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April 12, 2007 6:20 PM   Subscribe

WorkEthicsFilter: So I abruptly quit my job, after realizing that I was being taken advantage of in a completely unfair way, that I spent most of my days crying, and that work was all I talked about in therapy sessions. My boss at my previous job has been calling me, offering me my old position back with the promise of a promotion in a few months.

My old boss, J, does not know I have quit. All she knows is that I was paid far more at my (now defunct) job and had much better benefits than I ever received at my old job, and she's been slowly upping the ante to lure me back in. I'll be seeing her on Saturday to discuss this matter further, so my main question is: do I pretend to still be employed and use the fact that I was up for a promotion and a raise (which is true) to seal a better deal? Is that ethical, or if it's not, then is all fair in the working world? If she knows I'm unemployed, that will give her the upper hand. Do I get everything in writing (I guess that's a no-brainer anyhow) to ensure that she keeps all the promises she's been making to me if I come back? I'm not very good at negotiations, so what advice does the hive mind have for me here? Much appreciation and thanks in advance.
posted by ScarletSpectrum to Work & Money (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In my (sometimes unfortunate) experience, the difference between a good (or tolerable or great) job and a bad (or uncomfortable or miserable) job is your immediate boss and your relationship with her. Be honest, tell your old boss what you require to come back—money, prestige, an extra week of vacation, key to her husband's mistress's apartment, whatever—and see what you get back. If it's good, take it. If it's not, roll the dice and move on to something else.

If you left the old job because you were unhappy, chances are you'd be unhappy again soon enough. Don't waste your time or your old boss's. Deceit is never a good start to a (re-)new(-ed) working relationship. And on that note, yeah, get it in writing, but if you're concerned about that with J, you should probably be looking elsewhere anyway.
posted by phrits at 6:34 PM on April 12, 2007

All is fair in the working world. Don't feel the least bit bad about not mentioning that you've quit. (But don't lie if asked directly about it.) However, do consider the possibility that J might find out later and be pissed. How likely is that, and how pissed would J be?
posted by equalpants at 6:38 PM on April 12, 2007

Maybe your previous boss' recent calls factored into your decision to abruptly quit.
posted by rhizome at 6:43 PM on April 12, 2007

Remember that she wants you bad enough to seek you out, and that it's worth something to her to be able to fill the position with a known quantity, not to mention avoiding the hassle of recruiting (assuming she doesn't have the job listed).

I might not volunteer the information that I had quit, but neither would I lie. You might be able to have the whole conversation without it coming up. But if she asks you, directly or indirectly, then you need to tell the truth. As phrits says, a lie is a bad start to a working relationship.
posted by ottereroticist at 6:50 PM on April 12, 2007

I'd say you're under no obligation to mention that you've quit. But, if you get asked, directly or indirectly, something about your current status, then not being upfront about the fact that you've quit would be deceptive, and thus unethical by most people's standards. Ethics aside, if you lie to your potential future boss, and then she finds out the truth, the consequences for you would be highly unpleasant.
posted by epimorph at 6:50 PM on April 12, 2007

i don't see anything wrong in telling her that you've quit if you have a good personal relationship with her.

although...if she's planning to promote you in a few months, maybe you could ask to just start at that position? what's the point of hiring you at a lower pay grade if she's planning to promote you anyway? i think if you're suspicious about her reneging on her promises, your gut is probably right.

i would definitely look elsewhere, too. if you can afford to take a month to do a job search, do. or work at a temp agency to pay the bills while you look.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:51 PM on April 12, 2007

the promise of a promotion in a few months

This is a red flag to me. Ethically, if you hire someone with the possibility of a future promotion, it's contingent on performance. "We want to make sure you're a good fit here, that you can interact well with our personnel and do the work."

But to your old boss, you're a known quantity. So this shouldn't be a necessary step. If she wants to promote you to a higher position in August, and it's April now, you should make it clear that you're interviewing to be hired to the higher position- in April or in August, your old boss' choice - and specifically not to be taken on in your old capacity. It's okay to drop this idea on your old boss in the middle of the interview. You can take charge of that part of the interview - it is, after all, your career that is in question, not your boss'.

Otherwise you're just negotiating to get your old job back. If that's what you want, fine, but be aware that that's what you're going to get.

A promise, and four bucks, will get you a grande Starbucks mocha these days.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:30 PM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

A promise, and four bucks, will get you a grande Starbucks mocha these days.

I was going to say the same thing, though not nearly as cleverly. A promise of a promotion? Dependent on what? Good faith on your part that you'll stay in the job? Good productivity? If you were expecting a promotion before, I would think this would be a central part of the re-hiring conversation. Be tactful but adamant. You don't want your new (old) boss hating you before you've even come back to work.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:59 PM on April 12, 2007

Well, to counter that— My roommate was going to go to grad school last fall, and things fell through. He ended up being hired back by his former employer with a promise of a promotion. Basically, they hadn't really filled his former position, and his former boss was leaving in a couple of months. So they took him on, trained him, and then promoted him when his former boss left. It was all above-board and let him have some income for a couple months before he got the job he was betrothed to.
posted by klangklangston at 8:35 PM on April 12, 2007

if she's planning to promote you in a few months, maybe you could ask to just start at that position?

The promotion isn't happening right now because it's a new position being created and the company doesn't have a need for it right away, but will several months down the line. She's basically creating it with me in mind and to take some of the pressures off of her. It's a management position, too, no less.

I can dance around the topic of my current employment status and just 'fess up to it if need be - I've known this woman for four years and we've always had a good relationship, and to be honest, I'm holding a lot of cards here because she's made it perfectly plain that she wants, nay, needs me back - so I'll take all of this advice to heart.
posted by ScarletSpectrum at 10:29 PM on April 12, 2007

Ask yourself this - if you could get the same pay and benefits at your old job as you did at the one you just left, without the taken advantage of part, would it be an OK job, a good job, a great job or just a job you'd be willing to do until something better came along? If that situation looks good to you, even without the promotion later, then I'd say go for it.

Since you've already worked at this place before you know what things are like there. Figure out what kind of package you're going to need to be happy with that job for at least a year or three. Maybe it's professional growth, maybe it's intellectual challenge, maybe it's a big bag of money. You've got to make your old boss understand what it is that you want, and then they have to decide if having you on the team is worth it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:40 PM on April 12, 2007

The important thing is that you maintain the same attitude about the situation that you had before. If it comes up, be honest, but if she tries act like that changes the balance of things, just shake your head and say: "Actually, as far as you and me are concerned, nothing has changed. If we can't work out the same kind of deal we've been discussing, then this just isn't going to be a good match."
posted by bingo at 10:41 PM on April 12, 2007

I really hope your former boss doesn't read AskMeFi.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:33 AM on April 13, 2007

As regards quitting, you quit because it wasn't working out, but this is another way of saying you quit because could do better. You seem to have taken the attitude that because you quit, you're not really worth the higher income that you were earning there, and so it might be being deceptive to portray yourself as worth that.

I think you have to mentally put that the other way around. You couldn't stand the job and so you walked, to seek something better.
The onus is still on your previous employer to make the offer "something better" than the job you quit, even if the "better" part is to do with treatment and respect more than income.

If she learns that you are unemployed, she will see it as a card in her favour, but you can tell her that this is actually why you're discussing the offer with her - the ground she's gained from you quitting is that she's in with a chance of hiring you if she offers the "something better" that you quit to find.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:56 AM on April 13, 2007

If you were miserable there before, you will be miserable there again.

So, yeah, if you really want to go back, pretend whatever you have to pretend to give you the best bargaining position... they already know who you are, and you apparently have something they want (or are a known quantity that is preferable to hiring someone new cold). If they're serious about wanting you back (as opposed to merely wanting to avoid another hiring round, for instance) make them cough up sufficient proof that you are the guy they want.

But (very seriously) examine your motivations to death, and I don't use the term 'death' lightly. I've read that "money can't buy you friends, but it can buy you a better class of enemy"... but in the situation you describe, you are contemplating returning to exactly the same class of enemy, the same enemy that drove you to tears before. Personally I've found that no amount of money/benefits/anything will make such an intolerable situation more tolerable... if your soul is crying out, it is crying out for a reason, and your former boss should be counted among the people least interested in assuaging your hurt. (Remember that these people attend seminars that train them in more efficient ways of bleeding productivity out of their employees, regardless of the cost. A farmer that wants more milk out of a cow will feed the cow better, but a manager that wants to maximize ROI will drive their employees into the ground, or an early grave.) Make sure that the money/prestige/education/happiness you are being offered is sufficient to offset the known problems with your previous employer, and a little bit more, because they are more likely to be antagonistic towards you if they are shelling out more for you.

If you have ANY opportunity to avoid returning, take it. You already know how much pain they can inflict on you... and there is no reason (that you have spoken of, anyway) to believe that their soul-killing practices have changed.

I speak as someone who left a soul-killing EE job, only to have the Manager Of Doom call me up and offer me The Dream Job. I decided that even if he wasn't lying (a statistically negligible possibility) I still wasn't going to go back to a place that had shown such disregard for both the professional development of its engineers and the personal satisfaction of the humans it employed.)
posted by foobario at 2:44 AM on April 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

foobario - these are two different workplaces. A previous job, happiness status unknown, and the most recent job, in which she was miserable.

scarlet - what were your reasons for leaving the boss who is currently courting you? Just the pay and benefits? Did you otherwise like it? If so, I'd say go for it, mention the fact that you quit only if it comes up, and perhaps give her phone calls as a partial reason.
posted by altolinguistic at 4:04 AM on April 13, 2007

...the promise of a promotion in a few months
I always take such come-ons as empty air. Or, even worse, shorthand for "We will dump you as soon as the project is completed."
I've seen far too many people hire-on with such promises dangled in front of them...never to materialize.

If you go back to your old employer, it should because you like the job and you've negotiated a definite package that you are happy with. Not because of nebulous promises.

It's nice to be wanted, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:07 AM on April 13, 2007

I second Harlequin -- Quitting a job is something that a lot of people only do when they are in a position of confidence. They don't need the job. They know their skills are in enough demand that they will not be unemployed for long.
posted by girlpublisher at 5:54 AM on April 13, 2007

altolinguistic - I had quit Job #1 under J's employ because of the low wages and the HUGE insurance premiums I had to pay. I was the very epitome of living paycheck to paycheck and often only had ten bucks in my bank account by payday. Job #2 had come along, offered much more money and 100% medical. What I didn't know is that I'd be spending the usual eight hours a day there, only to turn around and come back three more hours at night - every. Single. Day. Of course, they found a way to fuck me out of any overtime. It was soul crushing, it really was.

J is now offering slightly less than what I made at Job #2, with full medical. It's only a slight difference, and the full medical is what I'm concerned with (I have therapy sessions and migraines to treat) so I'm thinking I can't put a price on quality of life.
posted by ScarletSpectrum at 6:22 AM on April 13, 2007

Assess the previous job as if were a new job. Any promise(s) not in writing are meaningless. You don't have to talk about the job you just left. If it comes up, you can say "I don't want to discuss xyz corp." Employers vigorously attend to their own needs. Employees should do the same.

Hey, clearly you're worth the pay increase. Get the benefits in writing. If you like the job and the environment and the people, it's all good.
posted by theora55 at 10:24 AM on April 13, 2007

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