how to leave job without screwing anyone over?
January 16, 2017 9:52 AM   Subscribe

I've recently realised that it would be in my best interest to leave my current job. I actually feel quite passionate about the projects I'm working on, and I am aware leaving now would put a lot of people in terrible positions. Is there any way to minimize the damage if I leave this post?

I have a colleague (who is not my superior) prone to extensive verbal abuse directed towards myself and other colleagues. Our line manager's actions amounted to telling us that we don't have to get on but we need to work together to be professional. I feel that if I stay, my colleague's behaviour will get progressively more petty and hostile, and to be honest, I don't get paid enough to live my working life in a state of perpetual anxiety. I'm not overreacting to someone being slightly mean. I am a social worker and accordingly, I have a high tolerance for attitude and hostility. However, this abuse is so virulent that I have considered getting up from my desk, walking out of the office and never coming back. My partner and I have spoken, and our finances are solid enough that we can make it on one salary if we live frugally. I am actively applying for other jobs.

However, I feel torn about leaving the post abruptly. I would give two week's notice as required, but my post has experienced so much turnover in the last few years that I feel guilty being the latest person to disappoint our service users. There are also projects underway that I have developed on my own, so the contacts and idea blueprints are mine, and if I left now, it's very likely that these projects would fall apart. My service users don't deserve to be punished for someone else's actions, but I cannot continue spending most of my weekdays crying or trying not to be sick out of fear.

I really want to leave, but I also had a project planning meeting recently that made me feel so protective of my service users. I have no contractual obligation to stay in this role, but morally, there are people involved that deserve to be considered. Is there any way for me to leave while minimizing the negative impact, or do I need to accept that in this situation, putting my wellbeing first means adversely affecting other people?
posted by quadrant seasons to Work & Money (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
*YOU* are not disappointing anyone, nor is it your fault projects will not get completed. This is all on your manager. Since using your words didn't help, hopefully your (extremely healthy!) behaviour will effect the change by motivating either the manager or someone higher up to look at why your workplace has such a high turnover. Staying does not improve the situation, you would have left with far less than two weeks notice if you had a breakdown.
posted by saucysault at 9:58 AM on January 16, 2017 [19 favorites]

Before you actually leave, perhaps make clear to your manager that the situation is toxic enough for you that it's something you're actively considering -- with or without another position.
posted by uberchet at 9:58 AM on January 16, 2017 [17 favorites]

This is 100% _their_ problem, not yours - and yes, you are first and foremost responsible to yourself. Their well-being is a fine thing to consider, but if your'e in tears on a regular basis, your _own_ well-being is also highly relevant.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:58 AM on January 16, 2017 [8 favorites]

This is a workplace problem and not yours to solve. When I left my not-working-for-me workplace recently, I let people know exactly what would need to change and within what timeline for me to consider staying on. When I did not, because of choices people had made about how the workplace would operate, it was their issue not mine.

In the immediate short term you may want to reconsider what "we need to work together to be professional." means/ To my mind it means zero verbal abuse so that in order to be professional I think you are completely within your rights to get up and leave the room and come back when your coworker decides to act like a professional. And you can let your line manager know that this is your response to abuse and that you find it intolerable and that you are considering leaving.

It sounds like you're doing the right things but yes, there will be negative impacts on your service population (there were in mine too). You can try to help them hire someone good, document your procedures and try to leave the place better than you found it but you should not be held captive by a workplace that may have difficulties without you. In fact THEY should be working to keep you if that is the case. i am sorry they are not.
posted by jessamyn at 10:09 AM on January 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

Before you actually leave, perhaps make clear to your manager that the situation is toxic enough for you that it's something you're actively considering -- with or without another position.

In my experience, in such a situation, this will lead to false promises *at best*.
posted by STFUDonnie at 10:16 AM on January 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

(That's certainly possible, but I'm operating under the assumption that OP's management doesn't want OP to go, and may not be 100% aware that yes, it's bad enough that might happen. Basically, give them a shot at fixing it once they understand the stakes, but be prepared to bail anyway.)
posted by uberchet at 10:19 AM on January 16, 2017

Our line manager's actions amounted to telling us that we don't have to get on but we need to work together to be professional.
It sounds like you have already told them that this is a problem and they came back with "Stop Fighting" instead of "Stop hitting your sister." You can leave without guilt. You should not even have to tell them that verbal abuse is unacceptable, but when you do and they still ignore it, it says volumes. The previous turnover in your job may be due to this exact situation.
posted by soelo at 10:21 AM on January 16, 2017 [15 favorites]

Put your well-being first. How are you expected to be effective and productive in a toxic environment? After taking a management job in the past, I'd found out there had been multiple managers come and go in the previous 12 months. The situation proved "not working for me" because I was losing my effectiveness and productivity; I ended up leaving. The company has the responsibility to ensure a professional workplace; not petty and hostile as you mentioned. Once you give notice, work to provide the best transition you can for whoever assumes your role.
posted by mountainblue at 10:23 AM on January 16, 2017

There is a reason that this job has high turnover.

This job has higher turnover than similar jobs in social work, and that can probably be tied to work environment. The only thing you can you do for your clients is trying to make the environment better for the next person. Do you have an opportunity to do a skip level meeting with your manager's manager? It's not risk-free, but once you have another gig, you can do that.
posted by 26.2 at 10:24 AM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't you think this lack of responsiveness from management is exactly the reason there is so much turnover?

Leave without guilt. There's no will or skill to fix this. You can't negotiate, it won't work. Leave.
posted by jbenben at 10:26 AM on January 16, 2017 [8 favorites]

And before you leave, as noted above, it is totally acceptable for you to leave if someone is verbally abusing you. Feel free to get up, say "this is verbal abuse and I will not accept it. Come back to talk to me when you are willing to do it in a professional manner" and then leave. You are not required to accept verbal abuse so by all means stop.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:53 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

You do not have a personal responsibility to your service users; you have (had) a professional one in the scope of your employment, and your employer has made it impossible to fulfill it.

Any steps you take to mitigate the effects of your departure would only serve to cover up the toxic environment. It needs to be exposed to be fixed. I'd tell them exactly why you're leaving--not as a fish for promises--but so they know why they lost one of the good ones.
posted by kapers at 10:56 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

In another role, where you are not subject to verbal abuse, you will likely be able to provide more and better assistance to service users who need help just as much or more as those you are currently serving.

I completely understand having mixed feelings about leaving. However, your employer doesn't appear to have mixed feelings about maintaining an employee who is abusive.
posted by bunderful at 11:13 AM on January 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think the piece that people who are saying, essentially, "don't feel guilty for leaving because this is your employer's fault and your employer deserves to shut down if they're being bad," are missing, is that you're a social worker. Which is not to say that you shouldn't leave. But it is to say that, as someone who also works in a helping profession, I absolutely understand why you feel gut-wrenchingly guilty at the idea of leaving. Because we're not talking about whether the Quarterly Widget Report is going to get done on time. Depending on what kind of work you do, we may be talking about whether people who are hungry get to eat this month, or whether people with serious mental health issues have to start their therapy over again with a new provider they'll have to learn to trust, or whether children have to stay in foster care longer than they otherwise might have to. And I absolutely get why that's wrecking you. As someone who works with people who depend on the awesome work that social workers do, if you're good at your job (and I suspect, based on the care and thought you're putting into this question, that you are), your clients/users are absolutely going to feel a loss if you leave.

I would take one last stab at trying to talk to your manager. Let your manager know that unless the verbal abuse ends, you will be giving notice and leaving, and (if you feel comfortable doing so) you will not be shy about telling people why you left. You can also consider going higher up the chain of command, especially if your boss has a boss, or even if your organization has a Board of Directors. This risks burning bridges at your current organization, of course, but I'd argue that the same obligation you feel to stay may also justify you making some trouble to try to make things a little better. Unlike if you were manufacturing widgets, I think it's worth one last ditch effort to try to improve things, letting your boss know that if the issue isn't 100% solved within X days/weeks/whatever you feel is appropriate, you will quit. If you raise enough trouble, it's possible you'll get fired. That happened to a social worker friend of mine who blew the whistle on employee abuse in her organization. But at least you'll have the comfort of knowing you did absolutely everything you could to save your program.

I'd also start thinking now about transition planning. If there are services that you personally run that you know your organization may drop the ball on if you leave, think about whether there are other organizations you can refer clients of that service out to in order to fill in the gaps. Make a list of "if you can no longer get X from OurOrg, here are other places where X is available," that you can quietly give to clients/coworkers/others who are trying to help your clients. Are there coworkers you trust whom you could quietly start collaborating with to put them in the best possible position to take on some of your clients or projects? Could you tell folks who work outside your agency (again, as quietly as you can, and to people you trust) to make plans for your departure? A kid I know was saved from some catastrophic consequences when his social worker quietly let me know that, even though she wasn't supposed to tell me this, the program we were about to enroll him in was going to run out of money in the next six months, and so we were able to select an alternative program for him instead so that the program closure wouldn't hurt him. (And because I'm not a total dick, I let other people who needed to know about the closure know, but absolutely refused to reveal the source of that information. If you know people who can protect you but will also protect your clients like that, use us. We want to help.) The question is, essentially, are there things you could start doing now to make yourself less irreplaceable if you do end up leaving, especially if you quit or get fired suddenly?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of really poorly run social services organizations (I know of several organizations where coworkers have engaged in physical violence over work drama). The stakes are high, and people are dealing with a ton of stress and emotion, and most managers are just line workers who got promoted and have little or no training in actually managing people or projects effectively. It can be a huge problem. But there are really well-run organizations where people are happy, and you can find one to work at if you end up needing to leave this job.

I am so sorry, both for you and for the users you serve, that this is happening at your organization.
posted by decathecting at 11:14 AM on January 16, 2017 [18 favorites]

There is nothing to feel guilty about in terms of leaving a toxic and abusive workplace.

There is also no rule that says you have to give only the minimum notice of two weeks. If you feel there are projects you would like to give a little more time to transition or complete before you go, you can give a longer notice. That is what I did when I left my last job -- I was relocating so I was able to give more than two months of notice, which allowed me to help hire my successor and work on transition. It's sort of amazing what a weight gets lifted when you know you're counting down the days.
posted by gateau at 11:18 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you're entirely doing the correct thing, you wouldn't be leaving abruptly— your work place has decided two weeks is the notice they require and you would be adhering to their desires.

If you want to help ease the next person into the role, just make sure you leave a document listing all the things currently on your plate, and perhaps expand on the ones you particular care about to ensure they've got a greater chance of meeting your hopes. Your manager should ask you for something similar anyway, but if they don't, it might ease your mind to create one anyway.

If money is tight, and your job is okay except for the asshole— I'd write up my resignation letter and go to my manager again and hand it in, detailing the honest truth, that you've been driven out of the job you enjoy because X's continuing behavior is making the workplace too toxic and the stress it's causing you is unacceptable to your mental health.

If, at that point, your manager suddenly gets enlightened to your situation, and wants to make it better-- get them to detail what will be done to improve the situation, and though you're still resigning— you're open to meeting again in another week to discuss the possibility of staying on if you've seen the situation being handled.
posted by Static Vagabond at 11:30 AM on January 16, 2017

I would argue that the best, most ethical thing you can do for your clients is to leave and make it clear to management why. They likely already know and don't care, but you're not doing the service users any favors by perpetuating a system where people burn out due to a toxic environment--which is what you would be doing by going out of your way to leave with the least impact.
posted by danny the boy at 11:43 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I feel like there is a fundamental failure to connect the dots here. You have a colleague who is harassing other employees including yourself and creating a hostile work environment. THAT is the problem, not you. Your workplace not dealing with this is the failure, not you.

Your employer is breaking the law in the UK by not fucking dealing with this.

I would quit and then I would claim unfair dismissal in order to force change in the workplace management. That seems like the best way to make sure continuity of service is ultimately delivered to your service group.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:45 AM on January 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

As per Static Vagabond's post, leaving extensive handover notes may make you feel better and be helpful to whoever picks up the project if they use them. Don't worry about anything else - it's clear the managers aren't. The lack of stress and peace of mind will be many times worth it.
posted by mollymillions at 12:55 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Could you continue to work for the company for a little while longer- but off-site only, and thus avoid the toxic person? That might buy you time to bring the other projects to a state where they can be taken over successfully.

Also- it sounds like the toxic person needs to leave, not you. I'd approach your manager and go through a documented list of abuses from this person. And mention that it's bad enough to leave over. Maybe the toxic person will get fired, and you can stay and be happier!
posted by spraypaint at 1:20 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Like I have said many times before, stop worrying about the company. Have you heard of layoffs? That is the company's way of putting their interest above and beyond yours or its employees. They would not think twice before booting you. It aint personal, it is business.
posted by metajim at 1:59 PM on January 16, 2017

Have you considered getting a recorder and recording every single interaction you have with your toxic colleague? Simply by smiling and silently recording everything he or she says - and taking notes if she/he shakes their fist, snarls silently or makes strangling motions - you may find that either your toxic colleague stops spitting out verbal abuse, quits, or your superiors listen to your recording for a few moments and take action to remove the toxic elements from the situation.

Abusers often get stopped when their behaviour is witnessed, so this might just work. In the meantime until you find a new job it might just help you feel better about being there for the last two weeks or long enough to stay an extra week or two to help tie things up better.

Some years ago I worked for a company that had a toxic client who used to go into rages at us on the phone and report back to her boss that we had behaved badly and rudely and incompetently. When her boss finally told us he was through with our crummy service we asked him to listen to some of the calls which were all recorded. His eyes got really wide. He had no idea. What absolutely staggered him is that we even had calls of the toxic client patched to her own customers treating them just as badly.

Consider finding some time that your toxic colleague is not at work and coming in to put in a few hours to set things in order. You could, for example tell your boss you have an appointment on Tuesday morning, but will work until 11 PM Tuesday night. Of course you won't be able to work with your clients but you will be able to make sure that all your paperwork is in order so that whoever inherits it will have clear notes and clear information and that everything is complete.

Consider asking your boss what is most important for you to do after you give notice until your two weeks are up. Your boss and perhaps some of your non-toxic colleagues might have useful input about what they will need to know.

Consider having some post- employment check ins so that after you are gone they can ask you questions.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:00 PM on January 16, 2017

FWIW, I didn't forget that you are a social worker. You can't pour from an empty bucket. Your work conditions are making you an empty bucket and they'll empty anyone who works there. How can you give excellent care to others in those conditions? You can't. You can mask the issues for awhile, but eventually, the center cannot hold.

I think one of the most damaging things we do for care providers and for clients is trying to mask when agencies are poorly run.

A left a counseling role long ago. I left because the place I worked was horrible and abusive and it broke me (far more than the stresses of working with clients in precarious situations did). I still think about my clients and hope that they are well, but I had nothing left to give by the time I left that agency. In retrospect, I should have left months earlier.
posted by 26.2 at 4:49 PM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

My manager tried to get this person to apologize to myself and other colleagues to no avail. He refuses to acknowledge that his outbursts are inappropriate, and he has been sulking around the office complaining to anyone who doesn't know what happened that he is being victimized. His partner also works in the same office and has said, loud enough for me to hear it, that this is all my fault. After such comments, despite being granted the flexibility to work from home, I committed to coming up with a plan to make the process of leaving easier. I want to stay. I know I can't.

Thank you all for your input. The unanimity in the responses is illuminating.
posted by quadrant seasons at 3:32 AM on January 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

So... this still reflects badly on your manager. Insubordination is a fire-able offence - not to mention the abuse...and now the hostile environment by the partner(?!). As your manager is not willing to solve this problem you can leave knowing you gave above and beyond.
posted by saucysault at 7:53 AM on January 17, 2017

Our line manager's actions amounted to telling us that we don't have to get on but we need to work together to be professional.

I'm having flashbacks because this is almost word for word what my manager in the Job From Hell (also at a nonprofit) told us. The end result was that after a year of waking up every work morning with nausea and dry heaves from stress (to the point that I broke a capillary under one eye and had a visual reminder for a couple of years until it reabsorbed) my evil coworker managed to backstab me effectively enough that I got "invited to submit my resignation".

Get yourself out. There are other agencies and organizations doing the kind of work that you want to do, and many of them are reasonably well-organized and functional, where co-workers like or at least don't try to sabotage each other.

Fwiw, I woke up the morning I resigned without feeling nauseated and never had problems like that afterwards. Get out and get somewhere better where you can be yourself and do good work.
posted by Lexica at 5:34 PM on January 17, 2017

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