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Short and sweet of it, I used to work as a manager/supervisor at a prior company that had us build various applications for them. I was there close to twenty years! In any event last year the company started struggling and things took a dive (upper management bickering, stock holders upset with the company, vision of company was no longer valid, competitors eating us alive, etc). One of my senior software engineers left prior to my departure and I eventually left as well.

I was able to quickly find a new home and a great place to work. Initially the old place kept asking me questions (I had to keep my phone number due to personal reasons) that were work related. It got to the point where each day they were asking 1-2 questions even after I left the company for three months. I got tired of it and finally told them I could no longer assist because I had my own priorities.

A few weeks back I actually hired another engineer that also worked at that prior company we both worked at. He too was tired of all the bickering, politics, and fallout from the board of directors and the CEOs. In any event, I hired him and he too is now getting contacted with more of their questions.

Is there anything I can do to simply tell them to bug off? We have our own priorities and it is their problem now not ours!

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    Do they call from the same phone number (like a business number) or are the individual engineers calling? Modern mobiles allow you to block numbers, and is far easier than changing your own number. – Tas Mar 27 at 22:42
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    Have you been caving and giving them free consulting work for the past three months, or have they just been unusually persistent in continuing to call you even though you keep telling them to stop and don't help them? Because if you don't feed the zombies when they come scratching, you'll find they quickly stop coming around. Stop enabling and the problem goes away. – J... Mar 28 at 12:48
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    Possible duplicate of How to get my old company to stop asking for help – David K Mar 28 at 13:26
  • Why do you care if this bridge is burnt? It sounds like the company won't be around much longer to retaliate. – zero298 Mar 28 at 22:13
  • You might want to change the title to " ... constantly asking us ...". There have been times where I've received a few questions per year, usually emails to my home email account, from prior companies. In most of these cases, it didn't take a lot of effort on my part to reply since these were questions related to subjects I was very familiar with. – rcgldr Mar 29 at 15:29

12 Answers 12

244

Is there anything I can do to simply tell them to bug off?

Just stop answering their questions.

Nothing says "bug off" quite like not giving answers to repeated questions.

You've trained them to continue to rely on you for help. This is your fault. Time to un-train them.

You don't need to answer the phone if they call. If you do answer, just brush it off with something like "Sorry, I'm too busy to help." Either way, once the answers dry up, they'll stop calling.

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    I disagree - the former company is the one that is refusing to act in a dignified manner. What they are doing is not professional in any way. They had the opportunity to retain OP's expertise and, for whatever reason, they failed to do so. OP has gone above and beyond in helping them transition up to this point, they are now not respecting OP's request not to be involved further. The most professional response from OP is to now walk away from the situation. – delinear Mar 28 at 11:42
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    @R.Schmitz "You should ask this question to someone you pay for his time!" hang up – Josef Mar 28 at 12:02
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    "I don't know" possibly combined with "I can't remember those details anymore" might convince them that the well is actually dry, also. – Todd Wilcox Mar 28 at 15:21
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    Keep it short and professional: "I'm sorry, I don't work there any longer. Good bye." You are not responsible for knowing their current support structure or contact info. You no longer work there, telling them that is clear and professional. Any responses they make to that may or may not be professional, but they are not your problem. – music2myear Mar 28 at 22:20
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    @railsdog This is the real answer to this question. Answering the calls at all (especially since OP has explicitly said to stop) is just allowing their foot in the door. The only con to this approach is if OP has any kind of relationship with anyone there they want to maintain, it will be extremely difficult to do so. – zr00 Mar 29 at 16:27
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The most effective way is to tell them you charge X per hour for answering questions, and they need to give you an address where to send invoices.

Having to explain your bill will stop most people from asking questions.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – user44108 Mar 28 at 13:20
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    I'd add that the "X per hour" should be fairly outrageous, or you might actually get pulled in to help. If they still want your help, increase the rate stating that every time they ask for your help, your rate increases. You don't even have to tell them this is an incentive to bug off. And if they complain that it's extortion, you tell them it's their choice for continuing to ask for help. You might also want to put a time limit on each time you help, too. This is to help cover the loophole of asking for 1000 hours on their 3rd call to prevent future rate hikes. – computercarguy Mar 28 at 19:37
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    X should be the rate at which OP is happy to participate. Pretty simple. If there is no number at which that's true, then sure: "No" is a better answer. But there's always a number. – Alex M Mar 28 at 19:56
  • This thread of discussion was already moved to chat once, please continue it in the linked room. – Haem Mar 29 at 8:40
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    It is important to clear this with your current employer! – Stig Hemmer Mar 29 at 9:28
65

Your options are (multiple choice):

  • Tell them to stop calling

  • Ignore the calls

  • Block their numbers

  • Offer to consult for an exorbitant rate

  • Inform them you're going to request a no-contact order, if they find ways to go around your blocks or continue after you tell them to stop calling

  • Actually request a no-contact order

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    Personally I'd put "exorbitant rate" as number one. That establishes your position and tends to shut people down when you are asking 4x the going rate (and as a day rate - none of this by the question/hour stuff) – Peter M Mar 27 at 17:41
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    @PeterM - The reason I didn't do that initially was because OP asked how to get them to stop. Offering to consult leaves the door open a crack. I only included it because I thought the same as you and hey...who doesn't like money? – Havegooda Mar 27 at 17:52
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    Depending where you are (or, more precisely, on your employment contract - but what is common in an employment contract varies by region and industry), consulting may not be legal. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Mar 27 at 21:17
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    If you really don't want to be involved with them, be careful with the exorbitant rate option. Sometimes it's easy to think that the money would be worth it, then they accept your high rate and cause you stress and it's not worth it after all. Still, it's definitely an option worth considering in some cases. – rooby Mar 27 at 21:34
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    Don't forget to ask for payment up front, if you're going for the "exorbitant rate" strategy. It might even be wise to ask for a "minimum commitment" of 5 days so you don't have the overhead of billing for just one day. And while you're at it, back-charge for the previous questions. – MSalters Mar 28 at 10:51
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I've been on the other end of this, taking over for someone who left after building or implementing most of the systems I still use to this day.

For the first few weeks, I was emailing or messaging him constantly. HE did a good job of NOT getting back to me instantly. He was NOT on-call. It gave me time to flail and learn and try to become self-sufficient, and I did slowly wean myself from his support. He also used the exorbitant consultant rate for actual projects we threw his way, until I had enough experience and knowledge built up that we no longer needed him for even that much.

So, having been on the other side of the coin, I can say this: unless you left very clear instructions and processes and manuals, and basically made your leaving seamless, it's not necessarily fair to assume that they aren't genuinely struggling without you. Even so, that in no way leaves you in the position of needing to prioritize their requests, especially if they're not paying you to do so.

Obviously, situations vary, and your mileage may vary. If their requests are overly burdensome or aggressive, then just not answering (or maybe waiting a week/month and finally responding with "did you guys ever figure this out?" (but ONLY if you actually want to take it on, since they very likely did NOT figure this out! LOL!), just to keep the lines open just in case.)

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    I think the key words there are "exorbitant consultant rate." Nobody should be getting free over-the-phone support once you've left. – Matthew Barber Mar 27 at 22:07
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    "it's not necessarily fair to assume that they aren't genuinely struggling without you. Even so, that in no way leaves you in the position of needing to prioritize their requests, especially if they're not paying you to do so" - or even answer the requests. Them struggling does not equal OP does free work. – Robert Grant Mar 27 at 22:08
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    I completely understand that it can be a struggle for those left behind. Fortunately you seem to have come to understand that this is not to be made, in any way, the problem of those who left you behind. This has nothing to do with whether the requests are burdensome or not. It's simply inappropriate. Nobody who is not paid by that company for work that benefits that company should ever be expected to contribute to that company on their own time. It's literally as simple as that. – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 28 at 0:42
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    It's not OP's fault if someone is struggling due to lack of documentation. Unless it was OP's job to take care of documentation someone should have thought "what are we gonna do when X leaves, considering we have no documentation whatsoever?". OP sohuldn't have to pay for someone else's lack of interest in documentation. – undefined Mar 28 at 8:12
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    @GustavoMP: In the case of at least one of my former jobs, I would have to remind them that I wasn’t the one that decided documentation should not be worked on. – WGroleau Mar 28 at 14:57
12

What I haven't seen anyone address is that you say while YOU have stopped taking the calls they're contacting your subordinate. He needs to show tough love with them and tell them to stop calling. You need to make it clear to him that your expectation is that he not work for other companies while on the clock with you -- strongly encourage him to get tough.

8

Your coworker needs to bill the company for his continued assistance.

He may not want a side business... But he's already got one, as long as he keeps answering the phone.

He needs to select a consultancy rate which is not inappropriate for the skills and marketplace, e.g. $200/hr

When he gets a call he needs to document who he's talking to, what the problem is, collect the question(s) from the person if brief, otherwise ask them to send an email elucidating all their questions. Don't answer anything and be quick, especially if it's on your company's time.

After he has gone home from the office and is on his own time, he should take on the questions seriously. Perhaps follow up with the person. Then he should "formally write-up" the answer in a sensible, presentable format, and email it to the person.

Then, he looks at the total time spent on it, round up to the nearest increment of time that is not unreasonable, and send a bill to the company for consulting services net 10.*

It is important this not consist of any "new work" but be confined to wrap-up and exit documentation, akin to an exit interview. He cannot be working for two companies in the same field at once. In fact if this goes very far at all, he needs to have a conversation with your current company's HR to resolve any conflict of interest, which there shouldn't be because it should be confined to discussion of work he already did.

If it just gets him paid, awesome.

It may also cause a little excitement, in which case, the next time they call, he says

"Well, I'd love to help you, but the company seems reluctant to pay. Could you provide a PO number ** for this consultation?"

Once he's past the 10 days (or whatever) of the first bill, when they call he immediately steers the conversation to the fact that their payment is late, and he needs to absolutely refuse to give any further help until it's paid. With luck, they'll be so in need of his assistance that they'll expedite payment, in which case, he has a nice little side business.

If they pay... Well, that backfired. He can just keep jacking his rates (with notice of course) until he's soured the milk and weaned them off his aid. In the meantime, free money for what he's already doing...


* "Net 10 days" is a billing term, it means the bill should be paid pretty much as fast as checks can fly in the mail. It is customary in business. Don't use a longer billing term, or they could troll you for that long and collect free support in the meantime, just by being ambiguous about paying you. Other terms are "net 30" or "cash", the latter means you do not trust them to pay, and need to hear some credit card numbers right now.

** "PO number" expands to "Purchase Order number" which means you are asking them to create a Purchase Order for the goods or services. If he gives you a PO #, that's a verbal commitment that the company desires to buy this and will pay. Presumably he will be unable to do this.

  • This is a great answer, assuming OP (or his friend) are interested in setting up a side business helping their prior company. As a tactic to make them stop calling (the stated goal in the question) it may not work so well, though. I've heard stories from friends in tech about companies they literally don't want to work with anymore, so they just keep jacking up the price to unreasonable levels, but these companies continue to pay! Again, great answer if OP is interested in the money, but it could very easily work "too well." – Steve-O Mar 28 at 13:13
  • @Steve-O great point, edited. This could work too well. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Mar 28 at 14:12
  • @Steve-O when you get to $500,000 per hour, they’ll either stop or you can retire. – Wildcard Mar 28 at 18:18
  • Are you proposing he send an invoice for answering questions without first arranging some kind of consulting arrangement? Just answer the questions and then, surprise, here's a bill? I'm not understanding why you wouldn't have the conversation about your unwillingness to work for free and your rate up front instead of surprising them with a bill. – Zach Lipton Mar 29 at 8:27
  • @Wildcard Like I said, it's a great answer if the OP is willing to risk them actually paying. The question as stated was asking how to make it stop, though, and not everyone is willing to prioritize money over free time (for example, if they're already making bank at their real job.) – Steve-O Mar 29 at 13:17
6

Consider what your time is worth to you if you would work as a consultant for them.

For most people, it's a matter of price - if the pay you for example 3000 $ a day for answering questions, you probably wouldn't mind too much (and that's not ludicrous- we pay that for some consultants). Find your sweet spot, add a bit, and seriously offer them to get in a contractual relationship as 'consultant'.
This could end with you having a well paying job, or with them stopping to bother you - both should be solutions you'd be happy with.

4

Most of the times, nothing beats the simplicity.

Refuse to help, just tell them you're busy. Say,

I'd like you to help, but I got work to do. (Yes, your work, which gets you paid).

If this calls keep coming, stop taking calls.

At some point of time, you have to learn to say "no". The sooner, the better.

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    It would be more effective to say outright "No, I can't help". Firstly, it's actually saying the word "no", which (as you say) is needed. Secondly, giving reasons why the OP can't help encourages his former employer to try and find solutions to those reasons, e.g. offering to pay, which is not the desired outcome. Just say "no", nothing more. – BittermanAndy Mar 27 at 17:38
2

The other answers talk about different ways to essentially either tell them "no" or to threaten them directly either with billing or no-contact orders.

I think the simplest way is to just stop answering their questions. By answering their questions in the past you've essentially implied to them that its okay to bug you with questions because you've been helping them out for all this time.

Stop responding to their calls/texts/messages/whatever. If you ignore them and the volume of contact increases or does not go away- then it turns into harassment and you will have to consider either blocking them or taking further actions to prevent them from bothering you during work.

1

Literally stop answering the phone to them.

That's it.

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    This is a valid approach, although it is already suggested in other answers... mind enhancing yours? – DarkCygnus Mar 28 at 1:07
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    @DarkCygnus Its brevity is the point. My intention is to show how abundantly simple this is! – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 28 at 10:20
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit the accepted answer is the same thing with explanation. – Captain Man Mar 28 at 19:40
  • @CaptainMan I'm aware of that. But the explanation is not necessary. This is somewhat tongue in cheek of course. – Lightness Races with Monica Mar 28 at 20:04
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I'd contact the former boss/manager and explain that you're no longer working for that company.
If you receive any more calls after that, send them an invoice of your consulting services.

0

Request money up front and charge a high rate. Establish a support contract until a replacement can be trained. I did this off and on for two years and the Company even wanted me back. In the end, glad I didn’t go back - the Company no longer exists. I did make a lot of money though

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