Help me quit my company. Or not?
March 29, 2011 10:19 PM   Subscribe

I've all but decided to leave the job I'm working at currently. I've been passively looking for jobs, but this activity is becoming less and less passive. I need some advice about how to do this gracefully and professionally. And possibly, I need some help feeling less guilty about it.

I started work at this company about 5 months ago, and have been decreasingly satisfied with the environment. Some reasons I want to go:
  1. Management likes to keep employees in the dark about deadlines in order to spring them on us when they feel the need to apply pressure.
  2. Management is passive-aggressive. They'll say to your face that everything is great, and then obliquely mention in a large meeting that they are not happy about something.
  3. I am not terribly impressed by my coworkers' abilities. There is no one for me to look up to and learn from at this point. Having mentors is very important for me at this point in my career, and there is a lack of that here.
  4. Management simultaneously wants us to do everything ourselves, and wants to micromanage minor technical decisions.
  5. The company is a startup, but it's somehow also very bureaucratic. There are anywhere from 4-5 people who can tell me what to do, and they all have different opinions of what should be done, and how to do it. Add to this their switching between wanting to give us autonomy and wanting to micromanage, and this becomes even more frustrating.
The issue is, that I want this company to succeed, and if it can execute, it will. And really, other than poor management skills, they've mostly treated me well. I am currently the only person at the company who does what I do, and my team is very swamped. If I leave, the company will need to find someone to replace me very quickly.

The management of the company has stated that they like me a lot (to put it mildly), and that I should say something if there's anything I'm unhappy with. The thing is, I feel like if I give this long list of things I'm unhappy with, the discussion will just turn acrimonious, and I don't really think anything will change at the company, as the problems existed long before I came on.

So finally, my questions:
  1. Is there a way I can hint that they might think about hiring someone to replace me without saying I plan to leave? I've already suggested they hire "another me" to relieve some of the pressure on the team, but progress has been basically non-existent on this front.
  2. Should I put off leaving until either I'm at the breaking point, or the team is less busy? I'm generally an adherent to the notion that "there is never a good time to do {x_difficult_thing}," but maybe in this case, I should try waiting it out a month or two?
  3. Should I suck it up and try telling them that I'm dissatisfied and see what happens? Might I be understimating their desire/ability to change things?
posted by The Eponymous Pseudonymous Rex to Work & Money (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want out? Will you be happy staying if they say they will change, and do not?

I tend to be WAY too loyal to companies so I have to remind myself this: If the company had to fire me today for any business reason, they would without a heartbeat. EVERYONE is replaceable to a degree. So why should you stick around for their sake? In business you always have to look out for yourself. However weigh this in with other comments. GL :)
posted by NotSoSimple at 11:01 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. You've already done your part by suggesting that they hire another person who can be your back-up. That's all you owe the company, and also probably all you can do without putting yourself in danger of being fired (I assume you're in the U.S. and in an at-will state). Replacing you before or after you leave is not your responsibility.

2. If you need the money, stay until you're "at the breaking point", but don't do it because you want the company to succeed, unless you're willing to sacrifice your own well-being for the company's success. Believe me, I've put off quitting for the same reasons you describe, and I regret it because a) there was nothing that I learned or accomplished in those final months that I couldn't live without, and b) I was already emotionally exhausted by the job, and I pushed myself beyond that point for no reason. Seriously, no one cared. If management sucks, they'll run the company into the ground with or without dragging you along for the ride.

3. You can try a few gentle suggestions, but you should focus on one or two things, and be sure you have proposed solutions in hand before you talk to management. However, because you describe management as passive-aggressive and manipulative (withholding deadline information to exert pressure), be prepared to be shown the door if they decide you're stirring the pot too much.
posted by neushoorn at 11:03 PM on March 29, 2011

Unless the personalities of your various bosses argue against it, there are constructive ways to raise all of your complaints, and the politic way to do it is to discuss it privately with the one or two people who can actually lay down some law and make it a change. It's worth doing this before you start hinting that you're leaving.

1. "I'd like the process and expectations to be more transparent, with deadlines and deliverables spelled out more clearly at the beginning. I don't have a problem with being flexible and accepting that things change, but that can be part of the transparency too, where everyone is easily aware of what the current deliverables are and when they're expected."
2. "A couple times I've felt blindsided when problems were raised in meetings shortly after I was told everything is going fine. If there's an issue with how my team or I are working out, I'd like the first crack at addressing it."
3. "It would be helpful to me if there someone more experienced in my area who can give me some technical guidance and mentoring."
4. "I'm getting mixed signals about my degree of responsibility, because sometimes things are left entirely to me, and sometimes I receive very precise instructions. I'd like to clarify the level below which decisions are up to me."
5. "The chain of responsibility isn't very clear sometimes. I get instructions from different people that are sometimes contradictary. It puts me in a difficult position of arbitrating a decision that should be made above my level."

If you get pushback on these items, you smile and agree and leave it off with "those are just suggestions." Ideally, someone above you will understand that these are real and normal growing pains of a startup that should be dealt with.

You can always start looking for a job if you feel these issues aren't addressed.
posted by fatbird at 11:15 PM on March 29, 2011

If, at anytime, this company had a bad quarter and decided they needed to balance the books you (or your co-workers) would be let go immediately. It's the professional thing to do. Turning that around, if the company you're working for, at any time, puts you in a position where you stop growing in your abilities, you need to let them go. It's the equally professional thing to do. These are the implicit agreements in place at all small software companies, interactive agencies, or internet media firms today.

To your specific concerns.

1. There's no way to hint they need to hire someone to replace you. The culture you've described is one where they deal with the actual problems in front of them at any given moment, and not theoretical future problems (like you leaving). If this still bugs you, prepare the documentation you wish you'd had when you started for your hastily hired replacement

2. The team is never less busy, there's never a good time to leave, there's always something left undone.

3. When people ask you to vent they're doing it A. To let you let off steam & B. To collect intelligence on what's going on with their workforce. They will listen to the problems you describe, but will never address the problem in a way that will satisfy you (because if that was part of the company DNA, the problem wouldn't be there)

If you want to leave make sure you have a solid relationship with one of your superiors or peers so you can call on them for a reference. Look for work, interview, and when you land the new job give two weeks notice and move on. Don't let the other companies know you're unhappy with your current position, just that you're looking to make a step up in your career. This lets you be choosy about who you work for next, and negotiate from strength.

Don't tell anyone that you're looking, and if they ask you outright tell them you always keep half an eye on what's going on in the market. If they're a professional company they'll accept your resignation (maybe after making you a counter offer). If they're an unprofessional company they'll berate and cajole you, preying on your uneasiness with the situation. If that happens, stay firm, and realize you're the one being more professional here. If this is the way the conversation goes and you're worried about them ruining your reputation, don't worry. Everyone knows who the jerks are in any community. Stay professional, keep emotions out of it, and just move on.

One other path to consider. What you're experiencing is pretty common these days, especially for junior and intermediate level development positions (I'm assuming here). Chances are you're going to jump from the hell you know into the hell you don't know. Your assessment of the situation is spot on ("I don't really think anything will change at the company, as the problems existed long before I came on"). That means your assessment of what actually needs to be done has a good chance of being spot on as well. Try to understand what the business needs of your company are, and STOP listening to what the 4 or 5 different people are telling you to do, and START deciding what really needs to get done. When questioned on it have a frank, non-emotional conversation with your managers about why you're doing what you're doing, and how it's a better choice for the business. If you act like an army private, you'll be treated like one.

You will fail at some of this, which means the next time you encounter it in your career you'll know what works and what doesn't. Failure is the best mentor. If it's the fundamental business model of the owners that you're in opposition to, stop and consider why you're there in the first place (and then get out).

Your desire for mentorship is incredibly common, but the presence of mentors is equally lacking in this industry and and most organizations lack the internal political structure to encourage real mentorship. Seek mentorship at networking events outside your company or via involvement in online projects. Outsiders will be able to give you the real scoop of what's going on, and not the spin that anyone senior working for your company would need to give you.
posted by alan at 11:16 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Hooo boy. As a manager myself, though most likely in a very different industry, these are my thoughts to your question.

1) Nope. Because the minute they catch wind that you're outta there, you just haven't packed your bags yet, they'll go ahead and hire that other you. And then train them, and once they are sufficiently up and running, you're likely to get dialed wayyyy down. Up to and including termination. I'm sorry to say it, but it's true.

2) Oh, absolutely not. When you get to the breaking point, you're going to be that much closer to burnout. And you're right, there's never a good time. There's always a busy season, always a big new client, always another Big Thing. And once you leave, that is no longer your problem.

3) I agree with neushoorn... keep the list small and short, with suggestions and solutions, and don't be offended if they completely blow it off. If you have a meeting with me, where you tell me that you're dissatisfied, without any suggestions, or without proposing any solutions, I will remind you where the door is. Why? Because, in addition to having employees to manage and help, I also have a business to run, or a piece of a business, and in order to be successful, the business piece has to win. It's not a zero-sum game, of course, and the employees can win too (and they do, plenty of time), but I can't pour my time and resources into someone that gives me a vague complaint.

Best of luck to you. I've worked for places like that before... and I'm certainly glad that I no longer do.
posted by mornie_alantie at 11:23 PM on March 29, 2011

It never hurts to know what you and your skills are worth on the open market. Don't think for a second a company will think twice about letting you go if things go south for them. Loyalty to the company died a long time ago.

That said, it really sounds like they like you. Take advantage of that and assert yourself to act in ways you deem appropriate for the work; not the way the 5 different people told you to do it.

Worst case scenario is that they give you some negative feedback or even let you go (which, from the sound of things, you would almost welcome).

Best case is that you make the position palatable to stick around for awhile in a business that you want to see succeed. There is something to be said for that.
posted by PsuDab93 at 7:17 AM on March 30, 2011

I've been a manager in large technology companies for several years and I agree with all the advice given above (especially don't signal that you're leaving because you feel like you owe them a head start on their hiring process -- it doesn't matter who you are, you're on your way out as soon as you do that and most likely not on your timing).

I think it is worthwhile to talk, in a solution-oriented way, about how things could be done better. I am in the process of reading Crucial Confrontations so I can deal with my own f***ed up work situation, and it has some great advice on how to handle those types of conversations well, regardless of your position. I suggest taking a look at it.

Then, you have to decide who to talk to and what to bring up. The book I mentioned above has some good ideas about the 2nd part (what issue or issues to bring up). I recommend going 1:1 to the person you think has the best chance of resolving the problem. This might be the manager of the 5 people who tell you what to do, one of those five people, or someone that they listen to. Ideally this will be someone who you think has or can have some insight into the situation and has enough influence to change things.

Like others upthread, I recommend trying to improve things (while you are looking for another job in case it all goes really south) -- who knows, it might work. If it doesn't you're probably not going to be worse off and you've had some practice at doing something really tough and that might come in handy later. Good luck!
posted by elmay at 12:29 PM on March 30, 2011

It sounds like you have a valuable specialized technical skill, like something to do with computers, for example. And the office environment you are in can be chaotic at times, because in a small start-up everyone is rushing around trying to get different things done, and different people are asking for your help with different things. Perhaps you are trying to maintain a server, while a sales-guy is asking (demanding) you to design his power-point presentation. This can be rather frustrating.

Perhaps you should take a deep breath and try to force yourself to be a bit more zen about things.

1) In a small start-up the management style can be a work in progress.
2) The fickle demands of clients cause random waves of work-flow. This might be why management keeps you in the dark about those shifting deadlines. It's not unheard of.
3) You should politely petition for one of those 4-5 managers to help schedule/prioritize your task delegation. It's a reasonable request.
4) It sounds like you would probably be happier in a more structured environment in a larger more established firm. Go for it.
posted by ovvl at 5:27 PM on March 30, 2011

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