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‘My Boss Keeps Guilt-Tripping Me for Leaving My Job!’

Photo: The Cut

Dear Boss,

I recently resigned from my job. I was only at the company for a year and a half, but I came into the job with a lot of experience from a similar role elsewhere, so I managed to get a lot done in that time. The organization isn’t in great financial shape, and there was recently a massive restructure. At the time, I thought I might get laid off, so I sent out a few job applications just to be safe. During this process, I discovered that I had been very underpaid for my skills. I ended up getting an offer for a job that pays a good market rate, has excellent benefits, and will allow me to take on more advanced and interesting projects. Leaving my current job was a tough decision, but this felt like an offer I couldn’t refuse. 

But ever since I gave notice, my boss and a few colleagues have been making me miserable. They keep saying things like, “the work you do is so vital,” and “nobody else can do what you do,” and “you’ve left us in a really bad situation, I have no idea how we will get through this.” My boss even implied that if the organization goes under, it will be partially my fault. Almost every time I walk down the hall, I can hear my boss talking about how he feels screwed over by my departure.

I know that leaving on the heels of this restructure was inconvenient, but I gave my boss almost a month’s notice and I’ve been working around the clock to create extremely detailed documentation for the transition. He still thinks it isn’t enough. Whenever I recommend someone who might be able to take over a project of mine, my boss says they’re either too busy or not competent enough to handle it. 

Now, I’m in a constant state of anxiety about leaving this job. I feel so guilty. I can’t sleep at night, and I dread going into work every morning. Furthermore, I’m worried that my boss will give me a bad reference the next time I’m searching for job. Is there anything I can do about this?

You are not alone. A ton of managers take resignations bizarrely personally — acting as if the person leaving has dealt them, and the organization, a callous and devastating blow.

But people leave jobs! And sometimes they leave at times that are inconvenient for the employer. That’s just a normal part of doing business.

That’s not to say that losing a key employee isn’t painful or disappointing. It can be! But decent managers recognize that a normal and expected part of having employees is that at some point those employees will move on. You’re trading your labor for money, and you’re supposed to make job decisions based on what makes sense for your career.

So, it’s both crappy and ridiculous for your colleagues to be trying to guilt-trip you.

Even if it is true that your organization could go under as the result of your leaving, that’s a sign that it wasn’t going to survive anyway. If your company can be felled by a single person’s departure, that means it has serious and deep-rooted problems.

And for what it’s worth, if you’re so valuable to them that “no one else can do what you do” and “you might be partially to blame if the organization goes under,” why didn’t they work harder to retain you before you decided to leave? If your work was so valuable, why did they keep you underpaid? Where was all this hand-wringing earlier?

In addition to making sure you were paid fairly for your work, here’s what they could have done to show that they were serious about wanting to keep you: Your manager could have taken you out to lunch or otherwise sat down with you and said, “You’re an incredibly valuable part of what we’re doing here, and I want to ensure you’re on our team for the long-term. What do you need from us to keep you happy and growing in your position?” That’s especially true during a restructure, when any sensible manager should assume employees are concerned about being laid off and are probably looking around for other options.

But even if they had gone all out to try to keep you earlier — even if they paid you generously, gave you the best clients, and otherwise tried to make this a job you wouldn’t want to leave — you’d still be entitled to leave. Maybe you would have found a job with a better commute or more interesting projects, or you’d have decided to move for a partner’s job, or just felt like doing something different. You haven’t sold your soul to your employer, and you get to decide if another situation is better matched with what you want right now.

You don’t owe any employer permanent loyalty. What you do owe them is good work while you’re there, a reasonable amount of notice when you decide to leave, and help with a smooth transition before you go. (All of which are boxes that it sounds like you’ve checked off!)

Your boss is trying to make you feel obligated to stay as long as he wants you to. But I can promise you that if the situation was reversed, and they decided it made business sense for them to fire you or lay you off, they’d do that. And that’s okay — these are business relationships, and each side needs to act in their own interests.

You haven’t done a single thing wrong here. You were underpaid and your company was unstable. You went looking at your options, and you found a job that pays better, has great benefits, and will let you do interesting work. Of course you’re taking that job. Good for you!

As for how to deal with your co-workers’ angst over your departure, ignore as much of it as you can — and when you can’t, use bland and/or forward-looking responses. If someone tells you how vital your work there is, say, “Thank you. I’m sure you’ll find someone good to replace me.” If your boss says you’ve left them in a bad situation, say, “It’s always hard when people move on! I know you’ll hire someone good.” If your boss implies again that you’d be at fault if the organization collapses, say, “I’m sure that’s not true! There are so many great people here.”

Frankly, it may also be tempting to say, “Since I can see how concerned you are about this, it might be helpful to share that when I started looking around during the restructure — when I didn’t know if I’d be laid off — I found I was very underpaid for the market. If you’re concerned about losing people, it might help to look at whether there are other salaries that need to be increased to be competitive.” That would be helpful feedback for them to hear, but whether or not to say it depends on what your boss is like.

As for your worries about future references, do you know your boss to be extremely petty or vindictive? Does he tend to hold a grudge long after otherwise good employees have departed? If so, you’ll likely need to warn future reference checkers that he took it very personally when you left (and offer others for them to talk with instead). But that reaction would be an outlier — most managers who take resignations personally tend to get over it once things move on and they see that the world did not in fact fall apart.

Please, though, don’t feel guilty. You’ve done nothing wrong. People leave jobs! It’s normal, it’s business, and it’s fine.

Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.

‘My Boss Keeps Guilt-Tripping Me for Leaving My Job!’