Minimising bridge burning when quitting a new job in a niche industry
February 13, 2021 1:11 AM   Subscribe

I work in a niche industry, small enough that professional events always have the same faces. My job is awful and I need to get out, even though I've only been there about 2 months (I've wanted to resign from day 1). I have savings and am reasonably employable. What should I say to the director (my manager) about why I am resigning that won't lead to her badmouthing me amongst our shared professional networks? Ideas and anecdotes would be appreciated.

The job is was nothing like what was described and the business is chaos. My (few) colleagues are miserable and jumpy, I'm left picking up a bunch of balls that management drops with no support, and my manager refuses to engage when I've tried to address problems or pivot my work a bit. I'm dreading going to work and I'm losing sleep.

I've started applying for new roles and might have a lead but things are a bit slow to move. I'm also being picky because I'm being cautious to confirm that my next job is the right one- I can't handle another place like this.

I'm at the point where I need to quit for the sake of my professionalism (this job is teaching me bad practices- it's a really unprofessional workplace) and, most importantly, my mental health.

My job prospects are reasonable to good, I have good references from my last employer which should make up for any resume gap, I have a good savings buffer (over a year in savings and a partner in stable employment), I have a hobby that will keep me busy during unemployment, and I don't have to worry about insurance.

While I know that all I need to say is "I quit" and leave, I really want to do some damage control so the director doesn't badmouth me to our professional contacts (particularly given I may need to start reaching out to one or two of them down the line), and because I will have to see her again regularly at professional events (and maybe even through extended friendship circles). A lot of the old standard excuses (pursuing a new opportunity etc) don't make sense when I only started recently.

The director is pushy and overly friendly and will almost certainly pry into my reasons. She's happy with my work (I'm doing unpaid overtime to clean up her messes for the sake of the businesses clients) and will likely talk me out of leaving and guilt-trip me (there is nothing that could convince me to stay). She's not open to feedback at all and is very defensive. I am non-confrontational and am dreading this conversation.

I am so anxious about the job and this conversation and the fallout that I've started entertaining wacky mostly-lies like "I just received an inheritance that was far greater than expected and now that I have options I'm coming to terms with some burnout from the industry and am taking the next few months off to pursue [hobby] like I've always wanted to".

Any "pursuing a new opportunity" type suggestions that can apply when you're pursuing unemployment after 2 months would be much appreciated. I
posted by hotcoroner to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Unfortunately you have to quit as a family member is having a major health emergency and needs immediate assistance. (The fact that you are your own family member and it’s your mental health is none of their business). I double dare them to ask for personal details. Flee and never look back!
posted by Jubey at 2:20 AM on February 13, 2021 [31 favorites]

Best answer: Could say someone else has contacted you for work, based on your lead. Even if it is not much.
posted by johngoren at 3:41 AM on February 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I really want to do some damage control so the director doesn't badmouth me to our professional contacts

I totally get that but you have zero control over the situation. Your Director will say whatever she says. You could lie but I'd be worried that the Director (if they are a gossipy type) might imply that you have a terminal illness or are flakey because of family reasons or whatever. Consider saying, "This job turns out to be a bad fit for me. I will be leaving on X date. I wish you and the company all the best." If the Director presses you for more info, just be a broken record because it is true!

Here's the thing about discomfort. That conversation is going to suck either way, it is going to be uncomfortable either way, so consider trying to make it suck in ways that are better for you.

She's not open to feedback at all and is very defensive. I am non-confrontational and am dreading this conversation.

What if you gave notice via email late on a Friday, say, after you have copied any contact info you need and taken all personal belongings home.

If you do this, don't answer any emails or phone calls over the weekend. Show up Monday morning prepared to put in your remaining two weeks of work but also be prepared to get tossed out as an employee.

When it comes time to look for another job, check out Ask a Manager and maybe send a question. I'm pretty sure that Alison recommends that people simply leave off their resumes short jobs like this. Even if you do leave it off your resume, you may interview with folks who know you used to work there. That's fine. If asked about it, you can tell the truth: You took the job for X reasons; you appreciated what you learned while there but quickly realized it was a bad fit for you and now you are looking for a new role with more X or Y or whatever.

In any interviews, never, ever badmouth the old company or old managers, even if they were terrible. Just stick to the "bad fit" explanation, which is true, and you should be fine. Hope you give notice ASAP for your own sake. You don't owe that company anything. Best of luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 4:02 AM on February 13, 2021 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Logic and reason may not be your best tool. A lie is even less useful. Perhaps you could tell your manager that you've made a mistake; this job is not a good fit for you. Put this in writing. Give them appropriate notice. Be prepared to get fired. You don't need to be confrontational, and you don't need to go into any details beyond affirming that you don't expect the situation to improve. You don't have to be critical either of yourself or the company.

Beyond what you tell your manager, you shouldn't have to explain yourself to your colleagues in your field. You shouldn't criticize the company in your resume. If you need to explain this in a job interview, frame your explanation using what you've written in your letter of resignation.

You appear to have your life in order. So, if life is just a bowl of cherries, this job is only one of the pits.

I don't mean to trivialize the magnitude of this situation.

Best of luck.
posted by mule98J at 7:46 AM on February 13, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I had to do a “bad fit” leave about 5 years ago. I put it in writing, folded it in half & handed it to my boss’ boss. Fortunately no one tried to talk me out of it, but I didn’t offer a chance for an immediate conversation & I didn’t tender my notice directly to the idiot who was driving me insane, either.

Can you submit your resignation (email, paper) to an owner or HR instead of the toxic manager?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:55 AM on February 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Are there any educational opportunities you can tell her you just got accepted into? Spin it as you need to quit to go to school full-time and this schooling will be really attractive to a future employer and you would be open to returning to her company. That would hopefully cut down on her bad mouthing you.

But also, I’m in leadership roles and I have really learned to take anyone else’s option with a massive grain of salt. Unless I hear negative things from multiple employers I figure it was just a bad fit (having been in a few bad fit teams myself, but then excelling in other teams).
posted by saucysault at 8:56 AM on February 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think Jubey has it, and I would consider using COVID as part of your justification. That somebody in your family needs extra support due to isolation / lack of their usual support systems. Extraordinary times etc. When you start applying for jobs, you can say you had a difficult COVID-related family situation that has since resolved. The benefit of using COVID is that these really are extraordinary times: no-one’s going to worry there’s a pattern of you having unusually high family needs that might regularly pull you away from work.
posted by Susan PG at 9:00 AM on February 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sorry, but I don't think your current boss sounds like a reasonable person and most likely there is nothing you can actually say that won't prevent her from badmouthing you for some real or imagined reason. I'd probably put my efforts towards damage control if/when that occurs (job not as described, not a good fit for me at this time). I wouldn't be surprised if the issues in this workplace aren't already known amongst your peers anyway.

I think you might be over-thinking this this because you're conflict avoidant and this person lacks both professionalism and boundaries, but no matter who the audience is I'd keep your reasons short and simple and not bother with whacky lies that you'll have to maintain down the line, lest your own reputation be negatively impacted. I know it's easier said that done but I also don't think there is any reasoning you can give that your boss won't try to pry into or undermine and I think it will be less stressful to stick with the truth.
posted by sm1tten at 9:29 AM on February 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Could you go with something more vague - ie 'I'm leaving for for personal reasons' and just stonewall any more questions - ie "why are you leaving?" "it's personal" and just keep repeating. Works well if you can also summon a slightly appalled / affronted expression that they are so ill-mannered and intrusive as to keep asking.

Wishing you all the luck in getting out of it and finding something more amenable.
posted by ElasticParrot at 9:47 AM on February 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would go with unspecified health issues and/or family member crisis.
posted by desuetude at 12:26 PM on February 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I personally feel uncomfortable using health issues/family crisis as a justification if it's not true. That may not be the case for you but if it is, here's what I did when I got the fuck out of a bad situation:

Got another gig lined up first (obviously best case if possible).
Said it wasn't working out and I was leaving, with no room for discussion.
Offered honest feedback about some of the issues to those who could cope with it, but not those who couldn't.
Said the new job gave me an opportunity to do xyz that I couldn't do at this job. (True, though not quite to the extent I may have let on. If you don't have another job lined up, you could talk about ways that this one is not a good fit that don't necessarily have to do with the industry. Are you looking for an opportunity to work more alone? With a team? Something about the office environment/hierarchy, not the industry. I'm still in my pretty niche specialty.)
PS: They all like me now! They respected me for leaving! It's wild.

I hope this helps a little. Every day I give thanks I left my old gig, and I am not a gratitude-journal type person.
posted by ferret branca at 10:42 AM on February 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I mean, I would define "health" and "family" very very broadly in this case. Like, helping myself or anyone I love get through a rough time counts as mental health, and mental health is health.

You don't owe your boss complete unfettered honesty about your personal feelings.
posted by desuetude at 10:45 PM on February 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

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