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"[Not] telling your boss you're quitting" is a broad issue spread over many questions, the closest duplicate to mine is probably here. The consensus is that you have no obligation to prewarn employers that you're looking elsewhere and there are unnecessary risks in doing so.

My question is not about what I "should" do (see above) but how to do it. Specifically, how to maintain the above reasonable desire for privacy in the face of my boss' reasonable desire to know my intentions ASAP. This is a simple conflict of interests whereby I'm trying to delay coming clean until I have a new offer and he's trying to catch as much warning of unhappiness graduating to active job search as he can.

Probably this wouldn't even be an issue if I could just do the strategic dishonesty that seems to be so widely justified these days. Morals aside I am simply a very poor liar. My boss by contrast is very experienced at getting things out of people and will have had this specific conversation many times before.

We are having a meeting later wherein I predict I am to be 'cornered'. He will enquire as to my unhappiness. I will give a vague answer. He will ask directly and pointedly whether I'm considering leaving.

What do I say then? Flat out lie? Maybe you can see now the level of response I'm looking for - how do I navigate this social situation, what words do I say?

Let's say I respond "no I've not been considering leaving". He will point to the context of my apparent unhappiness etc., there might be some discussion, but ultimately that'll all be in the service of re-asking the question from a new angle. This will continue for as long as he doubts my answer and can think of new angles from which to pry open my true intentions.

How does one withstand this with professionalism? All the previous answers just say "you shouldn't tell your boss you're going" without recognising the boss' obvious motivation to work against that.

"Just keep giving the same answer" won't cut it without an unprofessional degree of absurdity. Remember he is probably aware of that tactic and actively trying to lever it out of the way. Vagueness will be countered with specificity - lots of 'surrounding' questions again all attacking the central one. How do I answer those questions? I can't just act like a robot with one canned response...

  • I had added an answer, but this is just a duplicate actually – Atizs Apr 8 at 11:06
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    Are you committed to leaving? Is there absolutely no way you can have a conversation about your situation and he can attempt to fix whatever it is you are unhappy with? That would be a more mutually fruitful situation. If he doesn't know, he cannot help but I realise that's not necessarily the case. – LoztInSpace Apr 8 at 11:40
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    He will point to the context of my apparent unhappiness... Why does your boss think you're unhappy? Have you said something directly to your boss, to a co-worker, or does he think you just look unhappy? (Side note: I disagree strongly that your boss' desire to know when you're thinking about leaving is reasonable.) – BSMP Apr 8 at 17:53
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    Please clarify: Are you afraid of being fired while looking for a job and would you happen to work in a field/place where relocation is difficult? Normally, the issue you are bringing should not drag on for too long. You are unhappy, and afraid people can tell. Would you accept a lower pay just to get out as soon as possible? Either way, try create opportunities in your current company that would make you feel better, you may not know how long you'll still have to stick around. – Mefitico Apr 8 at 18:57
  • Why would your boss ask you - out of the blue - whether you're going to quit? I get the impression that you may have said or done something to beg the question... – Blackhawk Apr 9 at 17:54

13 Answers 13

210

"Not unless I get a better offer!" or "Not unless I get an offer too good to pass up."

It is actually true. You're not leaving unless you get a better offer and until you hand in your notice. That is as true today as every other day.

You can say as much, and your boss will probably ask "Are you looking?" - but it's normal and acceptable for employees to keep an eye on the job market, and for recruiters to contact you (via LinkedIn or from an old CV, or any other method). You should do this anyway, to ensure you're being paid something close to the market average, and to track which skills are in demand.

He may ask whether you've been to an interview, which you can probably answer truthfully. Eventually he'll be asking "Would you leave if someone offered you more money and/or better conditions?" to which you could truthfully answer "well, duh!" ;-)

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    You make a good point. Fundamentally, employment is a mutual relationship of exchanging time and skills, for compensation. I'm as loyal as they come, just as long as you're paying me. – Sobrique Apr 8 at 13:40
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    Agreed. "Are you quitting?" can honestly be responded to with a "No" up until the point at which OP puts in a notice. To elaborate, there is no deceit in this, because until there is a signed offer, presumably OP is not in fact quitting. "Are you looking?" can honestly be responded to with an "Of course I have my eyes open, just as everyone should! Those who don't are doing themselves a disservice." – maxathousand Apr 8 at 14:29
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    Also, the correct answer to "Are you looking" is "I'm always looking". – aleppke Apr 8 at 15:39
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    I've heard this phrase, and it may even be a choice on LinkedIn, I don't recall. "Happily employed but open to great opportunities." – Captain Man Apr 8 at 16:42
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    @ShinEmperor Sure, but "Are you quitting?" is a different question than "Are you planning on quitting soon?" to which OP can still honestly say they have no plans to resign. Again, until there is another signed offer, it seems that OP's plans are to continue working for the current company. Finding a new job could take years. – maxathousand Apr 8 at 16:52
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This question falls in the category “If you don’t want to hear lies, then don’t ask this question”. Your answer is “No”, or “No, what makes you think that”. You should give exactly the same answer as someone who doesn’t have the slightest desire to leave.

Why is it Ok to lie? Because the question shouldn’t have been asked. And because you need to lie to avoid having unjustified problems. It is entirely your right to tell your boss that you think about leaving the moment you give notice, and not one second earlier.

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    The problem with this is that OP isn't comfortable lying, and feels that the boss would spot it straight away. In that situation, a poor lie is effectively both admitting the truth and insulting the boss by lying. – Robin Bennett Apr 8 at 13:33
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    -1 OP is not asking whether it is moral to lie, but how to actually do it, "technically". – AnoE Apr 8 at 15:14
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    Then don't make it a lie. You wouldn't consider leaving before accepting another offer, right? So until that happens, saying you aren't considering leaving is absolutely the truth right up until the moment you are ready to hand in your resignation. – Seth R Apr 8 at 15:53
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    Lying is wrong whether or not anyone else plays by the rules. What if OP responds as you suggest and then the next day or next week accepts a job and puts in his notice? It's going to be clear that he's been lying which diminishes his reputation. – JeffC Apr 8 at 18:20
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    @JeffC OP would not really be lying. You are not officially leaving until you put in your notice. So if OP has not put in notice, he/she can answer no with a clear conscience – Joker28322 Apr 8 at 23:01
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I've been in a very similar situation in the past with a manager who seemed to have no boundaries. I'm also not a great liar. I was asked if I was intending to leave, to which I responded:

I'm not actively looking for a new job.

The word actively was key to me being able to say this truthfully.

When pressed further by my manager, asking whether I'd take another job if it were offered, I said:

I'm sure you'd agree that I'd be foolish to sabotage my career by passing up a great opportunity. I don't have anything on the table at the moment, but you would be the first to know if I decide to pursue a job elsewhere.

If you're presented with more questions around this, from different angles, repeat the same thing with different words, using phrases such as:

I'm not interviewing at the moment
I don't plan to leave
I don't have any plans right now
I would let you know immediately if anything changes

It can also be really useful when somebody is trying to pry information from you to prefix your response with:

Like I said...

This indicates that you're not going to be browbeaten into saying something you don't want to.

I suppose this does fall under the umbrella of being evasive, but it avoids lying outright, which can be easier to pull off. I'm aware that it's similar to the current top rated answer, but thought some other phrases could be useful.

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    I was going to comment pretty much the same thing as my answer. I have (within the past week) been asked if I'm planning on leaving and my response was "I am not actively looking for a new position, but if gold starts falling from the sky I'm going outside to catch some". – Horkrine Apr 9 at 9:44
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    This is helpful - and also what politicians do when they want to keep their options open without lying. "No plans" means "I'm not intending to do this now" but doesn't rule out ever doing it in the future. Just because you have "no plans" doesn't mean that you never will do! – The Dark Lord Apr 9 at 10:02
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    @Horkrine that sounds rather deadly... be sure to wear a helmet. – Mr.Mindor Apr 9 at 15:21
27

I've been in this situation before, and honestly I regretted caving in and telling them. If I had to do it again, I would rather flat-out lie than tell the truth; as unprofessional as it may be to lie, it's also unprofessional for them to put you in that position. Regardless, here are two ways you can get around this without barefaced lies.

With jokes

In an informal conversation, if you want to avoid outright lying, you can use humour to imply things without actually saying them.

Something like "Actually I feel quite tied to this place. If only because no one will pass me the scissors to cut the rope" might work.

Or you might be a little daring and liken it to a relationship with a jealous lover: " I thought you trusted me, . If you cant trust me, maybe we should see other people". The added metaphorical ballsiness of this joke might work even further in your favour, but definitely make sure that you know this will be taken as a joke before trying!

It catches your boss off-guard, makes the conversation feel a little less like an interrogation, and it implies that you want to stay. Remember, it's not a lie if you're telling a joke. Humour can let you get away with all sorts.

With deflection

If it's more formal, to the point where you can't appropriately work in the humour aspect but still don't want to bald-face lie, talk about the things you like about this place but don't word it in a way that makes it obvious that you are deflecting.

An example might be: "You know, I'm actually okay, I mean the people are nice and the perks are useful". All of those things might be true, but none of them mean that you are or aren't looking elsewhere. "I'm okay" is not "I'm staying".

I appreciate this will all feel like mental gymnastics at this point, but it's your best shield against this type of boss.

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    A joke can be the literal truth. "Well, I'm not likely to be working here for ever" is as good a response as any. – alephzero Apr 8 at 19:02
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    In the joke category: why, do you want to get rid of me? – Bernhard Apr 8 at 20:59
  • @alephzero true, but in the hands of an irrationally-acting boss, that could also translate into you jokingly stating that you intend to leave – 520 Apr 9 at 9:36
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Turn the question back around on the boss

If (or I guess when) the boss asks if you are looking for another job, instead of trying to defend yourself or prevaricate on the issue, flip the discussion around and point out areas where your current job could improve.

Well, I'm not actively looking currently, but there are a few issues I'm having with our current situation that are contributing to my dissatisfaction with job. If we can address [problems] that would do a lot to increase my happiness with the situation.

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    "Are YOU quitting?" I like it. – coburne Apr 9 at 19:20
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    THIS. This is the right answer (tweaked to reflect your situation if you are actively looking - e.g., "I'm not as happy here as I used to be, and I'd like to work with you on fixing those issues..."). By asking for collaborative help, you demonstrate investment in your role's success. If your boss really corners you, "Even if I was looking, I wouldn't be obligated to tell you, and I feel uncomfortable that you asked that" is technically true but implies that you aren't looking. It also again puts the onus back on your boss. – Ethel Evans Apr 10 at 21:42
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he's trying to catch as much warning of unhappiness graduating to active job search as he can.

Isn't this a good thing? You don't mention what you think he will do if he figures it out. You also didn't mention if you've given him the chance to understand why you're unhappy and are working on leaving.

Unless you're expecting to be fired on the spot (I presume you're American) what would the harm be in simply engaging him on his suspicion and saying: "Good of you to notice my unhappiness, here's what I'm unhappy about"? By focusing on that instead of your actual plans to leave, you can give him insight into what he could improve.

Your conclusion that people seem to advise to say nothing may be missing the point. There is no (or shouldn't be) any harm in giving your boss a chance before moving on. Once you've given them a chance and they don't listen, sure. But if you've mentioned your discontent before then I don't see why your boss would be 'cornering' you to get you to tell him why you're unhappy.

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    I'd argue it's almost definitely not a good thing due to the specific phrasing. Boss isn't trying to catch warning of unhappiness, boss is trying to catch warning of unhappiness turning to job search. Which pretty heavily implies boss knows of unhappiness. And a boss trying to "catch" employees looking to leave rather than helping dampen the unhappiness isn't a boss I want to work for. – Delioth Apr 8 at 14:53
  • @Delioth I can see another situation: Boss knows the team is unhappy; Boss has been trying unsuccessfully to shield team from politics. Boss knows if any team members leave, the rest of the team will suffer high work levels (maybe with no backfill). Boss may be close to leaving themself. I've had this happen - end result was that I got a heads-up on my boss's plans to leave. This was a case where upper management seemed to be intentionally bringing down the average seniority of the team by chasing off senior devs - we'd stabilized the system enough that a more junior team could do our work. – Ethel Evans Apr 10 at 21:37
  • (but agree this is probably an edge case) – Ethel Evans Apr 10 at 21:40
4

There is no good solution.

There is no answer that allows you to be honest and also keep your hand hidden. Either you're telling the truth or not. There's no middle ground here.

There's no version of this that plays out that makes you look good. If you lie, you destroy some of your professional reputation, but you get to leave on your terms.

If you tell the truth then you might be fired in advance or phased out in response, but you keep your professional reputation in one piece.

You COULD maybe find a middle ground. Having a meeting and making clear that you intend to leave in the foreseeable future and help the company find and train someone before your deadline.

I don't know the best answer, but it's clear from the break down of the question is that there is no GOOD solution. There's just varying degrees of discomfort.

My answer to "are you quitting"

No, but I'm not happy here and I can't see myself staying here much longer.

.. and then follow up with a list of things that are making you unhappy. This is assuming you can be convinced to stay.

If you cannot be convinced to stay then:

Yes, but I'm not going to abandon you. I'd like to work with you on finding my replacement and even some training if they need it.

This is a fairly diplomatic and responsible answer.

My issue with lying to an employer, is they're paying to do work. But if you're there on a pretense of essentially running out the clock till it's time to go, that's... disingenuous.

Final note: We need to stop operating in bad faith. There are many managers out there who get it. Who get that we need to grow as professionals, not everyone is out to get you and maybe assuming good faith isn't such a bad approach. Maybe this manager is just trying to keep the ship on course and if that's the case, he can also be a really great ally in your transition or in getting new opportunities with a referral.

  • then you might be fired in advance or phased out in response But isn't being phased out an acceptable outcome? By announcing that you intend to leave means you want to make yourself less important and allow others to gradually take over your job - or even introduce them how to continue your job. That way you and your (former) employer are ensured that your work is not (partly) wasted and that you don't leave a sudden gap. – Battle Apr 9 at 6:24
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    @Battle absolutely correct. Maybe phasing out is what you want. My response was more directed at the notion of both lying and not taking the professional hit in reputation. That's not going to happen. My point was if you deceive people you'll be outted for it and it's rarely every good. But you are exactly right, maybe wanting to be phased out is a good thing. Too many people act in bad faith which in turn hurts their reputation and depending on the industry, sometimes you can't afford doing that. – ShinEmperor Apr 9 at 13:30
3

Simple, you just need to look your boss in the face and say "No, why would I do that". Maintain eye contact the entire time.

This essentially puts your boss in a position where your boss has to either admit to doing things poorly or convince you as to why you should leave the company. If your boss is smart they'll leave it alone. If your boss isn't then you can just follow up pretty much any response to that question with, "Sounds like you really want me to leave".

Any boss who, "gets things out of people" should be handled in a polite and cut throat manner. They've earned it.

2

You can be as forward as him without lying:

If he ask you if you are unhappy and why you can get into detail about this, this is regular stuff so far. When it comes to:

Are you considering leaving the company?

Just answer:

Sorry but I'm not willing to talk about that, I've already mention what are the things that bother me and can be improved, we should focus on that. If eventually decide to leave I'll let you know in the notice period agreed in our work contract.

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    If I was your boss and you said that I would know you had one for out the door. – bruglesco Apr 8 at 11:54
  • @bruglesco I agree completely with your comment. – JustSaying Apr 8 at 12:18
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    I don't read any of these comments as promoting lying. Just saying that this answer is a little too elaborate to be dismissed as something other than deflection, and that ends up implying the very thing OP is trying to avoid admitting. Even moreso if, as you suggest, the boss already suspects OP might be leaving. – Steve-O Apr 8 at 13:12
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    The most voted answer is to lie because the question shouldn't be asked. If someone ask you something he/she shouldn't ask that gives you the right to lie? no! you refuse to answer. I know op don't want tthem to suspect, I'm just questioning that premise, does he wanna work in a place where you might get fired because your boss SUSPECTS you may leave? – Homerothompson Apr 8 at 13:43
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    I think the problem here is that OP is not just responding to "Are you leaving" but "Are you looking to leave" and wants to hide it. Saying "I've already mentioned [complaints] [...] If I eventually decide to leave" is essentially saying "I am looking to leave", or at least you're very close to it. – Captain Man Apr 8 at 16:45
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While other answers are helpful, I'd add that telling him outright that the line of questioning is not appropriate should stem the badgering/pursuit he is expected to do.

You may have to answer briefly first with a No or something evasive, and then follow with halting further questions. You still need to choose your own words in doing so, but choosing in advance may make you more comfortable going into that meeting. Highlighting that he should stop seems like something he won't be expecting or prepared for.

2

There are plenty of answers already on how to reply to the "are you quitting" question, so I won't go into that, but I do want to offer advice on how to answer another part of the question:

We are having a meeting later wherein I predict I am to be 'cornered'. He will enquire as to my unhappiness. I will give a vague answer. He will ask directly and pointedly whether I'm considering leaving.

Don't give a vague answer. Instead, be concrete about what makes you unhappy. Discuss why some things make you unhappy, or why you believe those things are detrimental to the company. Suggest ways to improve the situation.

This has several advantages:

  • It's honest and constructive feedback, which is always a good thing.
  • It may help improve the situation at the company during your remaining time there (however long or short that may end up being).
  • And perhaps most importantly for you in this situation: it may help defuse the "cornered" meeting. Vague answers are generally an indication that someone is hiding something. If you're vague about your unhappiness, that's more likely to prompt your boss to fish for your "quitting risk". If you're forward and constructive, who knows, he might not even ask that question! And if he does, he might more readily believe your answer.
1

The fundamental problem here is that anything other than a complete and positive refutal, will be taken as "yes I am thinking of leaving".

Lying is wrong, and invariably comes back to haunt at a later stage - for example in this situation could lead to a rapid deterioration of trust during your notice period.

I think the best approach if faced with this situation, is to use a combination of humour and deflection. For example:

What kind of a question is that?!

...if said with the right tone, should lighten the atmosphere, hopefully remain ambiguous and so defuse the situation.

Ultimately though, I'd say it's better to avoid getting into this situation unintentionally, through wise behaviour and discretion.

  • The fundamental problem is similar to a quote from a novel I've read recently. "Play stupid games, win stupid prizes". +1 – Mindwin Apr 8 at 15:26
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    "Lying is wrong" - Citation needed, as well as the definition of a lie. I've long held the opinion that most every lie can be worded in such a way as to contain enough truth to make it not a lie. And as wonderful as it would be if everyone could tell the whole truth all the time, this exact scenario is the go-to example for many people of an acceptable time to lie. – raumkrieger Apr 8 at 21:54
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    @raumkrieger I'd say it would be terrible if everyone answered every question with the whole truth, especially as long as there continue to be people who will abusively ask questions about things they have no right to full information about. – Dronz Apr 8 at 23:14
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The question is not simple. I think it's important to tell the asker why it's not simple. My answer to sutch situation in the past having been the Following. It does not imply lying or even answering the question. It's just my reading of the question and why I don't like it.

The question is just an other opportunity to focus on the issue. There is no need to worry about leaving or hiring process. When leaving you will be on a X weeks notice.


There is no universal solution. The question is not simple.

Currently, I'm not quitting.

If the question is about the future, it's more complexe.
Is it bad if you search for new opportunities, regardless of the situation? No.
Do people in our profession disapear from employment-oriented social network, when they get a job? No. If you(the asker) had a fair offer from XYZ(XYZ is not a place holder, don't give company name where you are looking for job), won't you consider it?

If the question is motivated by our conflict. What's the purpose of it? Trying to know if I feel so bad that I need to quit? Are you worried about me? Or just evaluating how important solving the conflict is? Is the "quiting" part of the resolution of the issue?

I would never bargain and blackmail my job over an conflict. No matter the job, no matter the issue.

I don't have an answer for your question, I just have an issue with X, Y. And it feels like you are trying to antagonist me. We are working together. We have an issue on this. I thinks it's worth it to address the issue. And if there is no easy fast to implement solution, just say so.

  • Disclaimer, English is not my first language. Some sentence may feels a little off. If you have more idiomatic sentence, I will be glad to learn about them. – user95634 Apr 9 at 14:12

protected by mcknz Apr 9 at 14:35

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