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Both my spouse and I work at a large corporation. The local branch has around 1,000 people. We are relocating to a different state - and my spouse goes first. I will follow in six months due to some former commitments (additional contracts, lease).

While we do not work in the same department, my manager got the wind of the news and wants to talk to me 1-on-1. My manager knows about my spouse leaving. He wants to find out if and when I would/will leave. I have already signed a job offer for my next position (with starting date in six months).

Eventually, I do plan to give more than a two week notice. Three or four, perhaps. But I cannot tell my manager that I will be leaving in six months.

I am employed at-will. I work in high-tech and the world is pretty small. I definitely do not want to burn any bridges.

What are some good ways to steer and handle the conversation?

Why cannot I tell my manager? What if you plan to go a competitor? (I will not). Being a short-timer for a number of months does not look appealing to me.

My specialty is an interesting combination of ECE-ME-CS (electrical & mechanical engineering / computer science). Project cycles range from 6 months (a quick demo) to 3 years.

EDIT: My spouse did say (and rightfully so) that she will have the option of some remote work. That is, if one leaves the company it is customary to tell which location the person will go to.

EDIT: My job cannot be done on a remote basis.

EDIT: We are based in the US.

  • 45
    Are you sure you can’t tell your manager? Because it appears he already knows... – jmoreno Dec 13 '18 at 13:44
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    You say you have already signed a job offer. Is the 6-month delayed start date their choice, or could you potentially start earlier if you need to? – David K Dec 13 '18 at 13:45
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    Did she tell the reason of her quitting? – Sandra K Dec 13 '18 at 17:22
  • Is the plan locked in stone by forces outside your control, or is it the kind of plan that when you make it, God laughs? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 13 '18 at 21:36
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    By the way, it's obvious this is in USA. In most European countries they wouldn't be able to legally fire you and two week notice would be impossible. We have different kind of problems. – Sulthan Dec 16 '18 at 23:35
186

If your primary goal here is to avoid burning bridges, then I think this is one of the rare situations where you should probably admit you're planning to leave. Yes, you might get burned for it (ie: let go before you wanted to leave) but at least in that case, it's not you who's burning bridges.

Lying when your boss already has solid reason to suspect you're leaving might stave off reprisals for now, but when you do leave in six months, your manager will certainly be disappointed that you weren't up front with him. Nothing burns a bridge faster than lying and then turning around and doing exactly what you said you wouldn't do.

Be honest, not only about the fact that you're leaving, but also about the timeline. Let them know there's no danger of you disappearing earlier than you intend to, and that you fully intend to do your job until that time. Offer to help them find a replacement and help them get up to speed, if they like; and then do so, if they take you up on it.

If the worst happens and you end up getting booted early, you do have a signed contract with your new employer. So, contact them and tell them you've unexpectedly got some free time before your start date (although make it clear that you have other commitments that prevent you from relocating early.) Ask them if there's anything you can do, remotely, to prepare for your new role. If you're actually able to work remotely, you might even be able to negotiate an earlier start date to narrow the gap where you aren't getting paid, until you move.

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    Upside to this is that depending on your manager, they may be willing to give you a good LOR, and given them more time to find another qualified applicant with whom you can train to the fullest extent. Downside is they might fire you, but that all depends on your manager, so definitely YMMV. – Anoplexian Dec 13 '18 at 19:25
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    If I know youre spouse is leaving for another state and I ask of you are going to as well and you say "No" I won't believe you. If you tell me your plan however I will happily work with you and appreciate your straightforwardness – AGirlHasNoName Dec 13 '18 at 20:33
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    @bruglesco: There are perfectly reasonable explanations that don't inherently require OP to be leaving. For example, there may be a pending divorce. Or OP's spouse is moving temporarily to take care of an ill or dying relative. Or, less dramatically, OP's spouse is only moving out of state for a short term project. If you don't believe people because they don't give you the answer you're expecting, that says more about you than the answerer. Skepticism is healthy - blatantly assuming you're being lied to is not. – Flater Dec 14 '18 at 7:15
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    " Offer to help them find a replacement" I suggest adding "and help them get up to speed / transfering knowledge". That means the new person might be fully effective a lot sooner – Martijn Dec 14 '18 at 9:03
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    @Flater You're missing the point. Of course there are other reasonable explanations. But unless you give one I'm going to assume the far most likely scenerio and we've already established lying isn't a solution as it will unequivocally burn the bridge. At that point might as well leave Half Baked style. – AGirlHasNoName Dec 14 '18 at 15:37
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Be upfront about it.

Offering a slightly different angle: I wouldn't worry about getting fired early if you are are upfront about it. I hear this argument a lot, but personally I haven't seen a single case where that has actually happened (in a decent work relationship).

In contrast, I have seen multiple cases, where the departure was announced early, and where it worked great: Work got finished, roles where reshuffled, knowledge got transferred and there was a great good bye party.

Most managers will appreciate openness and honesty, since it makes life easier for everyone. They can start looking for a replacement and structure an organized transition and hand-off, which is much easier than the usual 2-week panic mode. They can also tweak your assignments to fizzle out at your departure date and avoid having you in a critical role on a hot project on the day you hand in your notice.

Sure, you probably won't get any high profile assignments or promotions, but, then again, your career there is over, so that's actually better for you as well.

Managers are also not stupid: Being evasive doesn't really help. In the absence of real information, the manager has no choice but to assume that you are on your way out. It might actually increase the risk of getting fired early, since the manager has to assume a time line, if you don't give them one. Overall, it just makes things more awkward and fuzzy without helping

Lying is a sure fire way to burn bridges, so don't do that.

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    "Managers are also not stupid" might be considered by many to be an overly broad statement. There are quite a few questions on this board that go a long way toward disproving that... Otherwise, very sound advice. – FreeMan Dec 14 '18 at 13:31
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    At least where I live, you can't just legally fire an employee because s/he will quit at some point in the future. If they attempt this, it can become very costly for them. – henning -- reinstate Monica Dec 14 '18 at 14:16
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    I think it is actually an interesting question whether the company would have any incentive to fire the employee early under such circumstances. I asked a separate question about that specifically. – kasperd Dec 14 '18 at 14:25
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    +1 for increased firing risk due to the manager having to assume the timeframe. 6 months is a long time, the manager might assume 2 months instead and act accordingly. – Chieron Dec 15 '18 at 17:45
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    @Brian McCutchon, Interesting, I didn't know that concept. It's very foreign to labour law in most European countries, I think. – henning -- reinstate Monica Dec 15 '18 at 21:21
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As A general rule, I advise people not to give more notice than they can afford to go without a salary.

You're in a bit of a bind now, as your wife has already left, and the whispernet has caught up to you.

If you have a 1 on 1 with your manager, you've got three options

  1. Be direct
  2. Be Evasive
  3. Lie

I would not advise #3

If you have an excellent relationship with your manager, and can afford to sit back for six months without a salary, just be upfront, and offer to train your replacement.

If you're uncertain about how much support you will get from your manager, be a bit vague, but not so much as to seem evasive.

Honestly, I don't see myself leaving in the near future.

or

If I do come to the decision to move on, I promise to give you plenty of notice, more than the standard 2 weeks. I wouldn't just up and leave without giving you plenty of time.

Be prepared though. They may draw the right conclusions and just get rid of you at any time now.

If you get that general feeling from your boss, move immediately to negotiating enough time to transition your job to someone else. 6 months should do it, right? ;)

It's important that you do this as professionally as possible, as reputation follows you. You never know who you might end up working for.

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    Note that it doesn't matter if you see it as "being evasive" instead of "lying", it matters if others see it as lying. For example, if I was on the other side of the conversation, hairsplitting that "in six months" is not technically "the near future" doesn't really cut it. You had plans to leave and you deliberately mislead me about that. That's near enough to lying in my books that you'd still leave a sour taste in my mouth. (And I'd probably throw "conniving" into the mix if you tried to excuse your behavior with the technicality.) – R.M. Dec 13 '18 at 20:27
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    @R.M. Perhaps, but by the same token, you have to realize that there are companies who, once you give notice will escort you out the door, and you can end up unemployed for a few weeks, or in this case months, and that has to be taken into account as well. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Dec 13 '18 at 20:43
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    @RichardU I'm not familiar with US workplace, so I don't sure I get everything. How could your employer fire you for saying you're going to leave ? I'm a UE resident, and it's very difficult to get fired here without a valid reason (economical, misdemeanour ...) – Don Pablo Dec 14 '18 at 9:25
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    @DonPablo In most US states, the employer doesn't need any "just cause" to fire you, other than "Just 'cause we felt like it". So, putting in your notice can result in being escorted out that day. That actually happened to my ex wife. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Dec 14 '18 at 14:40
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    Why is it such a big deal to "go without a salary" for 6 months? Are unemployment benefits a thing in the US? – Dmitry Grigoryev Dec 17 '18 at 12:14
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As long as you've got a cordial/pleasant relationship with your boss, and as long as your position is somewhat skill based? Go ahead and tell him!

Replacing a high-level employee usually takes time - months or even years of it. And getting that employee trained in a new job takes even longer. Unless your company is the type that, once you announce you're leaving, immediately escorts you out of the building, you're probably just giving your boss an opportunity to find someone and give you ample time to train them up before you leave.

If it helps, think of it this way: what happens when people announce retirements at your company? I doubt the company quickly finds a replacement and then fires the person before their final intended day of employment.

2

The fact that you are asking the question implies that you think your boss will take this badly. You can't control that. If your manager takes this personally, that's unfortunate, but your plans should not change to accommodate his/her perceived insult. Professionals recognize that family situations change and that good people sometimes leave. Is this coming as a complete surprise to the company, or has it been common knowledge that you and your wife have been looking to move to your new state?

I would suggest that you be up front and honest about your leaving. At this point, as your boss is aware you are leaving, there is no point trying to avoid the topic. Steer the discussion into the reason why you are leaving: you are not dissatisfied with the job, but your spouse has found a new opportunity, you are a team, and you want to support her in her career goals as she supports you in yours. She is going on ahead first to get settled and begin her new position, while you stay behind to meet your obligations here, but yes, you intend to follow her in 4-6 months' time.

Starting from that perspective, now the ball is in your manager's court. You are already at a disadvantage that the news has come to your boss through the grapevine rather than directly from you; he/she might interpret that you were not going to let them know, or give little notice, or they might accept that you were going to let them know at the proper time. (Your opinion and their opinion of "proper" may differ here).

Will he/she accept the news gratefully, or will they get upset that you didn't let them know sooner? At this point it makes little difference, because you are planning on leaving anyway. The best possible outcome of your meeting is that your manager is excited and supportive about your new opportunity, while working out a plan that the two of you can execute to make the transition smooth for your team. If you can steer it that way, great. If not, do not let them bully you into feeling guilty for taking care of your family.

2

I would say that you are not planning to leave in the near future (this is true).

The reason for saying this is beacause that if your spouses job does not work out (this is a possibility), then you might not be leaving in 6 months time.

1

I find it unusual that you would not be in a situation where you can easily tell the manager about this change in life circumstances. I have worked in tech for decades and the norm is that staff churn fairly rapidly and management nearly always encourage career development whatever the direction.

Nevertheless in addition to all the other answers advocating openness I would recommend one further option: Use the conversation To negotiate a well paid remote development contract. You have 6 months to convince them. The other job offer can be discarded.

  • There are some jobs that can be done remotely. Mine cannot as it involves a lot of lab time. – SunnyBoyNY Dec 14 '18 at 13:37
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I don't think you have any choice but to tell the truth, but you can still buy yourself some breathing room.

If your spouse has moved to a different state, then it stands to reason that (unless you both have publicly shown the desire to split up) you will follow at some point. For this reason alone, you cannot lie and say you'd stay.

But you can still evade the hard lines. If he asks "are you leaving, if so when?", you can reply that your wife and you are still not sure if the move will work out and that you'd have to wait and see how things move forward before knowing the outcome for sure. "It's a big change for the both of us..."

"Regardless", you'd say, "I promise you'd be the 1st to know in the event we decide to make our new arrangements permanent. Furthermore, I will provide you with plenty of notice to allow for the hire/training of my replacement."

If he doesn't complain or find your position weak, then thank him for being understanding and move on.

My two cents.

0

My answer will not be of much use now, but if you had anticipated the situation before your wife made her move, you could have purchased a supplementary job loss insurance (or "income insurance"). Most insurance companies require you to apply to the policy some 6 months before you're laid off, that's why the anticipation would have been important. Such policies have their own caps, but payments are typically much higher than the state unemployment coverage.

Having an income insurance, there's no problem telling your boss about your intentions to leave.

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