lot of petty drama when my coworkers’ titles got marginally changed a while ago, and it seems like our HR department is very stubborn and slow-moving about this in particular. It just stings given that an accurate title would probably help me out. How weird is it to leave job titles off of a resume altogether? Or, if it’s a vague and somewhat uncommon job title anyway, does it matter in the first place? (The resume template I’ve been working on has it listed in a place that would be inconvenient to remove, so it’s also somewhat tempting to just leave my title on there.)

Definitely don’t leave job titles off altogether; that’ll look weird and like you’re hiding something. But one option is to include a more accurate, descriptive title in addition to the real title. So for example, if your real title is train specialist, but the bulk of what you do is coordinating arrival and departures, you might list your title this way:

Train Specialist (Arrival/Departure Coordinator)

That way you’re providing more clarity, but also ensuring the real title is listed there and will match up with what your employer will say if someone calls them to verify your employment.

{ 281 comments… read them below }

  1. Fikly*

    LW1:

    As a manager, you should never, ever know that someone you manage is thinking about leaving. It’s just solid common sense to never let your manager know, for many reasons, and many of them aren’t malicious or a reflection on you. If you know someone is thinking about leaving, it means that if layoffs come up, their name gets pushed to the top of the list, because hey, they’re already looking for a new opportunity, right?

    Second, that your reaction to someone leaving is to think it’s a reflection on you is a solid sign right there that you aren’t someone who is safe to be told, because you’re making it about you. As AAM said, many factors are involved that have nothing to do with the company a person works for, but you are also ignoring that many of the factors involved if it’s because of the current job cannot be resolved by a manager. Either they are company-wide factors (pay, benefits, much more), or they are team-wide factors that you don’t have the power to do anything about.

    1. my 8th name*

      I think this is a strong reaction. LW just wants ask a question a very routine question in response to employee attrition…and sometimes it is the manager. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to find out areas of improvement from a departing employee.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, I agree. Sure, there are managers who take it very personally if their employee decides to leave, even if their decision to leave is something like relocating for a spouse.

        But yeah, managers should be prepared for any of their employees to leave at any time. One employee leaving a 15-person team during the first year is unremarkable, and I don’t think the LW needs to do any soul searching here. But if their reports start leaving in droves and the turnover the next year is something like 30% or more, then they might have some cause to wonder why.

        But managers are unlikely to get honest answers to this question, even if the employee is leaving because they can no longer stand working for their manager.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I agree, I think OP does need to recalibrate some expectations (primarily that good and open communication with your employees does *not* mean they will tell you if they are thinking of leaving, and that they should generally not expect to know their employee is job searching) but on the whole I think they are handling this just fine and have not done anything wrong.

      3. pancakes*

        I sort of agree, but I don’t think it is or should be routine for a manager to overlook or disregard their own observational skills this way (i.e., the “now I’m worried other team members might be unhappy too” part of the letter). If other people there are unhappy, their manager should have some ideas about why that would be. Beside this one person leaving.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yeah let’s face it, we’ve often said here that people don’t leave jobs they leave managers, so the manager is quite right to think that there could be something she could have managed better.

    2. Allonge*

      Huh? OP1’s employee is already leaving, not thinking about leaving. And companies want an exit interview all the time, often covering the what made you leavel question.

      OP1 is mentioning reasons they could be the cause of leaving first, but it’s not necessarily a bad instinct to think ‘wiow, I wonder if I could ahve done things differently and prevented this’. It’s just really imporatnt to remember that there are a thousand other factors that may make someone leave.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I feel like we’re not reading the same comment! Fikly doesn’t say anywhere that LW shouldn’t ask why their employee is leaving now that she’s handed in her resignation– they’re saying that knowing in advance that the employee was looking is 1) not a reasonable expectation 2) not a sign of “good and open communication” (you can have good and open communication with your employees without expecting that they will share something potentially detrimental to their career or position.)

        “X is leaving and this is making me question my skills as a manager” is saying that you think there is a direct relationship between X leaving and your skills as a manager. There might be! But there are a hundred other reasons X might be leaving which are not about you. “Questioning my skills as a manager” sounds like a crisis of confidence and someone looking for reassurance that it wasn’t their fault– that’s a (normal! human!) response to something you perceive as bad news, but it’s also not as productive a stance as being confident in your abilities but still looking for useful feedback on how to improve.

        So yeah, I would agree that LW is making it all about them, but that’s not intended as a mega-harsh criticism or a sign that they’re a terrible person, it’s just useful feedback. Literally everyone has moments in life where someone else makes a decision and we take it personally and feel like we should have / could have changed if only we’d done something differently. I think “you’re making it all about you” is often a genuinely useful reframing, and a reminder that yes, sure, sometimes I am responsible and there is something I could have done better, but sometimes I’m a tiny minor factor in someone else’s decision and this is not a me-problem.

        LW should definitely ask. They should always ask. And if there’s personal or organisational feedback that is useful and which they can act on, they should act on it. But their goal should not be “fix my behaviour so nobody else ever leaves, or if they do they tell me about it before they have an offer finalised”. That’s completely unrealistic and is setting themselves up for major failure in the future.

        1. Allonge*

          I see – thinking a bit more on it for me the part I really disagree with Filky is ‘you aren’t someone who is safe to be told, because you’re making it about you’.

          Indeed, LW is making it about them. But again, this is not necessarily a 100% bad thing – asking if they could have done something differently to prevent this is an ok question and definitely does not scream OMG run! to me. On this very board we see the ‘people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers’ saying a lot.

          LW is new as a manager, soon they will learn from experience that people leave whatever you do, and it’s ok.

          1. bamcheeks*

            yes, I agree with that– it does sound a bit like, “if only you’d done Y rather than X, you would be Worthy to be told”.

            When the point should be that you could be the best, most trustworthy, most open-communicatory manager ever and your default assumption should still be that you won’t know your employees are job-seeking until the moment they say, “So… I’ve accepted another job.”

          2. Smithy*

            My take on this is that there are ways things are written where we feel “if only the message was said differently, then it would be ok”….and I think the case of “you are not a safe person to to tell” may be one of them.

            I largely agree with the first part of Filky’s comment (you’re not a safe person to tell), and while I don’t entirely disagree with the second – I also think the second is just because the OP is a new manager. New managers in general are the LEAST safe people to tell sensitive news because there just isn’t a track record. But at the same time, I also agree with Filky, because if you sense that a new manager really wants to do well – that is about them and their own performance. It may have no ill intentions or behaviors, but at first, a newer direct report won’t know that.

            Maybe it could be phrased more sensitively, but I’m not sure the message would hit any easier.

            1. Allonge*

              To be honest, for me practically no manager is safe to tell you are looking for another job. And in most cases there is little enough reason to, as Alison often advises.

              So I don’t disagree that new managers are probably less safe but the additional ‘unsafety’ is marginal and not the main point.

              1. Smithy*

                Where I think it might be helpful is that sometimes when someone like this leaves, there is a tendency for Managers to look at what they’ve done as being largely positive or an opening of a conversation and not a complete sentence.

                The OP mentions that this was a staff member that they’d positioned for a raise and promotion and the staffer knew about it. What we don’t know for sure (but can largely assume) is that the staffer’s new job they consider to be better than the raise and promotion. It may be for reasons beyond the OP (i.e. the staffer does not trust the organization more broadly in actually approving the raise/promotion, or doing so promptly) or what I’ve seen more often in my experience is that the raise is usually far less than what can be achieved on the open market and the promotion may not be for a job that’s very desirable. Promotion may be in name only and no major change to duties, or it’s to a place on the institutional hierarchy where you give up the “fun stuff” but don’t actually have the seniority to own much either.

                That information alone may have been enough to confirm for this staffer than when it was time to move up – they needed to move out. Managers who do have the safety of their staff, should be in a place to hear that promotions from Officer to Sr. Officer or the Deputy Director role are nice but not considered great. A newer manager is less likely to have the time to know that – but is another part of making conversations with direct reports less about you as the manager and more about what someone’s career trajectory might want to be.

            2. tamarack and fireweed*

              I think it’s perfectly possible to think “it is something I did, and could I do something to prevent it” and at the same time being aware that leaving is an employee’s decision that is most likely not about something the manager did. This is the kind of two things I constantly hold in my mind at the same time, and concluding that she would not be a safe person to tell is I think widely beyond what’s at evidence here.

              Also, other than getting violent or abusive – for which there is not the slightest indication – what would make it “unsafe”? She’s on her way out!

              (Except if this is about telling before resigning. Obviously no one should tell before resigning except maybe in very very exceptional circumstances – collaborative career-planning in exceptionally tried and trusting relationships. And even then! My boss is awesome, but I would tell them about leaving only in the immediate neighborhood of the moment I’m handing in my resignation, most likely within the same hour. )

              1. Thedarkside*

                Actually, I had an employee tell me she was looking. She was honest about her salary needs and her wish for more leadership. She was very valuable to us, so we arranged for a promotion and a substantial raise. In this case, her letting me know actually propelled a decision we were planning to make and helped us retain her.

    3. Elder Millennial*

      How is “I am questioning my skills as a manager” as a response to someone resigning making someone not safe to be told? To me that sounds like someone who would be open to feedback and to growth, not someone who will make life hard on the employee.

      Most importantly: it sounds like this has never happened to the letter writer and they are writing in get some guidance how to handle it. (And of course, that letter is a bit more focused on their needs instead of their employee’s, but overall I still found there to be plenty of attention for the employee’s well-being.)

      And sometimes there are factors the manager can resolve! So it’s not that weird of a question.

      Saying that this letter writer is making it all about them seems a bit far fetched.

      1. Cat*

        I get where Fikly is coming from. It sounds like OP is inexperienced rather than malicious, but from the employee’s perspective, an inexperienced manager and a malicious manager can both be unsafe to tell that you are thinking of leaving your position.

        In this case, it’s probably a good thing that the employee didn’t tell OP. The fact that OP felt “blindsided” because she “thought we had good and open communication” is not a great reaction to someone giving notice without prior notice (which is a very normal thing and something Alison frequently advises employees to do). But it’s also a good thing that OP is asking this question now and is willing to learn how to handle this situation in the future.

        1. Allonge*

          It’s a good thing employee did not tell OP because in 99.99% of the cases it’s a bad idea to tell your boss: nothing to gain and a lot to lose. This is not on OP, it’s a universal thing.

          1. Cat*

            Right, but OP’s reaction when the employee did give notice is one of the reasons why it’s a bad idea to tell your boss ahead of time. On some level, OP felt entitled to some sort of prior warning and seems to think that that the employee reneged on what she thought was “good and open communication” by not telling her ahead of time.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              I don’t think OP felt entitled, I think OP is questioning *their own* judgement and wondering if they missed some kind of warning signs that things were not going well. That’s just a desire to start honing managerial intuition and observation skills, it’s not targeted at the employee.

              1. pancakes*

                How are people here going to be able to answer that, though? How would we know if there are warning signs they’ve missed?

                1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                  That’s not what’s been asked of Alison or the commentariat, all we have to do is tell her how to ask the employee. But this thread isn’t about this, it’s about the motivations for asking. Which is a sub-discussion that can help the OP reflect on what they’re looking for from the conversation.

                2. pancakes*

                  Yes, but one person’s exit interview that they may or may not take part in seems nearly as unlikely to shed light on that. The best time to start honing those skills is before advancing to management, I’d hope.

                3. a clockwork lemon*

                  I had a boss once who was completely blindsided when I left the company, even though we’d had several very long conversations about 1) the hours I was working; 2) someone I supervised but didn’t manage who wasn’t doing his work for me and it wasn’t being handled; and 3) I wanted a small raise and a title bump.

                  Those were all pretty clear warning signs that I was going to leave! I did everything short of sending her an email directly saying “I am job hunting and you can expect my notice as soon as I have an offer in hand.”

            2. Koalafied*

              I don’t sense a feeling entitlement here as much as just plain surprise and disorientation. It’s not about thinking she *deserved* to know – she just assumed that with the good, open communication she thought they had, that surely if she was perceptive enough she would have been able to sense that the employee was growing disaffected before it got to this point? She’s questioning her skills as a manager because she’s now worried that there’s a whole bunch of stuff happening below the surface with everyone that she’s equally unaware of, and feels that a good manager shouldn’t be caught unawares like that.

              As the other answers have elaborated on, this was a faulty assumption – even the greatest managers will routinely not know before some employees leave because the reason for leaving is not something the manager would have likely been positioned to do anything about, so there would have been no reason for the employee to raise it with the manager before giving notice, no matter how good/open/safe the communication and relationship are.

              1. JustaTech*

                Exactly this.
                I have had coworkers I was genuinely shocked when they announced that they were leaving. And then I’ve had coworkers where I didn’t *know* that they were looking to move on, but it wasn’t a surprise at all because I knew that they weren’t happy with the position or pay or commute or they had family stuff or whatever.

                As a manager, the OP wants to learn to read the signs that someone isn’t happy in their position (for whatever reason), *hopefully* so that, as the manager, they can fix those problems promptly and retain an employee who wants to be retained. Heck, that’s part of being a good manager and identifying growth opportunities for your direct reports!

                It’s not about asking to be told. There’s no “sign reading” in having someone say to you as boss “I’m looking”. Sign reading is about maybe taking action to retain an employee or, if you know that there’s nothing you could do to keep them, start some general thinking about succession planning (while not pushing the employee out).

              2. DC Kat*

                This. I also took the comment about open, honest communication to not necessarily even be about OP not knowing in advance that her report was looking for work, but about the lack of explanation when they did give their notice.

                At my office, no one ever just says “I’m leaving, bye”: it’s always “I got this great opportunity at X org, where I’ll get to pursue Y career/build Z skills,” or “I’m going to grad school to take the next steps for Y career” or “my spouse’s job is moving.” So it would be very unsettling, especially for a new manager, to hear just “I’ve accepted another job offer” with no elaboration.

          2. Observer*

            It’s a good thing employee did not tell OP because in 99.99% of the cases it’s a bad idea to tell your boss: nothing to gain and a lot to lose. This is not on OP, it’s a universal thing.

            But the OP’s reaction shows that they are squarely in the “dangerous to tell camp”. And they won’t move anywhere near “safe” or even “possibly safe-ish” unless they change their attitude.

            1. Anon all day*

              What attitude?? That they were concerned that their employee was unhappy but they missed the signs? Do we not want managers to care about making sure their employees are happy in their jobs? That is NOT incompatible with managers also understanding that sometimes, often, employees will leave for a multitude of reasons, even if there are no issues in their current job.

              1. pancakes*

                I want that, of course, and part of that for me is wanting them to have good ideas and good judgment about the things that make people happy. I don’t want them to start crowd-sourcing that only after someone leaves.

                1. Anon all day*

                  Head. Desk. That’s why OP is writing in! They want to know what they can do now to find out what to do before someone leaves next time! OP said three hours ago, “But if it’s something I could have improved for her or can improve for the rest of the team, I would like to know that.”

                  I just really don’t understand what your comment adds? There’s a lot of things I don’t want managers to do, but none of that has anything to do with this letter.

                2. pancakes*

                  Yes, I saw that. If she is relying on departing women of color to tell her about problems in the workplace on their way out, that is waiting too late, in my opinion. I don’t think it’s unfair or off-topic to say that good management should be more proactive than that.

                3. pancakes*

                  Ok, trying again: I did see that. I think relying on departing employees for information about improvements that need to be made is too little too late, when the workplace is of the type the letter writer described in that comment.

                4. Allonge*

                  I see your point, but I think you want managers to be almost superhuman.

                  Managers have a day job, and solving problems they don’t know exist usually comes lower in the priority list than problems that they are aware of. Or, you know, submitting the quarterly Teapot Report, meeting clients etc.

                  Yes, in an ideal world managers should be working on all kinds of prevention / D&I programmes by default. I live in a world where some issues need to be flagged to managers by external factors before they do something about them. And we don’t even know there is a problem, that is the whole point of hte message to OP, they may not have done anything wrong!

            2. metadata minion*

              I feel like we’re reading completely different letters here. It wouldn’t be reasonable for the LW to demand to know why the employee is leaving, but since managers are legitimately a large part of why plenty of people leave their job, it’s not entitled or self-centered to want to make sure you’re not doing anything wrong as a manager that’s driving your employees to leave.

              Maybe it has nothing to do with them! And even if you get along reasonably well with your boss, it can be awkward to tell them “hey, actually part of your management style drives me up the wall”. But I’m really taken aback by how many people think “Was it something I did?” is an unreasonable question for a manager to ask, especially a fairly new manager who probably does, like most people, have some things they could improve upon.

              1. Linda*

                “I feel a bit blindsided because I thought we had good and open communication”

                To me, this line from the letter makes it sound like OP expected the employee to communicate something to them ahead of time about wanting to leave and makes OP sound a little resentful that it came out of the blue.

                1. Anon all day*

                  Not at all. Feeling blindsided does not automatically mean feeling resentful, and I think to extrapolate that is reading way too much into the letter.

                2. Myrin*

                  I reckon you’re reading that sentence wrong – the part immediately after this reads “but now I am wondering if I missed something”. Meaning “I felt like we had a relationship wherein my employee would feel comfortable coming to me if she had any problems regarding her job which I could reasonably do something about”.

                  (Also, “blinsided”, much like “surprised”, can have a resentful connotation but it really doesn’t seem like that here.)

            3. Lydia*

              I normally agree with you, Observer, but I think you’re off on this one. The OP isn’t at all asking why the employee didn’t tell them they were leaving; more like the OP is concerned that someone they thought they had open communication with didn’t tell them anything was wrong. The OP does say they were blindsided, but I think because at no time did the employee bring up any concerns.

                1. Lydia*

                  That’s not what I said. I do think the OP is assuming something was wrong when there may not have been anything wrong at all, but people are reading a LOT into the OP writing in. This is exactly what we say we want managers to do, but y’all aren’t even happy about that!

                2. pancakes*

                  I didn’t say or suggest that you said that. I said it myself because I thought someone should.

                  I want managers to be actively making their own observations about the type of work environment the letter writer described in her comment, not just checking in with people who are on their way out.

            4. GythaOgden*

              This seems a very uncharitable reading to me. This is an advice site, not the comments at Not Always Right — the posters aren’t holding up Aunt Sallies to pelt with wet sponges, but asking for help, particularly in coordinating feelings with expectations and actions. Managers need that kind of advice as well as employees, and leaping down their throats or rabble-rousing in the comments doesn’t serve that purpose any more than just meaning no manager ever comes here for advice again.

        2. Lily Rowan*

          Yeah, even as an experienced manager, I have all kinds of bad ideas and inappropriate reactions that I keep in my head — including one I wrote into Alison about! And people laid into me. Which I get, but that was the whole reason I wrote in here anonymously!

          1. SomebodyElse*

            Gasp! You’re human? The shock! (Sorry couldn’t resist)

            This letter is a really good example of understanding how the other half ticks. Managers get to have feelings, feel disappointment, question their actions, get irritated with employees, and wonder what the hell they’re going to do. This happens every day inside every manager’s head. The good ones don’t show any of it, but be assured all of these things are going on.

            Yes, this manager spent a lot of time on their own situation, feelings, and questions in the letter because that is what they are trying to figure out.

            I think the OP is asking (themselves) the right questions. And my answer would be sure ask the employee. I always ask a general type question with a resignation along the lines of “Oh, mind me asking where you are moving on to?” In a healthy manager/employee relationship you’ll generally get an answer that gives you hints about the reason someone is leaving.

            The OP is looking for a bit of a deeper answer, and I think it is ok to ask, but be prepared for the departing employee to not tell you the truth. There is a lot of dynamics at play in a manager/report relationship.

        3. tamarack and fireweed*

          Um. Telling beforehand: *N0* manager is safe, with very very narrow exception. Telling once the decision is firm: There’s nothing that makes the LW any less safe than an experienced manager.

          Experience and lack of confidence don’t go into the “safe to tell” calculus directly at all.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        I guess because people don’t like to hurt others so if the employee realises the manager might start questioning her skills if they say anything bad about the company, they probably won’t want to do so. I don’t think the manager is doing anything wrong, but I can see an employee not wanting to hurt them if they realise they might take criticism personally.

        1. Lydia*

          But there’s no indication of that. All I see is the OP being surprised because their staff member had never expressed any concerns to the OP. Not that it’s strange at all because people leave for all sorts of reasons, but this is the mildest letter we’ve seen in ages and people seem to want to insert a lot of drama between the lines.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            Yeah, I don’t think there’s any indication of drama here or that the OP has done anything wrong. The OP sounds like a perfectly reasonable, perhaps slightly overly-consciencious person.

        2. Humble Schoolmarm*

          I agree. My current manager (principal) really wants to make everyone happy, with the predictable result that everyone ends up vaguely unsatisfied. It’s a trait I take into account when perusing job postings, because it can be pretty frustrating. On the other hand, I’m certainly not about to tell my manager that her efforts to be nice are causing enough problems that I’m exploring other options. The chances that would result in the change I’m looking for are next to nil and I would hurt the feelings of a legitimately nice person who is trying hard to do right by everyone.

    4. Bagpuss*

      There is a huge difference between ‘ thinking of leaving’ and ‘has given notice’.
      There are lots of reasons why it isn’t normally a good idea (from the employees persective) to let their employer know they are thinking of leaving, but there’s nothing unsual or inappropriate in anmanager asking someone once they have given notice, if they are willing to say why.

      As a amanger, obviously you need to be aware that the employee may not give you all of the reaons, or the genuine reason, particuarlly if it was in any way related to your own management skills, but it’s not unreaonable to ask.
      Even if it is something to do with pay or conditions it may be something that the manager can change or can talk to their own managers about changing .

      An example:
      A few years ago one of our best admins gave notice. We had a friendly chat and asked whether she was willing to say why. It was due to her partner having a new job, which menat they were moving, and she was concerned about the commute and that she would struggle to get in on time (her new route would force her to go via a notorious local bottleneck)
      We made clear that we respected her decison either way , but would be very sorry to lose her and asked whether she would be interested in staying, to see whether the commute working in practive and with flexible hours so she could start earlier or later. She agreed, and she’s still with us and is still one of her best employees.

      As well as meaning that we got to retian a valued employee, it also prompted us to tweak the annual update we circulate, to include more information about the options and process for requesting flexible working or other changes, as while it’s information which is covered when someone starts, and is available in the office manula, it didn’t appear to be something she’d thought about.

      (And at the other extreme, also once had someone who when we asked if they were happy to share their reasonaing came back with a very detailed and almost entirely inaccurate rant with a bunch of quite bizarre claims, which at least meant that we could be fairly confident that there wasn’t an issue with their manager or coworkers etc!)

    5. JSPA*

      That’s very all-or-none thinking. OP is thinking of this as something like an exit interview, which is something entirely normal to invite someone to do.

      Wanting to make sure that there’s no glaring unfixed problem is good management. Doing it based on the most informed feedback from someone whose paycheck you no longer will influence is far more valuable than bringing in a random consultant.

      If this were not covid era, and if they were in person, OP could ask to buy them a nice coffee and a danish, and ask to chat about their impressions of the department. With someone remote, there’s really no equivalent.

    6. CoveredinBees*

      Woah. What?

      Firstly, the OP isn’t expecting to be told that the employee had been looking for other jobs but that the employee never expressed dissatisfaction with the role, pay, colleagues, etc. There are people who do so when that person leaves, it isn’t a surprise. Maybe they try to negotiate a raise or to transfer to another team. Their performance slips and they shrug off attempts to help. Or they walk around visibly miserable.

      Secondly, a manager who asks, “Could I have done something differently?” is someone far more likely able to take in the information if there was. The person who assumes they do no wrong is someone not open to hearing otherwise or to changing their behavior. Doing exit interviews of this type, as Alison noted, is extremely common.

    7. Snow Globe*

      I’ve frequently seen references to studies that show that the most common reason people have for leaving a job is the manager. There are, of course, many other possibilities, but it isn’t unreasonable for the OP to wonder if the reason for the departure is related to their management or to some policies that they could change. That actually shows that they are a conscientious manager (the real jerks never seem to realize it *is* about them). The OP is not trying to change their employee’s mind, just wanting some information in case there is room for improvement.

    8. Today’s LW1*

      LW1 here! It’s not that I expected to be told she was looking – I definitely would not expect anyone to tell me they’re thinking of leaving! – but rather than I didn’t get any sense she was unhappy. And like I said, she was about to get a raise and a promotion, so I’m worried that it might be a culture issue or something else going on (she is a POC and we are in a field that is traditionally white male dominated).

      If she simply got a better offer or it’s something I can’t do anything about, then I completely understand, that’s just what happens. But if it’s something I could have improved for her or can improve for the rest of the team, I would like to know that.

      I will be taking Alison’s advice so if she’s comfortable talking about it, I will hopefully know soon.

      1. Sara without an H*

        That’s the best attitude to take. The fact that she’s leaving doesn’t necessarily reflect on you as a manager. I’ve had people leave to go to graduate school, to follow a spouse or partner who was relocating, to spend more time with their children, or just to pursue something different.

        So see if she’s willing to do an exit interview and, if she is, ask her if there’s anything you could have done better or differently. If your relationship is otherwise good, she’ll may be willing to give you some useful feedback.

      2. JTP*

        LW1 — it sounds like the raise/promotion JUST happened? Hiring processes take a LOT longer than that. It’s possible she was looking before she was told about the raise/promotion.

      3. Observer*

        I will be taking Alison’s advice so if she’s comfortable talking about it, I will hopefully know soon.

        Good idea.

        Keep two things in mind: If she’s willing to talk, try to find out about even things you think you can’t do anything about. Because, there actually might be something you can do, either now or in the future. Also, if you find out something significant that has the potential to affect retention, it’s something to keep in mind, even if you cannot change that thing.

        Like, if the location is a problem, you can’t change that. But it’s worthwhile to know that this is going to affect who you can hire and retain. And maybe you could talk to your employer about ways to ameliorate the problem. Now, in your case, it’s HIGHLY unlikely that location is the problem, as you are all remote. But the same would apply if the issue were benefits, wonky advancement opportunities, or poor movement on the DEI front.

        If she doesn’t give you much of an answer, you might want to ask her if the latter is part of the issue. Even if she doesn’t want to discuss it, if she confirms that this is an issue, take it on board. You say that she’s a POC in a white male dominated industry, so that really is something you need to be conscious or. But – and this is important! – When I say “take this on board” I do NOT mean that you should ask her to tell you how to fix the problem! What I DO mean is to see if you can loop in your upper management and / or reach out to resources who actually help companies navigate this to get some real results.

      4. NotAnotherManager!*

        There are also other ways to ask the question – our exit interviews are done by a neutral party, and the best responses we get are to questions like, “Is there anything the organization could have done to keep you?”, “Are there any changes you would make to improve the job for your successor?”, “What factors caused you to seek out other opportunties?” and, “Were there any resources that you could have used to make your job easier/better/etc.?”.

        I find that “Why are you leaving?” (especially if you don’t get the tone just right) tends to come off as questioning people’s decisions and defensive, but, with the right framing, tone, and relationship, it can be a good question as well.

      5. OyHiOh*

        LW1, I started looking, very casually, because I was mildly unhappy with my payscale, because there were changes in my duties that left me doing significantly less of the work I’m particularly good at, and because I needed opportunities to grow and develop that I wasn’t going to get in my current organization.

        I’m an anomaly, in that I didn’t leave a bad manager. But in other respects, my decision to start looking (and to take a really good offer when it was handed to me) were pretty much par for the course: Pay issues, shifting job duties, and job development.

    9. Glomarization, Esq.*

      I disagree that your first point is universal across industries, managers, and employees. Many workplaces are not as adversarial or as close to layoffs as your comment seems to paint them.

      I also disagree with your second point. The LW comes across to me not as someone who’s made the employee’s departure about them, but rather as someone who’s genuinely reflecting on the situation and seeks to know if they’ve made a mis-step or could do better next time.

      I think both of your positions are uncharitable, bordering on extreme, and not necessarily grounded in all workplace scenarios nor in the facts as presented in the letter.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Agreed. I almost always know when my employees are looking, my company is very supportive about people moving on to their next opportunity if that’s what they choose, and we’re well-positioned in our field to assist with that process. There’s a world of nuance in employee-employer relations and this absolutist thinking is just not helpful.

        1. bamcheeks*

          hm– I think there’s a distinction to be made here between “you should never ever tell your manager that you’re looking for a new job” (which I agree is absolutist, and isn’t advice I’ve followed in the past), and “as a manager, you should know if your employees are looking for other work”.

          You can have a really positive, supportive, developmental culture where you’ve helped 8 out of 10 of your team get better jobs elsewhere and been vocally thrilled for them, but the other two don’t tell you they’re looking until the day they hand in their notice, and that’s OK. Maybe they’re just not the kind of people who like to talk about that stuff! Maybe it’s actually for a kind of upsetting reason like a family illness or difficulty, and they don’t want to think about it at work! Maybe they appreciate you as a manager but don’t feel like confiding in you! Maybe they weren’t looking and firmly told the recruiter to go away but they got talked around! You don’t have to be in an adversarial environment for people to choose to keep that information private.

          (LW has clarified below that they didn’t expect to be told their employee was looking, but that was definitely the vibe I got from the letter, so I don’t think it’s unfair of Fikly to have responded to that.)

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I totally agree! I think in most cases over my career where I haven’t been told, I’ve known. I’ve either known an employee wasn’t in their long term fit, or I’ve known they were unhappy, or I’ve gotten vibes that there was some kind of withdrawal…I think if I was honestly taken aback (which I don’t think any manager should be, and OP should reframe their thinking to understand anyone can leave at anytime and it’s just a reality of work) I would also want to self reflect on what signs I missed. So I get where OP is coming from, I think they just need to pull out of the shock and reorient their mindset.

        2. ferrina*

          Me too. I’ve always known when an employee is a flight risk (and usually rooting for them, because I’m rooting for their career). I’ve never been blind-sided by a resignation, even though most of my employees don’t tell me that they are actively looking.
          But it will be different for each employee and manager.

    10. RuralGirl*

      I find this to be an overreaction. It’s totally normal for a manager to assume they would be able to tell someone wanted to leave. It’s also normal that they can’t. Neither of those things are concerning. Wanting to know why your employee is leaving is also incredibly normal – it does not indicate anything negative about the letter writer. It seems clear to me that this person wants to create an environment their employees are happy to be a part of, as this person is, and they’re wondering if they can improve. It’s good that Allison is encouraging them not to be overbearing about it, but asking why someone is leaving is not only human nature, it’s also very standard practice.

    11. Rolly*

      “As a manager, you should never, ever know that someone you manage is thinking about leaving. ”

      Where i work it is common for plenty of people to know someone is thinking of leaving to go to grad school or more countries/cities months in advance. It’s no big deal.

      “solid sign right there that you aren’t someone who is safe to be told”
      No. The OP is doing nothing wrong by wanting to know about this – their objective is to be a better manager. That’s good.

      1. Rolly*

        Adding – as a manager it’s also worth assuming people are thinking about leaving. It’s normal in life for people to do so.

    12. Liz the Snackbrarian*

      I had a manager who knew a colleague of mine was looking months in advance because my colleague was in the process of moving cross country. It’s obviously a different situation but it definitely happens!

    13. Northland*

      The LW is relatively new to management and it makes sense to question why someone may leave. After several years I know it doesn’t always have to do with something I’ve done, but it can take a while to get there.
      This response just seems really strong and kind of overreacting. It’s fine to want to find out why people leave – that’s why exit interviews exist. Some people don’t want to share, but if there it can be helpful for a manager to know certain things.

    14. Maggie*

      There’s a decent chance it IS about them. Many many people quit to due to management. Maybe OP wants to know if there’s something she’s doing wrong?

      1. L'étrangere*

        Sure, management is the primary cause of someone leaving. But if that’s the case, they’re the last people you’d tell that to. Partly because it’s very likely you have expressed your concerns repeatedly before and been ignored/have had it denied. Partly because enough managers get resentful that you want to be careful about burning your bridges entirely

    15. NotAnotherManager!*

      Nope, I totally disagree that, as a manager, you should hever know that someone is thinking about leaving. They may not say those words to you, but a good manager learns the signs and creates an environment where people can discuss their professional needs/wants.

      I’ve been managing for well over a decade now, and, when people come to you and ask for something different – salary, policy, professional growth, whatever – those are all signs they’re not fully content. There are people who like the company but not their current role/boss who will express interest in different positions. There are people who will ask for raises or make a case that their pay is under market. There are people who seem to hate everything about the organization, their coworkers, their boss, their job, and their pay. All of these people are likely looking to make some sort of move, possibly out of your organization, even if they do not say, “I’m looking for another job” explicitly.

      I have finally landed at a place where people generally want to stay and feel comfortable with their supervisors, which means we get a lot of good feedback BEFORE people walk out the door. This isn’t typical (and AAM always makes me appreciate what I’ve got on the tougher days). But some people still surprise quit and sometimes it’s a reflection of their dissatisfaction with their job and sometimes they just got an incredible offer they couldn’t pass up.

      And some people are aggressively recruited, especially in this market. My very best manager was pursued by another organization, and reached out because they love the company, their job, and their coworkers, but a $30K raise is hard to pass up. We matched the offer, and they stayed. It would have cost us that much in recruiting fees to replace them.

    16. fhqwhgads*

      I don’t think LW1 thought they should know the person was thinking of leaving. I thought the crux was really that they didn’t know the person was in any way frustrated or wanting change etc. Now, they can leave without either of those things. But, for example, if someone had been advocating for a particular change in process or something and it either dragged out or got no traction, you’d not be surprised if/when they leave. But if someone genuinely seemed hunky dory about EVERYTHING, that’s more surprising absent other reasons for leaving like moving, or great op fell in lap, or switching industries or whatever. That’s how I took LW1’s position in the letter: to mean they weren’t aware of the leaving exployee having any kind of gripe about work at all, and they’re worried they’re missing something on that front.

  2. lazuli*

    OP2: I’m a therapist. If the therapist is seeing both the employee and the manager, and if either one of you is talking about work really at all, it’s a conflict of interest for the therapist and she should really be referring one of you to someone else, unless you live in such a small town that there aren’t really any other therapists. It’s tricky, of course, because she can’t actually say why she’d need to do that, but you should ABSOLUTELY bring it up with the therapist. It’s less about “working through it” than about recognizing there may be a non-negotiable issue here and kind of forcing it a bit. Neither you nor your manager should have to worry about it when you’re in therapy, and it’s not fair for the therapist to be leaving you in that spot once she knows about it. (Again, unless there’s some hugely unavoidable conflicting ethical issue, like one of you is in crisis and isn’t stable enough to change providers or there aren’t any other local providers for either of you.)

    1. allathian*

      It really depends on the situation, and on the relationship with your therapist. Also, if you’re seeing someone through your company EAP, you may not have much choice in who you’re seeing. When I was on the brink of burnout a few years ago, I saw a therapist through my company EAP, and I knew for a fact that my then-manager, who through her actions contributed to my near-burnout, was seeing the same therapist, because one day she walked out of the therapist’s office when I was sitting in the waiting room. I felt that this was irrelevant, because while the therapist knew that we worked for the same employer, she didn’t know who my manager was.

    2. allathian*

      When I was on the brink of burnout a few years ago, I saw a therapist through my company EAP. When I went in for one session, I saw my then-manager walking out of the therapist’s office just as I went into the waiting room. There was no conflict of interest, because while the therapist knew that we worked for the same employer, they didn’t know about our manager-employee relationship.

      1. anonymouse*

        “Conflict of interest” might not be the best way to describe your situation, but it’s definitely problematic from a confidentiality standpoint. If your manager was a reasonable person, they would pretend they never saw you in the waiting room and it wouldn’t come up again. As many letters on this website show, a lot of managers are not reasonable. They might feel insecure about the fact that their employee is in therapy which could impact how they treat the employee. It might impact their perception of the employee’s behavior even on an unconscious level. There’s also the likelihood of the therapist figuring out that their patient manages their other patient manager solely based on details each have shared (for example, both talking about how stressed they are about a specific project and it becomes clear that patient A is managing patient B). Finally, from the standpoint of both the patients, it might impact what they feel comfortable with disclosing in therapy. The patients might not even be conscious of the felt that they are censoring themselves.

        It sounds like you were totally okay with the fact that your therapist worked with you and your boss, but a lot of people wouldn’t be. If a therapist knows that they have two patients from the same workplace, at the very least they should avoid scheduling them back to back.

    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Also a therapist!

      Randomly, this situation happened to a former colleague of mine — she was seeing two people who were related! But she didn’t actually realise it…they weren’t not closely related and they didn’t share a name (maybe cousins or in-laws, I think?) and the topics they were bringing didn’t dovetail in a way that allowed her to put together the pieces. But they figured it out themselves at some point and let her know. I think they ended up all proceeding. Rural town, so not a ton of options.

      Anyways, it is possible that this is happening but the therapist doesn’t know. I suppose it would depend on the sort of work details that OP and her boss were sharing.

      But definitely talk to your therapist, OP! They should absolutely be willing and able to work through those concerns.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This is my thought too. I’ve never told my therapist the name of my company, or really used names for coworkers. I can imagine having the same therapist as my boss and no one connecting the dots. I’m having trouble deciding if it would bother me, but I wouldn’t assume malicious intent on anyone’s part.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, I would imagine it is highly possible and maybe even likely that the therapist would not even know that her other patient is OP’s boss.

    4. JSPA*

      Adding, while it’s not at all appropriate for a therapist to have bad boundaries, it can happen; and if the therapist is pushing the line, then I would not mention anything about the boss, in case it goes back to the boss.

      It’s even gross if the therapist is just looking for outside confirmation RE whether the boss is effective or ineffective, loved or hated, etc so as to better gauge the boss’s perceptions vs reality. You’re paying for your session, not to be independent confirmation for your boss’s issues.

      “Work has not been a point of stress for me, so I’m finding it a bit odd that you’re bringing it up. Can I either ask you to refrain from that, or to tell me what your thinking is, if I’m missing some pattern that you feel I should be seeing?”

      On the other hand, if the therapist says, “I was wondering how you’d be equipped to handle a sudden job search” or, “given your history of X, I wondered if you’d be happy to be promoted to position Q”–as boundary-violating as that no doubt is!–I’d take that as free insight into the inner workings of your boss’s mind (while understanding that your therapist may also be sharing their read on likely work issues with your boss).

      Unless the work mentions stop (and even if they do), I would be considering finding a new therapist.

    5. Snuck*

      All of this!

      I’m not sure what the ethics training in the US is like, but there’d be some serious side eye for this in professional circles in Australia. Of course anyone can call themselves a counsellor or therapist, but if they are a qualified clinical psych (or social worker) with registration with the board then they’d definitely have a higher level of ethical training than many with lesser qualifications, and expectations are clear.

      And even if she’s the only psych for 100km, she shouldn’t be asking you about work stuff unless she thinks it relates to YOUR work there. Why not spin it back at her? Next time she asks how something at work is going say “I’m curious why you think this is important, can you help me understand that?” … it’s normal to ask about work, and it could be normal to ask about it in the context of your personal therapy (if you have issues with boundaries for example exploring whether that same issue exists at work, and how you interact, might be helpful), but it might be worth asking why they are focussing there.

    6. WellRed*

      This seems really impractical. it’s impossible to even find a therapist with availability where therapists are plentiful and in rural areas? Do they go without?

      1. Ruth*

        Yeah I live in a major metropolitan area and when I asked my EAP to look for providers who were in network and taking my insurance they came back with just 3 – and one of them had some strict eligibility requirements that meant I couldn’t work with them.

    7. doreen*

      I can see there being a conflict if the therapist is seeing both the employee and manager and either is talking about work. What I’m not clear on is how the therapist would actually know they work for the same company (as opposed to possibly simply having a place of employment on an intake form ) or that one manages the other unless either one of the clients got very specific about their manager/the employees they manage. Is it normal for therapy sessions to go into so much detail that a therapist would know not only where I work but also the full name of my manager? Because just knowing that I work at company A and my supervisor is Teresa is not going to be enough in a lot of cases to connect that to the Teresa Davis who is seeing the same therapist.

      1. Northland*

        I talk so much about my boss and the company I work for and what I do, it would be neigh impossible to not connect the dots. It’s such a big part of my therapy to talk about work, so I guess it depends what people are talking about and how long they have seen their therapist.
        Also I guess how unique the work and/or company is.

      2. metadata minion*

        My workplace is small enough that it would be pretty easy to connect the dots if both I and my manager talked enough about our specific job duties, but yeah, in a larger company the therapist may well have no idea.

        1. Velociraptor Attack*

          I previously worked for one of the largest employers in town but in a medium sized city. That said, my therapist at the time knew where I worked, what my department was, and my boss’s name. If she also treated my boss… she’d know.

          That said, I also wouldn’t have concerns about it, when I was looking for a new job, she had connections to the final two I was between in that she had worked for one and her husband for the other and I still used her to help me list the pros and cons and figure out which one to accept. Honestly, there are few enough providers in town that her connection to my current boss is a non-issue in terms of me wanting to look elsewhere.

      3. Snackbreak*

        As a therapist, unless your work is something we’ve talked about extensively, I’m not going to remember specifically what you do let alone where you work, or who you work with. I have a caseload of over 100 people, the minutiae does not stick unless it’s therapeutically significant

      4. Nina*

        My job is a huge part of my life (it’s… just that kind of industry) in the one major company in this industry in my country, and there is exactly one person with my specialty in the company. I’m not saying OP is in this situation, but there really are jobs that are so specialized that the one-sentence ‘I work as a Y’ is enough to pinpoint not only you, but your probable connection to any other given person in your company.

    8. Lauren*

      I think the best way to approach this is that OP and the boss need to know you share a therapist. Then you can each decide if continuing makes sense. Talk to the therapist first – she may confirm it or say I can’t talk about that. That is your clue to say – ok, I will confirm with my boss and we can each decide if we are ok with it. Then you tell your boss that you saw the name and it’s your therapist. “I’ve been seeing the doc for non-work stuff for years and it doesn’t bother me if you see her too – but I wanted to tell you in case you might not want to see the same person as me.” You are adults in therapy. Therapy is normal and fine. This isn’t some major thing, but yeah be honest that you barely even mention work – but your therapist keeps asking you about it. Meaning the therapist may be having trouble not influencing each others therapy.

      1. Migraine Month*

        Ooh, I wouldn’t go down this route.

        If the therapist were to confirm that she’s also seeing the boss, that would be a huge violation of privacy and she would probably lose her license. If the therapist works in the US, that would also violate federal HIPAA regulations, and those regulations have teeth.

        I wouldn’t bring the boss in either. The LW shouldn’t have to disclose any medical information unless she’s requesting accommodation, and they shouldn’t try to get their boss to disclose medical information either. This is, unfortunately, particularly true for any mental health issues; there’s just too much risk of it being handled badly and impacting project assignments and promotions.

        Besides, this isn’t really about the boss at all; this is about LW’s relationship with their therapist. LW should really talk to the therapist about their concerns or find a new therapist.

      2. anonymouse*

        I totally disagree with the suggestion of bringing it up to the boss. In an ideal world, therapy is normalized and treated just like any other healthcare matter, but that just isn’t the case (especially in the context of work). I think if the employee went to the boss and said “I found out we have the same therapist. Let’s talk about how to handle this”, the boss would probably be pretty uncomfortable right off the bat and wonder how the LW found out. Their mental healthcare is also a private matter. Normalizing mental healthcare doesn’t mean that people should feel comfortable sharing that they’re in therapy to their employer– boundaries are still an important thing. If the LW feels uncomfortable with the fact that they potentially see the same therapist, I am guessing they will not want to talk about it with the boss directly. The fundamental issue is the LW’s privacy and ability to receive mental healthcare without worrying about confidentiality so bringing it up to the boss directly would defeat the purpose.

        1. Velociraptor Attack*

          I agree with this. Especially since based on the letter, these appointments are currently private on the boss’s calendar. I would feel very uncomfortable in boss’s shoes about why LW has been tracking this on my calendar and for how long.

        2. Lauren*

          I took it as LW was more annoyed that the therapist is blurring the lines and making the bosses therapy about her own when she doesn’t mention work much in the sessions. It didn’t seem like LW was concerned about sharing a therapist, but yes the boss will probably be freaked out. Honestly, the boss is probably discussing work and the therapist may think the bosses stressors are true for LW and again blurring the lines. I would want to know if my therapist couldn’t separate the two and be able to decide if I should continue with them or not. That is why I was thinking it may be ok to bring it up to the boss, if LW feels comfortable doing that.

      3. Always a Corncob*

        Oof I would NOT do this. First of all, therapy is normal but that doesn’t mean you should be telling your boss about it, unless there’s a work-related need. Too high a risk it will have professional repercussions for you. Second of all, the boss is going to ask why LW thinks they have the same therapist, and LW’s answer is going to make her seem nosy (at best) and will likely make the boss very uncomfortable. And then what? The boss can say “I’m not in therapy” and LW has no way of knowing whether that’s true or not, so she’s back at square one but now she’s strained the relationship with her boss.

    9. tamarack and fireweed*

      I appreciate input from an actual therapist, so don’t take me wrong, but I also think that the “no other [suitable] local providers” situation is frequent enough that we shouldn’t assume this is easily possible.

      In my observation there’s a fair bit of what I privately call major metro area bias going on here. And I understand – I used to live for 15 years in European capitals with metro areas north of 10 million people. The problem there was more of the order of anonymity! Any kind of personal friction – oh, just change jobs, therapists, orthopedic surgeon, music teachers, yoga studios etc.

      Now I live in a college town in the 50-100k bracket, and if I find one of each of these that I’m happy with, I count myself fortunate. I’d be absolutely miffed to be fired by my therapist on their initiative just because my boss goes there too. (Also, why me and not my boss? ) I’m also not really clear what the conflict of interest is for the therapist – they just have to maintain confidentiality. I’m seeing a lot of situations locally where in the big city people would switch, but we don’t – but are aware of the potential for messy situations and therefore lean hard on professionalism.

      I *do* see what the discomfort is for the LW of course, and think that if they *want* a referral, they should absolutely ask the therapist for one, or a managed transition to someone else.

    10. ACM*

      Trying to run through possible scenarios in my head and my best-case scenario is “Both OP2 and the manager have mentioned they work at Company, boss may have mentioned a stressful or negative work environment in some way (for boss) and the therapist is checking to make sure that isn’t affecting OP2.”

  3. anon for this*

    Something much like 3 happened to me as well, many years ago. It was an experience which I was very privileged to have got, but the sabbatical location suited me rather poorly, and it ended up being a negative experience. I would have done better to have remained behind, or to have returned earlier than expected, but I kept wrongly assuming that things would soon improve, or that I merely needed to adjust my attitude (neither of these was correct in the end). I returned on schedule, unpacked the boxes, and resumed my previous routines. I wanted to pretend that the intervening months had never occurred, and that was an illusion easy to sustain – until the next time when someone eagerly questioned me about my exotic extended vacation! I second the advice provided here: I learned to say that the trip had brought its fair share of challenges but that I was thrilled to be back. Most of the other people followed me along that track of positivity and focused on catching me up on the happenings that I had missed. Fortunately, the questioning fizzled out on its own before long.

    1. Jackalope*

      I would second (or third?) the idea here and what Alison said. If you can come up with 2-4 positive (or at least neutral) stories about your time in the other country, then that’s potentially enough. People like hearing exotic stories but they aren’t going to want to talk about it for too long. If they are being pushy about their enthusiasm, you can also add a comment like, “It was a great opportunity, but I found myself unexpectedly homesick and I’m glad to be back,” or something like that. You don’t have to say that you hated it, but people understand homesickness in a way that they might not get some of the other issues.

      1. Smithy*

        I heartily agree having a few positive “amazing experience” stories that are super short, particularly for work. It sounds like the OP’s job was really accommodating for this period. Having a story or line like “you know, the tomatoes/sunsets/fruit juice/whatever was absolutely incredible – so glad to have had that experience with my family” as a professional nicety similar to “what did you do over the holiday weekend” can just be used as a professional balm. A social nicety way to say thank you at work, there might be a photo or two you toss on a teams chat, and that really will be it.

        Coworkers where you might actually have a relationship, there may be opportunity to be a bit more personal – but for the general coworker who knew you were granted this opportunity and thinks that’s neat, fills up their coffee cup and then goes back to their desk…give yourself those easy to recycle stories. As others have said, those who have lived abroad more extensively are usually far more understanding that it’s not for everyone and have their own stories of openly sobbing in the bank/visa office/train station (I could go on just talking about myself…..).

        Because it all feels bad now and likely isn’t ending super soon, I imagine right there’s some anxiety about the return. But I’d just treat this like an ice breaking exercise you’re told about kicking off a work retreat where you need to prepare to share three things about you. Have an activity, a food, and a place you can talk about. That really should take care of most general coworkers and family members.

      2. Homesick Mockingbird*

        I lived in Abu Dhabi, UAE for almost two years, from Sept 2000 thru April 2002. I got frequent questions about living there, but probably because it was the Middle East and not London. Some people were more enthusiastic than others. For those who inquired, my first reply was, “I learned a lot, but I suffered from culture shock almost the entire time.” If people inquired further, then I’d gush about the things I liked, such as not waiting in line at the post office or the bank because I am a woman, and contrast it with jarring experiences like the Afghani taxi driver who told me my country dropped a bomb on his house. Mostly, I cleared up misconceptions about the people there, especially around how women are treated.

    2. NotARacoonKeeper*

      I would even go further to suggest that people care much less about your experience than you might expect. I agree about having a go-to phrase and a story, but I bet you won’t need more than two. People just aren’t that interested in other people, imo (at least at work!)

      1. Mockingjay*

        This. We lived abroad for nearly a decade. When getting ready to move back (hubby was in government service), we attended a relocation seminar. The moderator was very blunt about other people’s curiosity ‘back home’: “No one is going to care or want to know about your European experiences.”

        He was right. I got a few generic questions, but that was all. OP, prep a couple innocuous remarks. That should do it.

      2. Antilles*

        Agreed.
        In my experience, your co-workers don’t really want a long breakdown of the trip. The discussion of your trip to another continent might be slightly longer than the usual typical Monday morning “how was your weekend, fine and yours” chat – but “slightly” is the key word there.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Ha I wish we could give *everybody* (including people for whom travel was amazing and lifechanging) the advice to select a few choice short anecdotes and stick to those unless really pressed for more!

          1. JayemGriffin*

            ah yes, the NPC approach

            (I am *very* happy to be an NPC at work. Press A for Weekend Anecdote, press B for Optional Side Quest involving taking [Form] to [Department], press Y to Request Favor, press X to exit.)

      3. Koalafied*

        This! People will ask about it because travel is some of the best small talk fodder around, but they’re not really dying to hear the stories in most cases – they’re just seizing upon a convenient topic to fill those 2-3 minutes of warm social banter at the start of meetings or when you greet someone who you haven’t seen in a while, those interactions that lubricate social relationships. Their primary interest is really in communicating, “I recognize you are a human and not a colleague-bot, so I’m demonstrating polite interest in your life outside of work.”

        It’s very rare that someone is actually so fascinated with e.g. some aspect of Spanish culture that they’ll genuinely pump someone recently back from Spain for information. I think this is even more true than ever in the age of the internet, where people with niche interests in other cultures can find tons of information and talk to people about it online instead of needing to interrogate a random coworker.

    3. Well...*

      There are probably a few cool, touristy things to see. I’d make the trip to see them, and then you have a conversation touchstone (the Taj Mahal was so beautiful, Sagrada Familia was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, etc etc).

      I’ve lived abroad for the last five years in two different countries, and yes, with the language barrier things can be hard (try moving to a new country with no family or friends in the summer of 2020!) I had a super positive experience overall, and it was good for my career, but you always feel like you haven’t done enough to take advantage of the opportunity, and it’s exhausting to have lost all this basic knowledge about life (walking around in circles through grocery stores bc you just don’t know where things are is particularly aggravating). And I moved to pretty easy places, with a network of coworkers who also have to move around a lot and get it.

      Settling into a living somewhere is definitely very different than a vacation, so people who act like it’s the same thing are like people who say “just learn the language!” They are not accounting for the exponential increase in difficulty from doing something casually for a few days to needing to do something all the time in order to live your life.

      1. My Useless 2 Cents*

        I was leaning toward a similar approach. If your abroad experience is in any kind of touristy place, have a few attractions or restaurants at hand to recommend. “We had the most incredible Z at this little restaurant in ABC.” or “If you ever get the chance to go to X, I definitely recommend the Y Museum. It was incredible!” Tales you might bring back from a week long vacation. That’s probably all they are looking for anyway.

        For the few that might actually want to know what months abroad would be like a simple, “It was quite an experience, but I’m glad to be home. I learned I don’t like being away from family longer than N weeks.” (said in a jovial way like you’re letting them in on an inside joke). Then stick to the touristy recommendations.

    4. Cold and Tired*

      People asking about your trip will mostly fall into two buckets: those who just want a fun vacation esque story, and those who have lived abroad and get that actual life in another country has a lot of ups and downs and isn’t always a positive experience for everyone. I’ve lived overseas in both English and non English speaking locations which came with different challenges, but I always had a few canned stories to share with casual acquaintances that usually focused on the touristy type stuff to satisfy the vacation story audience. For the expat audience, they’re usually more willing to hear about the bad (or avoid the topic) which is always nice.

      Also, don’t feel bad about not liking living abroad! Not every country is a good fit for everyone, and thats ok. People who haven’t lived abroad in a non English speaking country don’t usually get how hard everyday life can be, because it’s not a vacation – it’s literally just everyday life but with a lot of the basics you used to take for granted changed. I lived in Japan for a while, and even with some language skills I still really struggled to grocery shop for new items, handle new bills, etc because I couldn’t even read half of what I was seeing. I loved it overall, but some days were just really bad and I could see why people might hate it. I always tell people that you get all the ups and downs of normal life when living abroad, but both the highs and lows are supercharged and hit much harder.

      1. Green great dragon*

        If you want something closer to how you’re feeling, you can also try ‘it wasn’t really for me, but it was interesting to try/really glad to be able to [thing you like about home] again/[one thing you liked about abroad]. As long as you end with something vaguely positive and give the conversation somewhere to go (which could be back to work matters or your coworker’s life) you don’t have to pretend if you’d rather not.

      2. birch*

        This. For academics, going on a research trip abroad is both an opportunity and a necessity to further your career. So much funding and professional development explicitly relies on “mobility”–having to choose between uprooting your family or being away from them for months on end, and potentially not having a job in a year or so because you can’t progress in your job because you can’t take research trips…that’s one of the worst parts of academia and puts unfair challenges on families and people who are not able to take advantage of these “opportunities.” People who have never had to make that decision don’t understand that moving to another country is INCREDIBLY stressful and it can be terrible on “trailing spouses” and children who don’t have community in the new place. Not to mention the salary of an academic is such that these moves put a ton of strain on budgets. “People who haven’t lived abroad in a non English speaking country don’t usually get how hard everyday life can be, because it’s not a vacation – it’s literally just everyday life but with a lot of the basics you used to take for granted changed.” I have used those same words myself. My family came to visit me once and my brother had a breakdown in a grocery store because he couldn’t figure out how to buy sandwich ingredients. Welcome to my life, I’m lucky to have found a place I do call my new home, but it’s still not a vacation.

        For OP, honestly I think it’s OK to tell the truth to the people who think you’re on vacation and that everything is rainbows and puppies! “Actually it’s been really hard! People don’t realize how hard it is to move to another country and I don’t think it’s for me. I haven’t really been able to fit into the local culture and I miss my friends. I’m really looking forward to getting home.” I like to have some “wild and wacky” type stories in my back pocket too, that subtly show how difficult it is while also making people laugh. If you feel like it, you can throw in some stories about things you like about the new area, or change the subject if you just don’t want to engage with the other person, but don’t feel like you have to engage in fake positivity. It’s not your job to manage others’ emotions if they make assumptions about how YOU feel about your life experiences!

        1. bamcheeks*

          I completely agree with this, and OP, I get why you feel you have to perform “I recognise how privilege I am grateful blah blah blah” and maybe you do have to do that a bit in some of your conversations, but I hope you can mentally relieve yourself of the necessity! Moving to a new country as a trailing spouse is bloody hard and isolating, as is full-time childcare, and I hope internally and within your relationship and with some close family or friends you have the opportunity to go, “actually, it was incredibly hard, it *wasn’t* a privilege, and if Spouse ever wants to do something like that again I’m going to need lots of things to be different and some major payback.”

          (Interestingly, it seems to be thought of a a Massive Privilege when you’re in an academic or professional role, but recognise as a hardship which needs significant support when you’re in the military? I don’t know why, I just feel like military spouses get a lot more, “gosh, that’s tough, how did you cope?” and academic spouses get a lot more, “Oh wow, how amazing, aren’t you the lucky one!”)

          1. alienor*

            I’m guessing it’s not seen as a privilege for military spouses because people assume they’re not being paid well and are probably living on a dreary military base, whereas they imagine academics and professionals leading a more luxurious lifestyle (maybe true for high-powered executives, but probably not for academics), taking fun trips in the new country, etc.

          2. Office Lobster DJ*

            Re: feeling the need to performing gratefulness, I did wonder if there’s something about LW’s work circumstance that could be making this particularly stressful. For example, if it was a Huge Thing to get this leave approved, with some colleagues left feeling a little jealous or higher-ups who had to spend a lot of capital. If that’s the case, LW, I hope you can let go of all that and remember it was a business decision, not a personal favor.

        2. CoveredinBees*

          I remember having multiple breakdowns in the grocery store because of the way you bought produce (prebagged, regardless of the amount your single self might actually want) and checkout. You had to bring all your own bags (well before this became an idea in the US) as well as simultaneously unload groceries, put them in your bags while the cashier threw them at you with lightening speed, pay, and answer whatever questions the cashier might ask. All while other people stared at you for moving slowly. I started going to grocers in the local immigrant community, despite not speaking their language at all, and it stopped being stressful.

          1. bamcheeks*

            Supermarkets/ grocery stores in another country are *so* stressful, I was just thinking this on holiday. It’s not just different conventions around queuing/paying/packing, it’s also the sensory overload of being surrounded by so many products and not being able to recognise things at a distance by the colour and style of the packaging and brand, and having to go and look at each thin go individually instead of a general, “ahh, that’s the beans and soup, we can ignore that bit, now, where’s the weetabix”.

      3. Jackalope*

        I moved overseas right after college and lived abroad for a few years. I’ve had the reverse issue; even after a long time back in my native country I sometimes still struggle because my first chance at independent adulting (as opposed to living on a college campus) was in another country. Sometimes I’ll still think, “You know, I wish I was in Other Country right now; I actually know how to do this there!”

        1. bamcheeks*

          I first used Windows PCs as a 19yo in Germany, and even though I haven’t lived in Germany for nearly twenty years now, whenever things go wrong my first thought is still, “ugh, ausschalten wieder einschalten.”

    5. MK*

      I think it would help if the OP reframed this in their own mind. I was thrown off by the title, because I wouldn’t describe stopping work and having to live in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language while being a stay-at-home parent as an “awesome opportunity” exactly. It’s an unusual experience that many people would love, but it’s not like you got a huge promotion or won the lottery, something that will make a difference in your life. I am guessing the location is somewhere many people dream of going, and that’s why the OP assumes people will expect enthusiasm; if so, lean into the “living somewhere is a very different experience than going on a trip there” concept.

      1. münchner kindl*

        Having a special opportunity is of course never a guarantee that it will work out.

        An experience just means that you learned something directly, not that it’s positive.

        Hundred thousands of people learn in the past 2 years that Working from Home is not for them, for various reasons from logistics (I don’t have a good table, chair and high-speed internet at home) to personal (I want to walk over to chat with my colleague and zoom / chat tool is not the same).

        OP, you tried out, now you know that living abroad either is not for you at all; or that if it comes up, you need far more preparation beforehand. That’s important to know.

      2. Allonge*

        Most reasonable people should be able to relate to the fact that staying home with / caring for a small child (already for many an experience in being closed off from adult society) in a country where you have no friends and have a language barrier to work against is not all fun and games.

        Which is to say: OP, please indeed don’t feel bad about not enjoying this! And for closer colleagues, it’s also ok to say, sure, it was nice but it was mostly stuck at home.

        1. Ampersand*

          My thought, too. LW’s experience sounds difficult, not vacation-esque. I think anyone who has even some understanding that taking care of a kid is work + living in a place where you don’t speak the language is challenging, will get that this wasn’t a magical experience.

    6. Nethwen*

      I’ve been in a similar position to #3. I usually went with something like, “It was a lot. I’m glad to be back,” accompanied by a thoughtful, slightly pained expression, and then changing the subject.

      Depending on the context, I might show a photo or two of a point of interest that I could be more upbeat about and that seemed to satisfy most people. I also had one or two things that I truly could be positive about. For example, I’m a tea drinker and the tea where I went was fantastic compared to what’s common in the USA. So I raved about the tea. I was fortunate enough not to have anyone probe, but I did have a few stories, like talking about the tea, at the ready, just in case.

      Also, I’m part of a travel group and I was able to work through some of my experiences in chats there. It was surprising to me how many avid travelers have really miserable experiences when the travel is related to work or family. Hearing others’ stories helped me feel validated and less like there was something wrong with me for not having the time of my life in this supposedly incredible experience (that I really wanted to enjoy; it just didn’t turn out that way).

  4. Catherine*

    For #4, I think this is also highly dependent on whether you use a company account or a personal one. Because my ex-manager did not speak our local language and booking his personal leisure travel was outside my actual scope of work, I made his bookings using my personal “Expedia” (similar service but not really) and kept the reward points as compensation for doing him the favor. If he was doing travel (even personal) using the corporate account on our preferred third-party booking service, neither of us would be considered entitled to those points.

    1. kittycontractor*

      Yeah, not quite the same, I frequently booked travel under my personal accounts (business ones were not allowed and most of the people did not have those accounts and did not want them) because 1. I was booking multiple people, at times up to 10, for travel and any changes (of which there were ALWAYS some) were easier to do that way and 2. I was paying for everything ahead of time with my corporate card.

      A couple of these people were my actual bosses but a lot had their own assistants and/or staff but the company just had me do because “it’s easier” and truthfully I don’t think they trusted some of the staff to do it.

  5. Anonymous Badger*

    I chuckled a little at the remote worker finding a shorter commute. Not that it isn’t possible, but I’m picturing a new employer who…doesn’t mind them working in bed? No more trekking to the kitchen table!

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I did too! But I also had the same thought MK did — maybe she wanted to go in and found a place that allowed that?

    2. The Original K.*

      I laughed at that too! A commute is definitely a reason to change jobs but you can’t get much shorter than remote!

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      My husband works in bed, and I have no idea how he does it comfortably. I have to commute to my kitchen table and my double monitors or I’ve got muscle aches and eyestrain by lunchtime. Worth the 10 feet and half-flight of stairs commute!

  6. California Dreaming*

    OP3 I spent a year abroad & before we came back there was a reentry seminar at which the person leading it said “expect people to be much less interested in your time away than you might think. Their lives have carried on. Mostly adjust to slipping back in with little fuss”. And it was true.

    1. Puggie Mom*

      I have lived abroad a couple of times before. I also have family members who have lived abroad at various points in their lives. I can attest that this is very true. People do not want to hear about your experience as much as you might think.

      It is a bit like when Howard Wolowitz (aka. Fruit Loops) returned from space. People just didn’t want to hear about it that much.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Reentry after a positive experience living abroad is often genuinely hard for exactly that reason! I remember when I came back from six months living abroad as a teenager– I mean, it had been my life 24/7 for six months, I’d left behind lots of friends, and just everything to do with my daily routines and things had disappeared. Suddenly I was back in a place where nobody knew any of the people I knew and I could feel that every time I started a sentence with “When I was in…”, their eyes were glazing over. It’s quite hard to find that everything that’s been your real life for the past few months is relegated to “hearing about other people’s dreams” status.

        Alison is exactly right, OP– a couple of anecdotes about a favourite food or your kid’s experiences and you’ll have topped out most people’s tolerance for hearing about it.

    2. just another queer reader*

      Yep, can attest!

      Even my coworkers who said they wanted to hear about my time away really wanted the two-minute synopsis and to see a couple pretty pictures.

    3. Northland*

      I understand how hard it is, because you have potentially had a positive life changing experience, and everyone else is…just the same, but that’s just how it goes.

  7. Leonardo*

    OP3:
    This was the experience of almost everyone I know who worked in La Spezia. Sounds great to be on the Italian riviera, but it was very difficult for all the reasons that you mention and more. I had work to distract me, yet it was very isolating.

    I had one thing that I liked, driving around the country, so I would respond with that and then say how nice it was to be home again. Maybe highlight the extra time with your child or the opportunity to expand their horizons, and then talk about how being home does give you more of a support system.

    1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      Seconding this! OP, I know a number of people who have moved to ‘exciting places abroad’ and felt aimless and lonely. I also know that lots of people struggle with having time off of work and nothing to do (I hate that myself).

      So I think with the right crowd you could be honest about some of those challenges and it might be well received.

    2. cubone*

      I’ve have a couple friends do work or school abroad and honestly … I always really appreciated the degree of honesty when they said “actually I was terribly homesick/hated every second” etc etc. So much of what you hear with travel is all “omg it’s amazing everyone should do it” and the authenticity was refreshing. It didn’t make me judge them for not “making the most of a once in a lifetime opportunity”, it just made me remember that they’re human people.

      Of course, I might also just say “I loved the food!” if I didn’t feel like getting into it with a work colleague but something to consider.

  8. turquoisecow*

    Op5, I’ve been there. My old job had a habit of doing mass layoffs and reorganizations and telling people their positions were eliminated, then giving the remaining people new titles but the same job. I started out as a specialist and then was renamed a clerk but nothing changed about what I was doing. Then, a number of people who used to be called (Teapot) analysts and then later Junior (Teapot Creator) were laid off and their jobs partly merged with mine to be considered a new title that referred to perhaps 1/10th of the total job description. Let’s say we were called Polishers when in reality we also made the teapots and the spouts and the handles and put them together and polishing was a small part of it. Also, no one else in the industry used Polisher as a job title, it would be something like Polishing Clerk or Polishing Analyst.

    When we all inevitably looked for new jobs (first because we wanted to and later because we had to as the company went out of business), most of us wrote “Polisher (Teapot Creation Analyst)” or something similar on our resumes because Polisher was a poor description of what we were doing and Teapot Creation Analyst or whatever was much closer to the truth.

    Of course we’d also list the job duties involved so anyone reading the resume could see that we were closer to what they’d likely call a Teapot Creation Analyst, and most of us got jobs doing something somewhat similar to that (though with less of a workload).

    1. Kevin Sours*

      I would also suggest not being shy about calling it out explicitly in interviews/phone screens. Something like “They call it a Train Specialist at my company but I was really a Arrival/Departure Coordinator doing …”

    2. RG*

      OP5: My previous title was suuuuper specific to my company, and to people who weren’t intimately acquainted with my organization, it sounded like I did something completely different. (I did technical writing, but my title made it sound like I was involved in recruiting or marketing.) I got around this by listing the bland-but-descriptive HR job family code for my role, which was just “Editor.” If you work for a small company, this might not be an option for you, but I work for a giant multi-national corporation, so every role has a generic “job code” title as well as a title that’s specific to your team.

  9. all3ct0*

    LW#4 – Depending on the jurisdiction you’re in, there can also be tax implications on taking rewards points. In some public sector roles I’ve had, we couldn’t have the points associated with work travel because this is classed as a “fringe benefit” and attracts particular taxes. I was actually peripherally involved in a misconduct case where the admin assistant in a public sector org had been doing all the travel booking for her unit and taking the frequent flyer points for herself. So check your org’s policy and whether there are any tax implications for you or for them.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Wow, I’d never thought of that. I used to only travel 1-2 times a year, and I’d book my own travel because I’m very picky, but those who travel a lot for our company use our travel service, and those point are actually used by our company for milestone anniversary awards for employees! But if they didn’t do that, I’d expect them to use the points to decrease travel costs to the company, since the people traveling are having their travel and all related expenses paid for by the company — it’s the company’s expense, not the employee’s.

      1. Texan In Exile*

        Cosmic Avenger, I am actually horrified at this!

        If I have to be away from home, being stuck in airports and in middle seats on planes and sleeping in uncomfortable beds and having to shower in bathrooms lit like interrogation rooms and not getting a penny of OT because this is the joy of being salaried, you better believe I want those points for myself. Yes, the company is paying for the travel, but they are paying because they are making me do crap I don’t want to do.

        1. JustaTech*

          The way I’ve heard it explained at some companies is that the traveler gets to keep the points because you only get airline miles if your back end is actually in the seat on the plane; you can’t just buy the ticket and get the miles.

          But those have been big companies that could afford to not pinch pennies about things like travel points.

    2. Joielle*

      Yeah, public sector here, and we have to be very careful to not even receive travel points because we’re not allowed to do anything with them. It just creates a huge hassle if the points exist at all. It’s kind of a bummer to miss out on the benefit (even if it was just the agency getting the benefit!) but we’ve been told that the laws are very strict.

      On the other end of the spectrum, my dad used to do a lot of business travel in the 90s and he got to keep all the travel points. Our whole family went on quite a few free vacations that way.

    3. Student*

      Federal employee here from the USA. We get to keep our frequent flier miles with no tax implications. Commenters here might want to post their general jurisdiction if it’s a local rule, or double-check that their company’s tax guidance is actually up-to-date.

      Did a quick google search on this and the first thing I found was, “the IRS in 2002 announced that it would not assert that taxpayers have understated their federal tax liability by reason of the receipt or personal use of frequent flyer miles or other in-kind promotional benefits attributable to business or official travel” from a tax blog.

      I’ve worked as a government or gov contractor for over a decade in various states and different federal agencies, and I’ve always been allowed and encouraged to keep my frequent flier and hotel benefits for myself from business travel. It’s considered a nice perk of the job and helps offset the drag of travel. We also don’t get taxed on the federal-rate per diem meal funds we get during travel because it’s not considered wages, it’s considered a reimbursement. However, that federal per diem meal rate is set at a level that is much higher than my meal expenses have ever been, so it can be a nice bonus.

      1. Jennifer in FL*

        My husband is a federal employee and he gets to keep all the FF miles. His miles are associated with his airline account, not the card he’s using to pay for the flight/hotel/etc. We’ve used the points to fly our daughter to/from college several times. It’s never been a problem.

  10. musician*

    OP #3, my experience coming back from a semester as an international student was similar to several commenters above. The country where I studied is one that people glamorize in many ways, but I had an incredibly hard time adjusting and went through a lot of difficult culture shock. When I got home, people would ask how my “trip” was and immediately start raving about how they always wanted to go there. I learned to just give them a stock answer- often they were satisfied to just hear me say it was “good” (which felt like a lie since only a fraction of the experience was good). But the people who were open to more nuanced conversations would ask more specific questions, and then sometimes that gave me the opportunity to explain that visiting a place is much different from living in a place, and I was able to share both positives and negatives. But it’s also totally ok to give the cop-out answer and not engage.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I think the last part, “visiting a place is much different from living in a place” is something you can lean into OP. And in case you are feeling like you “should” have enjoyed it more, I am here to validate any feelings you have that an “extended stay” longer than a holiday but shorter than years can be the hardest!

      We lived in the UK for 3 years. We learned that we don’t like visiting places, we like knowing what it is like to live in them. A few months visit is the worst of both. You feel like a guest who stayed too long or like your flight got cancelled and you had to stay longer than expected. And you were not there long enough to start to feel like you knew what how locals live. I found talking about that was actually pretty interesting to people.

      Also, there are a lot of Anglophiles in the US who asked about the UK. I told them there were more differences than most people realized and had a story or two to share (which were negative experiences really).

      People were not really looking for happy stories; they were interested in my personal experience. But as the others all said, most people did not ask anything at all or asked more out of politeness rather than deep interest.

    2. Anon all day*

      Yup. I did a year abroad, and while I loved the country I was in, the other people in my program made my life absolutely miserable (it was like high school bullying to the nth degree, and these were the only people I knew/was mostly around in an entire country). Fortunately, I had enough good experiences not involving them that I could talk with people about when they asked.

  11. Anona*

    The person who only BOOKS the travel is never going to be the person who is awarded the bonus points. Don’t listen to your friends on this or you may find yourself doing some future explaining. Ask HR or upper management.

    1. Kathy*

      I found out that the person booking my travel had assigned her frequent flyer number to my account for booking at a popular hotel chain and skimmed points on my visits for years. I was so annoyed at her. OP, it’s not likely to work out well for you in the long run if you try to do this secretly.

      1. Shhhh*

        I really appreciate that my current employer allows you to input your rewards account numbers in their travel booking system (SAP Concur). I’m at a massive organization now but used to work somewhere much smaller…when I think about the points I lost…

    2. In the bathroom*

      There is also the implication that you might have chosen more expensive options that provide points rather than cheaper options that don’t. It’s a bad look all around.

      I suspect if you were the one travelling it wouldn’t be as big of a deal, however, my company actually moved to gas cards and internal travel booking systems because so many people were gaming the system with unreported reward collecting. Think driving out of their way to get to the gas station with the points, or booking certain hotel chains for points when more convenient ones and cheaper ones were available.

    3. career coach near the sea*

      I have always worked in companies (of all sizes) that had a spot for the traveler to share their rewards number. It’s a perk for the traveler, not the scheduler. I would absolutely discuss this with your manager or another colleague who might know, if that’s an option. This very much feels like you are not following corporate protocol and there may be negative repercussions for you. Even though you asked, it’s very possible that the question was misunderstood (it’s so common for the traveler to acquire the points that the person you asked may have just assumed that’s what you meant!). These are your points to lose out on– think of it as fixing an error before it becomes a big problem for you.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, my last several jobs had specific policies around this:
      You can book yourself and get reimbursed if you don’t have a company card, and you can use your own rewards account (for the flight/hotel/whatever travel provider has its own rewards).
      You can book yourself with a company card if you have one, and can you use your own rewards account (for the flight/hotel/whatever travel provider has its own rewards). Any CC rewards belong to the company.
      You can have the company person who books travel book the travel for you and give them your rewards account (for the flight/hotel/whatever travel provider has its own rewards).

      Also some of them had some corporate account where you could put in your individual rewards number and the corporate one and you’d both get rewards? I don’t remember which airline or hotel chain that was, but remember them asking us to make sure we included the corporate one whether or not we had our own.

      Point is, they always spelled it out in policy. If LW’s company doesn’t, they should ask and encourage the company to have a written policy people can reference. It’s better for everyone.

      1. Snakes on a Plane*

        Yes, there are some programs (e.g., AA’s On Business) where there are points that accrue to the company; your company has to have arranged an account. Otherwise, for hotel and airline programs, the person staying or flying accrues the points, never the person paying. There is no way to ask the airline to give the points to someone else, and that is actually a violation of the program terms.

        Travel agents and people managing significant amounts of travel, though, can get discounts/perks from airlines, even if they are not the ones traveling. An example is the manager for travel at a major company getting a BA Premier card (a very exclusive tier in their frequent flier program) or AA’s Concierge Key, even though that person travels very little.

        But, the person paying– say, the company, if you are using a corporate card– would get points associated with the amount spent on the credit card.

        In other words, Mary earns 500 miles on AA for sitting on the plane (if she’s added her own AAdvantage number to the booking). MegaCorp gets OnBusiness points (which can be redeemed for various MegaCorp travel needs) because of the corporate account. MegaCorp earns 10,000 AmEx MR points since Mary used her AmEx corporate card to book. MegaCorp’s travel manager, who rarely flies for business, enjoys top-level status and gets upgraded and lounge access on the annual family vacation in recognition of funneling millions of dollars to business to AA. Everyone is happy!

        But if you’re a scrappy non-profit, it’s probably just Mary getting a pittance of miles (assuming it’s not one of those fare buckets that doesn’t even earn points) for sitting on the plane, and maybe earning credit card points because she paid for the ticket and gets reimbursed later.

        All that is to say, frequent flier programs/credit card points have become absurdly complicated.

  12. kju*

    OP3: for your mental health, factor in the four stages culture shock (highly googleable); a lot of people don’t realise how much of an effect that it has on your extended experience in a foreign country.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, this. After an extended stay abroad, reverse culture shock is also a thing.

      Culture shock doesn’t even necessarily require international travel, it can be something as simple as moving from a small town to a big city, or the reverse.

      I’ve lived abroad for an extended period 3 times in my life. When I was 12, we moved to the UK for a year because of my parents’ jobs (my dad was a scientist and my mom was his lab assistant). Even at that age, I realized on some level that moving to a different country and learning a new language would mean big changes in my life that I’d have to adjust to. I experienced culture shock but I was somehow prepared for it. However, before the trip, we lived in what was essentially a village where everyone knew everyone else, in the UK we lived in the suburbs of a city, and we returned to the suburbs of a big city. As an adult, I realized that I was subconsciously expecting to return more or less to the environment I’d left, and nothing could’ve been further from the truth. The reverse culture shock was actually worse, because in the UK I was a foreigner, and at least until my English became fluent, the kids in my class never expected me to behave just like they did, and my teachers were very understanding when my behavior didn’t always match the expectations. At that age, I cried very easily, and because it isn’t really culturally acceptable for kids in the UK to cry after about the age of 5, I subconsciously weaponized this to get away with a lot of stuff because by crying, I got what I wanted more often than not… When we returned, my new classmates just thought I was a country bumpkin or something, and it took me more than a year to find new friends. I also stopped crying at the slightest provocation very quickly when I realized that it wouldn’t get me what I wanted because people weren’t bending over backwards to stop the tears. The fact that that the trip coincided with the start of puberty for me probably didn’t help. My sister, who’s 2 years younger, had by all accounts an easier time.

      As a college student, I spent 6 months (2 trimesters) as an exchange student in France, and another 6 months as an intern in Spain. I was fluent enough in each language that I never had to resort to English during my visits there. I did experience culture shock, but just being fluent enough the language that I could converse reasonably freely with native speakers helped a lot. It also helped that I was very busy all the time, so I didn’t have much time to brood or to be homesick.

    2. Istanzia*

      Yes, I was coming here to say this and to suggest looking at reverse culture shock as well (particularly prevalent in people who don’t enjoy their time abroad, as they’ve built up their home country as the perfect location and of course are then subject to all the normal stresses of life). I hope for OP3 that their transition back to their home country will be easy and seamless, but… be prepared for it to potentially be more difficult than you think it will be. I definitely experienced this after a time away and it was a real shock (haha) to my system.

      These sections from Wikipedia is particularly relevant:

      “Reverse culture shock is generally made up of two parts: idealization and expectations. When an extended period of time is spent abroad we focus on the good from our past, cut out the bad, and create an idealized version of the past. Secondly, once removed from our familiar setting and placed in a foreign one we incorrectly assume that our previous world has not changed. We expect things to remain exactly the same as when we left them. The realization that life back home is now different, that the world has continued without us, and the process of readjusting to these new conditions as well as actualizing our new perceptions about the world with our old way of living causes discomfort and psychological anguish.”

      “Some people find it impossible to accept the foreign culture and to integrate. They isolate themselves from the host country’s environment, which they come to perceive as hostile, withdraw into an (often mental) “ghetto” and see return to their own culture as the only way out. This group is sometimes known as “Rejectors” and describes approximately 60% of expatriates. These “Rejectors” also have the greatest problems re-integrating back home after return.”

      Moving is hard, and moving back is hard as well, unfortunately.

      I’m not saying this will definitely happen. But I think if the OP is prepared to find the move back to be an adjustment as well, they will probably be better off.

      1. Nonny-nonny-non*

        I’m not OP3, but just wanted to say thank you for the above information as it’s really helped clarify for me why I’m having trouble moving back to somewhere (that I wanted to get back to!) after a number of years. It’s also given me some useful ideas about how to adjust my thinking to make the change easier.

      2. Erika22*

        This is so on point! Living abroad with my spouse, when he/we think about moving back to our previous country and city, he’s always convinced moving to our previous city will immediately be the solution to every problem he’s encountered here because of how rose-tinted our lives there now seem. I always have to remind him that when he thinks of that time and trying to go back to the city, we won’t be stepping into that same life. Half of our friends have moved out of the city, have had kids, all work different jobs, etc. Plus we’re different people too, and our expectations of how we want to live now mean we likely wouldn’t be satisfied even if none of those previous things changed. It will be tough regardless because things will always change no matter where you live!

  13. Middle Name Danger*

    OP1: Most likely the employee just got a better opportunity elsewhere (more money or just closer aligned to their goals) but I’d be interested to know the timeline on that recommendation you gave for a title change and raise. I recently jumped from my full time gig to freelancing full time months earlier than planned because my anticipated title and pay change failed to materialize for months and I was fed up with treading water.

    1. Green great dragon*

      I had the opposite thought. Maybe employee was already in the process when you told them about the raise.
      I agree, probably nothing to do with you, but a good time to get feedback anyway (I’ve done this with a cheery ‘since you can say what you want now, do you have any feedback for me?’)

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        That happened to me with my old job. My boss was great but due to an acquisition and changes in my personal circumstances, I was looking elsewhere. She finally got approval for my title change in April (it has been in discussion since November), and I gave notice six weeks later. While I appreciated the title change and raise, it wasn’t even close to what I would have needed to stay.

        Op1, I know there’s the saying that “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers” and whole sometimes that is true, sometimes it isn’t. My old boss really was the best leader I have had to date. My leaving had nothing to do with her. It’s fine to ask, but leave it up to them to share.

      2. Alternative Person*

        Yeah, I had already accepted my new job (hiring timelines are long in my field) when I also verbally accepted the offer of an internal transfer at my then current job, knowing I would never take it, but I didn’t want to tip my hand.

    2. Ama*

      I left a job when I was in line to move into a new position that would have been a promotion, and part of the reason was that, in working with my boss on the design of the new position (which was being created along with a second new position that was supposed to ease my workload), I realized that, even if the new positions in the short term made things a little easier, I didn’t see a long term future for myself in the sector I was in — I wanted to move away from the just-above-entry-level general admin positions, and when I looked at the jobs of the people above me in that sector, I didn’t actually see myself doing any of those things and being happy. So I started looking in a different sector, for jobs that would allow me to move towards my actual professional goals. I didn’t expect to find something as quickly as I did, but that particular job search the stars aligned and I was offered a new position less than a month after I started looking. I ended up giving notice the day my boss finally got approval to post the new job descriptions, and had to tell her I wouldn’t be applying for one of them after all.

  14. Varthema*

    OP4: You really shouldn’t be booking business travel through a third-party site unless explicitly granted permission (or even asked to) by your company, especially during these times when travel is *messy* and rife with cancellations and overbookings. When you book through Travelocity, they’re technically the customer of the airline, not you. So if there’s massive overbooking, guess who gets prioritized? Not the third-party bookers. If you miss a connection or flight or need a refund, the travelers have to deal with the third-party company. If you’re flying in Europe, with a certain amount of delay, the customer is entitled to compensation, which in this case would be the third-party site. Refunds are notoriously hard to get. Before I get comments saying “I’ve always booked with Travelocity and it’s fine”, ‘m not saying it never works, just that it does rank whomever’s traveling in a different category from those booking directly. And this summer you should bet on far messier travel than you’ve generally experienced in the past and crankier airline staff more than happy to shove off problems they technically don’t have to deal with.

    1. Nope.*

      100% this. I’ve booked/purchased thousands of flights, made countless changes, dealt with all kinds of system meltdowns and changes of plans, in the course of five years setting up travel day in and day out for employees. ALWAYS book directly. Always. The discounts are minimal these days (have been for years), and it is not worth it when things start to go wrong or changes need to be made.

    2. misspiggy*

      Of course! I was really baffled as to why OP’s situation is happening at all, as I’ve always booked business travel for others direct or through a specialist travel agent.

    3. bamcheeks*

      If you’re flying in Europe, with a certain amount of delay, the customer is entitled to compensation, which in this case would be the third-party site

      I don’t think that’s true? The flight delay compensation is pretty widely known here, and I’m sure it’s specifically for the passenger not the person / organisation which contracted with the airline.

      1. bamcheeks*

        (Also, this is interesting because it’s the exact opposite of the good practice I’ve encountered in large organisations in the UK– generally speaking, all travel has to go through a contracted travel agency because refunds and re-bookings are factoried in to the contract, and if you book directly with airlines on a non-refundable, inflexible flight it’s a pain to decide who is responsible for it.)

        1. Hlao-roo*

          You bring up a good point here. I have also always booked business travel through whichever travel agency my company worked with at the time. I think the difference is that large organizations tend to have relationships with third-party travel agencies, that have refund and re-booking policies and are easy(ish) to get in contact with when something goes wrong during a trip.

          In contrast, LW4 was talking about third-party travel websites, which I have heard are notoriously stingy with refunds and a difficult to get in contact with when something goes wrong. I always book directly through the airline for personal travel and avoid third-party travel websites.

          Because LW4 works for a small non-profit, presumably the organization doesn’t have a relationship with a travel agency and in that case I think it would be better to book through the airline directly.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          I think whether using a contracted agency is worth it really depends on the size of the company and how much travel they do. In this case, a small non-profit that evidently doesn’t do much travel, setting up an agency contract would be overkill; and if it’s between booking directly and random third-party leisure travel sites like Expedia, booking direct wins every time IMO. The hassle of going through the third party is just never worth whatever savings you might make.

    4. Accountress*

      I was coming to say this. Extending, leaving early, any changes? You’ve got to go through a whole separate entity to get changes made, instead of the clerk right in from of you. Take the extra few dollars hit, and book direct.

    5. Koalafied*

      Yes, and in my experience it’s been a long time since any of those booking sites could offer rates that you wouldn’t find going directly through the airline. The only real exception is sometimes those sites have flexible/mystery fares where is you agree to book a flight only knowing the day and not the time of day you might get it for cheaper than the published rate. Other than that, at least in the US, the airlines long ago saw that they were losing business to the travel sites and most now have policy commitments to offer the lowest published fares when you book direct.

      I recently missed a flight through my own missteps and while waiting at the service counter to rebook, virtually everyone else in line around me were people who booked through Expedia or Travelocity and had some added layer of complication – several hadn’t been notified that their flight had been cancelled until they tried to check in even though the airline had notified all their direct bookings earlier.

    6. Snakes on a Plane*

      The compensation for delays, cancellations, and downgrades is EC 261/UK 261. It’s payable by the airline–not the 3rd party travel organizer– and must be claimed, as it is not automatic. Airlines also have a “duty of care” in addition to any compensation, meaning they are responsible for hotel costs, meals, and things like wifi fees, even in the case of weather delays or other extraordinary circumstances that are not eligible for the cash compensation (up to €600 depending on length of delay/distance of route).

      That said, if possible, rebooking and refunds are more seamless when you book directly with (European) airline, and given the wide scale disruptions this summer, you absolutely are better off to book directly with say BA.com, UNLESS you have an extremely good travel agent. If you have that person, you probably know it, and that’s definitely not the fine people at Expedia or CheapFlightsORama.

  15. Sales Geek*

    At my former employer travel was one of the company’s largest expenses. Still, it was policy that if you traveled on company business the airline miles and hotel points were yours as a bow to the inconvenience to your personal life. I can safely say that the number of divorces where the amount of business travel was listed as a proximate cause was testimony that it wasn’t enough.

    But eventually after a few rough years management decided that since you booked through a captive corporate travel group (we used to have American Express travel and they were solid gold) that the company would retain the points and use them as a sign that belt-tightening was a real thing. The reality was that folks were really chuffed and would just cut back on travel as much as they could. It was hurting our sales far beyond the miles or points could make up for. And yes it leaked to the business press which produced a couple of weeks of bad PR. Finally, corporate declared victory (the “experiment” was a success!!) and reinstated the original policy that allowed each employee to keep their airline miles and hotel points. The fact that these hotel chains and airlines were among our larger customers may have had something to do with it. I’ve heard they got pushback from the thousands of business travelers we provided every year and nobody wanted the bad press.

    From a purely business perspective this kind of microtheft only makes sense for the very largest of corporations. The training, staffing and audit costs would easily eat up any savings.

    The one exception I saw for this was a very clever maneuver by a coworker. He was in charge of the logistics for training a small army of service specialists from around the country. They supported a very large national customer with tens of thousands of offices around the country and were coming home to the mothership for education on a brand-new office system that was being rolled out. I don’t recall the exact numbers but it was several hundred over a period of a few months. They would come to town in classes of 100 or so at a time for a week of training.

    Part of his job was to arrange the lodging for the service specialists. He got a killer hotel rate for the specialists but as a last bit of arm twisting he’d get the hotel manager to give him all the hotel points earned by horde of trainees. It’s kinda/sorta OK since the hotel costs were picked up directly by the customer who owned the systems. The attendees never paid a dime for travel expenses. In the end, my colleague got a stunningly large amount of hotel points for this deal (seven figures easily).

    He used this pot of gold to take his family (wife and four children) to Hawaii for a week. They flew first class and stayed in a suite at one of this hotel chain’s nicest properties. To be fair, he did a good job of arranging things and I wouldn’t begrudge him some slack time on the beach for the six months it took to complete this training. But nobody complained. The customer was happy with the training, the hotel manager got an award for room utilization and we got half the service business. I’m sure there’s a moral somewhere in this story but darned if I can tell you what it was…

    1. T. Boone Pickens*

      I mean the moral is pretty straightforward, the trainees got stiffed out of their hotel points despite getting their accommodations paid for. Granted, I’m sure if there was any blowback, you’re colleague would’ve heard about it. I’m not sure if clever is the word I’d use but ‘scumbag’ is also too harsh. Perhaps ‘morally flexible’ is the phrase I’d use.

    2. BubbleTea*

      Two things: I misread your post at first and thought you were saying that the travel points were listed as assets in the financial settlement, which wouldn’t be terribly unreasonable actually! And secondly, does chuffed mean something different to you? To me it means extremely happy. Or were you being sarcastic?

    3. SundayKittens*

      I am very familiar with hotel contracts and it is common for the planner/contract signer to be given hotel points. This does not preclude the individual travelers from also getting their points. It’s kind of an enticement for the planner to book at the property since many planners do get to keep the points personally. That said, points are generally not given to the individual traveler if the rooms are paid for on a master bill by a company, but the planner doesn’t get the points from the individual stay either. The points the planner gets are pre-determined at the contract signing. Regardless, many companies do have policies around the contracts, especially those that work with the government, and it can be considered an ethical violation to accept the points. In fact, the points could also be considered income from the IRS perspective and should be reported on tax returns.

      1. Hillary*

        yeah, this is an ethics violation – taking personal benefit from a contract negotiation. This kind of deal should only give the points to the company. In my world this would result in a termination for cause but probably not criminal charges.

  16. indefinite*

    #4 – interesting situation and response. I’ve never booked travel for anyone else before, but I certainly have used my personal credit card to order catering for other people (for work events that I don’t go to) and I think it’s normal/accepted that the credit card rewards are mine. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to treat booking travel differently.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I think if you are using your personal credit card it’s a little different, youare paying and claiming back the money as an expense (presumably)

      My impression was that OP is booking via sites where the reward is for using the booking site rather than booking direct, and that the points are for using againt future bookings.

      Either way, I think OP needs to check the position. It may be that her manager approves her using the points herself, in which case she is fine, or it may be that they don’t , in which case at least she knos where she stands.

    2. anonymous73*

      Using your own credit card to pay for company catering is different. I can’t imagine they’re making OP use her own CC to book travel for other employees – that would be a whole other issue. If you’re using company funds to book travel for others you are not entitled to any reward points. Those should either go to the travelers or the company.

  17. Emmy Noether*

    LW3 is probably not looking for ideas to make their expat experience better, but here are some pointers for others who may find themselves in that position:
    1) Learn at least a little of the language. Not speaking a language is not an immutable thing, especially if you have time on your hands. Language courses can be good places to find people to do stuff with, and you can also do a tandem with someone who wants to learn your language. I’ve seen real friendships develop from those, and they’re free.
    2) If you speak English, you already have a leg up over everyone else. The whole world speaks at least a little of your language, so try things anyway, you can muddle through.
    3) If the locals aren’t receptive, try finding other expats. They’re in the same situation and want contact too. There are usually meetups etc.
    4) Do some tourist stuff. Travel weekends and go sightseeing. It will make the time go by faster.
    5) I guess, don’t be naive before starting (yeah, that one’s the hard one). Think about real ways to implement your grand plans and ideas before going. A lot of disappointment is really due to mismatch between expectation and reality, even when reality is not actually that bad.

    1. Well...*

      For 1) I think we should leave space for people who can’t learn the language well enough to feel socially accepted. It takes years to get to that level of fluency (especially if you have other things going on in your life. Study-abroad immersion program language leaning speed is often the benchmark in people’s minds and it’s unrealistic for those with full-time jobs or family to care for). OP only has a few months, and leaning to order food or ask/give directions isn’t enough to not feel like an outsider at a social event mostly in a different language.

      1. Snuck*

        Nah I think learning the local lingo is a reasonable effort. If you are only there six months obviously you won’t become proficient but you can definitely learn how to ask for help, where the toilets are, which bus goes to wherever and general salutations.

        A small effort will be well appreciated. Also in language there’s a lot of culture, and if you can learn a little of the whys and hows of how the people around you communicate and the phrases and style of philosophy that frame their thinking you’ll have a far richer experience and feel more comfortable.

        You don’t have to learn it al before you go, but learn a little, and be prepared to learn as much as you can while you are there. You’ll never get a better chance to learn!

        1. Well...*

          Absolutely, but I think what you are describing is far, far easier than learning enough of the language to overcome feelings of isolation. It’s precisely conflating those two things (spending a few hours one Duolingo vs. a LOT more work) that bothers me when people act flippant about “just learning a language”

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Probably an issue is different expectations of what “learning a language” or “speaking a language” is. People who speak a few realize that it’s not a yes/no thing. It’s very much by degrees. And I very much meant make an effort, get to A2 level or whatever, work at the hard “not speaking” by speaking a little. It’s not all or nothing, and every little bit helps against isolation.

            I also specifically recommended making contacts through learning, not through speaking. Because yes, expecting to be able to walk into a noisy bar and converse with people about current events… not gonna happen.

            1. bamcheeks*

              an issue is different expectations of what “learning a language” or “speaking a language” is

              I think this is really true, and it’s also the case that (for some people, probably depends on your personality type) little, apparently inconsequential moments of human connection can have a much bigger effect on your mood than you realise when they are normal and fall in the context of broader and deeper social connections. I think this was really noticeable during the various lockdowns– saying hi and exchanging a few words with the supermarket cashier or having a quick casual chat about your weekend with a colleague isn’t a *substitute* for deep friendships or familial relationships, but it can do a lot to buoy your mood. You’re almost certainly not going to get to the stage where you can have an easy chat about politics with the other parents in the playground, but getting a smile from the lady in the bakery because you’ve successfully asked for bread AND you understood her asking whether you wanted that one or this one can be a big mood-boost.

        2. Mockingjay*

          I studied German for YEARS while living there. Sure, I picked up enough lingo to order in a restaurant pretty quickly. But substantive conversation took a lot longer to master. I never became as fluent as I wished. I did make some wonderful friendships eventually but I had the advantage of living there a lot longer than OP.

          I totally understand why OP didn’t have a wonderful time. I think there are different expectations between a tourist and someone who is residing in a foreign country. Tourists blip in and out, but someone who is living there encounters all sorts of cultural differences that can be embarrassing, disconcerting, or just plain unknown, but you have to navigate them somehow. My first year was really rough in some respects. I was lonely and bereft of a support system. I reached out to some expats, but they were very American-centric and didn’t want to explore the local region and get to know people in town. So I did my best to learn to communicate with my neighbors. But it was probably 18 months before I began to feel truly comfortable in my village.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        Yes, most people won’t be able to learn a completely new language well enough to have meaningful conversations in a few months. At least not as an adult, with other commitments and without special aptitude. That shouldn’t be the expectation (and ties into 5: naïveté).

        There’s still a point to trying and learning a little though. For one, being able to have very basic interactions (saying hello, buying a sandwich, etc.) can take the edge off feeling so foreign. For another, the effort will be appreciated and people will be more willing to make an effort also and switch to English for you. And, lastly, the act of learning itself opens social contacts, not necessarily in that language exclusively (course participants, teachers, tandems).

        1. Well...*

          Yes, fair enough. As long as the expectation is that you’re building your social network with other expats. And knowing enough to get around definitely makes life easier, but it’s a huuuuge gulf between being able to order food, use public transport, muddle through visa bureaucracy and actually being able to have a relaxed time socializing.

          Your point 5) is especially good.

    2. Kate*

      I have lived in… eight different countries, and by far the hardest relocations were to the ones where I DID speak the language— fluently, in some cases. Honestly, sometimes it’s better when you don’t speak it well, so you don’t understand just how deep the cultural differences really are! :D

      Getting out and seeing the tourist sites, cobbling together some expat friends… those made things semi-bearable at the time, but overall didn’t make me any less eager to leave. Some situations are just a mismatch.

      It comes across as really condescending to effectively tell the OP “if you didn’t like it, obviously you didn’t try hard enough”.

      1. Smithy*

        Yeah – I do agree that some situations just don’t work and honestly, the language challenges can be a bit of a smoke screen. Ask US born citizens who do different 4-5 month stays in different locations throughout the US how easy it is to build community and comfort. Some places end up being great, some awful.

        I know my absolute hardest times working (not visiting….) outside of the US were in other English speaking countries and a lot of the challenges were based on flawed assumptions both ways (i.e. me or those I was working with assuming what I would be familiar with). Both stints were also shorter (3-6 months vs over a year), and I think that contributed to this feeling that it wasn’t that long. Therefore, I could just muddle through it and make the best of it as opposed to truly trying to thrive.

        I will also flag, that focusing heavily on language over other aspects can also contribute to misery for those of us where language learning isn’t easy. During a much longer term position, I tapped out at level 4 that I was taking at nights after work. After already failing that level twice, it was during the third time a bell went off that I’d be at work all day, go to class, and really wanted to be treated like an absolute baby and not an adult student. I was tired, I wanted to have fun, I didn’t want to try. Never became super proficient in the language but quitting improved my overall quality of life.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      “Short-term” / “a few months” And her job while in a foreign country is to be a full-time parent.

      Hell, her answer could be “while I was glad that my whole family could be together, in retrospect I’d almost have preferred to stay home and be a single parent. Living on a country where I don’t speak the language wasn’t for me.” That may be too close to saying she didn’t appreciate the wonderful opportunity to go on a sabbatical from her job. I think the sabbatical was the privilege and opportunity the LW mentioned. Many companies don’t offer that and if they had not the LW would have been forced to quit her job or stay home alone as a working single parent while her partner was out of the country which is it’s own set of challenges if your life/support system is used to having two parents available.

    4. Generic Name*

      For your #1 tip, I wonder if you missed that the OP is caring for a young child through all this? I stayed home with my child for 2 years, and I don’t think learning a new language would have been at all realistic during that time. Actually, everything you’ve mentioned is exponentially harder to do with kids.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        I saw that, but since she also said she didn’t know how to occupy her time (paraphrasing, but maybe I misunderstood) and doing stuff 2 days/week, I presumed there was some kind of childcare solution. Otherwise, yeah, young children will throw a wrench in most language course plans, unless you find a tandem that also has a child an go to the playground together or somesuch.

      2. allathian*

        Oh, yes, absolutely. I also stayed at home with our son for two years, and I was lucky because I had a great support network in my MIL, my mom, and my sister, who were happy to help, in my MIL’s case almost daily. I really value the opportunity I had to stay home for so long, but going back to work after two years was great, because I really enjoyed being able to go to the bathroom on my own and eating a full meal without interruptions, not to mention the company of other adults who valued me for something other than my motherhood.

        But learning a new language, or anything new really, wasn’t on the cards while I was at home with our son.

    5. Koala dreams*

      1) I agree with you. The first few phrases you learn are the most rewarding. Sometimes people look down on “tourist phrases” since you can communicate in English everywhere, but it’s very nice to be able to say a few greetings and “Do you speak English?” in the local language. The first few lessons in a language course are the hardest, but also the most useful since you can use what you learn immediately.

  18. EventPlannerGal*

    I book travel constantly and I have to agree with Alison – for us, any points always go to either the traveller or onto the company account. I guess if employees don’t travel much at this org then there probably isn’t a company account at all and OP must have used their personal account to book these items, but that’s not something I would ever do. (For example, it could make things complicated if the traveller needs to access the booking themselves.) It may be a moot point anyway as some sites don’t allow you to transfer points, or only allow you to transfer a certain amount or to do so for a fee.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I’ve never had a job that involved lots of travel but my sister did for a while – she spend spent nearly 6 months livingMon-Fri in a hotel in London and wound up with a huge number of points. She and I spent the night after a trip to the theatre and had a very nice room, complimentary wine, access to the VIP lounge with free snacks etc all at no cost as it was covered by her points, and she still had plenty to cover a holiday with her partner.
      (But as she said, it was a perk which to a small degree made up for living in a hoel room for weeks on end)

      She is in a different job now – no travel, no points, but she gets to go home evey night :)

    2. WellRed*

      Yes when I book work travel I usually go through a corporate travel planner or our corporate travel site. The few times I had to book through Travelocity I did it myself. The thought of trying to deal with them should a problem come up while traveling and I hadn’t even made the arrangements myself is yikes.

  19. Connie-Lynne*

    LW2, I once bumped into a coworker in the waiting area of my therapist’s office. Even more awkward is that her specialty was sex issues, although that wasn’t what I happened to be seeing her for.

    The next day at work we had a maybe 5-second exchange along the lines of “that was awkward yesterday, let’s both just never mention it.” And we never did.

    I’m very public about being in therapy, but I know others aren’t, so it was good to clear the air.

  20. Gynaegirl*

    My son, his wife and two children relocated from the UK to the USA for six months due to my son’s job. My daughter in law found the whole experience extremely stressful, she was left alone for long periods of time as my son worked extremely long hours and would continue to be available for work calls during the evenings and weekends. She found the time difference made it hard to communicate with friends and family and of course many of her friends were very excited that she was living in the USA and she felt that she couldn’t express how she was really feeling to them. Luckily they returned to the UK in February 2020 just before Covid pandemic caused lockdown. As previous commentators have said just give a few stock answers, nice climate, friendly people etc and leave it at that.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      My family relocated to the UK from the US! The National childbirth trust and their weekly mums teas saved me! It was a built in network of other moms for me to meet, in their homes!

      I think I would have had a very lonely experience without that. And we have absolutely no equivalent here, but we should!

    1. BubbleTea*

      That’s when YOU travel though. LW isn’t doing the travelling, only the booking.

  21. Irish Teacher*

    LW 1, as Alison said, there is a VERY good chance that your employee’s reason for leaving is nothing to do with your company. I can see why you’d want to ask in case there are problems, but there are all kinds of reasons people leave. In my current job, reasons people left included wanting to get back closer to where their hometown (possibly wanting to be closer to now aging parents), husband/wife got a great opportunity at the other side of the country and wanting to go with them and getting a deputy principalship (so essentially the equivalent of a promotion) in another school. The last blindsided us all; she didn’t really expect to get it and said she applied more for the experience than anything else, so she didn’t tell anybody until she got an unexpected offer. In another school I was in, a colleague saw a job advertised 15 minutes walk from their home (they had about an hour or an hour and half’s drive to commute each morning and evening). They told the rest of the department they were applying but didn’t tell the principal until they had an offer. (We were celebrating for them with one eye on the door when they got the offer because they hadn’t told him yet and we didn’t want him finding out that way.)

    None of those reasons had anything to do with either of the schools (my current school in particular is a fantastic place to work). They were either personal circumstances (shorter commute, family committments) or an opportunity elsewhere (deputy principalship).

    1. Ama*

      I am preparing to leave my job for reasons that really don’t have anything to do with the actual job or the employer itself — I’m just ready to try something else. I probably wouldn’t have stayed here as long as I have if the job and my employer hadn’t been above average, they’ve been incredibly supportive and really listened when I’ve had concerns about workload, department structure, etc. But the most recent adjustments (a restructuring of the department so I can focus on the responsibilities where I am truly the office expert) brought home to me that, while I’m still good at the work, this is no longer the job I see myself doing until I retire (which is still a long way off for me). When I give notice, I am sure my boss will be surprised and want to know if there is something she could have done to keep me, and there really truly isn’t — it’s just time for me to move on.

    2. Jora Malli*

      I’m currently trying to leave my job because it’s not the right job for me anymore. That’s about how I’ve grown and changed as a person, not about how my boss manages me. Yes, I’m super frustrated about a lot of things at my job, but none of those things are my boss’s fault and none of them are things she can or should change, they’re just evidence that I’m in the wrong job and need to do something else. I haven’t told my boss I’m looking so I’m guessing she’ll be surprised when I eventually give my notice, but again, it’s not about her at all. I know “it’s not you, it’s me” is a cliche and doesn’t usually give people comfort, but sometimes it’s the truth.

      OP, if you really feel the need to ask your employee why they decided to leave, that would be fine, just make sure you’re doing it for business reasons and not because you’re taking the resignation personally.

  22. Laney Boggs*

    LW 5’s answer is very helpful – thanks for publishing! My title is “customer service rep” but what we do falls wayyyyyy more into “account manager” side of things. I’ve kind of made it up by listing my resume as
    CSR
    *Account management for food and retail accounts
    *blah blah

    1. Susie*

      I’m in a similar situation. My official job title is “administrative assistant” but I do many things that fall outside that title.

      1. OyHiOh*

        The job I’m finishing up notice at was like this: hired as an admin assistant, ended up wearing about four different hats and working WAY above my paygrade/title. We eventually settled on a “representative” title that still was outrageously vague, but at least more broadly covered my scope of work.

        P.S – this organization is going to have to hire two full time employees to follow in my wake. I’m fairly outraged but trying to leave on an upbeat note, because I work in a niche sector where everyone knows each other.

    2. AnonPi*

      Same. My job title isn’t something most people would even understand anyways, so I’ve been adding my HR band title (senior admin) so there’s something recognizable for most people at a glance. It’s not great either as that’s rather generic, but I figured that’d clue them in that I do administrative type work. Allison’s suggestion is way better, especially since about 60% of my job isn’t related to job title anymore, and I can be a bit more specific.

    3. Jayr*

      Similar here. I’m titled as project manager but really we are inside sales people.

  23. The OG Sleepless*

    I’m pretty sure two of my coworkers and I all went to the same primary care provider during a very stressful period at our company. The doctor never breathed a word, and of course we didn’t talk about my job in many specifics besides “how’s your stress level? Work ok?” and me going “it’s really hard, it’s been a tough few months.” I did wonder idly if they were saying the same things and the doctor wondered what in the world was going on at our place.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think doctors and therapists of all people understand the idea of a high stress job, or a job with higher stress periods. If anything I think it sounds like the doctor used that insight to check a “work stressor” box in their head so that they could look for any indicators of stress related health issues, which to my mind feels ethical.

    2. cubone*

      I worked at a well known, toxic workplace (the workplace was well known publicly, it’s toxicity was not). I had the same experiences with a doctor, therapist, and career coach I saw: when I said the name, they all said “ahh yes .. that company.” and it was abundantly clear I was not the first person coming to them in the throes of burnout.

      A couple colleagues mentioned the exact same things happened to them (one had a therapist who even said “wth is going on there”). It’s a healthcare company, so it’s reasonable there’s overlap in the industry and providers were hearing the internal discord not just from clients, but friends and former colleagues etc. I always thought it was fascinating that they hung their hat on what the public thought of them only, and never realized/cared that a whole whisper network had cropped up in the industry about how bad they were.

  24. Valancy Snaith*

    In my job I have worked with and encountered tons of people who have spent 6+ months to 3+ years abroad for work, as well as their spouses and families. I promise no one is ever interested in their stories beyond “how was it?” Come up with a 15-second story and you probably won’t ever have to go beyond that.

    People will understand that you didn’t love it. If someone is going on and on about “how amazing, I would LOVE to live in South Africa for a year!!!!!!” and you hated every minute of it, you can just shrug it off and say “crazy, right?” and move on. It’s not that big a deal.

    1. Construction Safety*

      LOL, we did spend 3.5 years in 1980s’ SA. It was an adjustment, and about the only thing the folks back home wondered about was how we didn’t get eaten by a lion. Living in Jo-Burg, it really wasn’t an issue.

  25. L-squared*

    #1. I think its absolutely fine to ask, but I don’t know that you should expect honesty. I’ve had quite a few jobs where i left and it had nothing to do with my manager, but often the general company leadership. But as I didn’t really know how close my manager was with leadership, nor did I want to burn a bridge, I was very vague and just said “new opportunity with more money”. So just be aware that your relationship may have been fine, just not enough to keep her.

    #2. I feel like you are doing A LOT of digging here to find out info that isn’t really yours to know. Its private, but you are still comparing dates? Just seems like a lot. But lets assume she is. Then what? Are you going to switch therapists because of it? You seem to have no problem with her, but at the same time, kind of sort of want to address an issue you know she can’t answer. So I’m not sure there is anything to be done. That said, is seeing the same therapist that big of a deal? If you think your therapist is professional, then she probably knows how to navigate this already. And it seems you only really think this because of some snooping on your end, since asking about work, where you spend 1/3 of your life, isn’t really an uncommon thing for a therapist to do. But if you feel that awkward, your only choice really would be to change.

    #4. I think its a bit absurd to think those are your points just because you booked it. I have issues when a company wants to keep the points, so knowing that a single employee was getting them when the actual person traveling isn’t would REALLY make me upset. Talk to your boss, but don’t presume you should get free trips just because you are doing some booking.

  26. LadyByTheLake*

    #3 — I moved to a city that is romantized for its beauty and great food, and after a few years I happily moved back to my small midwestern city. When people would gush about how magical it must have been living in Shangri-la I would respond, “it turns out that Shangri-la is a wonderful place to visit, but a hard place to live. I’m so glad to be back in Peoria.” People were usually thrilled to hear that where they are living is preferable to Shangri-la.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Similarly I grew up in a place that’s a popular vacation destination for people who live where I live now. “Oh it’s so beautiful there it must have been a great place to grow up” is a pretty common comment I get, and my response is similar to yours. “I think it’s nicer to visit than to live, but I like living here now”. People don’t seem to find that shocking or offensive.

    2. AGC*

      I second this. When I was doing my MBA (in my early 30s), my internship summer was really awful for a variety of non-internship reasons, and “oh, my husband and I didn’t love [city internship was in]” was usually enough for most people to account for the lack of gushing and not push more.

  27. Tib*

    OP4, thinking they’d be fine with you keeping the points unless you bring it up is a gentler way of saying it’s fine as long as they don’t find out. I suspect you would not be fine having to constantly look over your shoulder and hope they don’t find out. The points aren’t worth it and they almost never belong to the scheduler. If your company really doesn’t care it will be a fantastic gift you can enjoy free of worry.

  28. anonymous73*

    #1 As a manager you never feel “blindsided” by an employee leaving. It is never a good idea to disclose to your manager that you’re looking for a new job, and things happen outside of your control that could lead someone to leave. I think it’s great that you want to speak with this employee to make sure you didn’t miss anything and look for possible ways to improve, but you need to change your mindset and not take a resignation personally.
    #4 Talk to your manager. Unless you’re travelling with them as well, the reward points are not for you to use and could potentially be considered stealing.

      1. JustaTech*

        I’m confused if this is a linguistic thing I don’t understand, to my mind “blindsided” means “completely surprised” – but doesn’t include any tone of anger or resentment or anything – just surprise.

        Is there another common meaning that I’m missing?

        I’m also confused about the rest of your comment – a manager should never be surprised that someone quits, but also an employee should never give any indication at all that they might be thinking about leaving, so how could a manager *not* be surprised?

        1. Snarktini*

          I don’t know if the definition of blindsided necessarily implies bad feelings, but it is often used for situations that are shocking or unpleasant. I’d never say I was blindsided by surprise trip from my boyfriend, but I would say I was blindsided by a surprise breakup by him.

          I really liked the distinctions made upstream that even though an employee shouldn’t tell a boss they are looking, a good boss can often spot when an employee has one foot out the door. If they are connected to their team they will see a difference in attitude or know about their frustrations. That’s what the OP is asking about — not why didn’t this person tell me, but did I miss the signs.

          1. JustaTech*

            That’s how I was reading the letter as well, but there have been several comments that the LW is taking the resignation “too personally”, which is why I was wondering if there was some additional meaning to “blindsided”.

  29. LilyP*

    #3 you say that the company was “kind enough” to let you take leave, but given the labor market right now, if you’re good at your job any sensible company would jump at the chance to have you out for a few months vs having to hire to fill your position. If you’re talking with specific coworkers who covered for you while you were out it’s good to recognize and be thankful to them, but I don’t think you need to feel or perform the level of gratitude towards the company that’s coming through in your letter.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I disagree, a few months off is still a really big deal in a lot of places and not necessarily less disruptive than having to hire. Besides it doesn’t really matter how it landed with leadership, the point is that OPs colleagues would see it as a big deal/great privilege, and I think we should trust OP’s read of that.

      1. MCL*

        Agree. I work in academia where sabbaticals are normal (but not for my type of position). Spouse works in a corporate setting. Asking for several months of leave that isn’t medically related would be a huge stretch.

    2. Ali + Nino*

      Considering the state of parental leave in the US, I can understand LW’s gratitude!

  30. Metadata Janktress*

    OP 2: I had (until very recently) the same therapist as my boss (our health plan is small and many people in my company see the same few professionals, so I actually have the same therapist as several of my coworkers). In terms of my relationship with my therapist, it has worked out okay because all of us are aware that this is (was) the case and we could adjust accordingly/make clear that we knew what one was saying to her wasn’t getting back to the other. However, we could do this because my boss and I have a great relationship, realized the situation soon after I started working for him and I could go into session going point blank “Look, boss and I know we both see you, so is this going to be awkward?” I appreciate that this is likely not tenable for you if you don’t have that kind of rapport with your boss, especially if you deduced it from her calendar rather than how my boss and I were chatting about my need for a standing appointment for therapy in my work schedule and he blurted out “WAIT, do you see [therapist]?”

    All that being said, before my boss and I had that realization, my therapist never brought up work unless I specifically brought it up, or if it wasn’t like “so, is this thing having spill over at work?” in a reasonable context and it hasn’t really changed since then. I’d go with Alison’s advice on this one because yeah, it may be confirmation bias, but you don’t need that hanging over your head. This goes double if your boss and you have a difficult relationship. But if it’s just discomfort that you’re seeing the same person, it will likely be fine. If you didn’t know without putting the pieces together from her calendar information, she’s similarly not going to know you see the therapist unless she did similar digging.

  31. Fluffy Fish*

    OP 1 – Since you are a new manager I just wanted to touch on the comment about how you thought you and your employee had a good relationship. If by that you mean you thought your employee would tell you they are job searching/unhappy – forget about that right this second.

    You have a business relationship with your employees. They owe you nothing more than showing up and doing competent work.

    Even if an employee leaves because they are unhappy – so much of the time what they are unhappy about is nothing that will change.

    Accept your employees will leave. Unless you relate to any of the bosses from hell posted about here – it has nothing to do with you. Do not take it personally.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “Unless you relate to any of the bosses from hell posted about here – it has nothing to do with you.”

      The only thing I’ll add to your comment is that I bet most of those bosses wouldn’t recognize themselves in these stories – so self reflecting is not a bad thing to do.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        Totally fair. I’m banking on OP not falling into that category because they’re asking if they can even ask the reason before doing so.

        Hopefully they don’t also not give leap year babies an annual birthday off.

    2. Generic Name*

      Also keep in mind that an employee can be unhappy about things that really can’t be changed. I work as a consultant, and some people really hate having to fill out a time sheet charging to different projects. This is an immutable aspect of working for this company/in the industry, and it’s not unreasonable to dislike it and look for work that doesn’t require this. So maybe your employee didn’t express her unhappiness because you couldn’t have changed what she was unhappy about, even if you wanted to.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Billable time is a HUGE adjustment to people who haven’t done it before. We’ve had candidates fully withdraw from the process once they wrap their heads around billable time.

        And I’m sure that’s true in most jobs and industries. There are so many aspects of culture and procedure that are out of the hands of any individual manager. Sometimes the job is just not a good fit.

      2. Fluffy Fish*

        I did state that but I was thinking more about all the office dysfunctions that exist that no one but the CEO can really change – and that almost never happens.

        But this is a really great example of just the job – and lots of people come to find there’s duties of the job that they just don’t like. Maybe it was fine at first, but now they’re at the point where they just have no interest in doing that any more.

  32. AnonyNurse*

    I’ve had two instances similar to #2.

    The first was when I was in nursing school and was dating a psychiatry fellow (for those doing the math, I finished my BSN in my late 20s, we were the same age). I was seeing a shrink who was also a professor at the university, because that’s what was covered with my insurance. So she def knew the guy I was dating. So I just let her know, asked that even vague references to her work with me as clinical examples not be used, etc. It was not a problem.

    The second time was when I was living in a small community where there were only a couple of options, so everyone knew everyone, and because I am in the health care field, it’s even more complicated. So again, I asked that my shrink be cognizant of that. I later found out that one of my close friends saw the same person, and neither of us knew it.

    If you are really uncomfortable with this (possible) situation, I’d explore seeking out other therapists, though. The checking your boss’s calendar and lining up the weeks your therapist is out of town strikes me as … a lot.

    1. L'étrangere*

      It goes both ways though. I have met someone in a totally social situation, had her grill me about details of a relationship that was going south and encourage me to vent, and then had to cope with screams of “my shrink told me you said this about me” with accompanying not-amicable breakup. In retrospect I should totally have reported her to the appropriate board, I was too young to know. But now in a smaller town I know someone else who’s all too happy to tell everyone who’ll listen about all her patients’ business. Accompanied with names if the identifying details aren’t enough for you to figure it out on your own. This one I tried to report, but the board vigorously pushed back on any notion of anonymity. I don’t think the desirable level of professionalism is as universal as you’d hope, and especially outside a city. If the OP’s shrink is asking questions about work, I’d be very, very careful about this one

  33. not a therapist*

    OP2: Not a therapist but… talk to your therapist about this! My therapist told me she wouldn’t see my closest friends but if a friend was referred to her, she might see them but to let her know if I was aware. Then we could be scheduled for different days and not run into each other before/after our sessions. Also, if you’ve been seeing your t for longer and there is a conflict, maybe your boss would need to go see someone else. It’s worth a conversation at the very least!

  34. Sarr*

    In response to letter #1: I just left a job decently soon (~5 months) after a raise/promotion and I bet my manager felt blindsided. The thing is, though, that she never spent any time asking me about whether I felt fulfilled in the job (I didn’t) or how the job was fitting into my long-term career goals (it wasn’t). I’m not saying that a manager should be constantly fretting over this to the point of putting their insecurities on the employee– but a dedicated time for that conversation a few times a year would have gone a long way in my case.

    I spent several years in that job trying to make it better by volunteering for projects that sounded more interesting, mentioning skills I wanted to learn, mentioning skills I already had that weren’t being utilized– basically doing everything I could short of leveling with them about how bored I was. I wasn’t willing to stick my neck out and let them know that I was unhappy because I wasn’t sure that they would be able to do anything about it.

    This may not be the case with your employee! Maybe she just saw a better opportunity and took it. Just pointing out the value of being proactive with employee satisfaction rather than waiting for employees to raise issues to you.

  35. Ashloo*

    #1 – I think asking the question is fine and you seem really genuine, but prepare not to get a full or fully honest answer. I won’t be telling my company why I’m leaving when I finally do so. If they can’t look at my awful schedule, non-existent benefits, and eroding buying power year over year and clearly see why I’m seeking greener pastures, oh well. I’d rather preserve my references and spin it as a career pivot. I would guess your employee is simply taking advantage of the market we’re in to earn more or gain benefits/flexibility they want.

  36. Overeducated*

    OP3: I was meeting with someone from outside my organization recently who was asking me about my job, and she said “Interesting…yeah, everyone I talk to from your organization says ‘it’s interesting.'” Yeah, she got it.

  37. Apples*

    #1: if you ask, don’t phrase it as “does you leaving have anything to do with me as a manager?” My manager asked me that, and in fact it was partly because of him, but obviously I didn’t want to burn any bridges and lied. I then ranted about how awkward and inappropriate it was to all my work friends after I’d left…

  38. Three Cheers for Root Beers*

    LW#3, I had a similar experience living abroad for a year to teach English to children. I hated it. I was extremely sick for most of it, both the American and local teachers hired by my school were being exploited, my boss was awful, and there were aspects of local culture I found upsetting, stuff like spitting and peeing in the streets and throwing garbage everywhere (I have OCD, the germaphobic type). I still dream about the food, though…sigh…

    People are always very excited to talk about this year of my life and to be frank I carry trauma from it and struggle with my response, too. I’ve settled for things like, “It was an interesting experience, it opened my eyes” or “It wasn’t always the best time but it’s something I’m glad I did.” It’s totally fine to give a bland “it was certainly different!” type of answer or to just be honest– “It was lonely and difficult to be part of the community/culture around me.” No one wants to be a bummer but it is reality that not every experience abroad is a good one!

  39. Amy*

    LW4- omg don’t book travel for your colleagues with 3rd party services. If a hotel is overbooked or the airline has to cancel the flight there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do because the sale was to the 3rd party. Work travel is already stressful- you’ve got responsibilities in unfamiliar environments- not being able to solve a problem with travel or where you’re staying would just add layers of complexity and frustration. Please book directly with the service providers your coworkers will be in contact with!!

  40. Pisces*

    OT, I think LW 1’s situation also illustrates a possible downside of managing a team 100% remote.

    A few months into the pandemic, another manager wrote about his experiences with remote management. For instance, if someone stomps out of the room during an in-person meeting, it’s obvious something’s wrong. Then early in WFH, the manager didn’t realize for a week he’d unintentionally ticked someone off during a Zoom meeting.

  41. MissMeghan*

    OP3, maybe it’s just me but I find it refreshing when people give a non-sugarcoated account of things. If it’s what you want to say, I think kindly and honestly shutting down that topic is fine. I think people at work might feel resentful if you don’t acknowledge feeling fortunate to stay with your partner and keep the family together, but if it were me I’d say “I feel fortunate that I was able to accompany my partner and keep our family together, but to be honest I was incredibly homesick. I’d much rather hear about what’s been happening here while I was gone, tell me about it.”

    If it feels hard to smile and share any kind of anecdote, be honest and switch the topic to office happenings. I’m sure there has to have been at least a few tiny dramas you missed people will be excited to discuss.

  42. merida*

    #1 – I totally agree with Alison that it’s not weird at all to ask an employee why they’re leaving in a “if you don’t mind sharing” kind of way. Totally normal! While it doesn’t sound like anything weird at all is happening in OP’s case, from my personal experience, here are the things that theoretically *would* make “why are you leaving” an inappropriate question:

    1. If you ask more than once or push for more details than the employee is willing to share. If the employee offers only a general reason like “a great opportunity came up!” or “I was ready for a change,” don’t make it weird by continuing to press for the “real” reasons.
    2. If the employee *did* come to you in the past to express concerns, unhappiness and big problems and you were dismissive and offered no assistance (bonus points if they came to you many times), asking “can you share why you’re leaving” without acknowledging that history would be… very weird.

  43. bighairnoheart*

    I think I’m reading it differently than you. I have good and open communication with my manager. Which means she’s aware of my strengths, what I really enjoy about my job, and some of the tasks that bog me down. If for example, my job shifted so I was taking on more of those tasks I didn’t like, I’d communicate that to my manager to try to get it resolved. If it couldn’t me, and I then left for another job, she wouldn’t be blindsighted by me leaving, because she’d probably have seen it coming, or been aware that was a possibility. (I’m sharing this example because it actually happened to me in an old job). When someone leaves and it’s a complete surprise to the manager, there’s usually a perfectly valid reason, but it’s not too surprising for a manager who has a good relationship with their staff to feel caught off guard and worry they missed something.

    1. bighairnoheart*

      Nest fail, but this was in reference to OP1 and an above commenter suggesting the OP expected the employee to communicate something to them ahead of time about wanting to leave feel entitled.

  44. Somewhere in Texas*

    LW3: I was in a similar boat once… Moved for husband’s job and was super down and out for a couple of months. It was initially a short-term relocation, but we ended up being there longer. I’d say a year in (and a change later), I was a lot more settled into the area. To this day I miss that area and our life there.

    I think the hardest part of your situation is that you aren’t there long enough to make major life changes (learning a new language) or to build up a friend network. It’s intensely lonely being in that “in-between” space, especially if you don’t have work as a distraction. I hope you find some pockets of joy in the interim and that you slide back into “real-life” easily.

  45. BigSigh*

    I had two roommates move in, as friends. Neither people I would consider “mentally well.” One recommended her therapist to the second. I found that to be a problematic choice on the therapist’s part, but not my life. Within 6 months they hated each other and I couldn’t help but hear them complaining about each other to the same therapist.

  46. Retired (but not really)*

    Having lived outside the continental US I can agree that it’s definitely a different world out there, even if it’s an area where English is the most common language. I was fortunate to have mostly enjoyed my time there, but would not be likely to want to retire there, although one of my neighbors was actively planning to do so. When people asked me about what it was like to live there, I brought up the positives (mostly climate related) but also pointed out how different it was in other ways (grocery shopping for instance). A short anecdote or two of each gives a balanced view without coming across as gushing or totally miserable (even if one or the other is truly the case).

  47. Rae*

    LW3: Why are you afraid to say you didn’t have a good experience? Do you think people will judge you for it? I think letting people in on frustrating/challenging experiences can be a better way to bond than the bragging about an amazing experience. I ended up being dissapointed with my study abroad experience and I am always honest about that when that country comes up.

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