my old job won’t stop asking me to come back

A reader writes:

I recently left my job as a team lead. I’d been frustrated for a long time with my role, my workload, the organization’s culture, and my manager’s oversight of my team and me. I was very open about all of this with my manager, as well as the impact that stress was having on my health and family life.

I ultimately decided to turn in my resignation. This decision seemed to surprise my manager and, since I had a heavy and unique workload, I put my end date several weeks out. I spent hours upon hours extensively documenting my work and wrapping up my projects as much as I could. Since summertime is slow for the organization, I hoped that, with all the work I did before I left, that the team would get along okay until my manager found a replacement for me.

Additionally, while I told my manager and my team that I’d happily answer any questions that came up for them, I also made it extremely clear in the exit interviews I did that I would not return to the organization. I did this because, in my first exit interview, it came out that my manager wanted to have me come back part-time, likely because I had told them when I resigned that I had no plans to look for work after leaving.

I left my job and, for the next two months, I didn’t hear anything from anyone at the office. I hoped that meant that all the wrap-up I’d done had worked!

Then, last week, I got a ping from someone who works for my former manager — they had asked this person to reach out to see if I’d come back to work part-time to handle the administrative elements of my old job. I politely declined. I got a second ping from the same person today, asking the same question. Again, I politely declined.

It’s entirely possible that the organization will have difficulty filling my old role, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s turnover on my old team. While I sympathize with how difficult and stressful this might be for my former manager, I also don’t want to be badgered about coming back to work, or made to feel guilty about my decision to leave. The badgering and guilt-tripping are two of the reasons I left in the first place!

Do you have any suggestions for what I can say to make these asks stop for good, especially given that they were made on behalf of my former manager, rather than coming from that individual directly? Should I reach out to my former manager proactively to nip these asks in the bid?

There’s a decent chance that your two clear refusals will put a stop to it; they’re probably not going to keep asking you forever.

But if you do get another request to return, you could say: “This is the third request I’ve had to return, so I’d be grateful if you’d make it really clear to (manager) that that’s not on the table. This is a firm and permanent no. But best of luck with everything there!”

You could also email your former manager directly and say: “Since Jane has contacted me three times now asking if I’d consider returning, I wanted to contact you directly to say that it’s not something I’m open to, and I’d rather she or others not continue to ask. I hope everything is going well there and that all is well with you.”

Alternately, you don’t need to communicate with them at all if you’d rather not! You can just ignore these emails — you’ve already made your answer clear, and don’t need to keep repeating it. Hell, if you want to, you could set anything from their domain to go straight to your trash. Personally I wouldn’t do that because I’d want to know if they emailed me about something I was actually interested in — like “we found that sweater you loved that went missing last winter” or “the voodoo doll of Mark that you left behind the radiator has come alive and is terrorizing the office” or so forth … but some people would be willing to forego those possibilities in the interest of just being done.

Speaking of being done, this part of your letter worries me: “I told my manager and my team that I’d happily answer any questions that came up for them.” If you’ve gone two months without them hitting you up with questions, it might not end up being a problem, but you should be prepared for the possibility that now that you’ve declined to return, you might start getting a bunch of questions about the work itself — how do we do X, where did you keep Y, can you train Jane to do Z, etc. If you want to, it’s fine to answer a couple of very quick questions (“very quick” means not things like “can you train Jane to do Z”) but you shouldn’t get sucked into anything more than that. I know you made the offer, but it’s not reasonable for an organization you no longer work for to expect you to do more than answer a couple of very quick post-exit questions.

If they do start asking for more than that, lean on the fact that it’s been two months — “Sorry, it’s been months since I did it, it’s pretty hazy now. Your best bet is to check the documentation I left.” Or you can simply say, “I really can’t help further, I’m fully booked up, good luck with everything!” and just be done.

Whenever this topic comes up, you’ll get a lot of people saying, “Just ignore the messages. Don’t respond at all.” And you can do that if you want to! You don’t work there anymore; it’s fine to just ignore them. But a lot of people — and from your letter, I suspect you’re one of them — would rather avoid that route if they can, especially if they’re trying to maintain relationships at their old company — and in that case, setting firm, explicit boundaries will usually get the job done.

{ 153 comments… read them below }

  1. Bronze Betty*

    Commenting just to say that I love responses that include things like “the voodoo doll of Mark that you left behind the radiator has come alive and is terrorizing the office.” And, by the way, that would make for a fun horror movie plot.

    1. Festively Dressed Earl*

      If your final project has come to its inevitable ghastly fruition, wouldn’t that be a reason to send the emails to spam? Just make sure the coworkers you like have the countercurse.

      1. an infinite number of monkeys*

        I’m pretty sure the counter-curse is spelled out in the documentation that OP left behind, so if her former coworkers can’t be bothered to look it up, that’s really on them.

      1. MassMatt*

        I was thinking this! Well, actually, I thought “Voodoo dolls don’t come to life, that’s silly. You’re thinking of Zuni fetish dolls!”

    2. Juicebox Hero*

      ANd the sequel: Mark, ticked off that OP used him as a voodoo target when he’s such a wonderful guy, decides to get revenge by making one of OP and sticking it behind a different radiator!

      However, the sentient dolls meet and fall in love, and on their way to the courthouse to get married their cab gets hailed by three incompetent mooks on the run from a failed bank heist and wackiness ensues!

    3. MEH Squared*

      I was going to comment specifically on this line as well. I love it when Alison slips in examples like this as if it were a real and common occurence. It’s so fun to read!

    4. Llama Identity Thief*

      Over/under 30 minutes before a comment from someone as “The Voodoo Doll of Mark”

      Someone with an AAM great line as a name

      1. The Voodoo Doll of Mark*

        sorry i’m late, I had a few things to …. prepare… for that “all hands” meeting tomorrow morning

    5. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

      Alison mentioning voodoo dolls means I have to find that letter about the (janitor was it?) who had a voodoo doll of someone and was hexing it? Something like that…XD

    6. Yay! I’m a llama again!*

      I love how they’re hidden within a totally professional answer, and you read it and then your brain catches up and you realise what you’re reading!

    7. Rosyglasses*

      Yes – the mental picture of a voodoo doll terrorizing a former office filled me with delight :)

    8. MadDog*

      Definitely a good movie plot, but I’m personally a bit interested in the follow up AAM question. Maybe along the lines of:
      We recently had an employee leave on what we thought were good terms. However, a few weeks after she was gone, we discovered that she has left behind a voodoo doll, which is odd enough in itself. But immediately upon discovery, we realized that it is also, um, alive? I’m not 100% sure of the correct term, just that it is creepy, it moves, and it tried to kill poor Carl in accounting. In short, it is now inflicting terror throughout the office. This strikes me as incredibly unprofessional, though perhaps I am just missing a new trend for departing employees? And do you have any advice about the best practices in voodoo doll removal? My manager is suggesting burning the building down, but that strikes me as a bit extreme, so I was wondering if perhaps there was a less drastic response? We are also wondering how to process Carl’s workman’s comp claim, so any advice there would be lovely.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I think these people need lots of closure from OP! Preferably the kind of closure that never actually closes.

              1. Not Totally Subclinical*

                I still have my Crickets even though I rarely touch them, including the one precious issue where I was the winner of the story contest for my age group. My lone published work!

    2. HA2*

      Two seems decently common (or, at least, I’ve had it happen twice). Once informally with your manager, and one that’s with HR that just goes through paperwork.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      “I’d been frustrated for a long time with my role, my workload, the organization’s culture, and my manager’s oversight of my team and me.”

      This sounds like an all-bets-are-off workplace.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      I would say it is when the following happens:

      I’d been frustrated for a long time with my role, my workload, the organization’s culture, and my manager’s oversight of my team and me. I was very open about all of this with my manager, as well as the impact that stress was having on my health and family life.

      And then you actually resign and the manager you spent hours and hours going over this with is all BUT WHY THOUGHHHHHH?

      Some people just refuse to hear what you’re saying!

  2. Chairman of the Bored*

    Figure out what it would take to make it worth your while to come back on a contract as/needed basis and then offer them that.

    Would you do the work for $200 an hour with a 4-hour minimum for each question they ask you? If so, tell them that and let them decide whether they’re willing to pay it.

    Just send this same quote every time they bring it up.

    1. Mensa CW*

      Or, they could state some clear boundaries with their former employer and just not respond to any further communications re: coming back to work. Your suggestion is immature and unnecessarily aggressive.

      1. Venus*

        Uhm, having a consultation fee is a suggestion that has been made previously by Alison and others, and I don’t know how it’s immature or aggressive?

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Whoa! This reply is also unnecessarily aggressive!

        People suggest “quote them an outrageous fee” a lot, and I don’t advise that because it does make the person look out of touch/adversarial. But the idea of “figure out what would make it worth your while and give them that number” isn’t inherently bad, assuming the number isn’t so ridiculously high that it’s obviously intended as an F-you. But I just don’t recommend offering any number this case because the OP specifically says she doesn’t want to return, period, so it doesn’t make sense to offer them an avenue where that’s possible.

      3. Statler von Waldorf*

        While this suggestion can certainly be carried out in an immature or aggressive manner, I disagree with the idea that simply offering to come back to work as a consultant is inherently immature. I’ve done it before, and it was the best solution for everyone involved.

        Sure, if you’re demanding 10K per hour with an 40 hour minimum when you were previously getting paid $20 an hour, that’s unreasonable and you should just walk away. This isn’t a professional way to avoid saying no. However, if the offer is reasonable and if LW is happy to continue working for them (which honestly it doesn’t seem like in this specific case) than I don’t think it’s inherently unprofessional to offer.

        For this specific case where OP wants out, I agree with you and Alison that setting firm, explicit boundaries is the best way to go.

      4. fhqwhgads*

        Chairman of the Board’s suggestion is a pretty standard consulting rate with a pretty standard minimum. It’s hardly the passive-aggressive obviously too high for anyone to take seriously approach you seem to be interpreting it as.

      5. Jade*

        Why lol? Do you think people don’t charge $200? I make $114 an hour. if they want the work done they will pay.

        1. nnn*

          Do you charge a 4 hour minimum for each individual question though ($800 here)? That’s the part that sounds over the top, assuming these are pretty minor questions.

      6. JustaTech*

        What’s immature about this? There was a guy in another department who quit to go to a completely different career, but was also the only person who knew how to run this one instrument. We paid him *easily* $200/hour for a week of work (including training).

        Depending on the LW’s skill set and salary when they left this could be a totally reasonable number. (My husband charges $300/hr for consulting work, but that’s usually only one hour.)

    2. tw1968*

      I’d second this idea (paid in advance of course)!!! (and I’m snarky enough to think after you got the money you could say “sorry don’t remember but the docs I left behind should answer it)

      1. Chairman of the Bored*

        I absolutely know half a dozen people who have done exactly this when a former employer asked for them to come back.

        “I won’t hire back in, but I will help you out for $XYZ” is an entirely reasonable response.

        $200/hr with a 4-hour minimum is not a random silly number, that’s about what we pay skilled consultants around here.

        1. Colette*

          Sure, if you’re currently making $100/hour it’s reasonable. But if you’re making $10/hour, it’s really out of touch.

          1. Random Bystander*

            Well, part of the point is to make it a level that the LW would be ok with providing the service while at the same time giving the folks at the prior job a significant incentive to figure it out on their own and quit bothering the LW (a preferable outcome). Whether it’s far beyond what the LW would otherwise be paid (or had been paid when workingat old job) isn’t part of the equation.

          2. Chilipepper Attitude*

            Nothing suggests the OP was making $10 an hour!
            As Alison said, “Figure out what would make it worth your while and give them that number, isn’t inherently bad”

            $25 an hour is not an unreasonable guess so even $200 an hour is not out of the ballpark given the problems at the company that OP would have to deal with.

          3. Morgan Proctor*

            I mean, in this situation, who cares if it’s out of touch? Why does everything always need to be in touch? LW doesn’t work there anymore. They’re not even looking for a new work situation. They have literally nothing to lose. This isn’t a high stakes situation. No one’s life is riding on LW’s decision, here. Or at least, I hope not! So they might as well establish a fairly reasonable hourly rate and leave that information in their ex-employer’s court.

            Also, why assume someone’s pay? Chairman of the Bored’s comment wasn’t directed toward every worker, ever. It was directed to this one person. And even if we DID want to assume LW’s pay, from the details given in this letter (including the complexity of the work, the amount of notice given, multiple exit interviews, describing the work as “projects”) we can probably deduce that LW was making more than $10/hr.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Lots of people want to maintain their relationships and/or reputation for professional purposes, especially in small fields, or simply out of general good will.

              It makes more sense to just say no than to name a number that’s outlandish, which will absolutely come across as an F-you. At that point, just say no.

          4. Jade*

            I make $114. If I left and they are begging me to come back, you bet my hourly consult fee would be at least $250. $200 hour is not out of range. At all.

    3. Dustin the Wind*

      Figure out what it would take to make it worth your while to come back on a contract as/needed basis and then offer them twice that much.

    4. Peanut Hamper*

      I am so glad that I left my old job and didn’t do any work for them after I left. (In fact, I changed my phone number just so they couldn’t contact me.)

      But would I be happy with $800 just to go in and spend half an hour converting things to pdfs? Probably.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      It’s fine to do this if you would genuinely be pleased if they said “Done. Can you come in Tuesday for 4 hours?”

      But sometimes you are just done, really done, and it’s not a negotiation. You’re just done. That can be for deep mental health reasons or simple living my best life and that means never talking to Fergus reasons.

    6. Totally Minnie*

      I think this would be a fine suggestion if it was something the LW was interested in, but they seemed pretty clear in their letter that they just want to be away from this workplace.

      1. Jill Swinburne*

        Yeah, to levy a PITA tax is very common in freelancing and contracting – but there’s always the risk of someone saying yes to the outrageous amount you quoted for work you don’t want to do. If you actually don’t want to do it, ‘No’ is the way.

        1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          I was contacted recently by a highly stressed out woman desperately seeking a translator. Her previous one had left her in the lurch apparently. Two red flags, and I’m not seeking to earn any more than I’m already earning, so I decided to send an outrageously high estimate. I upped my per-word rate by 25% and then rounded the total up from something like €214 to €250.
          She accepted, because she had no idea how to go about finding anyone else and she was in a tearing hurry.
          I started working for her and it was just as I thought it would be, she was disorganised because of being stressed out (and probably vice versa too). But I remained calm, stuck to my guns and made her technical guy figure out how to give me workable files, did my best job as usual and got everything done within her stringent deadlines, even bringing one deadline forward by 24hrs.
          The simple fact that she was paying so much more, made me far more amenable to her many requests. Win-win situation!

  3. CatCat*

    This decision seemed to surprise my manager…

    I am perpetually fascinated by this. I too have experienced it more than once in my working life after being open about work-related problems I was experiencing. (I once even had told a manager I was looking and she was STILL surprised when I put in my notice several months later.)

    What is the thought process that evokes surprise in circumstances like OP’s?

    1. Magenta Sky*

      Perhaps they just assume that they’re obviously the best possible place to work, ever, anywhere in the world, so you can’t possibly find something better?

    2. Anonymous cat*

      I always wonder about this too! Especially if the person has specifically told the boss what’s wrong or what needs to change.

      And then the boss is surprised? I don’t get it and wonder what their thought process is.

      “I’m miserable, I’m going into debt, this job is ruining my sleep and my health.”
      “If you’re unhappy then leave….you’re leaving???”

      Anyone have any insight?

      1. pally*

        There’s probably an assumption that the lodging of complaints is simply venting on the employee’s part. It’s not viewed as a listing of issues the employee wants remedied. Because, of course, the employee knows that manager is powerless to remedy said issues.
        At least, that’s what a manager wants the employee to think regarding their abilities to improve the workplace.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        I may be able to offer a shred of insight. This is not an explanation for all cases, but may be similar to some of them:

        I have two friends, call them Andy and Bob. Andy and Bob are dating. Andy comes from a family of “do-ers.” They talk about their plans a bit, and then put their plans into action. Bob comes from a family of talkers. They talk about their plan, and talk about their plans, and never put their plans into action.

        Andy says “I’m going to apply for a temporary job in a different state. If I get it, I’ll move to that state for 3 months, then move back here. How does that sound to you?” Bob says, “sounds like a great opportunity for you!” Andy applies to the job, gets an offer, accepts the offer, says to Bob “I’ve subleased an apartment in [state], my start date is [date], I’m going to buy my plane tickets to move there.” Bob says “what? you’re moving to [state]? when did this happen?”

        I think some managers are like Bob. Their thought process is “sure, Andy is talking about leaving but people talk about things all the time. He’s not actually going to leave.”

        1. ariel*

          This blew open a frustration I have with stepfamily, haha, thank you! It will be useful to think, “oh she’s talking” instead of “I need to check in about that concrete plan” (that has yet again not happened, nor is anyone talking about it anymore).

        2. mondaysamiright*

          This describes my current relationship to a frightening extent! I love my boyfriend, but he talks about things he absolutely never intends on doing the way I talk about things I’m most likely going to do. It caused a lot of miscommunications and frustrations before I realized what was going on.

          1. Chilipepper Attitude*

            I’m a talker, I need to talk out loud about my plans and ideas to be able to sort them out in my own mind. They don’t always lead to action but they don’t always remain in the talking stage either!

            1. Wendy Darling*

              I am also a talker — I process things by talking through them. But I like to think that I make it pretty clear when I’m just talking versus when I’m actually about to do something.

              “It would be so cool to learn to play the drums, I wonder if I have anywhere to put a drum kit?” vs “I’m going to buy X or Y drum kit and I’m going to sign up for lessons with this drum teacher tomorrow.”

          2. Which is it?*

            Conversely, on the other end of a relationship; all anyone hears about are the complaints about the partner, then when said partner leaves it’s, “How dare they go! They were the love of my life!”

          3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            My partner does this then sometimes he’ll actually follow through. He even did this for a second home. We’d always said we’d rather travel to exotic places than be tied down to a specific place, then suddenly he was looking at places near a house our friends have, that we had stayed at. I was livid when he announced that he’d actually bought a place!
            He’s now looking to sell it, since I’ve moaned about it and am completely bored when we stay there.

        3. There You Are*

          My ex is a Bob. I am an Andy.

          Ex always had (and still has) Grand Plans. Some are ambitious in a positive way: “I’m going to move to Belize and open a resort were people can swim with therapy dolphins.” Some are ambitious in a negative way: “The woman whose house I just bought isn’t moving out on the agreed-upon date and wants to pay rent for a week while she finishes packing. As her new landlord, I’m going to go to the house and start demolishing the bathroom I want to redo. Let’s see her pack with all *that* going on!”

          I used to argue with him over these wild flights of fantasy until it finally sunk in that he’s All Talk and his verbal plans were worth the paper they weren’t printed on. “Yep, sure, Belize sounds great. That’s an awesome plan; you should do it.”

          He had other issues though and, after years of therapy and no resolution, I said, “These three very concrete things need to change or I will have to end the relationship.” I reiterated the three things dozens of times over the final two years of our relationship. He did not even try to change those three things nor did he say, “I will never change those three things.”

          And, still, he was shocked — shocked! — when I said, “I can no longer be in a relationship with you. I’ve set an appointment with a mediator to help us split assets in an equitable manner.” (“You MEANT it when you said you’d break up with me if nothing changes?!? That’s horrible of you!”)

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            Well, wouldn’t it be more horrible to say that if you weren’t going to break up???

          2. Nicky*

            There You Are, as you may already know, this is called Walkaway Wife Syndrome
            (the man ignoring multiple conversations and attempts by the woman to improve things, and then being completely shocked when she leaves. “The divorce came out of nowhere,” he tells all his friends, after she has spent years explaining to him why she is unhappy and what needs to change for her to be happy in the relationship).

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              I read a magazine article years ago where a woman literally drove her car INTO her living room–like, through the wall–to try to signal to her husband that she was less than happy!

            2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              yeah. Number of times I’ve been trapped by a loser in a bar telling me how his wife just upped and went and never told him why doesn’t bear thinking about.

        4. Michelle Smith*

          And there are employees that are Bobs too. I worked with one. I care deeply about this person, but I’ve given up trying to help her. She has worked at one of my prior employers for 15 years. Despite earning a master’s degree in that time, she still hasn’t gotten adequate raises or a single promotion in that time. She complains about these issues and other legitimate issues at that workplace, but to date has not taken any steps towards changing jobs. I’ve offered to review her resume, sent her job postings she said were aligned with her interests, but she is content to stay where she is and only think about making changes.

          If she ever is ready to make that change, it will shock me and everyone else. But I guess my point is that not only are some managers like Bob and will not expect people to leave, a lot of venting employees are like Bob and will not leave. No matter how much us Andys wish they would for their own sake.

        5. Lily*

          Good lord, I married a Bob and it has been infuriating to the point that our marriage was on the rocks at times.
          I finally learned (took me long enough!) that if anything was going to get done, I was going to have to be the one to do it.

          Now I just tell Dear Husband, “You know that thing we’ve talked for ages about doing? Well we’re doing it. Here are the deets.”
          He is still almost invariably surprised. Sometimes he pushes back, mostly my response to that is, “Okay, I’m doing it then. You’re welcome to join me/participate.”

      3. Beth*

        People get so used to their status quo. When someone complains a lot about their situation, it should be a red flag that something has to change or you’ll lose that person. But instead, the complaining itself becomes part of the status quo–and once that happens, it goes kind of invisible. The listener still hears it, but since they’ve been hearing it for a while and haven’t experienced consequences for doing nothing about it, it doesn’t register as an action item. It’s just something they expect to keep hearing. So when the complainer gets fed up and finally forces a change, the listener perceives that as a sudden and unexpected move, instead of the logical consequence.

        It’s not just work this happens with, either. It’s all sorts of interpersonal relationships (how many times have we heard someone describe their breakup as “totally out of the blue, I had no idea she was so unhappy, I could change if she just gave me the chance”?). As far as I can tell, the only way to avoid it is to not give people too many chances to address a complaint. If you’ve already voiced it a couple times with no change, then either you move to “this needs to change immediately, we can do A or B, what do you prefer between those” or you accept that it’s not going to change.

      4. cncx*

        I had a boss like this who thought me telling him I was unhappy and going to leave was just me being « too sensitive » and chalked everything up to, well, me being female. He thought I was just venting, literally. I took off for two weeks (europe) after my notice and when I came back he literally thought the vacation was enough to « calm down » and rescind my resignation. People literally cannot comprehend when their asssumptions are so ingrained.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      The same thing that’s behind everything from climate change down to burning yourself on fireworks–you’re told over and over to not do the thing but you refuse to believe consequences happen until you’re holding a cold compress on your hand and muttering about the wildfire smoke.

      Until change actually occurs, many people simply refuse to acknowledge it’s coming.

    4. CommanderBanana*


      Me: X and Y need to change or I’ll have to leave.
      *X and Y continue unchanged*
      Me: I’m leaving.
      Manager: *shocked Pikachu face*

      Tale as old as time. I would understand if anyone had been like, hey, I’m sorry by X and Y won’t change/can’t change, and I understand that’s why you’re leaving, but each time they’re ZOMGSHOCKED when people leave for exactly the reasons they said they would leave.

    5. SansaStark*

      In my case, I think my manager put up with a lot of crap but ultimately enjoys the stability his job offered, so it was difficult for him to imagine that I wouldn’t put up with the same crap for the stability. Despite knowing that I was waiting on a promotion confirmation for 10 months, he was blindsided that I was able to find a position that was a step above the promotion I was waiting for. He really believed that promotion was coming down so why wouldn’t I just wait indefinitely?

      1. Ama*

        I think this is a lot of it. The first apartment I lived in by myself, the building was ridiculously underheated in the winter (the landlord lived in the building but apparently he ran hot and never wanted to turn the heat on). I made friends with one of my neighbors and we used to complain about how cold it was constantly. The instant my lease was up, I found a new place and moved out. Neighbor was *shocked* even though she knew exactly why I was finding something else — it never occurred to her that “it’s freezing three months of the year” was a reason someone would actually leave the building because for her it wasn’t.

        There are just some people who can’t conceive that other people might have different tolerances for certain situations.

    6. Kyrielle*

      If you haven’t left before this and they can’t imagine doing without you…they can’t imagine doing without you. I had a boss be surprised once that I resigned to take a job elsewhere…after our company was *bought* and the product line I was on was put into “support until it has no more customers” mode instead of active development mode as it had been. They literally already had a product line that competed with that one, they were not going to keep it going, and it didn’t make sense for them to. It just also didn’t make sense for me to stay!

    7. Arya Parya*

      I’ve had this happen too. An old job was relocating and I was very vocal about not being happy about the move. I mentioned many times that I didn’t want to work at new location, that the commute was too long for me.

      So when they set the date for the move about half a year out, I started looking for a new job. Found one and resigned. My co-workers were not surprised, my manager was. He really thought I would get over the commute and just come with. Yeah….no

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Exactly the same thing happened to me! I suspected them of trying to get rid of me, wanting to force me to resign.
        I was delighted to learn that the eager beaver newbie fresh out of school who replaced me was not as good at my job as me, that they regretted losing me.

    8. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      A similar thing I’ve seen is when a woman gives her employer several months’ notice that she is having a baby and then months later her bosses act surprised that she’s going to be taking time off and they will need to cover her leave.

    9. Alternative Person*

      One variation I’ve encountered is that managers get so steeped in whatever form of dysfunction they’re a part of that when the proverbial chickens come home to roost, their reaction is as much panic as surprise.

      I got to see in near real time the effect on my former senior manager when the junior manager left and how he was basically crumbling under the workload that was now on his plate because corporate has been eroding management posts for years. Fortunately, he managed to get a new job himself and the management structure was slightly diversified, but there’s still a refusal by corporate to acknowledge the need for some level of lower management even if its only for busy periods.

    10. BatManDan*

      It’s been my experience, that people start with an emotionally acceptable conclusion, and then write the “facts” backwards from there (in their own minds). So, any or all of the following can be part of thinking that leads such a manager to assume the employee isn’t leaving. 1) I’m a good manager. 2)This is a great place to work, in part because of me. 3) The mission of the org is important and worthy. 4). I would be greatly inconvenienced if an employee left. 5) If an employee left, it might call my leadership / management skills into question. Since the oblivious manager may need some, or all, of these statements to be “true” in order to continue going about their life, they assume them to be true, and since they are all “true,” then, clearly, it will come as a shock when someone moves on.

  4. paxfelis*

    I hope you’re finding your time since leaving to be restful, and that they find and read the documentation you left!

    1. Letter Writer*

      Thank you for this comment! My time off has been amazing, and definitely confirmed for me that I made the right decision to leave. And I’ve verified that they have all of my documentation, although my understanding is that it’s only just getting shared with everyone who needs it.

  5. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I had a friend switch jobs within the organization – think from teapot painting engineer to llama grooming engineer. There was an official 2 week transition and at the beginning of the 3rd week someone asked him a question about teapot painting and his reply was. “What is a teapot? I’ve never heard of that”

    I thought it would backfire on him but after 2 weeks of solidly presenting that he had forgotten everything associated with his former job they stopped trying and let him get on with his new job.

    It was a life lesson for the rest of us.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      That’s great! Honestly, OP could probably pull this off. “I can’t remember the details but I do recall having written something about it in my documentation.” Repeat ad nauseum and after a few times they might stop asking the questions that they can just look up themselves without asking OP. But I guess that doesn’t solve the problem of the company asking OP if they want to come back to work for them; one more polite “no can do”-type email is probably worth it for that question and then, OP, you have my blessing to stop responding to these emails at all.

  6. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    Another spicy option is say you will come back, but ask for an insane amount of money to do so.

    Honestly, I would just ignore the emails if they send more.

  7. Athenae*

    Gonna throw in a vote for sending all of it straight to spam and forgetting they exist. People underestimate the burdens they carry.

    I had intense PTSD after leaving a helljob and every email from my former boss sent me into a mental tailspin. I finally just banned their entire domain from darkening my inbox ever again because the people I cared about staying in contact with had other ways to reach me. The weight I felt lifting from my shoulders when I went 48 hours without hearing from them for the first time in 10 years was indescribable.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Wow, I can see why you had PTSD if they were contacting you all the time. Good riddance to them!

    2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      I have been in a job like this and as I read your words I felt the vicarious relief all through me. I’m so glad you did that and are free. I hope you luxuriate in that joy and freedom every day.

  8. Mockingjay*

    I left a job once and was asked to come back 4 days later. I said no, they asked weekly. After 4 months I caved. (New Job wasn’t terrible, but more rote than presented during the interviews.)

    This was some years ago, before I found this site. I forgot an oft-repeated maxim here: I left that prior job for very valid reasons (lack of advancement was the biggest driver). Returning was a mistake. All the reasons I had left were still there. I ostensibly was put into a different – higher – position, but ended up essentially doing my old role.

    OP, don’t feel bad about cutting ties or refusing to assist Old Job. “Thank you, but I am focused on New Job and can’t assist at this time.” Look forward, not back.

  9. Kevin Sours*

    “Do you have any suggestions for what I can say to make these asks stop for good”
    I don’t know what words to use but I can provide advice on setting up an email autoresponder.

  10. Harried HR*

    Remember… No is a complete sentence

    Then forward all other communication to a separate folder that you can review on YOUR schedule

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah, I would probably forward mail to a folder I check monthly, or something really inconvenient like that. Particularly since OP is getting a second “are you really sure, though?” type message just hours after a no. I would probably also have an auto response that implied I was off doing something fabulous: “Hi! I am out of the country right now and not responding to emails but I will get back to you as soon as possible”. It could be anything really, but I would just want to interrupt the idea that some managers clearly have; that when people leave their employment there’s nothing to do but weep into your cornflakes every morning because other jobs are so terrible in comparison and life is generally worthless, without you, boss.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      Yes, this. Most email systems will allow you to create a rule that forwards all emails from a person or domain to a folder which you can forget about entirely or revisit when you need a laugh or a reminder why you left.

    3. ferrina*

      No is a complete sentence


      If they need it in song form, refer them to Weird Al’s “One More Minute”

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I LOVE that song. Totally appropriate here and pretty much in any other breakup situation (which quitting a job kind of is).

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          To be clear, don’t *actually* send them the song unless you are willing to burn the bridge, OP, but hum it in your head while composing your response to their question.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            I remember a group called The Amazing Pink Things covering this song! Love it!

      2. Totally Minnie*

        I like to pair “no is a complete sentence” with “reasons are for reasonable people.”

        LW already said in their exit interview that they will not work for the company again, and after the two emails they’ve received, we’re up to a total of three no’s. This manager is clearly not reasonable, so there’s no point in giving any reasons about their rejection.

        Would it be too petty to forward these requests to HR and say “I’ve already informed the company I won’t be returning, but manager keeps sending me these requests”?

        1. Michelle Smith*

          I really love that, thank you. I’m saving it. Reasons are for reasonable people. Beautifully stated.

  11. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    When the second email came in, I would have attached my first response and said “sorry if the internet gremlins intercepted my previous response when you asked me last week (see attached) but I’m not available for that. Wish you all the best”.

    Just being kind and firm. If they send a third request I’d either go straight to trashing it or (knowing me, not be able to resist) replying back something like “I’m confused, this is the third request you’ve sent me in three weeks asking the same thing, are you not getting my responses?”

  12. Two Pop Tarts*

    “…I put my end date several weeks out.”

    Never put in more notice than required (usually 2 weeks).

    If they need you to stay longer, they can pay you a premium to stay.

    Any employee could be hit by a bus at any time. Companies should be prepared to quickly lose employees. They usually don’t, because it is cheaper not to prepare. That isn’t your problem. They reaped the financial reward of not preparing all these years, now they can pay the penalty.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yep. I learned this at my last job.

      Give two weeks, and do NOT let them guilt you.

      1) The company will NOT go out of business without you. (If it does, they had bigger problems than you knew.)

      2) Yes, your former team members WILL be burdened covering for your absence. This is not your fault. It’s the fault of your former management who pushed you out.

      3) You may not be able to get all the documentation done that you want to have in place before you go. Again, a really good organization should have good documentation just in case people drop out on a moment’s notice. (Lottery, bus accident, etc.) This is on them, not on you.

      4) If they were that great a place to work, you wouldn’t have been looking in the first place.

      If they make an argumentum ad passiones (appeal to emotion) type of plea/argument to try to get you to stay, stay longer, or do work after you’ve already quit, just refer to points 1-4.

      1. Jessica*

        #4 isn’t universally true and it’s why I wouldn’t be absolutist about *never* giving more than 2 weeks notice.

        Our team just had a beloved member leave on very good terms because she’s going to grad school. I don’t know how long a formal notice she gave, but the team has known for a while because a bunch of us wrote her letters of recommendation.

        I started out in a job I didn’t intend to stay in, and have had a number of jobs at smaller companies that didn’t have long-term career paths for me, where we all knew I was coming there for a year or two to get some experience at doing a particular type of job before moving on.

        Look, I’ve had my share of toxic jobs and I resent having to depend on an employer for meeting my basic needs in this late capitalist hellscape as much as the next person, AND I will be the first person to tell you your employer will never love you and you don’t owe a company any loyalty.

        But sometimes you leave a job cordially, not because it sucked, and in cases like that it can make sense to give your team more notice and help them find and train a successor or do other things to prepare for your exit that can take more than 2 weeks.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I wouldn’t be absolutist about *never* giving more than 2 weeks notice.

          I agree. Your notice is about you; if you feel good about 2 weeks to wrap your role up, offer 2. If you feel you need a solid month to feel good about where you’re leaving things, offer a month. If you can’t stand another day, offer the rest of the day.

          If the business needs something different, they’ll negotiate. They’ll look out for them. My advice is look out for you.

        2. Velomont*

          I agree with you (Jessica). I’m retiring from my company in just less than a year. I have been very fortunate to have been working for them for the last 12 years; I’ll be giving them a month’s notice.

        3. Michelle Smith*

          Agreed. I worked for a place that required 6 weeks notice and negotiated it down to 4 when my to-be-new employer balked. I worked a full 4 week notice period and came in on a weekend to finalize some documentation, and I have no regrets at all about how I left that job. Yes, I absolutely left for good reasons, but there was no reason for me to leave the way others had in the past (short notice, no preparation of files for transfer). I remembered what it felt like to get files from people who’d left that were unorganized and mishandled and I didn’t want to do that to anyone else. People who still work there are still a part of my network and have served as references for me in applications and important professional contacts multiple times over the years. If I had been thinking only about myself when I left and left on bad terms without fully documenting everything they needed to know, I wouldn’t have benefitted from those relationships anymore the way I did.

  13. AngryOctopus*

    If the voodoo doll I left came to life and terrorized the office, I’d for sure be blocking any messages. Or maybe I shouldn’t be getting messages because the voodoo doll did its job.

    And if I got a third request asking me to come back, I’m pretty sure that would be the end of my patience, and they’d get a “I’m so sorry, but what part of “no” is not being understood?”. I’m not going to count on people like that for a reference (I’d assume they’d badmouth me so I’d HAVE to come back to them eventually), so I’d feel pretty good about burning a bridge.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Right? “How are you still able to reach the phone? Put that slacker doll on the line now!”

  14. Falling Diphthong*

    Am I the only one who suspects that it’s less OP’s stellar documentation and more that they’ve just been piling stuff on her desk until she comes back? And 2 months was the point at which someone had to actually file the TPS report?

    1. Pippa K*

      This is it.

      I hope OP can regard this all with complete detachment and maybe a mild but rapidly fading sense of “well good luck with that” and then have them disappear from her life and text messages like early morning mist.

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

      With you on that. Boss thought she would take a very nice 2 month unpaid vacation and then be back refreshed and grateful they kept her job open. Is there any way to check their job openings to see if they’ve even posted the position? because that’s the real tell.

      1. Letter Writer*

        They posted the job the day I was asked to come back part-time.

        And yes, I suspect my former boss did think I just needed a long vacation and then would be ready to come back. Hope springs eternal, I guess.

        1. Mister_L*

          If I understand this correctly, I suspect they wanted you to come back to handle the work they let pile up and also train your replacement once they found one.

  15. Letter Writer*

    Hi everyone, Letter Writer here!

    Alison, thank you so much for the advice, and I appreciate all of the insights that have been shared in the comments. To answer a few questions/items that I saw came up:

    1.) While I could set a consulting fee (and a very lucrative one, too, as the part of the job they want me back for is a hard-to-find skill in our field), I’ve no wish to go back to the organization.

    2.) I am indeed trying to maintain a good relationship with everyone still at the organization, which is why I responded to the first two pings and will responded to a third (with a firm “No, thank you”) if it comes through. I do a lot of volunteer work in my community, and I have run into the organization’s programs and employees while volunteering, so as frustrating a place as this was to work, I’m trying to keep it cordial.

    3.) I gave a long notice because I needed that much time to wrap up a very, very big project I was working on for the organization. I did ultimately wish I’d made my notice shorter, because things go real weird with my boss on several occasions.

    4.) Two exit interviews for the org wasn’t normal. I got an extra one because the team I’m on has had 100% turnover twice in the last five years, and someone high up in the food chain that I had worked with a lot wanted to understand why my boss and the organization was having so much trouble keeping people.

    Thank you again!

    1. allathian*

      Is it the organization as a whole that is the problem, or is it your former manager? If it’s the latter, did you say so in your second exit interview? Would you be open to working for that organization again if your former manager got fired or quit?

  16. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

    “the voodoo doll of Mark that you left behind the radiator has come alive and is terrorizing the office”

    OMG, I am dying! LOLOLOLOL!

  17. Love this journey for you*

    The head of my department at a previous job asked me if I wanted to come to get my stuff (I left during COVID lockdowns and no one had been there in a year and a half). We can have lunch and catch up! She said.

    The lunch was the most awkward 45 minutes of my life. She kept bringing it back to “will you come back” and didn’t even pay for my ) $9 burrito.

    1. Zweisatz*

      Oh the old “I have something of yours, come and get it” switcheroo.

      Sounds like a very awkward lunch indeed.

  18. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    OP, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The happiest day of your life is the day you learn to say no and mean it. No to your mama, no to your church volunteer coordinator, no to your former colleagues. It’s a learned skill and the sooner you learn it, the better.

  19. Heffalump*

    I’d say, not angrily, but deliberately and firmly, “There is nothing you can say to me that will get me to come back.”

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