I've been increasingly unhappy with my workplace (you can look at my question's history for context if you wish) so I've been looking for jobs for the past 2 months with great success. I'm essentially already one foot out the door (still working hard obviously). For the entirety of my tenure at the firm, my co-worker (who has been there for twice as long as me) has also been unhappy; but unlike me he was not initially willing to look for employment elsewhere even though his issues are similar to mine.


I've been gently nudging him and encouraging the idea that if he isn't happy here he should talk to the manager/bosses first and see if he can't come to a resolution. But since he's tried that they have been resistant and against any of the changes he and I proposed etc

So I've been actively encouraging him to seek alternative options. He is bright and I hate to see him being wasted here at a small start-up that really isn't going to grow much more (without drastic changes). But at the same time since I've started working there, he and I have become the top employees (in a small firm of less than 20, where half are essentially manual labor); and we do most of the other tasks (like data analysis, ordering, inventory management, other typical white collar tasks). If we both leave at the same time or near each other the firm will suffer greatly, there is no maybe or doubt.


Now that he's actively looking (I helped him update his CV and gave him a few references in my network), was it ethical of me to actively encourage him to look for employment elsewhere, knowing that if we both leave we are essentially screwing over our current employer?


To explain more, he probably would have stayed there for the rest of his life if I hadn't been the one to encourage him to start looking.

  • 4
    You owe no allegiance to this or any employer, unless you are an indentured servant, which I'm assuming you aren't.
    – joeqwerty
    Feb 12 '19 at 23:35
  • 1
    Do your contracts contain a clause changing the leaving period if theother is leaving? If not and you both jand your notice in, then legally, they have to respect that notice period. Of course, they can ask you, and him, to postpone the date you leave... but you can agree or not as once you hand the notice in the clock ticks...
    – Solar Mike
    Feb 13 '19 at 4:22
  • It's not really "unethical". It's more "unprofessional" and "a bit silly".
    – Fattie
    Feb 13 '19 at 10:52
  • @SolarMike no we don't have any clause like that, forgot to tag this as USA. Feb 13 '19 at 12:34
  • @Fattie that's what I thought; I do feel worse because I knew it was unprofessional. I think I should have waited until I was gone first. Feb 13 '19 at 12:34

No, it's not unethical. If you're both unhappy with your current situation, by all means move on. At the end of the day the company only cares about getting the most amount of work they can get out of you for the least expense possible.

If the company cannot survive without either or both of you, then that is the fault of your bosses. You don't owe them anything other than what you signed in the contract as terms of your employment.

  • Thanks for the reply. Now was it professional of me to do something like this? I have feelings it's not professional... Feb 12 '19 at 22:26
  • @my_mistakes It's only unprofessional if you're caught.Make sure you are sharing your opinions with those who won't pass it along to management. Feb 12 '19 at 22:28
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    I don't buy the "it's only unprofessional if you're caught". That makes a bit of a mockery of the idea of professionalism. Really, I think the line is whether or not he was content in the first place. Convincing your coworkers that they ought to be unhappy with your mutual workplace is unprofessional. That's not what happened here. Once a friend is already unhappy with the workplace, giving them good life advice on how to handle that isn't a matter of professionalism one way or the other, as long as you're doing it for their benefit rather than yours.
    – Ben Barden
    Feb 12 '19 at 23:02
  • I know of situations from multinational famous companies that entire teams (and 1 time, an entire floor, in all cases very good speciallists) quit at the same time. That was more or less expected consequence of the type of management practiced. +1
    – virolino
    Feb 13 '19 at 9:13
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    @MatthewBarber All of my previous employers have been small companies. All of us have to do what is in our best interests. And if the company truly could not operate without somebody, they would pay them enough to reflect this. Feb 13 '19 at 12:07

I'm not sure if I would call it unethical to encourage someone to leave the place where you currently work, but employers might find it a bit questionable. As part of the deal with employment, you are supposed to be loyal to the company and the employer. If your next employer finds out that you were doing that, they might hesitate to hire you.

My advise would be to stay as professional as you can until you actually quit, and try to leave on good terms. These things tend to come back and bite you otherwise. What if you need references in the future or if future employers ask your previous one about you.

At the point when you are no longer employed, then you can of course encourage him all you want.

  • "At the point when you are no longer employed, then you can of course encourage him all you want." That may not necessarily be true - depending on circumstances you may have a clause in your contract which forbids solicitation for a certain length of time after your employment ends Feb 12 '19 at 22:27
  • "If your next employer finds out that you were doing that, they might hesitate to hire you." really that is the bottom line.
    – Fattie
    Feb 13 '19 at 10:51

You are obviously free to move on to other opportunities, as is your colleague, but it is unethical for you to be encouraging him.

It's up to him to decide for himself if his talents and abilities are being wasted. You are not his parent, it really is not your place to be advising him in this way.

Obviously you are free to tell him whatever you like about your own plans, but I don't think you should do anything to encourage him to leave. While you are both still being paid by this company, it is both unprofessional and unethical.

I've been in your friends position, and have had colleagues try to encourage me to quit as well, or head-hunt me as soon as they have left. I tend to think less of them because of it.

One particular person who I can think of, assumed the company was completely incapable of functioning without him and would literally just fall in a heap once he left. In actuality he was effectively replaced the same day he resigned. The customers didn't even notice any change.

If you are unhappy, by all means leave, but to knowingly/intentionally? do harm to (screw over) your current employer, is really not a good thing to do.

"To explain more, he probably would have stayed there for the rest of his life if I hadn't been the one to encourage him to start looking."

This seems quite disrespectful and condescending to your co-worker. You apparently value his talent, but consider him too inept to be able to make his own life choices.

You will most likely find the company will survive just fine without you. Employees who consider themselves indispensable to a company, often are really more of a liability.

As someone once said, if you put your hand into a bucket of water, and then remove it, does it leave a hole?

  • I agree it was very unprofessional of me. As far as our contributions to the firm, since it is a small firm, and the wages the firm can afford to give are so low given the area only people who were/are genuinely interested in the industry and believe in the eventual success of the firm would agree to work there. I'm not trying to overstate or brag our impact on the firm, but as of right now there really is no one available in the firm to fulfill our roles, and the 3 new hires (~3-4mo on the job) that both of us have been training have not the ability to step in. Feb 13 '19 at 12:43

It's both unethical and unprofessional to do this. You have an obligation to do your best for the people who pay you, not undermine them in secret.

  • To say that you should not undermine them in secret would infer that the OP has some malicious intent, which I don't get from this question. There's no malicious intent evident in the question.
    – joeqwerty
    Feb 13 '19 at 4:12
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    @joeqwerty I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with this, but I don't think that that's the point of the answer. The point is, even if it's not malicious, it still has the effect of undermining them while he's being paid to act in the company's best interest. Feb 13 '19 at 5:32
  • 1
    @joeqwerty "knowing that if we both leave we are essentially screwing over our current employer". To knowingly engage in conduct which will screw over their current employer seems slightly malicious to me. Feb 13 '19 at 7:51
  • I understand where you're coming from. I agree it's unprofessional; however I do not feel as if I am actively undermining the firm. True, if we both leave, they will suffer, the wages they can afford they can't get good talent (people like us who are genuinely interested in the industry are very few in our area); but since I knew I was going to leave I've been creating detailed documentation for all the new processes I've personally pushed to implement as well as complete documentation on any code/project I've worked on. I bear no ill will to my employers, I'm sorry I came across as malicious. Feb 13 '19 at 12:49
  • You bear no ill will yet you are actively encouraging a colleague to leave?.... you can rationalise it however makes you feel justified I guess. Lot's of people do as you can see from the other answers. I take an uncompromising stance on ethics and professionalism as a career choice which has stood me in good stead so far. But it's not the only career strategy. Perhaps not even the best.
    – Kilisi
    Feb 13 '19 at 12:54

It would be highly unethical for both of you to leave at once. If you're truly that valuable, you would effectively be colluding to damage the company, so don't do it.

Realistically though, you don't have have to. Once you've handed your notice in, your colleague becomes incredibly valuable to them and they'll bend over backwards to retain him for at least as long as it takes to recruit and train up replacements for the two of you. They might even make you a counter offer if they're worried he's going to go too.

Or at least that's what they should be doing. If they continue to treat him like a piece of furniture, he's under no more obligation to stick around than you are. They can, after all, expect no more professionalism from the two of you than they're willing to show themselves.

Edit: Just to be clear to the downvoters and commenters, I'm not talking about the legalities. Both employees can indeed hand their notice in at once and walk away afterwards, stiffing the company, if they so choose. Rather, I'm treating this as an ethical decision. The original poster has expressed clear reservations about both employees going at once, so I'm suggesting a way that both him and his colleague can ultimately leave whilst also giving their employer a fair chance to recruit replacements in exchange for appropriate sweeteners.

Sometimes it's worth trying to do what you feel is the right thing because you may regret the consequences of your actions if you don't. Obviously if it doesn't feel like the right thing though, don't do it.

On a purely practical level, it's best to try to avoid burning bridges where you can, as you never know who's going to talk to future employers or whether you're going to have to go back to them for a reference in case your new job doesn't work out. If the difference is just going to be one of you hanging around long enough to do a proper hangover, it'd have to be a pretty awful workplace not to be worth it.

  • 2
    Why would it be unethical? They aren't plotting to sabotage the company, they aren't moving to a competitor. They are unhappy employees moving to different jobs.
    – DaveG
    Feb 13 '19 at 3:16
  • @DaveG "If we both leave at the same time or near each other the firm will suffer greatly, there is no maybe or doubt" seems pretty unambiguous to me. Staggering the departures sufficiently should be enough to take that element out of it though. Feb 13 '19 at 3:21
  • 1
    If they collude to leave at the same time for the sole purpose of causing damage to the company then that would probably be deemed unethical. The question as asked, doesn't support that conclusion.
    – joeqwerty
    Feb 13 '19 at 4:09
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    Wrong. Retention is the the responsibility of the company not the employees. Its only unethical if it's specifically done to harm the company. Every employee has the moral right to do better for themselves.
    – Hilmar
    Feb 13 '19 at 6:25
  • Sure, retention is the company's problem and they're going to have to be prepared to deal with multiple employees leaving at the same time on occasion. However, making counter offers and retention bonuses are valid ways of doing that and you should at least consider them if offered. Like I said though, if they continue to treat you badly you can quit with a clear conscience. Feb 13 '19 at 6:34

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