I was bullied by my boss for months. He also told me some time ago he wanted me to quit and did virtually everything he could to make me quit. (He wasn't able to fire me, since I didn't do anything wrong and it's not possible to fire people here if they work fine).

Now I can quit. I found a new job.

My question is: What should I tell my coworkers if they ask me why I'm leaving. Would it be totally off base to tell them the truth, i.e. my boss told me to? Would it have negative consequences for me? How discreet do I need to be?

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    The question could benefit from more context. Do you need references from your past boss? Is there a chance that you will need references from that guy / this employer in future? – Konrad Dec 5 at 17:51
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    ^^ as well as where you are in the world (cultures differ), what industry you're in (cultures differ), what role (expectations differ), ... – T.J. Crowder Dec 5 at 17:59
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    What exactly are you hoping to achieve by telling coworkers? Revenge against the boss for making your life hard, or preparing them in case they might suffer as well? If he was really abusive, did you try reporting him to HR? – Barmar Dec 5 at 18:25
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    @Barmar, HR supports him. But yes, I tried reporting him to a body that's more suitable for reporting such a behavior. Why I want to share this info? The thing is, my team is in a bit complex situation, which will get even more complex because of my leaving. So I don't want people to blame me for making their lives more difficult. – 314559124 Dec 5 at 18:41
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    Where are you based? Because in the UK, this would be blatant constructive dismissal. – Martin Bean Dec 5 at 18:54

11 Answers 11

Ask yourself one simple question: How will this benefit my career?

I'll answer it for you. It won't.

Keep your mouth shut. Anything you say will make it back to your boss and you don't know how many friends he has in the industry, and anything you say will travel outside of your company, and could follow you.

Right now, you are 100% in the right, he is 100% in the wrong. Keep it that way.

  1. Never badmouth a previous employer
  2. Never badmouth a previous manager
  3. Find at least three positive things to say about both
  4. Move on without incident
  5. Don't look back.
up vote 93 down vote
+200

Find myself heavily disagreeing with the number one answer here.

Ask yourself one simple question: How will this benefit my career?

Results in the same answer as:

Ask yourself one simple question: Whats the most selfish I can behave?

or

Ask yourself one simple question: How can I help my bully continue to bully others?

If this was the 70s, I'd upvote Richard U's answer as correct. In modern terms, people who adopt this approach are as much a part of the problem as your bully is.

Isolation is core of bullying. Your boss wants to make you feel alone from your other co-workers and isolated. There is a very small number of workplace bullies that isolate a single person and only focus on a single person, but odds are your boss is doing this to others as well. Mentioning your situation and why you left will help empower those that are going through the same, let them know they aren't alone, and potentially help them band together to resolve their issues as well.

I was in a similar position as yourself, when a coworker quit. She went around to others and was very honest as to why, though only offered details beyond 'I feel bullied by management' if she was asked. 6 out of 11 of us were in a similar position, and because of her we discovered we were not alone. We went to HR, as a group with corroborating stories...a long story short, the manager in question was released and the workplace became a much safer place for us. She never did see the outcome though as she quit and went elsewhere before the changes were made, bu the changes that improved her former co-workers were directly because of her. She's a friend of mine on Linked In due to this now.

Some of Richards points still apply. External to this company, none of this should be mentioned. Internal co-workers is a different story. Be respectful and do not resort to name calling, shaming, or other hostility. Keep calm and simply say you felt bullied by management...they will ask more if they wish to know more. Losing you cool during this tends to make you seem more irrational (like you are the one that's hating)

Also be prepped for a non-reaction. If your co-workers are dismissive of your bullying concerns, don't push the issue. The intent here isn't to bad mouth your manager...it's to let others that may also feel bullied that they are not alone. If they are not feeling bullied, move on quietly.

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    Upvoted because I don't agree with the highest rated answer either; I know this is workplace.stackexchange, but I don't like the suggestion that selfish career progression supersedes any moral factors. – ESR Dec 10 at 4:54
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    +200 for showing how being the person who makes people realise they're not alone is not only the right thing morally, it can also smart and good for "selfish career progression" by winning the trust and respect of people who'll be in your industry long after the bully-boss has retired. Like how Twelfth will never forget the lady in the example, and was inspired to change the organisation for the better. So many answers on this site claim to be "immoral but practical" but are actually just short-termist, cowardly and self-defeating. – user568458 Dec 10 at 8:41
  • That's a very brave approach to take with someone else's career with nothing of your own to risk. I don't see how this takes the OP's best interests into account. – Richard U Dec 10 at 18:12
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    @RichardU I believe that this the point of this answer, that the morally correct thing to do may not always align with what is in your own personal best interest, rather it will result in the maximum positive utility for all. – cgage1 Dec 10 at 18:53
  • @cgage1 whos'e morals? The OP doesn't just have himself to consider in doing this. If he damages his career and can't put food on the table, will knowing he said something on the way out the door put food in his children's bellies? The question was asked by OP, not by his coworkers. – Richard U Dec 10 at 18:56

Most of the answers so far have focused on what's best for your "Career"... I'd like to throw one twist: Is "career" the only important thing?

Bullying...

What is "bullying"? Was (s)he mean and simply said (s)he didn't like you?

or did you get dunked in the toilet and receive swirlies?

Was it just a personality clash? Or was there real malice behind it?

What's important to you?

Is it only your career you are worried about? Then the right answer might be, irregardless of the actual bullying, "sit down, shut up and move on" (to be blunt).

Is there a chance that real bullying is happening to others? Could your voice help those others? Are the possible negative circumstances to coming forward worth it?

Corollaries

Think about the #MeToo movement... some people have come forward and talked about bad dates and bad humor. Others have come forward about being drugged and being put into very bad situations (You want that part in my movie? Well... what are you prepared to do for it? wink wink nudge nudge).

Those that have come forward have been harassed, called liars - lost their career... Those that have come forward have also brought other victims forward and learned they weren't alone.

Without knowing the level of "bullying" it's hard to know... but I'd be remiss if i didn't point out that sometimes there are more important things than "career".

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    " He also told me ... he wanted me to quit" Doesn't that cover enough? The manager should have never said that, whether is was sarcastic, really meant or 'just a joke'. – Mixxiphoid Dec 6 at 8:56
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    There's a comment above where the asker clarifies what was meant by "Bullying": "[He]... lied about me. [He]... asked me to do things and then after I did precisely what he asked me to, screamed at me for doing so. [He]... told me I had psych. problems. [He] mobbed me... It was abuse." – user568458 Dec 6 at 11:57
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    @user568458 I didn't notice that comment - and think it's a good addition to this answer... but giving it a thought... my related #MeToo examples come to mind - there are many MANY levels of "Bullying" and "harassment" - and the circumstances have to be balanced with what's important to YOU (the OP or the person getting harassed/bullied). While there is intelligence in "Shut up and move on"... there are also moments where truth and standing up for yourself (and others) is more important that "career". Just my 2c that "career" might be secondary. – WernerCD Dec 6 at 14:00
  • @Mixxiphoid "isn't that enough?" I think it depends... one persons playful banter is another persons assault - and it happening once is different than daily over months. The general rule "if you have to think if you should do it... you shouldn't do it" I think applies to a manager saying "I don't like you and I'm going to get you fired"... but again: it's a highly subjective thing and very circumstantial. From the above posted comment, it definitely sounds like above and beyond harassment - but that wasn't in the OP's comment. – WernerCD Dec 6 at 14:03
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    +1 for "swirlies" – Tony Ennis Dec 7 at 21:40

You can tell your coworkers whatever you want, their reaction largely depends on your relations with them.

What you need to remember is, they will keep working with your boss. If he will challenge things you tell your coworkers, he will be able to influence them over time with his point of view. Even if your colleagues will initially believe you, they can change their minds and think less of you over time.

But if that doesn't worry you, you can tell them the truth and you don't need to discreet about it at all. Although being discreet can save you from eventual confrontations with your boss - and usually it's better to leave quietly than making a lot of noise.

  • He will bad mouth the OP anyway. It's better to have their version out ahead of time to protect their reputation after they leave. – rox0r Dec 10 at 20:14

Does your (previous) company have an HR department (or a boss above your boss)?This definitely sounds like something that should have been more than just moving on from a past boss. If you are experiencing this there is good chances someone else is experiencing it too. Things like this should be documented and reported as they occur.

In terms of moving on though I would be honest but vague. Tell them you found a new job that is more supportive of you, or something similar. Spreading negative 'gossip' about a previous employer no matter how truthful can always cause you trouble in the future.

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    HR is not necessarily your friend. If it is a police matter, then lawyer first, and then charges, no statement should ever be made to the police without counsel. Going to HR first will appear extortionate. If your Boss is later charged for similar behaviour your circumstances may come to light. If it is not a police matter, move on. Somebody else's nightmare now. – mckenzm Dec 5 at 22:56
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    Also, going to HR may complicate your exit, as well as torpedo your future chances at a reference with ANYONE in the company. – corsiKa Dec 5 at 23:16
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    I agree with this approach, trying to ignore it 100% will only let the boss bully future subordinates (and/or continue to bully existing ones). There's nothing wrong with reporting it appropriately but the trick is to remove emotion from your reporting (sadness, anger, revenge, etc). Also a fear of complete sabotage is a poor excuse to avoid action. I had terrible dev managers in one company, they all gave me a hard time (one screamed at me), I just kept nice and mentioned it only at my exit interview (although it was known anyway). I got a great reference from my product manager. – goamn Dec 6 at 5:41
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    @corsiKa I've heard of cases where an employee was wronged, by the company and (inept) HR. Consultation with legal experts found both to be liable and complicit and with this knowledge the employee was able to get an arrangement with HR for favourable references (among other things). Because they may be turning their back on an employee but are extremely unlikely to do it to a potential legal trouble when it can be easily shown they are in the wrong. Whether this is the case or not I don't know but saying "don't ever go to HR - it leads to bad references" is wrong - consult with legal experts. – vlaz Dec 6 at 9:31
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    @vlaz for every case that goes to court, there are hundreds of honest, hardworking employees who get shafted with complications and career suicide. I try hard not to be cynical, but that's just how the world works. – corsiKa Dec 6 at 15:17

It completely depends on your relationship with your coworkers and whether if your old company has any influence on your future career after you leave. If you feel like telling the truth, keep in mind that knowing one of their coworkers got harassed out of a job will tank their morale a big deal, which will have negative consequences for the boss. If your boss has cordial relationships with them and has been framing you as a troublemaker, it might backfire and hurt your relationship with your soon-to-be ex-coworkers instead.

This is a hard question to answer either yes or no, without knowing many more details about the situation. Personally I always prefer telling people the truth, but there are more than one way to do that.

For one, you could simply say that you had a hard time working together with your boss. This way your colleagues will know that there are personal reasons for quitting, while you do not blame your boss specifically for the problems.

If the way your boss treated you was so bad, that you are actually worried about repreccusions towards yourself or coworkers in the future, this is what I would do:

Write a list of incidents that has happened. Be as specific as possible, and as neutral as possible in how you write it. Quote exact sentences spoken, as well as you can remember, and write down specific dates and times as precisely as you can.

If you do this, you will have a great resource in two cases. The first is if the treatment was so bad, you consider it illegal. It is often hard to take on a case against an employer while the abuse happens. If you write it down, leave, and get everything at some distance, you can clear your head, and decide later if this is something you'd want to pursue legally. If it is not illegal behaviour, but still unacceptable, your notes might be useful in the future, if anyone else steps forward with accusations against your former boss. Now you have your story well documented, if you want to back up another person.

The second reason, while less likely, is if your former boss keeps making life hard for you in any way, after your working relationship is over. Confrontation might not be optional anymore, and details about specific events that has occurred in the past, will be useful.

Your notes will not act as proof of anything more than your word, but human memory is not perfect, and a document like this will be valuable. It will give you the opportunity to avoid any conflict right now, and get things calmed down before making any decision.

I did this myself after starting out at a kiosk back in my early 20's. I only worked there for four days, and refused to sign a contract after my test employment period, because of the fear-based leadership style my boss had. (He even called himself an asshole). My boss then went on to say that he would not pay me for my hours up until then, which is illegal in my country, but he claimed he knew more about it than me. It was very hard to stand up for myself like that, and I was not ready to fight for my money at the time. So I wrote things down, and did it later. And it worked.

No one knows if you should tell your coworkers now. There is not enough information available, and details do matter in this case. But please remember that there are more options than simply yes or no in this case. Any answer claiming that it is simply yes or no, is a bad answer, and I have no understanding why one of them have over 70 upvotes at the time of writing this.

My question is: What should I tell my coworkers if they ask me why I'm leaving. Would it be totally off base to tell them the truth, i.e. my boss told me to? Would it have negative consequences for me? How discreet do I need to be?

These are four distinct questions and to some extent different.

What should I tell my co-workers if they ask me why I'm leaving? You are talking of a case where someone asks you about your ongoing career developments, which is different from taking the initiative of talking about it. So I do not assume that you have an intention to tell it around (e.g. bragging, complaining, badmouthing...) in and of itself. Here, I would follow your inner judgement about answering questions. I personally have a tendency to address a question assuming that the (humane) asker will make his/her best and honest use of the answer. But I realize this is not a safe bet at all times (think indeed of your ex boss as the person asking it). The range of answers is endless: I'd rather not say, I want to prove myself elsewhere where this and that is going to happen, I reckon the boss has been unfair to me, Let's stay in touch and I will tell you in some time. Please define your comfort zone first, and build your PR policy on that.

Would it be totally off base to tell them the truth, i.e. my boss told me to? What does 'totally off-base' indicate there, I wondered. Did you boss tell you to go in crisp words (i.e. have you been discharged, dismissed, ...), or did you find another opportunity to grow in another, hopefully positive working environment? My answer is: not totally off-base. It could help people appreciate the variety and interplay of situations that have unfolded while you were there.

Would it have negative consequences for me? Who can say? My impression is that several hints given in this post reflect an office culture whereby you do it well if you do it good and alone, where interaction is soon taken as interference, disturbance, nuisance, and the like. And that you live in a small world which does not forgive and does not forget. Not all office cultures are like that: co-workers may be compassionate and learn from mutual experiences, and it is the boss who may be going to have negative consequences from mounting evidences of inappropriate leadership. At the other range, the social interactions can take the form of petty gossip, which I would not endorse either, but happens and may be somehow persistent, or rather not. My approach to an answer would be: if you still need to develop a narrative for these recent episodes, it is probably because you are processing them, which is a very good thing to do at any rate. Build your career on facts and figures, and on positive relationships.

How discreet do I need to be? As much as you can, if you regard discretion as a desirable social virtue.

In short: take the best of your thoughts, drop the rest. Thanks for sharing

What do you wish to achieve by telling them this information?

I guess not a lot.

But in the future you may be working with them. They may have different ideas about your boss. Just because you have had a clash of character (or other) it does not mean that they view this individual in the same way

Also in the future you may wish to obtain a reference from this company.

EDIT

It should be mentioned that you do not know if you old boss knows your new boss.

Instead of saying yes or no, I would say you need to decide cost and benefits and risks associated with each.

You should probably do this rather broadly, because the answers will be different depending on who is doing the asking.

You need to personally evaluate what you want to happen in these interactions, and what you expect to happen afterward.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting your former boss to be tarred and feathered and ran out of town (as long as it is just metaphorical, 3rd degree burns are a bit painful), nor with observing that speaking truth to power often ends badly (kill the messenger hasn’t always been just metaphorical).

You should not tell them.

Because you are admitting that your boss was bulling you. And that is calling mobbing. And you didn't done anything about it in the time being and you are not showing you want to do anything with it now.

So it will look like smear campaign.

  • Oh I actually did a lot about the mobbing. But not sure what you mean by "not doing anything". If I took actions I obviously took them in communication with some, specialised, people, not in front of everybody. – 314559124 Dec 5 at 16:03
  • @314559124 Then you should say that the reason is mobbing and that you have an ongoing case about that. That way you will let your co-workers decide on their own if you were right or not (because maybe boss acted same way towards them). – SZCZERZO KŁY Dec 5 at 16:14

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