Drowning in politics and lies at work
August 31, 2010 5:30 PM   Subscribe

How do I navigate this increasingly complicated and uncomfortable situation at work which involves lying on other people's part, future fibbing on my part, being angry at my bosses, and potentially following them out the door?

Urgh, I don't even know where to begin, so I apologize if this is longer than necessary.

I work for a company that hasn't been doing so well in the last year. Due to hour and salary reductions, a lot of people have been leaving the company. At the beginning of the summer, they offered a 3-month unpaid sabbatical to any employee that was interested. I had very little work at the time, so I took the sabbatical and got involved with some contract work which was lucrative, enjoyable, and filled with contact-making opportunities. My plan was to see where the company stood at the end of the three months and see what other options were out there.

Two months into my sabbatical, my boss called and asked me to come back early. He said my hours and salary would be returned to full, and that they were very busy and needed my help desperately. My boss and the second-in-command (we'll call Boss 2) both told me how great everything was going and that everyone in the company had a great outlook on the future. I agreed to cut my contract work short and come back, mainly because I like my boss and figured he must really need my help.

The day I got back, I find out from my coworkers that not only is the company in worse shape than when I left, but that Boss1 and Boss2 are on their way out the door. I confronted them both, who claimed they had no idea what I was talking about. I felt betrayed and very angry - not because they might be leaving, but that they purposely deceived me in order to get my assistance on a project that they were woefully behind on. Fast forward a few weeks - we finish the project last Friday. Yesterday they both resigned, leaving my very small office (<10 people) with NO senior staff at all. Obviously this potentially has major implications for our office (we are connected to a nation-wide company) and for my job. When telling me the news, they both maintained that they had "just made the decision" and that "I would have options".

Well, to throw an extra kink into things, last week I got a call from a company that I have never heard of wanting to talk to me about taking a position with them. I put two and two together and figured out that this is where my bosses are going (although they have both been very careful to not tell me officially where they are going or that they are leaving together). I have a meeting with this company tomorrow at lunch.

SO...all that being said. I don't even know how to navigate this mess. I have to speak with this new company tomorrow and I have no idea what I am 'supposed' to know or not know. I don't even know that I'm interested in this company, especially since I'm not too happy with the way I was treated by my bosses. Add to that the fact that at least for a little while, I'll still be at my current company, where I'm sure to get questions about where the bosses were going. Telling could seriously get them in trouble, and while I'm pissed as hell at them, I don't intend on getting them into any kind of professional trouble.

I guess my questions are:

1) Should I say anything to my bosses about how I feel about their actions? I feel like they were willing to sacrifice my job security and take away my options just to finish a project so they could save face before quitting. Had I known the truth about the situation, I would have continued my sabbatical and had a lot more information before deciding whether or not to return to my now-small office or pursue other options.

2) What do I do about this other company? They also have a small office, so chances are I would be directly working for Boss1 and Boss2 again. Job prospects in my field/city are not great, but there are some out there.

3) How do I handle any questions from higher-ups in my current company about where the bosses went? I really don't want to lie to them, but I also have no desire to completely burn bridges with the bosses in the event that I need the job with their new company.

4) Bonus question - has anyone ever had all of their senior staff quit? What happened to the office? I am guessing that they won't want to shut our location down, but rebuilding may take some time, and I have no idea what may happen to those of us left in the meantime.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
elling could seriously get them in trouble

Unless there is a non-compete involved, what can your current company do? Fire them?

They can't get them in any trouble. Nor can you get in trouble unless you have a non-compete.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:38 PM on August 31, 2010

Is it possible that your bosses were actually protecting you by 1) calling you back before they left and 2) making sure you got the call to go with them? They couldn't tell you the actual truth without getting in trouble (perhaps non competes, perhaps something else), so they did what they could? So WRT 1 and 2, sure talk to them about it - especially if you are considering working for them again.

It sounds like WRT 3, you can say "I don't know", can't you? you don't actually know yet, right? So, say you have no idea.

WRT 4, is it possible that you can step up into the role of Boss 1 or Boss 2, thereby getting a big raise and new responsibility? Would that be better than going? Carefully consider those types of options (There are a bunch of recent questions about this, I think, right here on good ole AskMe)
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:45 PM on August 31, 2010 [7 favorites]

1. They thought enough of you to call you back in early to help. I'm guessing they don't know about your other work.

2. They also apparently thought enough of you to recommend you to the company they may now be jumping ship for.

I would want to know, how many other people from your office got called back from their sabbaticals early, and how many got called by this second company?

If this were me, I'd see it as a huge vote of confidence in my abilities. If you get good answers to those two questions, I would think you would be crazy not to at least try working at that second company.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:46 PM on August 31, 2010 [11 favorites]

While I understand that leaving the sabbatical early might have been un-fun, I think you should seriously investigate the opportunities at the new place. You might not be best pals with your bosses, but by dragging you back, they also enhanced your status because you were an integral part of the successful project.

I wouldn't divulge a thing about where the bosses went, why or how they went. Nothing good will come from it.

The departed bosses owe you--but don't be quite that blunt if you contact them. They know they owe you, and the interview is probably their way of paying you back.

I think you should try to view this as an opportunity, rather than "they screwed me". The ex-bosses didn't have it in for you personally, and while they might have acted in their own self interest, there's no reason for you not to turn this to your advantage.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:47 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

You haven't been treated well by your employers, but you have both a moral and a legal duty of loyalty towards them. That doesn't necessarily include gossiping about where your bosses went. On the other hand, your present employers will certainly find out about its new competitors, so the most they could hope for is a temporary period of anonymity. I don't think you should volunteer anything about their plans, particularly your guesses, but you shouldn't lie or conceal things if you're asked directly.

There are three ways your future employment could go. You could stay with your present employers; leave with your old bosses; or find someplace else. If your old bosses are headhunting you then they recognise that you're a valuable employee - perhaps they want you or perhaps they just want to hurt their old employers, now their competitors. This is actually an argument for you staying at your present job - you will likely survive a restructuring; you might find more opportunities there that things have opened up; and your present employers may do better without those two disloyal employees.

My feeling is that your former bosses were willing to screw you - which is business - and they'd probably be willing to screw you again. The fact that they presently find you useful does not necessarily mean that they they'll continue to value you. Also, new businesses frequently fail - if they move elsewhere or rejoin your present employer there's no guarantee that you'd come along. There's no need to abuse them at your meeting or gossip about them after (I think that would be a bad idea) but I think your best plan is to stay where you are.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:02 PM on August 31, 2010

Ironmouth asked: Unless there is a non-compete involved, what can your current company do? Fire them?

I don't know what the laws are where you live, but over here they could be hit by a barrage of legal actions alleging breach of fiduciary duty and misuse of company intellectual property - client lists, that sort of thing. It's not the sort of distraction and expense you can afford when you're starting a business.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:05 PM on August 31, 2010

1) They are not your bosses; they are former bosses who are selfish douchebags. You owe them nothing, and you should expect absolutely nothing from them unless its for their own benefit.

2) Don't go there. Your bosses have already told you directly how much they respect you by lying to your face when confronted. But I can understand why they would want you to follow them; they are experts at using you.

3) You have 2 choices here:
Tell what you believe to be the truth.
Tell them exactly what your bosses told you.
You owe them absolutely nothing since they are responsible for building a culture at work where management shits on the workers just so they can attain their own personal goals.
Either way, you should focus on not lying. But thats just me.

4) Senior staff usually know ahead of the junior staff what is going on in terms of legal/finances/other big stuff. If there is a mass migration of senior staff, that kinda tells you whats gonna happen.

Good luck, and I'm so sorry they treated you with such disrespect. You seem like someone who is genuinely loyal and hardworking. Best of luck in the future.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:18 PM on August 31, 2010

I'm with Joe from Australia. It's convenient to see this as a vote of confidence and a payback, but it's only those things if you think it is. Someone doesn't get to decide that they're going to reward you for your hard work by taking you out for a fancy dinner instead of paying you unless they've asked you if you would accept that dinner as compensation instead.

IF you don't know where your bosses went, say so. You also can say something like "I'm really not sure." Putting two and two together is not the same as absolutely knowing. As you noted above, they were careful to maintain the Chinese wall so you weren't put into a bad position.

I agree that they probably lied to you and I agree that they value your work. I also think these guys are colossal pricks. However, that said, if it's an opportunity you're interested in, there's nothing wrong in taking the meeting.
posted by micawber at 6:20 PM on August 31, 2010

Just keep your mouth shut until after the meetng. It's possible that you'll get a better deal at this new company and your bosses know it. You might be clicking your heels tomorrow afternoon. Who knows?

As for your questions about what to say, it's my general opinion that keeping your mouth shut is almost always the best policy.
posted by milarepa at 6:20 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

This sounds corporate and honestly the standard rule is always to act like a lady/gentleman when working and in particular leaving, never burn any bridges and keep angry opinions to yourself. Someone's assistant today could be your boss tomorrow and a boss today could be a reference desperately needed. It isn't keeping your head down, it's simply acting like an adult. Unless someone is asking specifically for a reference, it's not your place to say anything and if you have nothing nice to say, you're supposed to abstain depending upon your relationship with the asker.

I believe Ideefix has it right. This wasn't an active malicious action against you, this was business. It sucks but firms act within their own interests. I also don't believe you have any loyalty to a company that doesn't hold the same loyalty to you unless you've signed something to that end and in which case you'd have some kind of package coming your way. You only have an obligation to ensure you're taking care of and if that means exploring opportunities, then do so in a positive way. There's nothing wrong with going to an interview saying "I'm seeing what the market is like, I'm open to new opportunities, and exploring my own potential."
posted by eatdonuts at 6:21 PM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Don't say anything to your (former) bosses. Yes, they may have acted in self-interest by encouraging you to come back from sabbatical, but it sounds like they had exit plans in place already that didn't rely on the successful completion of that project, so it sounds like there may have been an element of wanting you to get back into work as well (did they know about your contract work when they asked?). Even if you never want to work for them again, they'll be useful references. Don't burn bridges.

2. Definitely do the meeting with the new company. You're not even 100% sure that it's the place your bosses have gone, and if it is, it at least shows that they value your skills and experience by putting your name forward. Even if they offer you a job, you can always say no. If you don't go to the meeting, you'll never know.

3. You don't know. Plain and simple. You have suspicions, but that's just gossip. If they ask, until you know for sure, you can honestly say that you don't know. And that's all you need to say.

4. Sounds like there's an opportunity for promotion going - if you were asked back from sabbatical, and your last project was completed successfully, then you've probably been doing something right. Someone has to fill the vaccuum... (But if the company is in serious trouble, then you may want to consider whether you want to stay - but again, nothing ventured... Just make sure you ask questions about the future of the company / upcoming projects etc)

Ultimately, the only person you have a responsibility for looking after is yourself. Don't feel obligated to the company, or to your previous bosses. You need to think about what is best for you. Your bosses sound like they thought of themselves first and you second. Which is fair enough. But they thought of you second rather than some other guy...

Don't judge them too harshly, but if they are working at the new company, take what they say about the company with a grain of salt and do your own research about the company's long term viability and current cash flow.
posted by finding.perdita at 6:22 PM on August 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

This sounds corporate and honestly the standard rule is always to act like a lady/gentleman when working and in particular leaving, never burn any bridges and keep angry opinions to yourself. Someone's assistant today could be your boss tomorrow and a boss today could be a reference desperately needed. It isn't keeping your head down, it's simply acting like an adult. Unless someone is asking specifically for a reference, it's not your place to say anything and if you have nothing nice to say, you're supposed to abstain depending upon your relationship with the asker.


Also, non-compete stipulations are largely unenforceable unless there is direct monetary compensation, because they deprive one of the right to secure employment. Taking clients lists with is another matter entirely, but competing for the same business is something employers try to threaten with sanctions, but are mostly toothless.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:42 PM on August 31, 2010

I don't know what the laws are where you live, but over here they could be hit by a barrage of legal actions alleging breach of fiduciary duty and misuse of company intellectual property - client lists, that sort of thing.

This US employment lawyer says highly unlikely. First, there is no fiduciary duty for managers, only officers and directors. A no-brainer.

Second, suing for a client list as the company is going down the drain is the last thing I'd advise. Usually totally not worth it.

Third--the OP isn't stealing client lists. She's not liable for their actions.

OP, I'm not your lawyer. Seek legal advice if there are non-competes.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:02 PM on August 31, 2010

Play it straight, naive and confident. That's all you have to do. Day after day. It'll be surprisingly easy (because hey, you don't really know what's going on!). And it'll get even easier as more information becomes available. Later you can say you knew what the plan was and you were just playing along. Straight, naive and confident.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:47 PM on August 31, 2010

You've seen both sides presented here:
1. that they were asses who used you to finish a project and lied to you
2. they were careful to insulate you from fallout, made sure you had a job before they left, and possibly are setting up a way for you to follow them to greener pastures.

Now, I get accused of being an optimist, but I see things as much more the second option.

I don't think there's really that much tricky stepping you need to do. Take the interview and find out what's up with that option. You can probably find out then if your bosses *did* go to the company that's interviewing you, or perhaps they got you an interview there because they know that the ship you're on is sinking faster than you think.

If you like the job, and you want the job; take the job.

In the meantime, you are under no obligation to report your guesses or your actual knowledge about where B1 and B2 have gone to anyone. So...don't. Shrug and say "I dunno. Hey, do you have that cover sheet for the TPS report?" and keep moving.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:09 PM on August 31, 2010

1. Say nothing. All in the game.
2. Take the interview and then see how you feel.
3. Say nothing. You're not obliged to speculate to them about what you think is going on.

I also read this more as a vote of confidence in you than anything else, but it does strike me as a bit odd that bosses 1 and 2 haven't been a bit more up-front with you informally. When a similar situation happened to me, the would-be employer took me to the pub and said he couldn't hire me directly from the company I was working at because it would be poaching and he'd signed an agreement not to do it. If I quit that company and then applied to his in a month's time it was another story. I didn't take it, but that was for unconnected reasons.
posted by crocomancer at 6:46 AM on September 1, 2010

Did they know about your contract work? Because otherwise they may have thought they were doing you a favor by ending your unpaid sabbatical. The thing that seems shady to me is telling you that everything is great when it wasn't. I would ask them about that in a casual setting, not at the interview. They may have had plans to get you back in and hire you at the new place, which they see as doing you a favor. I don't think there's anything wrong in trying to find out more.

Your current bosses have no right to ask you about the possible whereabouts of your old ones. You don't have to divulge anything. You can truthfully say "they haven't told me", because they haven't.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2010

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