How Do I Leave a Job Without Quite Leaving Yet?
September 4, 2014 12:44 PM   Subscribe

I have a new temp-to-perm position, but my boss is a total nightmare! I called the agency that employs me and told them I want to quietly, slowly look at other options. Apparently, this triggers some automatic process wherein the agency calls the hiring director at my job and tells her I'll be leaving and that the company can keep me on as a temp worker until they hire someone new or that they can terminate my contract immediately. This is happening more quickly than I expected! How do I slow it down?

I wanted this Executive Assistant job to work out and have put my all into it. I answer emails at midnight and when I'm on vacation, maintain the office and my boss's calendar diligently, and have established good working relationships with everyone else in my office. However, my boss went through a string of five assistants prior to hiring me. Each one lasted one month before being let go. I've lasted three. I'm proud that I've made it this long, but I don't want to work for this guy! Had I known more about him, I would've taken one of the other jobs offered to me around the same time. He's a total dick who has something personal and shitty to say to me every day ; I'm told he's driven several people from the company and is known in the industry as a tremendous asshole, which does not surprise me. Last month, someone from another branch of our company approached me in the coffee room, clasped my hand, and said seriously, "We're all praying for you." I've had some truly terrible bosses in the past several years (as my question history attests) and am trying to leave that part of my work life behind so I'm not in therapy until I'm 100. Part of it is probably me (I don't know what I'm doing wrong but I'm the common factor! I am seriously in lots of therapy about this, but no one can tell me what I'm doing to enrage these male bosses); most of it is blind bad luck and the fact that the majority of CEOs are shitsticks.

I called the agency that placed me here to be like, "Hey, so, I'm not sure this is the best fit and that I can work productively with this particular CEO, etc., etc. Just wondering: What would the next steps be if I wanted to keep looking?" and they were like, "Cool, we'll call HR and tell them you're leaving and that they can keep you on until they find something else or not." I was like, "No, no, wait, I'm not ready," and they were like, "This is the automatic process. You're not happy, we have to replace you. Our loyalty is to the client. Deal with it." I really like and respect the head of HR and asked if I could talk to her before they emailed her, and they said they'd wait a few days.

I'd planned to keep this job for a few months while looking around for a better situation. What are the magic words I can use with the agency to make them slow this process down? I really need the paycheck. Should I just accept that since I don't want to work here permanently, I need to honor the agency's need to replace me ASAP in order to maintain a good relationship with their client? I see I made a mistake in approaching the agency, but they're pretty great and I was hoping they could place me elsewhere. Am I looking a jobhorse in the mouth by leaving this shitty environment when I've been unemployed for a while, and should I just call the agency back and be like, "JK. I'm good. Let's stick this one out?" Should I be glad to get the heck away, leave right now, and keep striving towards my dream of working for a boss who is only mildly grumpy, or does that not exist? Am I delusional? My self-esteem is pretty low thanks to this job stuff and I feel like my decision-maker is broken.

I'm so confused and need AskMe wisdom.
posted by pineappleheart to Work & Money (11 answers total)
When you tell employers you plan to leave, they tend to write you off immediately. The only time I've seen that work differently is when a long-time employee has to move for spouse or family reasons. Even then, you have to be very careful about how and when (and whether) to show your hand, because there is always the possibility they walk you out right then. So your expectations are skewed from reality there.

You don't have any choice but to honor the agency's desire to do whatever the hell they want. And unfortunately this kind of move is going to put you in the high-maintenance/unreliable file, so you cannot assume they will place you again.

But also, yeah, CEOs are...they wouldn't be CEOs if they didn't have a certain kind of personality. I've never known an admin who didn't have to eat a pile of shit with a smile on a daily basis. Now, some of them are more human than others, and you seem to have drawn the short straw on this guy, but there is always going to be some kind of short straw.

You don't really have a lot of choices here, you'll have to deal with whatever they do. Either you get to stay on a while or you don't. Do talk to the HR person and let them know the situation from your perspective, and that might be a factor that lets you stay longer, though it will still be precarious.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:26 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Start looking for a new gig as soon as possible. You've learned a valuable lesson. Agencies/recruiters care about the client not you; clients pay the bills and you're easily replaced. Next time ask the agency what their process/policy is if the job turns out not to be a good fit. The agency is tasked with keeping the client happy and having someone leave early (before contract ends) puts them in a bad light and may impact their ability to be hired again.

That said, I repeat, start looking for a new gig immediately. I would go to HR and say that while this may not be the best fit for a permanent job, you would like to continue working there. See if you can negotiate a contract period, perhaps until the end of the year or whatever you want it to be. I'd say something along the lines of, "I'm enjoying working at Widgets R Us and while my job with Horrible George is not an ideal fit for a permanent position, I would like to discuss staying on temporarily. I'd like to propose a 3-month contract taking us through the end of the year." Or something to that effect.

You want to emphasize your willingness to continue working there while giving everyone a mutually agreed upon timeline for moving forward and onward.
posted by shoesietart at 1:31 PM on September 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, sorry. Forced to choose, the loyalty of the agency will always be with their clients. Knowing you are unhappy and your work could be suffering (even if it isn't) presents a real risk to their reputation, enough to want you out of there.
posted by Middlemarch at 1:35 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

The best you can do it to email HR with a request for a meeting, then come clean. Tell them it's going okay, but more challenging than you expected. Tell them that you do want to keep working there, but like many employees these days, you have your resume out on the market. They will probably nod understandingly. Tell them that the agency misinterpreted that as your being ready to leave now, which you're not. See what they say. If they seem on board with your explanation, reiterate that they shouldn't pay too much attention to the phone call that they might get from the agency, you accidentally triggered their policy.
The worst that can happen is that HR says "Well, since we can tell you're not 100% on-board with us here, we will probably go ahead and start the search for a better fit". (okay, maybe the worst that can happen is that they nod sympathetically, you relax, and then they replace you next week with no warning) The best outcome is that yes, you get to keep your position for a while longer. Not much to lose.
posted by aimedwander at 1:48 PM on September 4, 2014

If they go through assistants that fast, they'll probably be more willing to overlook an assistant being unhappy with their job than most companies would.
posted by empath at 2:12 PM on September 4, 2014

There's a small chance that HR might be able to help you find a different job in the company, if they like you. And since so many people have already quit, I agree with empath--they may be motivated to try to find a way to convince you to stay.
posted by three_red_balloons at 2:14 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't try to talk the agency out of anything. Couldn't trust them anyway if they said they'd back off.

Like everyone else, I say come clean to HR and amp up your search. You want to GTFO anyway, this just adds some urgency.

> no one can tell me what I'm doing to enrage these male bosses
> I answer emails at midnight and when I'm on vacation

That's at least part of it. You probably think you are signaling devotion and commitment. I think you are signaling "I have no boundaries and am desperate for approval, please walk on me."

Setting boundaries and standing up for yourself will cause people to treat you better than if you are always eager to please and conciliatory.

(FWIW, if this guy runs through a new assistant once a month, it's unlikely this made much difference here. He was going to shit on you no matter what. This advice is for the next position and the one after that.)

I agree that most CEOs are more or less assholes, but I have interacted with a couple that were sweethearts, and some in the middle that seemed at least OK. Keep looking.
posted by mattu at 2:35 PM on September 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yes! I just want one that seems OK! Thank you for confirming this may exist! (I am personally friends with a couple of CEOs at small-and medium-sized companies that are not bad people and are seemingly OK to their employees, but it's hard to tell from the outside.)
posted by pineappleheart at 2:43 PM on September 4, 2014

I never have high hopes for getting anything at all from HR, but they are less loathsome than people that work at temp agencies. To adapt an old joke:

"How do you know someone who works at a temp agency is lying to you?"
"Their mouth is moving."

Agencies/recruiters care about the client not you; clients pay the bills and you're easily replaced. Next time ask the agency what their process/policy is if the job turns out not to be a good fit. The agency is tasked with keeping the client happy and having someone leave early (before contract ends) puts them in a bad light and may impact their ability to be hired again.

This is mostly true, except I've never heard of a "process/policy" except "fire the complainer and replace them, then put the complainer on the 'don't hire again except maybe for the absolute worst shit' list." Really, these people are your enemy. Don't try to engage with them as if they were human beings. Don't ask or tell them anything you don't have to. If you're unhappy with a job they find you, tell them on the day you want to be your last day at the job you're leaving. Because that will assuredly be your last day.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:56 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

So … yeah. It's too bad you told the agency you didn't want to convert at this job… they want the conversion fee and now they know they're not going to get it with you. They will only leave you there as long as it takes to get a replacement in.

Aaaand just in case you were thinking of calling a different agency next time this happens: if you do that, don't tell them where you're currently temping (that you want out of) because you can be 100% sure that as soon as they hang up with you, they'll be calling that company to tell them they heard a rumor their temp might be looking for something new, and would the company like to interview some replacements just in case…

Only way to play this one is to work with more than one agency, do good work for them so they'll use you for good assignments, and maybe don't tell them where you are when you're on an assignment you want to leave.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:17 PM on September 4, 2014

Wow, I guess I was lucky during all of the years I spent temping (in multiple states with multiple agencies). I left difficult assignments and didn't have a problem getting placed again through the same agency. I don't think you can reverse the process, but you need to be honest with the agency when you explain why you are leaving. This isn't the time for "this wasn't a good fit," and other polite interview language. That tells them nothing and they will make their own assumptions. This is the time for "my boss was a total abusive a-hole, here are some emails." Also, if you were pressured to do work outside of billable hours (which it sounds like you were) the agency will definitely want to hear about that, as it now means they were being taken advantage of as well.

Many people who temp are flakes, and plenty of agencies will try to treat their employees as such. Prove you are not a flake and you will get treated very differently. Unfair, but true.
posted by fairfax at 12:11 PM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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