my employee is job-searching — should I tell my manager?

A reader writes:

I was transferred to a new team a few months ago, along with a colleague who now reports to me, and given responsibility for the company’s capybara program (obviously, a fake name for anonymity). The team we’re now part of is great and supportive; our manager is great and has our backs. The overall organization means well, but can be … quite chaotic.

We’ve had some recent frustrations with repeated changes of direction and conflicting instructions from the layers of leadership above my manager. There’s some micromanagement, something that almost never happened on our previous team, where we were responsible for capybaras but also zebras, red pandas, hedgehogs, and sometimes even wombats. Some weeks feel like we spend so much time explaining why our capybara-tending work is important, persuading people that we do actually understand capybaras, and rearranging the capybara program to align with a new change in direction that there’s no time to actually tend the capybaras.

I’m middle-aged and unambitious, I’ve worked in genuinely toxic environments before, and for me all this is annoying but bearable. (Some days I contemplate looking for a new job, but it feels even more exhausting.) My direct report has a different perspective—totally understandable, more power to them!—and recently told me they’re job-searching, partly because of the above, partly because they would like to be making more money (and their current life circumstances make this very important). I’m bummed about this, but not super surprised. From my perspective, it’s great this person stuck around as long as they did, and training a new person will suck but is part of how work works. (They are very, very good at what we do, and if I were in charge of raises, I would give them a big one! But I’m not.)

Should I be giving my manager a heads-up about this? I like my manager a lot, but our relationship only dates back a few months. And I don’t know enough about this company yet to anticipate whether this is an “oh no an extremely competent person is looking around, let’s give them more money” place or an “oh well, stuff happens, lots of fish in the sea” place.

Nope, don’t give your manager a heads-up.

You don’t know your boss or the company well enough yet to judge how it would be received. There’s too much risk that your employee will end up pushed out earlier than they intended to leave, or denied projects in the meantime that could raise their profile (“since they’re leaving anyway”), or end up on a layoff list when they otherwise wouldn’t have (again, “since they’re leaving anyway”), or be pulled into an awkward conversation about their plans that they had no intention of having, or that your boss or others in leadership will just be weird to your employee in ways that limit their professional opportunities or just make work less pleasant for them.

There are times when it makes sense to give your own boss a heads-up that someone on your team is actively job-searching— like if you’re planning a major new initiative around their hard-to-replace skill or experience, or when you know with certainty that that’s what it’ll take to get them the promotion they’ve been after for a while, or something else where there’s a genuine and legitimate business need to share the information. Even then, though, you wouldn’t do it without your employee’s knowledge (after you explain why you want to share the info) — and ideally their explicit permission. Otherwise the risk to them is just too high, and you’d be sharing info that isn’t yours to share.

Let’s talk about that “isn’t yours to share” piece, though, because that’s what I think trips up a lot of managers. Often in this situation, managers think, “Obviously this is highly relevant info that affects our work, and as the person leading this team I have an obligation to keep the company in the loop about info that will affect them.” When that’s truly the case — as with my examples above — that’s one thing. But more often than not, it’s not really info the company needs, and it’s worth remembering that employees can plan on leaving without ever telling anyone about it, and that’s part of the risk employers take when they depend heavily on one person. Plus you have to factor in all the possible negative ramifications for them, as well as what message you’ll be sending the rest of the team if they hear you won’t keep things like that confidential (it’s likely to be the last time you get an advance heads-up, for one thing).

The other thing managers often think is, “But won’t it cause problems if I don’t say anything and then my boss finds out later that I knew?” And yes, if your own boss is unreasonable, you could be blamed for not sharing the info. The answer to that is, “They didn’t have definite plans so there wasn’t anything concrete to share, and they’d spoken to me in confidence.” You might add, “If we really want to invest in retaining people like Jane, let’s look at ways to do that before they’re at the point where they’re job searching.”

{ 202 comments… read them below }

    1. jane's nemesis*

      SO EXCITED to see the capybara example in this letter!

      Ca-py-bara! Capybaracapybaracapybaracapybara! Ca-py-bara!

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Capybara is the name of an automated software test suite. I’ve actually used it briefly.

      Sorry, but there is nothing you can pick for anonymity that hasn’t already been used by a nerd somewhere :-)

      1. AnonInCanada*

        How about zebras? Nope, there’s a company named Zebra that makes printers and other software as well. Red pandas? Nope. They’re are South African data streaming software company. Hedgehog? I think of a blue one named Sonic, but also: “Hedgehog is a robo-adviser, which means a financial advisor that operates automatically.” Wombats? Nope: “WOMBAT is a software package for quantitative genetic analyses of continuous traits.” There’s no escape!

        1. Quill*

          I’m just remembering my dad’s stack of books on various programming languages, where each had a line drawing in color of an animal on the cover… and the book for Python did NOT have a snake! Of any description!

        2. Timothy (TRiG)*

          A red panda is also known as a firefox, though the logo of the Firefox browser is based on a fox with a fire tail, not on an actual red panda.

        3. JustaTech*

          And Unicorn is the name of software for controlling weird pharmaceutical manufacturing systems.

    3. AnonInCanada*

      Me too! They remind me of big, friendly guinea pigs. If I only had a big field for a couple of them…

    4. GythaOgden*

      Anything involving fuzzy animals is a bonus. When your fictional business revolves around outsized guinea pigs, you know you’re in good hands. I wonder if they make good therapy animals?

      Even looking at the cat who was prowling round the car park this afternoon made me feel better. I’ve been wanting a cat of my own but told myself unless I literally meet a complete stray, I’ll have to wait until I’m in a better job and not paying a third of my salary on train fare. But I was wondering just how long Pussy-Cat Willow has to have been stray that I could legit take him home; he looked sleek and well-cared for, though, so I’m sure kitnapping him would have landed me in hot water. I didn’t offer to take on the dogs my friend’s dad’s death left in a precarious position — Friend has severe disabilities and is unsure whether he can give them what they need, so is looking to eventually rehome them. But his dogs are savages — they’ve done a number on several cricket scorebooks — and I don’t think I have the capacity to take them on. I’m definitely a cat person rather than a dog person, much as I love seeing dogs out and about.

      But I’d take on a capybara.

    5. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I’d love for Alison to do one of those “interview someone about their job” posts with a real llama- or capybara-related worker! (I’ve met some llama wranglers before because I’ve taken llama-packing trips in the wilderness. They often had pretty fascinating “how I wound up in this job” stories.)

        1. GythaOgden*

          There was an alpaca farm near us in SE England. Out for a nice country walk, and suddenly you see a few woolly creatures that are definitely not sheep grazing in an overgrown church yard. It was rather surreal…

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            There are alpaca farms (plural) not far from me. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, they’re all on back roads in off the beaten track locations. If it weren’t for that, I’d drive past them every chance I got, because those are some super cute animals!

          2. allathian*

            Wow, cool. When my family lived in the UK in the mid-80s, we saw a llama with a flock of sheep on Dartmoor, which was a bit surreal TBH. Now many sheep farmers in Finland have a llama or two to guard the sheep, because a llama can kick a wolf to death. They have a strong protective instinct and the sheep seem to accept them as members of the flock very easily.

            1. GythaOgden*

              TIL :D.

              If it was Dartmoor, you may have encountered my friend! She kept a pub and a farm with a whole menagerie of unusual livestock; we travelled across there to a convention in Plymouth every year and stopped at the pub for lunch. Unfortunately she passed away a few years ago and for various reasons we all take the train, so that is a thing of the past. But we spent a fair few times there and it’s nice to think you ran into our friend’s flock :).

  1. Dust Bunny*

    Also: In a balanced, functional workplace, someone leaving shouldn’t be that big a deal. If it causes that much trouble, something was out of whack to start with.

    1. pally*

      Exactly! Why not use this as a motivating factor in creating cross-training programs, employee enrichment programs, an ‘active’ compensation program, etc.?

      (‘active’ = compensation is reviewed regularly. Steps are taken to assure it is in line with current market and with other employees doing similar work, rewards are given to those who go above and beyond, cost of living bumps are provided).

      1. No Tribble At All*

        I’m sure by “employee enrichment” you mean training or educational opportunities or something, but I’m giggling at the thought that they change the furniture around to provide you with novel stimulus in your environment a la a zookeeper. Maybe they’ll hide treats in your desks next and you’ll have to forage!

        1. Rainy*

          I do this for myself at work, actually :P

          I should start hiding chocolate for my coworkers to forage.

        2. pally*

          Figure it’s a catch-all word for advancement opportunities, educational opportunities, new task or stretch projects, etc.

          But snuffle mats work too! Laced with $100 bills!

        3. Eldritch Office Worker*

          If I am unproductive I am probably bored and need a pumpkin full of hamburger to bat around

            1. BubbleTea*

              My first summer in my most recent job, the CEO disappeared one lunch time and reappeared a little while later with a box of ice lollies that were deliberately the “wrong” colour for their flavour. We all took different ones and tried to guess what flavour it was. It’s remarkable how un-strawberryish a strawberry lolly can taste when it’s bright blue.

    2. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

      On one level, I 100% agree. I’ve worked in places where someone leaving caused a massive crisis, and those were not good places to work.

      At the same time, though … this depends on the size of your team. Cross-training is great and important! But on a small team, there’s a point where either you’re doing all the cross-training you’d need for full coverage, or you’re doing your actual job.

      I do know how to do all the things my team member can do, and there are people on parallel teams who know how to do various parts of her job. People leaving is part of life! I’m not trying to stand in my team member’s way if they find something awesome elsewhere! But unless your team is big enough that it makes sense to have a bunch of people doing the exact same job, the process of posting, hiring, and training a new person is going to be disruptive. That’s life.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        True, but even in a small team you want every area/critical function to have at least one backup person. The backup person doesn’t need to know all the details on bathing the capybaras, but they need to at least know where the melon shampoo is in case the primary leaves for some reason.

      2. pally*

        True there are limits and reasonableness must play a part.

        Managers just must not ever get the idea that employees are fixtures.

      3. GythaOgden*

        Yeah, it can be hard. I’m going through something similar to your employee, and I totally get it. My supervisor would almost prefer I got another job entirely than take the opportunity to get experience within our actual organisation. It’s not her being mean — her interest in me is that I do the job I signed on for.

        And I completely understand where she’s coming from — through a bizarre set of circumstances involving a pop-up clinic and different coverage norms than we’re used to, my co-receptionist and I both went to management about it today — their lack of coverage coordination has rebounded on both us and — unforgivable in the NHS — a stranded patient. Even if we did have access to their systems, which we don’t, it should not fall entirely on us to do their job as clinic admin as well as our own as building admin. The fault is not with the workers, though; it’s with their management for not ensuring basic coverage on their desk.

        Even in a society like ours in the UK where the usual system is a month’s notice for junior employees and three months for anyone above supervisor level, workers still have freedom of movement. It’s very brave of you to ask here, because most of us are employees and see things very differently, and it can be hard on people coming from the other side of the desk. But I applaud you for asking — because I think it’s important to see the other side of the story and be able to make contingency plans even if they might be difficult to implement.

        Best of luck with this — but just like my supervisor is being unfair at trying to squash my own advancement within the company and the managers of the clinic are letting coverage slip, this isn’t your employee’s problem to solve.

        1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

          Thanks, I appreciate that perspective.

          It’s been very validating to come here and see everyone agreeing — albeit sometimes pretty harshly — that I don’t need to say anything to my manager, which means I also don’t have to go back to my direct report and ask permission to do that.

  2. Morris Alanisette*

    The statement “I’m middle-aged and unambitious” makes me feel SEEN. I’m going to get that printed on a t-shirt.

    1. OrdinaryJoe*

      Second! LOL LOL I feel like I hit the “unambitious” stage about the same time I hit my upper 40s LOL It’s been a 25 year push and slog and I’m now happy with where I am and what I make.

      1. An American(ish) Werewolf in London(ish)*

        I third that! With changes in my company and role over the last couple of years, I’m a bit bored and lack some motivation, but I like the people and the company by and large, and I earn enough to support my life, so I’m sticking with it.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Hahaha I’m only 30 but I feel like I’m quickly accelerating towards “eh this is fine”

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I burned out at 35 and switched to a slower-paced job. I’m waiting to see if my ambition ever comes back.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            It’s definitely burnout. I hustled through my 20s and now that I feel safe and relatively competent I’m just kind of done.

        2. Quill*

          Same. My greatest ambition, job-wise, is to stop having to search for a job that pays a living wage and lets me have health insurance at the same time.

      3. Pescadero*


        ..although I hit my unambitious stage about 20 minutes into my first job ever, and I’ve just been slogging for the 35 years since.

    2. BeepBoop*

      I feel like there needs to be some kind of support group or something for us unambitious folks. Like, I want to be good at what I do but I’m not interested in getting more work to do/higher job title/etc.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        I’ve reached my ability level and just want to make a minor contribution without messing things up

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m where I want to be and have no interest in rising further. Actually there are days I want to take a step DOWN.

        (Management is fine and all but I kind of miss being the lead tech instead)

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I have had multiple managers step down from management to be individual contributors, so it can definitely be done. (I’m hoping that’s not because I’m a nightmare to manage.)

        2. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

          I actually signed off my email to AAM “Reluctantly a manager again,” because I took the job that led to my current job specifically to not be a manager anymore. But M&As and lateral moves happen, and here we are.

        3. Lils*

          I stepped down due to pandemic-related burnout and wanting to learn more about a specific area of my specialty. It’s been interesting. I definitely leave work at work even better now…no more worrying about management problems in the middle of the night. But, as a non-manager, I have less clout in my organization, which has been a difficult transition.

    3. Cristinutria*

      Me too! I have weighed writing into AMA for advice in my toxic filled layer cake of dysfunction at work because I recently stopped caring about what happens here. If you get t-shirts made, let me know.

    4. londonedit*

      I’m nearly 42 and would also like to join the unambitious club. I just wish being unambitious came with more money! I’m very good at what I do, but I want to carry on doing it, I don’t want to move up and into management or whatever.

      1. Too Many Tabs Open*

        If I got regular COL raises I’d be content doing my current job until retirement. It has enough variety to keep me interested, and until housing in my city skyrocketed it was a reasonable income.

    5. Juicebox Hero*

      My people!!! I’d suggest a “middle-aged and unambitous” meet-up somewhere, but making travel arrangements is such a pain in the rump.

      I too have an annoying but bearable job, plus 4 weeks of vacation and fabulous health insurance, and a new job would mean starting from scratch.

    6. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

      You’re right, I need that on a t-shirt too.

      I don’t want a new job! I don’t want a promotion! I just want to get to do the job described in my job description without being micromanaged all the time.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I want a promotion with more money and no new responsibilities. Is that too much to ask?

      2. sb51*

        Hear, hear. I go to all these trainings about how to keep challenging your team so they can grow quickly enough they won’t job-hop for advancement and “everyone wants to grow quickly” and just nooooooooo. True, since I haven’t aggressively pursued growth myself, my team are junior people. Maybe when one of them is senior enough to want my job but I haven’t moved up and out of it, I’ll look for a transfer to an IC role and let them have it.

    7. Damn it, Hardison!*

      Right?! My manager made a point of reaching out to me before announcing that a colleague (same manager, different program) got a promotion. He wanted to let me know he was advocating for me and committed to my development. I told him I am perfectly happy where I am and in no hurry to move up or out. He was surprised!

    8. Ghostess*

      BIG SAME. Sometimes I think about writing into Alison just to ask “Am I supposed to care about work?” I like my job, the folks are good, I like the work I do, but I would be perfectly happy to please never work again. When people ask what my dream job is I just stare and go “None?”

    9. grubbies*

      My thoughts exactly. My boss is younger than me and I tell her this kind of thing all the time. I just want to do my current job well, and get paid for it.

      1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

        I had a direct report at a previous job who told me the same thing. She had one job, she did it excellently, and she had no desire to move across or up or anywhere.

        The only problem was that our HR system required people to have “stretch goals” and we had to make something up every year.

        1. I Have RBF*

          I actually referred a person to a company that I had left, but still knew people there. A friend who was now managing the group called me, asked if I knew her. I said yes, and “If you can get her, grab her. She’s very good at what she does, but is not looking for advancement.” They hired her.

          A year later my friend reached out to me again “You weren’t kidding when you said she isn’t looking for advancement. I’m having a hard time figuring out what goals to give her. I don’t understand it.” I said “She wants to go to work, do a good job, then leave it behind when she goes home. Her only goals are doing a good job and then a good retirement. If you need her to learn new tools or something, fine. But she doesn’t want to be a manager, or even a lead. But she’s rock steady, knowledgeable, professional, and consistent in her quality. She does help train new people and is a great repository for institutional knowledge.”

          People like this are very rare, but if you can get them into a position where consistency, reliability and lack of churn are important, they will thrive, being satisfied with doing a good job and going home at the end of the day. Pay them well, because they are the bedrock of any service type of organization IMO.

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            I was that way — I did well income/investment-wise and advanced professionally – it was a lot more fun being a lead tech than a manager.

            And while you’re not immune from political maneuvers, and management stunts, you have a better chance of survival because you (generally) don’t make enemies.

    10. Harried HR*

      This is the first role in my career that I genuinely feel that I could spend the rest of my working days here and retire !

    11. House On The Rock*

      So many things in this letter resonated with me, from fundamentally loving my dysfunctional organization while realizing my staff deserve better to thinking looking for something else is too annoying/time consuming to wanting to work in wombats whenever possible!

  3. OrdinaryJoe*

    “Looking” has different meanings for people and depending on how unhappy they are and how specialized the position is, how much money they want, etc. they may be looking for a long time. I love my job but I also still get job alerts every day and look at it several times a week. If the dream job came along, I would be tempted :-)

    1. Former Retail Lifer*

      I’ve been looking for a year. I’m not desperate and the right thing hasn’t come up. I could be looking forever.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        It took me two years to find my current job and I was desperate to get out – just not desperate enough to make the same mistake I made the last time I got that desperate (taking a job in a place I knew had low morale, high turnover, and messy leadership just to get away from a slightly worse role).

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      Gosh, this exactly. OP’s employee could be “looking”, but looking for the perfect fit and it will take her 3 years to find that fit. She could be looking at Indeed and Careerbuilder and Monster all day, but apply to nothing. Or she could be spamming out her resume to every conceivable employer she might reasonably qualify for. “Looking” is a broad term.

      But OP – you CAN suggest that because Jane is working at XYZ high levels, and doing excellent work, that she is someone you would like to keep onboard, and that a raise should be considered. Even if you don’t control the raises, I’d imagine you report to someone who does. Just a thought, if you thing Jane would put up with all the craziness at your zoo for a few extra bucks, it may be worth pitching.

      1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

        It’s a good thought, thank you!

        Unfortunately not only do I not control the raises, neither does the person I report to. We’ve had this conversation, though!

        1. sacados*

          That’s interesting. Because I was going to suggest something along those lines, that you could go to your manager and say “Can I ask you about how the raises/performance reviews are handled at this company, because there are some members of my team who I believe deserve a bump and I want to know when/how best to bring that up” or something …
          And then at least you would have a little more info about if there’s room for you to try and get this employee a raise and possibly keep them.

        2. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

          Neither I nor my boss control raises, but the way I’ve always seen low-level managers at big companies advocate for the people on their team is the first manager makes a case for why their report should get a raise, maybe puts some details in writing (market value, business impact if the person leaves), etc., gives it to their manager, they go over it together and get on the same page, and then the next higher manager “runs it up the flagpole” and brings it to the attention of their boss, who potentially brings it to the attention of their boss (hr, finance, whoever needs to be involved), etc. But in my experience, it always starts with the manager of the person who needs the raise advocating for that person.

          Not making the final decision on a raise (“controlling” raises) is not the same thing as not being able to influence the outcome by providing information, negotiating, etc. My boss and I are working through this process right now, trying to get my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss to get money from finance to keep someone on my team from turning into a flight risk.

    3. ecnaseener*

      Yeah, that’s the key point for me. If you knew for a fact she would be gone within X weeks, maybe there’d be an argument for saying that’s important to disclose. But all you know is that she might leave sometime. You already knew that!

  4. Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom*

    OP, I really don’t think that this is your business. If the employee wants to search for a new position, that is their decision. Why would you feel the need to report it? That reflects more on your perspective and world view. You may not know enough about the circumstances of the employee to make that judgement call.

    1. Cj*

      I think that, as a manager themselves, they might feel some responsibility to let the company know. not that I think they should, mind you.

      1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

        Yes, you’ve hit the dilemma on the horns! I don’t want to say anything but wondered (a) if I needed to, and (b) if there was a potential benefit in terms of pushing the organization on salary/job title.

        1. House On The Rock*

          I really admire both your use of wonderful beasties and your desire to protect, support, and reward your staff. In an ideal world your organization would work to keep the staff member if they realized she’s a flight risk…unfortunately, there’s too much downside for the employee and, given that it’s all pretty nebulous right now, not enough upside for the organization.

        2. tamarack etc.*

          I’d tell the *employee* “Just for future reference, you should probably never tell anybody at your workplace you’re looking, because even the people who totally root for you know it’ll be harder for them once you leave.” And then forget you ever knew about it.

          1. Jellyfish Catcher*

            This! I totally agree. Telling a work buddy puts the searcher at jeopardy and the informed work friend in an uncomfortable position. Lips zipped whether casually looking, testing the waters or seriously searching.

  5. Prospect Gone Bad*

    There is nothing to give a “heads up” about. Some people are perpetually looking, so it’s a meaningless thing to report. It’s like saying “so and so is thinking about dessert.” Does that mean they’re going to the bakery instead of working? Does it just mean they’re fantasizing and will never act on it?

    I feel like you’re asking the wrong question, I am in a similar situation in a way and would have loved for your question to be what it actually is: “how to manage people who act like everything is the worst thing ever, because they’re less experienced and don’t realize how common some things are?”

    I really think that is your actual question.

    I wish I had an answer but I’ve living through this now as well and dealing with employees who are extremely upset about things that are sort of, well, acceptable? Common? Normal? And if I say “this is actually not a big deal” they take it as me not listening to their concerns. Sort of a lose lose situation.

    What employees (and managers I guess too) aren’t realizing is that at least corporate America is going to have more uncertainty as time goes on. We are automating away the stable and predictable work, which leaves less people to discuss the remaining unsolvable problems, things that you can’t automate, and to discuss new problems. This isn’t the AI revolution, this is what has already been happening at many places for years or decades.

    Your second actually question is how to handle the random micro-management from above. My first question would be, is it short term/one-time, or a trend? TBH you occasionally get sidetracked every year or so to do this work to show you’re worth keeping around. It’s when it becomes constant that it is a problem.

    1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

      I feel like you’re asking the wrong question, I am in a similar situation in a way and would have loved for your question to be what it actually is: “how to manage people who act like everything is the worst thing ever, because they’re less experienced and don’t realize how common some things are?”

      You know what, I have absolutely worked with those people, and after working alongside this specific person for more than 5 years, I feel comfortable saying that they are not those people. That is a good question to ask, it’s just not the situation I’m in right now.

      Your second actually question is how to handle the random micro-management from above. My first question would be, is it short term/one-time, or a trend?

      I’ve only been on this team for about 6 months, but so far, the micromanaging from above has been … not constant, but frequent, and the frequency has been steadily increasing. Most recently, a program I am ostensibly responsible for has been drastically changed with zero input from me — and not just changed, but changed multiple times, in a direction that the capybaras are going to hate.

      I’ve been in the workforce for a quarter of a century; I know things can get a lot worse than this. It’s still annoying and discouraging, though.

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      If you’re dealing with multiple employees who are upset about something, I think you should be listening to them. “Acceptable” is not something that can be imposed from the top-down. Or, you may have some understanding or knowledge that they lack.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        To be specific, since you addressed it, I’m managing a few “BEC” situations. Things that aren’t big deals but people think they are because they are tired of a product or coworker or system. Thing is, some of these things are difficult to change and don’t change overnight. For example, the same people who hate employment at will are consistently complaining about every time another coworker breaths. Well, I have to document for a year, or they need to blow up the building, for them to get fired.

        Stuff like that

  6. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I think it WOULD be OK to use the access and capital you have to advocate for better pay and working conditions for Jane, and for everyone else.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      That was my thought too! Less of a “heads up” and more of a retention conversation. What retention incentives are available? Are salaries competitive? How can you and your boss strategize to lessen the downstream impact of the chaos and direction changes? You don’t have to mention the job search specifically.

      If your boss doesn’t want to change anything and is comfortable losing people, then you can start thinking about setting up documentation, training, and transition plans to ease some of the pain of turnover.

      1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

        Part of the issue I’m having, TBH, is that I’ve never before worked in such a big, hierarchical organization. Performance reviews, goals, increases, etc. have to go through eleventy billion layers of approvals.

        So the person who “doesn’t want to change anything and is comfortable losing people” would be my boss’s boss’s boss…

  7. Shoes*

    “…what message you’ll be sending the rest of the team if they hear you won’t keep things like that confidential (it’s likely to be the last time you get an advance heads-up, for one thing).”


    1. Cmdrshrd*

      Honestly, even if OP shared with their boss I don’t think they would be really to blame.

      You should not share anything at work that you want to keep a secret. Don’t share with your work bff(s)/coworkers, but especially not your boss. Anything you say at work to someone you should assume it is like shouting it from the rooftops. If you say something bad or even just mildly negative about another employee to a different coworker you need to pretend like you are saying that to the person you are complaining about directly.

      1. Cj*

        I know we see letters here from people that wonder if they should give their boss a head up when they are looking, and you definitely shouldn’t. but I think in some cases, like possibly this one, the employee thinks that if they mention they are looking because of the money, they will get a raise. Which is actually one of the reasons why the letter writer is tempted to tell her boss.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          But honestly, if the only reason I get a raise is because I’m thinking about leaving, that says volumes about how much my company values me.

          1. GythaOgden*

            I see this but I think the reality is that management don’t keep track of everyone’s daily progress/compensation to the degree that assumes they are (and if they did that they’d be accused of micromanaging). I had to ask upwards to get anything at all, and you could say that bringing it to a head with another offer means that the company has a chance to review the specific situation and update things accordingly.

            My dad actually succeeded in a counter-offer bid (he was at the same company throughout his career) as well as dodging a redundancy axe and I’ve almost unintentionally perfected the art of nudging people into extra hours/pay bands by knowing they needed me more than I needed them. There was no real possibility to negotiate pay directly because it was the public sector, but on one occasion I took advantage of their mistaken calculations and got an extra hour per day on my part time hours, and then ensured that when I was brought on as a permanent worker, I got the second step on the pay band in recognition of having been there a year as a temp. I played them like a fiddle and I’m still here ten years on.

            People aren’t omniscient. Managers don’t sit around every day calibrating pay and benefits to the exact needs of their staff. While the principle is sound, I think it makes managers out to be superbeings who have an infinite amount of control and oversight into their employees’ headspaces…which is more frightening to me to contemplate than the fact that by doing something actively to look for something else you can get the attention of management to revisit your pay.

        2. Cmdrshrd*

          “but I think in some cases, like possibly this one, the employee thinks that if they mention they are looking because of the money, they will get a raise.”

          If that is really what the employee is hoping for they are really going about it all wrong. I have no problem with people using looking for a new job to ask for more money, but they have to actually ask. What the employee did is like someone saying “I hope to try x restaurant someday.” and expecting people to make it happen, if you want something you have to directly ask for it.

          1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

            I don’t think the employee thinks that — I think they were genuinely giving me a heads-up because when they leave I will be a team of one for a while, and we’ve worked together for half a decade and know each other well.

            But it’s something I wondered about.

      2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        Just because it’s common for people to do something blameworthy does not actually exempt them from blame for doing it.

        1. Cmdrshrd*

          I do think/agree OP should not say anything to their boss, but I don’t think telling the boss is actually blame worthy. Employee told OP/boss, I don’t think it would be unreasonable for OP to think that the employee is not actually trying to keep this a secret.

          If you have a secret that you don’t want people to know, you don’t go around telling people. “Two people can keep a secrete if one of them is dead.”

  8. Some Internet Rando*

    The letter writer used a gender neutral pronoun (they) but Alison used she/her and referenced a feminine name (Jane). I am curious about that. Why not use the same pronoun as in the question?

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      This comes up every few weeks in the comments (OMG I read too much since I know this). It’s repeatedly been said that “she” is AAM’s prefered “neutral” pronoun, just say everyone is a “she” so people don’t turn every comment section into guessing what the genders are and wondering if gender dynamics play a role in the letter.

      It seems like no matter what is used, someone will complain. TBH it’s tiring to keep reading this. Yes, I know we don’t have to read it, but it’s hard to not read something until you, you know, already read it.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      1) Because Alison’s general policy is to refer to LWs as feminine.

      2) Because sometimes people make mistakes.

      3) Because we are asked not to nitpick language.

      1. Boolie*

        That’s weird, it doesn’t seem characteristic of Alison to purposely misgender someone. Also it can be harmful to be discussing someone with perceived emotional or professional shortcomings and immediately assign it to a woman. Don’t really love it, Alison.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s not my policy here — the person you’re replying to misstated it. I default to she/her when gender is unknown because I like that it counters centuries of the male default. In this case, I just missed that the LW had used “they” and I’ll fix it.

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Alison’s general policy for gender-unknown people (esp managers) is to refer to them as female, not feminine. (And this isn’t nitpicking, these are different things entirely. Anyone can be feminine, but only some people can be female, and not all female people are feminine.)

    3. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

      It appears that “they” is my gender-neutral pronoun and “she” is Alison’s, and that’s fine — the person’s gender doesn’t matter for this question, I don’t think.

  9. Former Retail Lifer*

    DON’T TELL ANYONE. Long ago, I mentioned to a co-worker that I was close with that I was job hunting. That co-worker told our boss, who loved me and wanted to keep me, who then told our area director. My boss was trying to help and tried to see if they could offer me more money to stay. Instead, the area director told her to fire me since I was not “loyal.” I didn’t get actually get fired, but you can be sure that my area director made sure that I knew that she COULD fire me for this.

    1. Cj*

      I think the letter writer is thinking along the same lines as your boss was, that it could help their employee if upper management knew they were thinking about leaving because of the money. but, as you are a perfect example of, that can definitely backfire

    2. Capybara Manager (the OP)*


      In a past workplace I saw multiple people get raises and promotions in exactly this way — I got one myself that way once, which should have been a red flag honestly — so I don’t blame your boss for trying, but YIKES at your co-worker!!

  10. Countess of Shrewsbury*

    I think it’s important to reflect on what you think your manager would (ideally) do with this information, and the reality is that there’s not much they CAN do, so it’s really useless. An employee is looking for a new job. As another person above pointed out, that can mean casually perusing job listings, putting out a few applications here and there, or actively interviewing and fielding offers. You just don’t know and there’s nothing a manager can really do until an employee says, officially, “I’m leaving effective DATE.”

    You wouldn’t want the manager to force them out the door or look for a replacement too early, so it’s best to just sit and see how this plays out. They could leave or they could not. I’ve had an employee for the past two years who has declared very openly that they’re looking for a new job but they have yet to actually resign so… not much I can do with that info, you see?

  11. Trout 'Waver*

    Shouldn’t people who are actively looking to leave not be given forward looking projects?

    That seems like common sense to me.

    Part of any management role is succession planning. If a direct report tells you they’re actively looking to leave, you’d be derelict in doing you job if you ignored that information when it came to planning team activities. Since it seems OP leads a team of two, it would make way more sense to me for OP to take the forward looking pieces and give the day-to-day stuff to their direct report.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I strongly disagree. As I stated in response to another comment, my last job search took me two years. Should I not have managed any forward looking projects during that time?

      I guess you can tell by my disagreement that I absolutely did. I got one almost all the way to launch and left the other in a good place to be transitioned to someone else. Employees can leave at any time. Unless you know with certainty (due to a resignation) that someone is leaving imminently, punishing them for job searching by failing to use their skills while you have access to them makes zero sense.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      And that’s how you make sure people never give you enough notice to plan for anything.

      I will absolutely have a back up plan if someone is leaving, but I’m not going to deprive them or opportunities or myself of their contributions because something may happen. Employees leave with no notice for various reasons all the time – medical leave, bereavement, new opportunity fell in their laps, whatever it may be. My job as a manager is to utilize them while they’re here.

    3. Just Another Zebra*

      What? No.

      If you give EVERYTHING to the other direct report, you’re going to overload them and make them resentful that Jane has to do “no work” while they have to do “everything”. Then they’ll start looking for a new job, too.

      On paper, what you’re suggesting makes sense to a point. But “actively looking to leave” can take time, sometimes years. It could also just be a statement of frustration. It’s better for OP to utilize the resources she has while she has them, and then prepare a back-up plan for losing either of her direct reports.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        Huh? Any team has a range of tasks. Not giving forward-looking projects doesn’t mean not giving anything.

        If I was leading a tech transfer project and I knew one team member was a high risk for leaving, I wouldn’t give them a task to build a relationship with the eventual manufacturer. I’d give them tasks on sourcing raw materials for pilot studies or benchwork for process latitude studies.

    4. Rainy*

      This is one of those things that seems like common sense but isn’t. Work has to get done, and if you keep piling projects on the person you’re sure is stuck, they’re going to leave for somewhere that doesn’t pile all the work on them, and then all your forward projects have to be reassigned.

      Also, as much as a dislike slippery-slope arguments, if you start by not giving projects to people you suspect of looking to leave, pretty soon you’re going to be able to justify to yourself not giving projects to women because they might get pregnant, and that would actually be actionable discrimination.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        Its odd to me that you’re the second commenter to read “not to be given forward-looking projects” as not giving any projects or piling things on other people.

        Why is that? Forward-looking work has been a tiny fraction of the projects everywhere I’ve worked.

        1. Rainy*

          …Virtually everything I do is forward-looking, I guess? Like…I’m hard pressed to think of anything I do that isn’t either going to continue into the future even if this specific piece will be done by the end of the year, or planning for something that won’t happen until next year.

          I suppose now I’m unsure what you mean by forward-looking. Isn’t everything forward-looking?

          1. Trout ‘Waver*

            These comment sections are interesting because everyone has their biases and lived experiences that color their perceptions.

            My job has a lot of firefighting, immediate supply chain needs, admin work, and benchwork that I wouldn’t consider forward looking. It all can be very high profile, impactful, meaningful work that would beef up a resume, though.

            On other hand, flying someone out to rural Louisiana to evaluate a pilot process and build a relationship with the operations team to support a potential scale-up a year from now would be an example of a forward-looking task in my job.

            1. Rainy*

              Ah, I see. My job isn’t like that at all–if I was forbidden from taking on anything long-range because I was looking (and tbh I am always at least casually looking), nothing would get done in my entire area of responsibility; I manage a program and I’m also a one-person show so pretty much everything is long-range. “Last minute” for me is basically 3 weeks out. My longest range current project (in the planning stages right now) will probably make its debut late in 2024.

    5. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

      But that would be punishing them for giving me a friendly heads-up, and I’m not going to do that.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        Does the employee in question *want* forward-looking projects? Maybe they’re so far gone they want easily quantifiable short-range stuff to boost their resume immediately. Maybe they want low-stress tasks to help manage burn-out. You know them better than any of the commenters here.

        But don’t make the mistake of projecting your own wants onto them. Not everyone wants forward-looking projects.

      2. GrooveBat*

        I guess my question would be…what’s the purpose of giving you a “friendly heads up,” if not to help you manage their departure?

        I just think there is no good to come of sharing your departure plans with anyone at your organization, no matter how good your relationships are.

        1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

          That’s definitely the purpose, but I wouldn’t do it by yeeting them from interesting / forward-looking projects even if that were a real option. (It isn’t — like Rainy’s upthread, our capybara work is mostly spread out across time and tightly integrated with the guinea pig, angora rabbit, nutria, and gerbil teams, as well as more loosely with the hedgehog and shrew teams.)

          I would do it by making extra sure that I understand (not just know about) everything they’re doing and encouraging them to document (which we both do a lot of anyway).

    6. CommanderBanana*

      …no. I work in an area where hiring often takes a VERY long time, because of federal agencies and clearances. Long as in, over a year to complete a clearance investigation. It would be cutting off your nose to spite your face to not give people projects because they’re looking (or you think they’re looking) for new opportunities, and, it’ll pretty much guarantee that people try to exit faster.

    7. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      The other side of that is that an employee who stops getting those forward-looking projects is more likely to leave. Right now, this person doesn’t have an offer or any definite plans, and she can take her time. With a project to work on, she might stick around for a bit, either to improve her resume or because the day-to-day work would be less annoying.

      Taking the most interesting parts of the work away from a competent employee might lead her to leave sooner, rather than waiting for a really good offer. That’s especially true if she interprets this as the OP and/or their boss planning to push her out. And then the “succession planning” leaves the position vacant and the OP needing to hire now rather than six or twelve or eighteen months later.

    8. Nina*

      In my field it can take upwards of a year to find a new role once you cross the line from ‘eh I’m keeping an eye on what’s out there’ to ‘that’s it, I’m looking for a new job now’, and months more to actually start the new job once you’ve got it.

      Not giving someone any forward looking projects for nearly two years because you think they might be looking for a new job is an excellent way to train the rest of your staff to always, always blindside you and give the bare minimum of notice.

      What would you prefer?

      1. Trout ‘Waver*

        Part of leading a team or project is identifying and mitigating risks. A key team member leaving is always a risk.

        Getting additional info that an identified risk is more likely to happen can change its risk profile, potentially requiring additional mitigation actions.

        If someone told me they were actively looking, I’d work with them to figure out what the best course going forward would look like. I’d also avoid giving them tasks that require continuity in role on a timeline that exceeds their intended tenure.

  12. NYWeasel*

    I’m very lucky that my manager is someone I can tell things like “Jane is looking at X types of jobs” and she doesn’t freak out or use the knowledge in ways that hurts my team or Jane in particular. She might then say to our grand boss that retention is a concern, but she frames it broadly against a range of issues so the grand boss can’t identify any single person, and she asks for things that benefit everyone.

    In turn, my team knows that when they tell me their frustrations, etc, they aren’t punished and it often helps fix the issues. Which ultimately leads to less turnover too!

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Even with a good manager, I’m hoping you’d have Jane’s permission before sharing that information.

  13. CommanderBanana*

    Blanket rule, if you find out someone you work with is job-searching (or you think they are) it falls squarely into Not Your News to Share and Also Not Your Business.

    1. GrooveBat*

      I think that would be the case if it were a co-worker. As a manager, it is your business because you’re the one who has to adjust plans and fill the opening if the employee leaves abruptly.

      Does that mean you tell your boss? I think it depends. I wouldn’t go out of my way to tell my boss, but if we were making decisions where that knowledge would be pertinent, I wouldn’t be comfortable not mentioning it.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I don’t agree. Obviously this is going to vary from situation to situation, but as the commentariat here said, the definition of “looking” varies hugely.

        I get job alerts from various career websites because I never turned off the alerts I had, but that doesn’t mean I’m looking for a new job. If my manager were to walk past my computer and saw one of those pop up in my inbox, should they scuttle away to inform our boss?

        If an employee informs their manager that they are looking, the manager should talk to them about what that actually means, and then let them know that they will have to let their boss know about it when the employee actually has concrete plans to leave, and then let the employee know before they share that information with anyone else.

      2. Rainy*

        I’m always looking. I love my job and my office, but I’m topped out here unless someone dies, and my pittance of a salary is falling behind COL in my rather ridiculously expensive area. We will never get ahead here, ever.

        I have a lot of boxes to check, but when I find positions that check those boxes, I apply. I expect it will take a few years to find the right fit in the right place for the right money, and until then I am absolutely committed to my work. Should my boss start pushing me out because I will leave someday? Is that honestly the kind of environment you want for yourself?

        1. CommanderBanana*

          Yep, and, hopefully GrooveBat isn’t actually telling their boss that their coworkers are looking for new opportunities, but if they are, that’s a great way to lose your coworkers trust and I think it’s an incredibly damaging thing to do as a manager.

          1. Rainy*

            Yup. And honestly, that kind of thing will always come back to bite you. If they’re grassing on their reports or colleagues and contributing to the kind of workplace vibe that pushes people out the second there’s a suspicion that they might be looking, they’re creating an environment that will at some point affect them as well. The leopards don’t discriminate–if you vote them in, they WILL eat your face too.

          2. GrooveBat*

            Please re-read what I wrote. I said it is *not* appropriate to tell your boss if it is a co-worker.

            1. Rainy*

              It’s still not appropriate if they’re your report, frankly. “Because forward planning” isn’t really a reason–you don’t know when they’re going to actually be offered and accept a new job. It could be years.

              1. GrooveBat*

                I agree with Alison’s perspective here, where she says:

                “There are times when it makes sense to give your own boss a heads-up that someone on your team is actively job-searching— like if you’re planning a major new initiative around their hard-to-replace skill or experience, or when you know with certainty that that’s what it’ll take to get them the promotion they’ve been after for a while, or something else where there’s a genuine and legitimate business need to share the information.”

                That’s what I mean by “pertinent.”

              2. CommanderBanana*

                ^^ Agree. I completely understand the thought process behind your comment, GrooveBat, but I really think that you should not be sharing that information with your boss unless you have 1. had a conversation with your direct report first, 2. they have a concrete plan and a timeline to leave, not just ‘looking,’ 3. you’ve told them you are planning to share this info with your boss and they’ve okayed it. And honestly, if they’re at the point where they’re ok with you sharing it and they have a concrete timeline to leave, they really should be the ones sharing that information anyway.

                1. CommanderBanana*

                  Also, I simply don’t trust someone else to be the judge of “pertinent.” Not when someone else’s livelihood could be on the line. That’s taking a huge risk with someone else’s career and I don’t think that’s fair to do to someone without letting them know first.

                2. GrooveBat*

                  Yes, this all makes sense to me. I also really liked your suggestion about digging more deeply into the “why,” and what “looking” actually means to that person. That would obviously be a given for me, but I like that you called it out specifically.

  14. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

    OP here! Thank you Alison and commenters for validating my instincts. Because of a pattern I got used to in a previous (pretty dysfunctional) workplace, I particularly appreciate this:

    You might add, “If we really want to invest in retaining people like Jane, let’s look at ways to do that before they’re at the point where they’re job searching.”

    And I didn’t put this in my email, but should have: I would absolutely never give my manager a heads-up without my team member’s permission.

  15. Pink Candyfloss*

    “I’m middle aged and unambitious” I had to double check to make sure I didn’t accidentally write in and forget lol is this me? It could be me.

    1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

      Genuinely feeling like I need to start a support group! I had no idea how many of us there were until Alison posted my letter!

    2. allathian*

      I’m also unambitious, if being ambitious implies a willingness to manage other people. I am ambitious in the sense that I’m willing to put in a lot of effort to become a better SME, but I have zero interest in being a manager.

  16. Ama*

    My direct report is really struggling with some recent changes to our WFH policies and I know she’s looking. I’ve been doing the best I can to give our senior leadership the heads up about “hey people really don’t like this policy and I’m concerned we will lose good employees over this” but it’s hard because since I am not able to say that I know for sure people are looking senior leadership thinks I’m just crying wolf. (I will say I know she isn’t the only person unhappy about the changes and I suspect others are looking as well — it’s only been four months since the policy changed so I suspect within the next six months to a year we will start seeing people leaving.)

    I do plan, if she ends up giving notice, making it very clear to senior leadership that she’s only leaving because of this one policy that I have consistently advised them was going to be an issue.

      1. Rainy*

        Totally agree.

        Also, when she does leave you should definitely apply yesterday’s “how to say I told you so” advice. ;)

    1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

      That seems like a good strategy to me, especially if there’s widespread unhappiness about a specific policy…

  17. MPerera*

    I once worked in a place that had the most incompetent and unprofessional supervisor I’ve ever encountered. Everyone, including the manager, worked around this Missing Stair. Finally I applied to other places. One called me in for an interview and then requested references.

    I asked the manager if he could give me a reference. He said sure. About a week later, we were upgrading to a new computer system and the supervisor told us he had arranged training for “nearly everyone” on the new system. Then he called me into his office and said, “The manager told me you had applied for another job, so I didn’t arrange training for you.”

    I was so stunned I couldn’t even answer. For one thing, I hadn’t even been offered a job yet. For another, that could have been for a part-time position (not uncommon in our industry), meaning I’d still want my full-time job. And finally, I felt that until I gave my two-week notice, I should be treated the same as every other employee in terms of training.

    Thankfully the other place offered me the job. When I left, I told HR about everything I’d experienced with the supervisor. There must have been several such complaints, because some time later he was fired.

    Moral of the story : unless you know with 100% certainty that everyone who hears the news will react appropriately, don’t tell.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      ^^ This. My last organization conducted stay interviews and claimed they were “100% confidential.” The HR director asked during my interview if I was looking elsewhere. I should have declined to answer, and really declined to participate at all, but I told her that while I wasn’t actively applying, I always kept an eye on what was available in my industry.

      TWO YEARS LATER, my horrible boss told me that he “knew I was planning to leave” because of the conversation I had had with the HR director and that’s why he never advocated for me to be promoted, despite working essentially 2.5 jobs for 5 years. Yes, the conversation that was “100% confidential.”

      1. GlendaTheGoodBureaucrat*

        A few years back, during a period of intense insanity in my department (including my dept head being fired), my new/interim department head (who was also a step down from CEO) asked me if I was really devoted to the organization, with a semi-tortured “everyone needs to be rowing on the boat” metaphor. I acknowledged that given the organizational upheaval under the prior director, I had been “pursuing some off-boat opportunities,” but was willing to consider staying if things continued to get better.

        She was off to the next opportunity within a year; I’m still with the organization. And I actually still really appreciate and like her, it’s just a little funny to be asked about organizational loyalty by someone you know isn’t likely to be there long-term.

  18. GythaOgden*

    No, don’t tell. It’s not fair to put their job in jeopardy and it’s not your business who is staying and who is going.

    I am in a very unusual situation.

    I’m job hunting. I love where I am (literally in an atrium which means I am sitting in sheltered daylight all day), who I work with and broadly what I do but the commute is killing me (almost literally) and we’re ‘quiet redundant’ in terms of workload. It’s an open secret, but for a few reasons I’m not bothered about my management knowing:

    – constructive dismissal (managing out) is illegal
    – I’m working with management to find something else and in touch with internal recruitment, as we’re a national org with quite a few remote jobs and I came close at interview when I did apply; everyone just acknowledges I need a bit more fresh experience after letting things get stale over the last few years while dealing with personal stuff
    – my two closest colleagues are generally apathetic about their positions and have said on a few occasions that I’m the one who has the opportunity, capability and drive to do something else, so aren’t surprised I’m looking to leave and actually quite supportive.

    I’ve even discussed external interviews with them and they know I’m staying put until I find something. They get a whole month’s notice as part of my employment contract.

    I’m having a difficult time, though, with one great opportunity. My great-great-grandboss has been helping with professional development — she’s enthusiastic about cultivating talent we have in-house — and has started planning opening an office for our facilities organisation in the building I work in so I can get some training on admin systems they have when I’m able to duck away from the reception desk. There would then be an attempt to get funding for another admin role, which would be hybrid out of this office but full time. (I can live with that — ideally I want to cut the commute I have which is exhausting me, but doing it 2-3 days a week would be ok, particularly if it was on a FT salary.)

    The snag is my colleagues are very much not engaged — either with my professional development or with the organisation and their plans. I get on perfectly well with them but I am a bit resentful of the fact that I’ve had to go above my direct supervisor to get anything other than ‘why don’t you look at getting a job at a doctor’s surgery?’ (because I don’t want to be on reception any more…? I’m never going to be chief exec, but I want something a bit more from my life) and actively hurt an opportunity I had to do some remote ad hoc admin work for someone else in the org who needed an extra pair of hands. Putting it like this is doing a disservice to my supervisor, who is otherwise a fab woman; it’s just she sees her needs (me on the front desk undistracted) rather than mine and that’s where we differ.

    My co-receptionist will often say ‘What do you want to do that for?’ when I try and ask for more work. Again, we get on well, it’s just a blip and something I don’t need the friction of arguing with her about or letting it wreck a friendship of nigh on ten years now through thick, thin and a nasty pandemic. She’s at retirement age and could choose to leave pretty much any time she wanted; she stays because I genuinely think she likes being busy.

    So until the GGGB’s plan actually materialises, I’m saying nothing. And as a chronic oversharer, it’s hard, particularly when everything in our org happens on a somewhat …geological timescale. (Believe me, what with climate change and all, we can’t really talk about glacial as being slow any more :-/.) So I’m sitting here trying to give my GGGB enough time (the proposal only landed in my inbox a week ago, and it’s the middle of summer so everyone’s on the beach) to get something tangible together.

    I have two loose ‘ultimatum’ timescales: if I don’t hear anything by September, I’m starting the jobsearch again (I do want to stay where I enjoy working with people who I have a generally good relationship with — not just my immediate team, but I’d still be part of facilities for the building, so everyone else from the three orgs that also occupy the site as well, so I’m effectively giving my GGGB time to come up with the goods) and if nothing happens by December, I’m going to take the career break my org offers and study for some Udemy courses I’ve been chipping away at when I’m not getting home too knackered to do much other than lie on my bed and play Fortnite.

    But the point of the post is to say that even in places and times where sharing more about job-searching is normal, there are good reasons to keep someone else’s powder dry. I did tell a handful of friends from the orgs we work for, because they’ve been interested in my progress. I’ve asked them not to tell my colleagues, who would usually be first to know. But it actually pains me to keep it from them. They are good people and just have this blindspot as to why anyone in my position would want to move up, and doing it this way means my GGGB can come in from above and set things up as a fait accompli rather than giving them time to object.

    And that feels horrible. But worse would be anyone else I’ve told leaking it to them. And so I’d ask OP very definitely not to tell.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      More power to you for wanting to move up, and we are always glad to read another person sharing. Nice thing about being anonymous, here.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Thank you! Good point about anonymity here making it easier to share things.

        The wheels turn very slowly in the public sector and I want to do right by everyone because they were there for me when I needed them. But it’s just the time to play things closer to my chest :).

  19. Baron*

    Maybe I’m just paranoid from bad experiences, but I don’t see the point in ever telling anyone from work that you’re looking. If you’re at the offer stage and you need a reference from your current employer, that’s one thing, but just to bring it up in casual conversation? I can’t see ever doing that. Too many bosses are unpredictable.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      ^^ Absolutely agree. I also will not participate in retention interviews or answer any questions that have anything to do with job searching.

      My partner is in a similar situation right now because their petty and vindictive manager is pushing them out because they got an advanced degree that is directly relevant to their job and the manager has decided that means they’re planning to leave, so is now actively trying to manage them out. I think it’s spite and jealousy on the part of the manager, and it’s wildly inappropriate.

      A few of my partner’s coworkers are also planning to get advanced degrees, but are now thinking of leaving beforehand because of this manager’s behavior, so all she’s accomplishing is 1. losing a good employee and 2. alienating her other direct reports. It’s so incredibly short-sighted and she really has no business managing people at all.

      1. Baron*

        Oh, absolutely, this is a thing. I’m in a very junior role with an organization I don’t plan to stay with very long, and I’m also chipping away at an advanced degree that will take me most of my life to finish. People keep telling me, “Obviously we’re going to replace you when you finish your degree!”, and it’s like, nope, with any luck, I’ll be gone ten years before that. I don’t understand the whole “pushing out” thing—if you’ve got a good employee, keep them! Radical, I know.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          It’s truly baffling. I work in an area where it seems like half my colleagues are working while finishing advanced degrees. It’s not unusual at all, and it’s a degree that’s directly relevant to their work, not in some other field. I really think it’s professional jealousy on her manager’s part, who does not have a master’s.

    2. GrooveBat*

      I agree 100%.

      It’s not just about bosses being unpredictable. I think it’s just a crappy position to put anyone in, whether it’s your boss or a co-worker.

  20. Emotional support capybara (he/him)*

    yes hi hello is your capybara program accepting applicants? asking for a friend

  21. SS*

    Yeah, I’m not gonna narc on my employees for job-searching. I strive to be an “employees-manager” not a “manager’s manager.”

  22. stay in your lane*

    LW how would you feel if you were job searching and someone in your organization ratted you out to your boss? Not great, I imagine.

    It’s not your business, so stay out of it.

  23. A Good Egg*

    In our yearly career review process, we’re asked if an employee is a retention risk. Based on the comments above, would it be appropriate to say “so-and-so is a retention risk because of issues with the way the capybara processes are being managed above us.?”

    1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

      If someone asked me that question, that’s the answer I would give!

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I think this is a great way to address the business issue while also maintaining the confidence of the worker. And it’s legitimate to do this – perhaps the business can solve the problem or find a way to retain the individual. If not, the business can determine how to handle it, should the individual resign, but the management won’t be looking to push the current employee out before the person is ready. This seems fair to both sides.

      1. GythaOgden*

        This is good — it means that management is being proactive about things and making sure to think strategically. It is the middle ground between being so focused on proactive retention that you spend the entire day fixated on everyone’s compensation and drop other important balls entirely, and only ever moving someone up if they have another offer or make a big noise about it.

  24. Box of Kittens*

    It weirds me out a little bit that Alison has a situation at all where you SHOULD share that information without the employee’s explicit consent, even if you’re letting them know beforehand. Maybe at that point it’s on the employee for letting the cat out of the bag before they’re actually ready to leave, but that just feels icky to me. There’s still too much risk for the employee in that scenario.

  25. Lobsterman*

    I’m absolutely baffled by the combination of “this job is lousy and I don’t care about it” and “should I tank my employee‘s relationship with the company because she was foolish enough to confide in me?” I guess my answer is pick a lane.

    1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

      I guess it didn’t come across in the letter but I really like my capybara-tending job, when I’m allowed to get on with it!

      Apparently I need to work on my communication skills because I thought I was writing “I don’t want to do this, do I have to?” and a lot of people are reading “I really want to do this, is it okay to do it?”

      If a whole bunch of people are misreading me in the same way, then I didn’t express myself well.

  26. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    LW, don’t do it.

    The outcome of the job search may well end up being the job in hand is the best fit available.

  27. I'm fabulous!*

    OP, please don’t do this. Imagine if you were the one looking for another job; would you want your boss to know? Maybe this person isn’t making enough money or has some other work-life concern. And I speak as someone who made the mistake of confiding in a two-faced colleague about job hunting; three people later on asked me if I was looking for another job.

    1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

      Yes, as I said in the letter, they feel they need to make more money for life reasons.

      This person clearly does in fact want their boss to know they’re looking, because I am their manager and they told me. I did the same thing once, and it resulted in a big raise (yay!) but also a job managing people (boo!).

      The question was, do I have then an obligation to tell my boss, because I would rather not.

      1. I'm fabulous!*

        I don’t believe you do. I assume this person told you in confidence. Maybe ask them if they want this to be known, otherwise don’t say a word.

        1. Capybara Manager (the OP)*

          I would never say anything to my boss without clearing it with my direct report first.

      2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        You do NOT have an obligation to tell your boss — but your boss might disagree with this. So be prepared to get blow-back and don’t let that make you second-guess yourself.

  28. Mild Accountant*

    So, my two cents: if you’re in a position where you need to disclose (basically, any of the situations Alison listed), please tell your direct report first! (And offer to let them make the first move on it.)

    I’m not going to debate the merits of whether you should – other people have done this more eloquently (and yeah, I’m inclined to agree, OP – if you don’t absolutely have to, don’t do it). But in the case you really do need to, don’t blindside your direct report.

  29. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    “Snitches get stitches.”

    Now that doesn’t mean that someone’s going to beat you up in a stairwell. But it does mean that if you rat out an employee to the boss, you may wind up ostracizing yourself AND isolating yourself from your co-workers.

    Few managers have respect for the office snitch. Sure, they listen to him/her, and smile, but also realize that the stoolie will only be effective for the finite period in which he’s feeding valid information up the pipeline. And eventually – the snitch becomes ineffective. Either due to being shut out – or – WORSE – employees wind up feeding the snitch BAD information.

  30. Former_Employee*

    Nothing like an enormous version of a guinea pig who is a vegetarian. Their babies are like very large guinea pigs at first.

    I looked them up and it turns out that they are herd animals so if you wanted to keep them, you’d have to have significant acreage that would work for a fairly large group.

    The good news is that they work and play well with other animals including humans.

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