I want you to be successful, but...
October 20, 2013 5:57 AM   Subscribe

How to manage a relationship with my former protege at a job from which I just got fired?

I got fired last Tuesday from a job I'd held for 14 years, where I built a very successful program and team from scratch. I am relieved more than anything - I hadn't been happy for a while and was actually in the midst of a 90-day exit plan - but am also hurt and angry about how things were handled.

My #2, a woman @15 years my junior, is taking over some of my roles in an interim capacity while they search for my replacement. She is a lovely person and we have a great relationship. The angel on my shoulder wants her to be successful, but the devil on the other side wants everything to fall apart so my absence is felt and my former boss feels like a chump. (I acknowledge that this is irrational and mean and also realize that if anyone is going to suffer, it's certainly not going to be my ex-boss.)

I've already met her for a drink at her request on Thursday (where I ended up consoling her rather than v/v) and fielded a call late Friday afternoon (where she asked if I'd mind if she contacted a friend of mine about some freelance work), and I've felt less friendly and patient with every contact. I would like to maintain a relationship with her, but need to not feel like a chump for helping the place that canned me (and my ex-boss by proxy). I also really want to move on emotionally and these contacts are tethering me.

Any advice on how to make this a win-win, or at least make it easier on me, without being a shitty friend and mentor?
posted by Sweetie Darling to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
They made a business decision to let you go — so you need to make a business decision to work out a contract for any knowledge they need that you have.

Being able to move on is the best part, It's tough, but the relief is wonderful.
posted by scruss at 6:15 AM on October 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Don't be her friend or mentor at all if a part of you wants to make her a human sacrifice.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:15 AM on October 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think you could just tell her that you're not up for talking about your ex-employer or anything related to it, for now. If that's all you have to talk about with her, then it's fine to take a break from her altogether. You need to focus your thoughts and energies elsewhere.
posted by jon1270 at 6:16 AM on October 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

"Hey, #2, I'm glad that we're still going to be in touch even though we're not working together anymore. If you're free for a drink on Thursday, let's meet up! But I a SOOO done with [workplace]. If exboss wants any help for the department, let's let him pay me a consultancy fee."

Make it clear that whatever relationship you have with her from here on out is going to be about anything but work.
posted by phunniemee at 6:17 AM on October 20, 2013 [26 favorites]

You've been fired and your friend first needed to be consoled, and then to ask you for help? No. Stop. You're not being a bad friend for not helping her, and she's not being a good friend right now. Tell her you don't want to talk about ex-workplace, but if they need help you are available as a consultant, they can get in touch with you to discuss your fee (at least 3x your old salary).
posted by jeather at 6:18 AM on October 20, 2013 [11 favorites]

You could be honest with her -- your position is really understandable. "I really want you to succeed, but I'm still smarting from my dismissal. Can we hold off on talking about work at FormerCompany until I've settled into a new position? In the meantime, let's go for lunch on Saturday."

(Meeting her right after work may lead to more talk about her job than meeting her on a weekend.)
posted by Houstonian at 6:23 AM on October 20, 2013 [10 favorites]

You've been great with her, helpful and understanding, so don't worry about that devil. But don't be surprised if she's angling for your old job. That'd be natural.

To taper down, tell her "the best way to grow into new responsibilities is to plunge in and just do it. I've loved getting together with you these past few days but it's time to move on. Let's touch base in a few months and catch up."

In any case, the contact with her and with the old job will naturally diminish. You'll be amazed how quickly it'll all feel like a closed book.
posted by mono blanco at 6:24 AM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I am agreeing with other posters; she's being a bit self-centered around this. I'd be horrified if my mentor got fired, and definitely wouldn't choose that time to ask for freelance work connections. Your feelings are fine to have. It's not like you're actually sabotaging her; you're just experiencing a loss and thinking through things. Put on your own oxygen mask first.
posted by dovesandstones at 8:37 AM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can't expect her to be a mind reader on this. Maybe she's being a little oblivious to your tone but if she thinks you're happy to be gone then maybe she sees you as such a professional and friend that it has just completely escaped her that you are smarting.

So be honest and let yourself be vulnerable by admitting to her that this is a tough position for you and you'd like to not talk about it.
posted by phearlez at 9:18 AM on October 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Move on. You do not owe her or the company anything. Also, are you sure she was not a part of the process that got you here? This is not the time to think of the company, it is time to focus on yourself and your future.
posted by ladoo at 9:43 AM on October 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Asking if you'd mind if she contacted a friend of yours doesn't sound like something the company shouldn't be getting from you for free. It sounds like simple courtesy. If she's still asking for advice on what to do or who she can contact for X, I'd say something like, "well, obviously I don't know, or else I wouldn't have been fired." She'll get it.
posted by ctmf at 1:32 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not uncommon for people to need consolation instead of providing it, though it's annoying as hell. She may feel really concerned about stepping on toes, so asked you before calling your friend about work. Try to judge her as gently as possible. I'd probably not answer calls from her, as email would be better right now. You have no business obligation to the company, and no requirement to provide information promptly. If she in any way asks for information or advice about her work, #2, MegaCorp didn't make any plan for me to be available for consultation, so it would be best for you to talk to Boss about that.

Here's the thing - if things fall apart, Boss will blame you. If things go well, Boss will take credit, maybe sharing it w/ #2. You have to disengage, and it's really hard. After I left my previous job, the quality of work suffered, but my ex-boss will never see how I improved quality, etc. You know you built a solid team, did a great job, and have a lot to offer your next employer. Focus your energy on that. Contact #2 if you need statistics or info from MegaCorp for your next interview.

am also hurt and angry
angel on my shoulder wants her to be successful, ... (... realize that if anyone is going to suffer, it's certainly not going to be my ex-boss.)
I would like to maintain a relationship with her, but need to not feel like a chump
I also really want to move on emotionally and these contacts are tethering me.
Any advice on how to make this a win-win, or at least make it easier on me, without being a shitty friend and mentor?

You're actually being quite kind and positive about #2, which does you credit. So be nice, but be somewhat distant; you need to take care of yourself. Your feelings are totally reasonable and natural. Getting fired really hurts. Take the time to process, grieve, be pissed off, etc. Then go out and get a terrific new job, and enjoy building a new team, creating new processes, solving new problems. Living well is the best revenge.
posted by theora55 at 10:59 PM on October 20, 2013

Wow. I can tell you are a woman because you are actually grappling with this situation. Do you not think that your boss knows you enough after all these years that he/she probably TOLD the intern to reach out to you for all that information? Don't you think that's partly why they fired you? Because they knew they would have nothing to lose by doing so? After all if you're passing on all this info to someone who is still connected with them they didn't lose much at all by firing you and since they did fire you not losing much is exactly what they anticipated.

Stop this now. You are not being a bad person by not wanting to help her, you're just being a smart person who values their time. I am an HR recruiter myself and I know the hard fact is that she is 15 years younger than you and therefore is WAY more desirable than you in the workforce especially if she has all your wisdom and info. Do you have any idea how many 50-65 year olds I have coming into my office wanting work and one look at their grey hair and I know my clients will not want them simply because of their age?? And even if they happen to look 10 years younger than they are the government has decided to link one's date of birth with their ss# so even looking young won't save you with an employer who will know your age. Ageism is very alive and well in the work force and it sucks, but that's the way it is. You are not doing yourself any favors by giving your best assets to the young up & commer at your old company and you are virtually guaranteeing that they will have no regrets for letting you go. Unless your protege is willing to have a relationship in which you never speak about work (which is unlikely since it's probably the one thing you have in common) then you should end things with her and put all that energy into starting your own company or working for another one. And if you choose the former you shouldn't hire this protege either as she will likely just be a spy sent by one of your employers to steal your clients. I've been in the staffing business for over a decade and these underhanded tricks are more common than people realize.
posted by manderin at 11:28 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone who weighed in (even manderin, who gave me a brief "oh-shit-I'm-old" panic attack which has since passed). In retrospect I may have overreacted/ panicked, because there's been no additional contact from her since the 18th. But thanks to you all, I feel better equipped to respond when/if.

I also really appreciate the reminders about how complex (but common) this situation is - this is new to me after 25 years of work without an extended break. There's still some stuff to unpack, emotionally and literally, but I'm feeling pretty positive overall.

Thanks again for the support!
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:11 AM on October 29, 2013

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