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Context

I work at a large Dutch, not-for-profit, partially government backed organization for 2+ years and have (in my eyes) favorable working conditions like a permanent contract, a pension, holiday leave and WFH support.
Recently I got an unofficial offer1 from a small startup operating in the same field as my current employer. One could say that the startup is operating in the "corner" of that field, while the current employer has a more encompassing and multi-disciplinary approach.

While I'm satisfied with the certainty and stability at the my current job (through the permanent contract), the startup is attractive due to the lack of bureaucracy and overall small scale. I don't want to switch jobs entirely (and lose the certainty in times of COVID) and want to investigate a 50/50 arrangement where I both work at the current job and the startup for e.g. a year.

The startup is fine with that, but I don't know if my current employer is. I need to find that out before I start discussing an offer with the startup.
Currently I have colleagues who work part-time, but their other employment is often academic (professor, PhD), not another business.

Concerns

  • I'm afraid bringing up the topic of a 50/50 arrangement with my current manager will be detrimental for the work relation, it might sound as if I'm trying to resign.
  • If I end up rejecting the startup offer and stay 100% at my current job, I'm afraid that my growth would be hampered as I've shown "disloyalty".

Question

How can I bring this up with my manager without sounding "threatening" or "disloyal", but indicate that I'm just exploring possibilities to enrich my career?

What I've found so far

I found this question which is slightly similar, but it deals with certain resignation in the future, not with the exploration of a possibility of partial resignation.


1: There's nothing on paper, no numbers were named, but an indication was made that they were willing to match my current salary.

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  • 8
    Does your current company have any part time people, or is it pretty much only full-timers, especially in your position and similar? Nov 30, 2020 at 23:31
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    I think it would be relevant how similar your current employer is to your new one. Same area? Possible competitor? Completely different area?
    – Dave
    Dec 1, 2020 at 0:14
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    Did I understand correctly that your current employer is a "not-for-profit & partially govt backed" entity? If so, include it in your question! It would significantly affect some of the answers I'd think. Dec 1, 2020 at 13:30
  • 13
    Are you writing this under real name?
    – Justas
    Dec 1, 2020 at 17:29
  • 2
    @MichaelRichardson I do 40 hours in 4 days, so I have a 5th day as a buffer. Dec 1, 2020 at 21:02

8 Answers 8

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tl;dr - Do the startup thing, or don't. There is no 50/50 split. Beware of survivorship bias in the stories of others.

As someone who has managed people who were supposed to be on a 50/50 arrangement, I can tell you that I wouldn't allow it unless it was putting the retention of a star player at risk. Split time arrangements have a high overhead (context switching, time tracking), and almost invariably, one project ends up getting 80% of the time while the other gets the leftover 20% of the time.

There wouldn't be punishment for disloyalty, but it is definitely known that you're looking for other opportunities (but that should be assumed anyways). All things being equal, people who haven't shown a desire to move would be given preference for promotion/advancement. There are a few reasons there, but let's be honest, no one wants to be another person's backstop in case the risky move they take becomes a hazard. Besides which, if you do 50/50, what do you think is going to happen then? Giving you key responsibilities would be irresponsible of them given the knowledge they now have.

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    this. Top answer here pointing out the extra overhead, project-attention and the cut-back in possible promotions into positions with more responsibility due to 50/50.
    – iLuvLogix
    Dec 1, 2020 at 9:14
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    @SaaruLindestøkke The context switching from project to project is nowhere near equivalent to the context switching from employer to employer. This isn't about project A or project B - it is about people, phone numbers, passwords, versioning systems, firewall policies, even. Heck, even a different chair can be _extremelly annoying if you're not used to it.
    – T. Sar
    Dec 1, 2020 at 14:10
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    To be fair, the Netherlands has one of the highest part time work rates in the world and unless the contract specifies it one might just indicate that they want to work part time without discussing how they spend the rest of their time. Dec 1, 2020 at 16:34
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    Alternatively, you work 80/80 and burn out really fast. Dec 1, 2020 at 21:11
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    @CodyBugstein you'd think so, but the problem is that most projects aren't going to wait 4 - 5 calendar days between iterations. You'd still have to split a day on a 5 day work week. It removes a ton of flexibility from both companies as well. Also, I don't think anyone here was thinking that they would split it with OP working 30 minutes for one company and 30 minutes for the other.
    – Malisbad
    Dec 2, 2020 at 7:09
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My advice is that you first check your contract and documents to see if there is something restricting you from working with similar companies.

In other words, check if you signed some Non-compete agreement, or NDA, that limits you from working with companies in the same field after a period of time after your employment with your current company.

That would be the first step, because if you happen to have one or signed one, then the whole idea would be impossible to carry on.

  • I'm afraid bringing up the topic of a 50/50 arrangement with my current manager will be detrimental for the work relation, it might sound as if I'm trying to resign.
  • If I end up rejecting the startup offer and stay 100% at my current job, I'm afraid that my growth would be hampered as I've shown "disloyalty".

Your two concerns are perfectly reasonable and valid. Saying that to your employer I feel can do more harm than good.

How can I bring this up with my manager without sounding "threatening" or "disloyal", but indicate that I'm just exploring possibilities to enrich my career?

In a few words, you don't. Saying to your employer that you want to cut your productivity in half because you want to work in a company that competes with your current one, because you are bored seeking to enrich your career, is hardly going to sound attractive or positive to your manager, and could lead to undesired situations.

Instead, if what you want is to grow in your career and things you do and roles you have, you could propose your manager to find a way you are able to do that but in your current company.

Think of what specific things you would like to do, or what new tasks and roles you would like to have in your current company (that you feel are good for your career growth), and talk to your manager about them.

If your manager agrees or you are able to talk and reach a compromise that works for you, then great for you, but in case they are completely reluctant to give you new tasks and help you do things that increase your professional growth, then perhaps this is a sign that there is not much future in this company for you.

This would be a safer way to "probe" around and see if staying in this company is viable for your career.

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Initially you could ask what the options are for going part-time, without giving a reason, or giving something generic such as "personal reasons" and you just want to know what options are available.

This is a good first step. If it's a no, then you make the choice between your current employer and the start-up. If you continue with your current job, then they're none the wiser.

If they did agree to part time, then it's up to you if you tell them about the start-up. If you don't, then obviously you have to check your contract and make sure working for the start-up wouldn't break any terms with your current employer.

How can I bring this up with my manager without sounding "threatening" or "disloyal", but indicate that I'm just exploring possibilities to enrich my career?

I don't think you can. Word it however you like, but ultimately you're going to work for another company. This says you don't think your future is with your current employer. If things take off, then you're going to leave and the company will have to hire someone else.

If you choose to tell them about the start-up (or if you have to because your contract requires you to get their permission), how they react is up to them. They'll either be supportive, or see it as disloyalty (not sure if disloyalty is the right word).

I'm afraid that my growth would be hampered as I've shown "disloyalty"

What happens if there's an emergency at the start-up while you are supposed to be working for your current employer, who gets the priority?

You have created a conflict of interest, and identified yourself as a flight risk. You can't have everything. It's highly likely your employer will give others preferential treatment if you work for the start-up.

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  • I'm not sure this works out. It's completely different to ask for part time for personal reasons than for paid work. All companies I have worked for allowed, or at least had hr policies that enabled you to work part time, take extended leave for personal reasons including volunteering but all required that under no circumstances you take paid work. Dec 2, 2020 at 13:43
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    Depends on the OPs specific job, situation and contract. My view is, it's not the employers business to know what you do in your personal time, including running your own company, so long as you aren't breaking any contract / non-compete / IP terms.
    – flexi
    Dec 2, 2020 at 14:00
  • are you based in the US? I understand your view, I just think it's not the way employers see it that way in Europe. I think the answer he'll get if he follows your suggestion is yes it's possible, but as soon as he mentions paid work they'll say not possible (just the typical clauses I've read for HR policy in the EU. Dec 2, 2020 at 14:28
  • Sure, that's why I said it's up to the OP to judge whether to mention it, most employers wont be too happy about it, and may try to forbid it, even if the contract allows the OP to take a second job. So I wouldn't recommend sharing with the employer unless the OP is contractually required to get permission.
    – flexi
    Dec 2, 2020 at 17:18
  • I'm in the UK with a full-time tech job, and I also have my own company, so I get my contracts checked with a lawyer. So far I've been told there is nothing in the contract to prevent me from working another job in the same area, so long as I don't compete directly. Despite all the waffle about non-complete and IP. - Of course this is probably going to vary between contract and country.
    – flexi
    Dec 2, 2020 at 17:18
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I'm afraid bringing up the topic of a 50/50 arrangement with my current manager will be detrimental for the work relation, it might sound as if I'm trying to resign.

Yep, that's exactly what it sounds like. If this startup works out, and 50% of time you spend there will bring you 80% of the money, how long will you keep working the other 50% on the current job? I think the answer is "less than one year, probably just the notice period", and I believe your manager will have the same thoughts.

If you're good, you can go ahead and ask since replacing you prematurely will be a net loss even if the company is aware you're looking for a new job. If you're average, this discussion could trigger a hire hunt to eventually replace you.

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  • I'm not versed in Dutch labor law, but "could trigger a hire hunt to eventually replace you" sounds strange to me. Can this really happen to people who perform as expected and have a permanent contract? Dec 1, 2020 at 16:58
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    @SaaruLindestøkke are you saying that short of malfeasance it's impossible to replace an employee in the Netherlands? Employment is "employment for life"?
    – DaveG
    Dec 1, 2020 at 17:20
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    Am not a lawyer, but anecdotal evidence and the govt website makes it seem that is quite hard to be fired with a permanent contract. Things that can get you fired (I just looked it up on a govt website) include: reorganisation, low documented performance, calling in sick disruptingly often, misconduct and an irreparable labor relation. Dec 1, 2020 at 18:47
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    @SaaruLindestøkke Yes, this being the Netherlands, it's next to impossible to fire someone on a permanent contract unless they set the building on fire or something. That said, your employer can still make your job a miserable experience anyway.
    – TooTea
    Dec 2, 2020 at 9:59
  • @TooTea I'd wager one wouldn't even be fired for setting the building on fire, but for missing work too often without a doctor's note
    – Nacorid
    Dec 3, 2020 at 9:46
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I don't want to switch jobs entirely (and lose the certainty in times of COVID)

I do not know if you have legal provisions in the Dutch labour law for sabbatical leaves, but that could be one opportunity: to leave for some time (in France it is from I think 6 to 11 months) with the guarantee to be back at the same position (or a similar one).

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  • Interesting suggestion, thanks. I'm going to look through the company documents to see if something like that is feasible. Dec 1, 2020 at 21:04
  • @SaaruLindestøkke: also have a look at the labour law, in France it is part of it and therefore available without the need to be mentioned anywhere in "company documents"
    – WoJ
    Dec 1, 2020 at 21:09
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Recently I got an unofficial offer1 from a small startup operating in the same field as my current employer.

I'm surprised nobody mentioned it yet, so I will.

Typically employment with an organization comes with an agreement that prevents you from assisting a competitor. If this startup company is "in the same field" they may be a competitor.

Asking to stay employed while assisting a competitor is generally not going to happen. Competition is also loosely defined. Occasionally, "in the same field" may qualify as competition, depending upon the details.

If this startup is what you want to do, commit to it. If it's not a good enough opportunity to do so, commit to your current employer. Trying to balance between the two is giving your current employer less than what they planned for, to assist you growing the other company so they can then risk getting none of your time.

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  • The employers generally reserve the right to allow for work in the same industry. They may not be a competitor, or they might grant an allowance for <reasons>.
    – Malisbad
    Dec 2, 2020 at 7:05
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First the reasons to be optimistic. You mention in a comment that part-time does already exist at your organisation:

Part time people exist, but they often combine it with an academic career (professor, PhD student) not with another employer.

This means the employer is already at least somewhat set up to handle people working less than full time. That's a pretty major hurdle out of the way. That it's typically done alongside academic pursuits is less encouraging - academia is much less "threatening", it's not competeing with the company in any way, is likely to be a fairly stable arrangement and there's always the possibility of benefits from the academic side bleeding over to the work side. Even if just in prestige.

This isn't the same - if this startup takes off then presumably I assume you'll jump fully to it. More importantly the company will, nay, must assume the same. True enough that startup survival rates aren't high - and many of those that fail do so relatively soon after starting. You're trying to mitigate that risk and I understand that but what you're basically asking is whether your current employer will shoulder the risk instead, and unless you have a particular set of skills that make replacing you a nightmare for companies like them they aren't getting any benefit for doing so.

it might sound as if I'm trying to resign.

It doesn't sound as if you're trying to resign - it's worse, it sounds as though you want to use your current employer's benefits to alleviate the risks attached with work.

I'm afraid that my growth would be hampered as I've shown "disloyalty".

Probably yes - and not necessarily because they might react emotionally and be vindicitive about it. But from a purely pragmatic point of view you'll have demonstrated that you aren't seeing your current employer as your future career growth. There's nothing wrong with that and it doesn't make you a bad person, but you can't really expect their view of you not to change and for them to show you a level of investment that you aren't showing them. Even if somehow none of that comes into play you will damage your growth by only putting in half the time. In 12 months time your peers who didn't go 50/50 would have gained twice as much experience in the company, had twice as much opportunity to perform well and impress, twice the availability to take on key projects, and so on. Heck some things are going to be inaccessible to you because they need the person doing them to be there full time.

How can I bring this up with my manager without sounding "threatening" or "disloyal", but indicate that I'm just exploring possibilities to enrich my career?

There's nothing wrong with looking out for No.1 - heck I strongly agree you should be doing so. But there's no way to spin this that isn't "I'm looking to enrich my own career at your expense".

Does this mean you should just bin off the idea and that it can never work? Not at all, staying at a current employer part-time while you move on can work, but realistically it only works where the alternative is that you leave completely. You can't un-ring the bell and it's disingenuous to try.

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As the others have noted, bringing up the issue with your current employer will change your relationship and put the company on responsible defense (eg. hiring/training your replacement, distributing important stuff to your coworkers, giving promotions to others etc).

What you maybe could do, if you're interested enough, is take the the startup job as a part-time work / hobby, without informing your current employer. So you'd work your regular 8 hours at the current employer, and then in your free time work extra 4 hours (or less, if so negotiated) with the startup.

That would mean you'd be working extra hours, so your free time will plummet. However, if you're interested in this, it may be workable for 6 months to a year (especially if you now work remote due to COVID-19 and save time on commute), by which time you should know on which ship you want to stay and which one to leave.

If you'd rather not invest 2-4 hours of your free time every day for several months, then I'd suggest to skip the startup - if it is to succeed, it is likely all of its employees will need to make such sacrifices as working harder near the push etc.

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