May 19, 2014 5:32 AM   Subscribe

I recently accepted a promotion. Awesome. The problem is, my old boss has subsequently put a moratorium on people leaving my current department for 3 months. We are desperately short on resources, so I am sympathetic to his predicament, but at the same time, I am very bothered by a few things: 1) Since I accepted the offer, he has piled more work on my plate that he expects me to finish regardless of how long it takes. This would include projects that spill over the 3 month moratorium. 2) I spoke to him about applying for this new position before he announced this policy and he never mentioned a thing. He always mentioned we would do a 'transition plan', which if you read point 1, doesn't sound like any type of transition plan. He announced this policy 1 day after I was extended an offer. 3) The promotion is a $15k jump in compensation. I will be seeing none of that for 3 months because of this policy.

My new boss is not happy but she realizes the politics here. My old boss has a lot of sway. He is known as a robot / sociopath within the organization but does get results.

I guess my question is how to best handle this situation. I really don't want to go to HR on this, but I did speak to the HR big cheese off the record who said this sounded very unfair. Is this even legal? I'm in Texas if it matters. I guess I am trying to figure out how to get through this without making some career limiting statements / moves. Help me remain professional while not getting entirely screwed over. Should I just leave it alone and suck it up?
posted by jasondigitized to Work & Money (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Go to HR on this.
posted by Zarkonnen at 5:40 AM on May 19, 2014 [17 favorites]

From the sound of it, this is a pretty big organization, and not a 12-person small business. In that cast, this is *exactly* the sort of thing that HR is for. Go to HR, that is the professional way to handle it.
posted by Andrhia at 5:44 AM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Give HR a try, but it's unlikely they'll feel like interfering. I can't imagine it's illegal for you not to get promoted within a company, but they may be able to advocate for you.

Really, this is on New Boss. If she can't stand up for you on this kind of bullshit -- and it's patently Old Boss trying to squeeze every drop of blood out of you before you leave -- then there's little that can be done. If she and you are too afraid of him to escalate it up to Old Boss's boss, then Old Boss wins, and he knows it.
posted by Etrigan at 5:51 AM on May 19, 2014 [19 favorites]

I would definitely go to HR. When they ask you what you want out of this, say that provided your new department can live without you, you are willing to stick with your current position for the three months and the spend the last few weeks of that transitioning your work to other people in your current department, after which you will need a clean break in order to do your best work in your new position. Also, you would like to begin receiving your promotion salary immediately.

This makes you look reasonable and you are not leaving your current boss in the lurch. Three months is plenty of time for them to hire or find internally someone to replace you. But you've locked down the 3 month limit with an HR stamp, and hopefully start getting your new salary.
posted by 256 at 5:53 AM on May 19, 2014 [14 favorites]

Yep, go to HR.

If I'm reading you right, Old Boss changed the rules AFTER you got this promotion? Somebody needs to let him know slavery was abolished, and he isn't allowed to hold people hostage for his personal convienence! There's surely some sort of company policy already in existence that would force his hand, and between them HR and New Boss (plus perhaps Old Boss's bosses) can make him see reason.
posted by easily confused at 6:08 AM on May 19, 2014

I am generally of the opinion that you should almost never go to HR. HR is there for management, not for you. Complaining to HR may temporarily clear up the problem, but at the expense if losing the trust of management and damaging your future prospects at this company.
posted by deathpanels at 6:10 AM on May 19, 2014 [11 favorites]

deathpanels has it right, HR is "management protection" so they will just make sure that your "old boss" screws you into doing what he wants without getting himself into trouble.
posted by thilmony at 6:25 AM on May 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I suspect what I say may not be viewed favorably, but this is what I would do if I faced your situation.

Keep applying for jobs, but outside of your company. You know that you have an offer on the table with 15K/yr plus compensation, so you look for a job that matches the skills and perhaps offer more, whether it be economics or opportunities. Then when you have offer in hand, negotiate with that for 1) immediate move to other department 2) other things that may be important to you.
posted by Wolfster at 6:25 AM on May 19, 2014 [26 favorites]

This sounds like politics that you probably can't have too much control over. But let's explore the non-politic part of it: Old boss is genuinely reliant on you and has no replacement ready, thus he really needs you in particular to take care of things before you leave and he can get a replacement lined up (three months doesn't seem an unreasonable amount of time for that to happen). However, new boss is in the same position--she has a vacancy that she's needed to fill and all the responsibilities of that need doing.

It seems like this is where HR might be helpful to you: Can you ask for the transition to happen in the other direction? Basically keep working at your old job for the three months, but start taking on expanded responsibilities for new boss. And as such, maybe you can get some kind of pay differential over the three months since you'd be working these additional responsibilities.

On preview: what 256 said.
posted by gubenuj at 6:30 AM on May 19, 2014

I guess my question is how to best handle this situation.

First appeal to New Boss, and note if she can't do anything, you'll be facing that frustration again (fallout of unequal power). It's just something to note, it's not a dealbreaker or anything, but it's something to observe and be aware of to avoid railing against it in futility later. Or give yourself some prep time.

Secondly, tell yourself that someday you will be in the position to deny him a promotion.

Maybe true, maybe not true, but it helps to think of the big picture and that a lack of professionalism will one day see its judgment day.

And it does sound unprofessional, it sounds petty--that work wasn't there before? All of a sudden it's on you to finish up whatever it is because he failed to plan ahead, even though you gave him a heads up? He's the senior person--this is his job. And he hasn't diplomatically smoothed this out with you? Bad judgment. Lack of foresight. Unprofessional. Remember it.

It does sound like a three month headache, but it's only three months, and you can spend them imagining revenge scenarios fifteen years in the future. Agree with those who say don't go to HR; going to HR marks you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:37 AM on May 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I suspect what I say may not be viewed favorably, but this is what I would do if I faced your situation.

Keep applying for jobs, but outside of your company.

I don't see anything wrong with this, either. If nothing else, it would probably keep your spirits up.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:38 AM on May 19, 2014

Did the offer include a starting date or anything else that could be construed as such? If so, you accept the offer in writing with copy to hr, and then inform old boss in writing, with copy to new boss and hr, that you have accepted another position in the company. Don't even mention the "new policy". If you have an offer in writing (with a significant salary increase), let them figure out how to deal with old boss. It may turn out that they will ask you to stay with old boss for a while but you should be able to secure the pay increase earlier this way. And, if they do ask you to stay with old boss for a while (3 months?), you make sure that you have that in writing and a confirmation that you will start your other responsibilities on a different date.

And start looking for work elsewhere, using your promotion as a marketing tool.
posted by aroberge at 7:03 AM on May 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think that going to HR has to ruin your permanent record; especially if you take 256's tack, which is to be solutions oriented.

Sure, if you go to complain you'll get labeled a "complainer," but if you go with an idea that makes everyone reasonably happy (or something they can live with), then you're labeled a "peacemaker." I think the most important things for you are getting your increase in salary immediately and ensuring there is a hard stop for your work for Old Boss.

Get a copy of your companies employee handbook and other by-laws. I find it hard to believe that in a company large enough to have multiple departments and an HR head that Old Boss gets to unilaterally change policies.

Bring documentation of all the communications you've had around this - dates you told Old Boss about the possible promotions, interviews, offers and change in policy.

This also sounds like a large enough company that they might do 360 performance reviews. If so, don't forget to find out how you can submit feedback about Old Boss come review time.
posted by brookeb at 7:05 AM on May 19, 2014

If the company both lets a manager act like a sociopath and allows situations you describe as "desperately short on resources," it sounds like exiting the company entirely will be for the win. However, don't interview elsewhere and try to use it to gain traction in your current company - doing so will mark you as someone to eliminate when they can.

Will the new position even be there in three+ months for you or will new boss just hire someone else in the meantime?

There are good HR departments and bad HR departments. You'll have to figure out which type you have - do you know anyone else who has had to go to HR on issues? If so, ask what their experiences were like.
posted by Candleman at 7:12 AM on May 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

As someone in a very similar (ongoing) position, the way I worked around it was sitting down with my old boss and pointing out that if I was leaving externally, I would be giving 2 weeks notice and no more. We then agreed upon a 4 week transition plan that then got stretched out to 8 weeks after another member of the team resigned. My new boss is very firm that after June 1st I can no longer answer questions, run meetings or present any data on behalf of the old team.

It helps that I work for a multi national with an established proceedure for internal transfers that specifically states transitions cannot be under 2 weeks, and no longer than 90 days for senior personel, and that HR is involved every step of the way. Involve your HR. Talk to both bosses. Lay out steps and dates for your transition as well as a list of your tasks and who currently can take them over, or what a temp can be easily trained to do. Giving your old boss a plan makes things significantly easier for them and more ammeable to letting you go.
posted by larthegreat at 7:12 AM on May 19, 2014 [11 favorites]

Yes, it's legal.

No, do not go to HR.

Acquiring the ability to avoid the HR crutch and dealing head-on directly with the people posing the challenge is a lesson that will serve you well in your career.

"Starting to look for another job" because of a challenge at work is a weak approach to resolving things. You can't look for a new job each time the going gets tough (and this is not even tough). Those that jump to HR or throw a fit get labeled pretty quickly in a negative light, never mind the fact HR is looking out for the company - not you.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:16 AM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was with Wolfer.....

Keep applying for jobs, but outside of your company. You know that you have an offer on the table with 15K/yr plus compensation, so you look for a job that matches the skills and perhaps offer more, whether it be economics or opportunities. Then when you have offer in hand, negotiate with that for 1) immediate move to other department 2) other things that may be important to you.

.... up until that final sentence.

I'd simply grab that outside job. Because you're presently working for a company which tolerates and protects robot/sociopaths, and your new boss will be someone who's afraid to go to bat for you. That's a wicked bad combo, and it speaks poorly for senior management, for HR, and, certainly, for both these bosses.

Not to make you paranoid, but it sounds to me like you're being set up to fail by old boss. If he's giving you more than you could possibly succeed at, the only conclusion I can reach is that he's aiming to make you look like a failure. So even if you were to dutifully run his gauntlet for 3 months, I wouldn't expect to see the promised land at the end of that path.

And if you were to follow Wolfer's advice to angle your way into the new job for the new boss, you'd find yourself remaining in a company with a ferociously angry psycho gunning for you, working under a boss who lacks the power and/or the balls to protect you. And that's the BEST possible scenario.

Time to move, IMO.
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:38 AM on May 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

I would try to get the pay raise immediately as a first step
posted by J. Wilson at 7:56 AM on May 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

Do you have that promotion title, salary, and the date of transition, in writing? Because at my last job @ a dysfunctional/cash-strapped company, the way they kept people was by promising them promotions with big salary increases and then telling them, "unfortunately there's a moratorium on raises for __ amount of time" and then just leaving them hanging for months. And months. Doing their old work and frequently some of their new work too.

Colleagues who fought through HR did end up receiving more money, but by the end of the process were so exhausted and disillusioned with the company that they burned out and began to actively look for better jobs. Many are gone now, but the company is geared for rapid turnover, so it's my opinion that the 'moratorium' was just a cynical tactic to get as much work out of people as possible before hiring cheaper staff who will do the same thing again.

This anecdote to say, (a) get that title/salary in writing and (b) use your energy wisely. Because there is a possibility that you will hit the 3 month mark and be told, "Oops, something else came up and we need to delay the transition for another month..." Nthing others who recommend looking for new work. Maybe your workplace will not screw you over, but if they do, it's best to have options.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 8:08 AM on May 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you need to get new boss on board. Go talk to her and see if she will back you up on trying to get you over to her department as soon as reasonably possible. Try to work out a plan together that is acceptable to you. If she shrugs and says there's nothing she can do, then you're at the mercy of your old boss and you can try to negotiate with him. I like J. Wilson's idea of asking for the salary increase while he is delaying you from moving. I don't see how HR will help. I doubt any company policies or laws are being violated here.
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:09 AM on May 19, 2014

but I did speak to the HR big cheese off the record who said this sounded very unfair.

That certainly suggests to me that if you went to HR (and, BTW, best to assume conversations with HR are always "on the record" no matter what they say), with your facts straight, and with some knowledge of Texas employment law, you could be transferred to new boss's area immediately, and/or make some other more favorable arrangement such as you getting your salary increase now.

I can't imagine it's illegal for you not to get promoted within a company,

Yes, it's legal.

I am not your lawyer, and I am not a lawyer in the great state of Texas, but there are actually many situations in employment where denial of a promotion or other employment benefits can be seen as an illegal "wrongful termination."
posted by hush at 8:24 AM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Acquiring the ability to avoid the HR crutch and dealing head-on directly with the people posing the challenge is a lesson that will serve you well in your career.

This is like saying "Don't go to payroll if you have a pay issue." It's not a crutch to go to HR when you have this kind of issue. It is what the department is there for. Availing one's-self of a service provided is not a crutch. The organization wouldn't have an HR department if there wasn't value in it.

Trying to reinvent the wheel isn't the correct lesson here.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:37 AM on May 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

What is it that YOU want to have happen? Do you want to switch teams immediately / in two weeks? Do you want the pay raise immediately? Do you want the title bump immediately? First, figure out what you want in the ideal world. Then I agree with others. It's time to talk both to your new manager and then to your current manager.
posted by Phredward at 8:37 AM on May 19, 2014

Wait, did you apply to and accept a new position BEFORE your current boss declared this three month moratorium? Because if so, that is totally not kosher and you should go to HR.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:40 AM on May 19, 2014

Draft a transition plan that ignores the 3 months. You got the new jobs PRIOR to the announcement of the moratorium. The transition should include you wrapping up projects that are almost done, and handing off new work or in-progress work to your colleagues, as well as writing a job description for your replacement. It should be a 4-6 week timeline that ends with you moving full-time into your new role. Send it to your old boss and new boss and CC HR.

If he restates the 3-month thing, re-write your transition plan for 3-months, send a bolded very clear email to everyone establishing your new start date as exactly 3 months from the day he made his declaration, and put your head down and power through it. Also, schedule a vacation 6 weeks from now at the halfway point (even if it's just a long weekend) to have something to look forward to.
posted by amaire at 8:57 AM on May 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I can basically guarantee that, after the end of the 3-month moratorium, even if you are nominally transferred to New Boss, you will still be working for Old Boss and New Boss will still be afraid to stand up for you. Instead of getting up to speed in your new position, you'll be one-last-thing-ing for Old Boss. If he really is a sociopath, he might even intentionally sabotage your new position.

New Boss has shown you what they're made of. Get out.
posted by endless_forms at 9:01 AM on May 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Re: several posters suggesting you get the promotion/salary in writing....the problem with that is that by doing so now, you'll give them the impression you intend to shop the offer around to other companies.

If you'd asked for it in writing at the same meeting where the promo was offered, it might have played as prudence. But asking for it now, after time's going by, and after both old and new boss know you're in an uncomfortable position, if you were to suddenly ask for the offer in writing, you'd be sending bad vibes.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:07 AM on May 19, 2014

It may be important what the actual timeline is here. On the face, it sounds like maybe you told Old Boss, "hey, I'm thinking of applying for this position," then he came up with the moratorium because he's having trouble finding people willing to work under him or whatever, and then you got the promotion. That said, why is there a problem with just doing your work the way you have been, periodically warning boss that it's becoming increasingly important to start the transition, then leaving when the 3 months is up? You could also be suggesting other people in your department who would be better suited to taking on the >3mo projects.
posted by rhizome at 9:27 AM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Why is there a problem with just doing your work the way you have been, periodically warning boss that it's becoming increasingly important to start the transition, then leaving when the 3 months is up?"

Because he isn't going to be paid his new higher salary until he moves jobs, and there is a concern is that 3 months will turn into 6.

"Starting to look for another job" because of a challenge at work is a weak approach to resolving things.

However trying to unseat his firmly-established Old Boss and change the whole working culture that keeps Old Boss in place is an approach doomed to failure.

I would follow amaire's script, but if that doesn't work I'd have a low threshold for looking for something else. It's a lot easier to move to another job than to fight a one-man crusade against a dysfunctional company.
posted by tinkletown at 9:51 AM on May 19, 2014

This seems on point (be sure to click the 'update' link at the end).
posted by rhizome at 10:19 AM on May 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't go to HR. HR is not there to help you. They are there to hire you, fire you, help with administrative tasks and practice the fine art of self-preservation (just like the rest of us).

> He is known as a robot / sociopath within the organization but does get results.

Sounds like you need to move on anyway--whether upwardly, laterally or otherwise.

Do as much behind the scenes as you can (as in: off the record), and see if you can make it look like you had nothing to do with whatever good things happen for you:
"Whaaaaaaat??! I'm being moved, violating your heretofore non-violate-able and borderline illegal policy that you announced mere hours after my promotion? And--how lovely!--this action is fully sponsored by management, so you can't possibly be expected to hold a grudge against me, sabotage my career or generally make life harder for me! What luck! Good heavens, I'm so sorry about not being able to do all of that extra work you expected me to do, what with my new charter and everything. Company policy, and all that. Anyway, I must be off! It sure has been super-wonderful working for you--definitely not the gut-churning nightmare everyone here seems to say it is. (They say you're a crazy robot! Can you imagine?) Hey, if you need anything, I'm sure you can run it by $newBoss and she'll be sure to dedicate loads of my time and resources to your project, $project. All the best!"
Did I get carried away there? Yes. Have I been in this situation. Yes.
posted by ostranenie at 10:21 AM on May 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

The answers you're getting here are missing the point. The purpose of HR is to protect the company and advance its interests. Here, you and HR are not in opposition to each other, because your interests are not different from the company's.

Go to HR and ask them if the company has a policy on this. They may. In general, it's good corporate practice to encourage employees' promotions: they want you used to your best possible effect. Even if there's no policy, HR may well be willing to work between the two departments to figure out timing for the transition that makes sense.

When you talk with them, keep it focused on the work and on your desire to begin making a contribution in the new department as soon as you reasonably can. Tell them you're willing to commit to a reasonable handover period with your old department, but that you don't believe three months would be fair to the new department. Don't mention money. You're not going to "complain" and you shouldn't consider it off the record: this is what HR is for.

If HR and your new boss can't get you out of your old department in less than three months, you're no worse off. In that event, I'd worry about your new boss's pull in the organization. I'd still take the promotion, but I'd consider job-hunting.

Good luck.
posted by Susan PG at 10:46 AM on May 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with @Susan PG's comment except when you go to HR you should absolutely mention the money. That the company has offered you a $15k salary increase is a material fact that HR absolutely needs to be made perfectly aware of. Don't leave that fact out! There are ways to discuss money without "complaining" - and it's called negotiation.

You should try to leave an email trail with HR as well.

@rhizome's link shows you how communicating effectively with HR can absolutely solve this exact problem.
posted by hush at 12:02 PM on May 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

Keep records of every interaction you have with everyone, detailed records. Who said what, who talked to who, and when everything went down. Keep all correspondences with both future and present boss, and when you have questions for them, email them the questions so with luck they will write you back, giving you time stamped proof of your interactions.

HR is not a management tool if it is run properly, it is a tool for anyone to file a complaint about another coworker without involving their own department, especially if that problem is with a superior, but everyone is out for self preservation, and frequently there is a mutually beneficial relationship between HR and management.
posted by maleru at 1:08 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you heard from Old Boss that you, specifically, won't be able to leave for three months, or did he just announce the policy? If he hasn't explicitly told you that you can't leave, I think your first step is going to Old Boss and saying, "As you know, I just accepted a position with New Department. I wanted to talk to you about a transition plan. I know there's a shortage of resources here, so I want to help make my transition to New Department go as smoothly as possible. Here's the target date I had in mind and what I think I can accomplish before then."

If he tells you that the three month moratorium applies to you, I would politely object and say something like "I know that resources are tight here, but I also know that New Department has been planning on me joining them around this target date. Can we work with New Boss to figure out a plan?"

See what he says then. Maybe he's already gotten the sign-off from New Boss, in which case you don't really have a leg to stand on. You need to make sure New Boss is willing to stand up to him, or at least back you up in standing up to him.

I would try that route before talking to HR. If Old Boss and New Boss are in agreement, or New Boss isn't willing to fight for you, then HR is going to defer to them because it's their job to manage staffing. If they are in agreement that you stay in Old Department for now, then you need to talk to them both about a firm start date for the new position and promotion. You can frame this as being really excited to begin the new work. If you can't get a firm date, then I would start looking for other jobs. Chances are you'll be in limbo forever because no one is willing to stand up to Old Boss.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 5:39 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

This seems like a thing to go to your union representative about, frankly.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:32 PM on May 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

HR, as mentioned many times in this thread, was not hired to make the lives of employees easier. The office stems from a time in which labor unions were stronger, and management needed guidance in following bargaining unit contracts. They continue on to help management conform to labor laws in the hiring and firing of people--they essentially exist to protect management from themselves. Unless some labor law was violated here (I'm unqualified to speak on that) they have no grounds to interfere with management's decisions. If for whatever reason HR likes you, they can still try, but without a written policy your Old Boss is failing to adhere to, persuasion is their only tool.

The proper arbiter here is likely going to be the common manager between Old Boss and New Boss. And if it's more than one or two levels up, you don't have a strong enough relationship to ask them to overturn an agreement between their indirect reports, especially if you seem willing to abide by it yourself.

Three questions occur to me.

1) Why does Old Boss have a problem with "resources?" Is the entire company shrinking, or is your department getting budgetary short shrift? Is the problem entirely recruiting & retention? None of this options reflect well upon Old Boss, but if the problem is staffing levels and not money, Old Boss should be willing to up your pay temporarily.

2) Why is New Boss okay with a 3 month delay in hiring? Is the department you're moving to neglected? Will they flinch when asked for another month of your time?

3) Can you perform your new job well without Old Boss's support, and indeed, perhaps his enmity? Is it possible they'll have some say in future promotions?

Whatever you end up doing, I'd fly it by New Boss first, off the record. But you should seriously consider the fact that you are currently underpaid, given how critical to the department you appear to be.
posted by pwnguin at 9:45 PM on May 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm with Wolfster, look for jobs elsewhere.

What makes you think he won't try to keep you where you are past the three months? I had a boss who did this to me, only it was worse. I was going to be offered promotions, and she'd put the kibosh on it. I'd tell her, "I'm interested in doing X, there's an opening, do you have an objection?" She'd say, "No! I support your moving on!" Then she'd tell the hiring manager, "No, I can't release her." Then she'd tell me, "They don't want to hire you because you have a reputation for being difficult." A friend of mine finally called me and told me straight out what the deal was, because I had NO idea! I'm embarrassed to say I still stayed, until they dicked around with my commissions, then I quit and got a job a week later with the competition. Then I stole their customers. THEN that horrible manager got fired for ethical violations. Color me shocked.

While you're there, act as though you're moving on. Start working on the transition plan, when your boss piles shit on you, find someone to foist it off on because you're moving on and not looking to take on any new projects. Push to attend meeting with your new department and to get status on their projects. Assert yourself.

Don't bother with HR. If he's doing it, they know and aren't doing anything.

It sucks, I know it does, but sometimes you have to leave to get what you need.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:47 AM on May 20, 2014

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