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I work for a small company of about 10 employees. The owner comes from an entirely different field. I was the first employee he hired. I used my experience in this field to help him build the company, by proposing the positions to be filled, conducting interviews and choosing the candidates to be hired.

At some point, the owner decided he wanted me to concentrate on my job. Left to himself, he hired some very unqualified personnel. When I brought up this issue with him, he took it as a criticism of him doing his job. He became defensive and responded aggressively, so I avoided bringing it up again. When their incompetence showed, I suggested constructive ways to fix their mistakes.

The owner is a young entrepreneur and has no experience managing personnel. Even though he knows the team members are unqualified, he dreads the idea of firing anyone. Sending them to specialized courses where they learn to do their job is also not an option because it would take way too long for them to be productive.

I have now been assigned a task that relies heavily on a colleague's input. I can't bring myself to ruin the project, so I decided to "go rogue"–ignore the colleague's input and gather the required data myself. If this gets noticed, they may ask me to do the work again with their data, which I cannot do. If it doesn't get noticed, they will think the colleague's incorrect data led to these correct results, and they will continue providing me incorrect data. This looks like a lose-lose situation, which I don't know how to deal with.

I don't plan to stay at the company indefinitely. I was planning on training a replacement and leave the company once the product is shipped. However, this would take too much time. Until then, I am irreplaceable and cannot resign. The company would be in a very bad spot and unlikely to recover, so I consider leaving now as irresponsible and unprofessional.

What are the other options I could consider before thinking about turning in my resignation?

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    What I don’t understand is, when did the owner stop listening to you and why? At one point, it seems like you were his most trusted advisor; now you’re being treated like Joe Random Employee. What happened? – Ernest Friedman-Hill May 11 '18 at 11:26
  • The answers to these kinds of questions generally follow the form "It's not your problem". I dislike these, because they presume that the OP doesn't have the agency to say to himself "I realise I have no moral obligation to do [x], but I am prepared to, at disadvantage to myself, for the sakes of other people whose wellbeing I care about, on the condition that the situation gets better". That is a reasonable decision and the OP's right should they choose. Better answers would consider how to use this self-sacrifice as leverage to enact the desired change - which is what is usually asked for. – Tom W May 14 '18 at 16:01
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But because of me being irreplaceable, I cannot resign.

Of course you can. It is your employer's fault that you are not currently replaceable. You've told them multiple times there are issues and they've decided not to fix them. Find another job and put the letter on your boss's desk.

If you're feeling kind, you could offer to work a longer notice period than usual to help with the transition. But always remember that your employer certainly wouldn't show you the same consideration in the situation that they decided to terminate your employment.

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    Partly I agree, but I also consider myself partly responsible for the way the company has been structured. This particular structure was the most financially effective, but resulted in one employee being irreplaceable. I was the one who offered it, because I couldn't foresee any problems with it, since it relied on me being professional and responsible, which I think myself to be. And now it led to a situation that I didn't foresee. – JoeGoldman May 11 '18 at 8:37
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    @JoeGoldman No, you are not at all responsible. It was the management's decision to accept the structure you proposed, and hence, it is their responsibility. They should have known better than accepting such a proposal. You did not foresee any problems, but they should have and they didn't. Setting that aside, I am willing to bet even under your structure, you are not irreplaceable. They will figure out a way to carry on without you. Maybe they will replace you with another "irreplaceable" team member. :) – Masked Man May 11 '18 at 8:45
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    @JoeGoldman Unless you have shares in this company, whatever happens to the company after you quit is explicitly NYP aka Not Your Problem – Peter M May 11 '18 at 11:33
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    @JoeGoldman You tried to steer him the right way, you've tried to talk to him about it and bring the problems to his attention... you did what you could, now leave. You don't owe him anything, all you owed him was trying to steer him the right way and correct his mistakes, which you've done. If you leave and the company fails, hopefully he'll learn from that, but it's nothing to do with you. – WhatEvil May 11 '18 at 12:17
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    If you're truly indispensable, a letter of resignation (after accepting another written offer) stating that you're leaving because of those issues will result in those issues getting fixed. Don't agree to stay in exchange for those issues getting fixed in the future, agree to return after they've been resolved. – Glen Pierce May 11 '18 at 13:41
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Maybe start here: it's always the boss's fault for making someone irreplaceable. Even if it's a new company, an entrepreneur just starting out, or a Fortune 100 company. The reasons to this result are irrelevant. In the end, the boss is responsible.

There lies the difference between fault and blame. Because, as you've said, you heavily advised your boss in the hiring process. As such, that you remained irreplaceable puts some of the blame with you. However, him not noticing (or rather, acting on you notifying him of that situation), makes it his fault.

That said, everyone is replaceable. You might have the experience, you might have the knowledge. However, you started out at the bottom, like everyone else. As such, someone with knowledge of what your using can jump in and learn what you're creating. Someone without the knowledge of what your using or what you're creating can learn both.

This brings us to the crux of the issue:

I'm a key employee at the company and if I were to leave now, the company would be in a very bad spot and would be unlikely to recover, ever. This is why I consider simply leaving right now as irresponsible/unprofessional and want to consider all other options before even thinking about turning in my resignation.

I would view this very simply:

Work to live, do not live to work.

You might've invested a lot into this new company, the new product, it's people, et cetera. But ultimately, you're there for you. Times changes, bosses changes, people change (well, sometimes anyway), but you're still you.

To me it sounds very much like you've done your best. But: you should leave.

Reasons:

  • Clearly the boss values your input, so long as he doesn't have to do the hard stuff
  • Clearly you're putting a lot of effort in, but others don't (need to)
  • If you can already feel that burn-out coming due to other people's incompetence (yes, I've been there, it sucks), leave that sinking ship before it goes under
  • Given warnings are not acted upon/taken into account before decision X

As for you "going rogue": don't. You yourself already gave plenty of reasons not to, so don't. Just let it happen, then tell the boss "told you so", because you have, multiple times.

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If course you can quit. If the company makes millions, how much will you get? Nothing. If the company goes bankrupt, how much will you pay? Nothing.

It’s your bosses responsibility. Not yours. Find a job that you like better, sign a contract, and give notice. Once you quit, none of what happens afterwards is your responsibility.

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