69

The context

1 year ago, after a Master's degree I had my first real web developer job in a great startup (~50 people) along two other juniors, we all were trained and were given a lot of resources (time to work on side projects, daily meetings & any resource we asked for) which I am very grateful for.

I always have been pretty autonomous but thanks to them I'm a much better developer.

For ~8 months we were all in remote.

The problem

Today they want all of us to go back onsite which I don't find necessary, my question is: would be it very unethical for me to leave/threaten to leave right now for full remote?

The details

They basically trained me and now that I'm a bit productive I'm threatening them to leave if they don't offer something full remote, in my mind it seems very unfair but objectively I know I can find a full remote job, it would make my life so much easier but I would lose a great environment. Also I live far from my workplace and I already asked my manager for that, but he didn't offer any solution.

10
  • 45
    Business is business. Ethical has nothing to do with it (well, unless your job is manufacturing Vx gas or facial recognition)
    – Jeffrey
    Jun 2 at 2:49
  • 46
    A lot of people are quitting over remote working. It's only a matter of time before it actually becomes mainstream. If you can't wait and really want remote work, ask for it, and if refused, be part of those who apply pressure by leaving (it's not a bad thing).
    – Someone
    Jun 2 at 7:12
  • 24
    What you should probably be contemplating is not whether to ask whether you can work remotely, but rather how to ask them. You need to ask in a way that makes it clear it's important enough to you that you'll probably leave soon if you don't get it, but without actual threatening to leave or mentioning leaving at all. Jun 2 at 9:06
  • 5
    @Trueman "they train and give a great environment for some loyalty." In my experience, loyalty is a concept you might have when you start your career, but quickly find it only goes one way. The correct quote should have been "they train and give a great environment for some deliverables." Nothing more.
    – Gabriel
    Jun 2 at 12:38
  • 16
    Its not unethical, but it may not be smart. RIght now, nobody really knows how to train juniors remote. Many companies have stopped hiring juniors as a result. There's a lot of advantages, especially for a junior, to being on site and surrounded by potential help and mentors. Going fully remote may hinder your growth compared to those who don't. Jun 2 at 15:50
254

As a junior is it unethical to leave after 1 year for remote?

Threatening to leave will not get you anything other than possibly being let go from your company before you have a replacement job.

If you want to work 100% remote at your current company then ask if you can do that. Don't mention anything about potentially leaving. The worst that they can do is say "no".

If they do say no, then simply search for a new job that is 100% remote and once you have accepted and signed an offer you put in your notice with your current company. There is nothing unethical about pursuing better opportunities for yourself in your career, even if it is after one year of work. The situation at your current company has changed and is not in your favor, so you have every right to seek a better working situation.

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  • 59
    When bosses say to do something, the professional response is to negotiate. Professional bosses should understand this is how businesses work. Any employer that threatens employees is very unprofessional and they can be sued depending on how stupid they act. In fact, if you want a higher raise, you negotiate. You do not threaten to leave.
    – Nelson
    Jun 2 at 2:38
  • 10
    @Nelson: So what exactly is the difference between letting your employer know that remote work is very important to you, and "threatening"?
    – jamesqf
    Jun 2 at 4:38
  • 39
    A threat is confrontational, and is a win-lose proposition, while negotiation, if done properly, is a win-win proposition. Improper negotiation can turn into win-lose, but they end up being closer to a threat than real negotiation. The business courses I took cover different types of negotiations and it is critical engineers and developer learn this, because the negotiation skills will give them much better salary and methods of tackling non-technical problems at work.
    – Nelson
    Jun 2 at 6:39
  • 6
    @jamesqf You suggest alternatives. You provide facts and data on what is being gained and what is being lost. You try to figure out what business motivation your employer has for enforcing in-office work. You figure out if the employer can accommodate the different needs of their employees. You gauge and make continuous evaluation on the receptiveness of your employer. A threat don't care about any of that, and it is a relatively unproductive method of negotiation.
    – Nelson
    Jun 2 at 6:42
  • 14
    If it's not obvious, proper negotiation is work, while a threat is closer to an emotional outburst. When I disagree with my wife, sometimes I make the mistake of threatening her (not physically, but something like refusing to do something or trying to bring up past mistakes). I have a 100% failure rate when I threaten my wife, so I think it's safe to say it probably won't work with your employer either. I have significantly more successes talking to her and negotiating like a proper adult.
    – Nelson
    Jun 2 at 6:50
48

would be it very unethical for me to leave/threaten to leave right now for full remote?

It's not unethical to decide you want another job. Especially as a junior it's expected you may have a few short stays as you find the job that's right for you.

I'm threatening them to leave if they don't offer something full remote

This isn't unethical either - just stupid. You're essentially holding yourself hostage, which gives you zero negotiating power. This is more likely to get you fired than get you the full remote you want.

Start looking for a full-remote job now. Turn in notice when the ink is dry on your new employment contract

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  • 5
    Right. The last thing OP should do as a junior is destroy what would otherwise be a good job reference. When you're senior level, it's way less of a big deal to toss a potential reference. Still it's not something you do intentionally.
    – HenryM
    Jun 2 at 12:56
  • 5
    If you have a job you like and is good for your career progress etc - but there's one relatively small aspect that you don't like, you don't immediately (and in bold!) look for another job. Before that you talk to your current employer about your situation. They (probably) don't want to lose you after their investment, so it's in their best interest to come to a compromise. But don't take your leaving off the table.
    – freedomn-m
    Jun 2 at 16:35
  • @HenryM "what would otherwise be" their only professional "job reference"
    – 8protons
    Jun 3 at 16:19
26

Never be fooled by a company that gives out a few candy bars as a benefit.

Every single thing they do is for the massive benefit of the corporation.

Programmers leave constantly and ubiquitously, it's a non issue. As is said often on this site "30 seconds after you leave, nobody will remember your name."

If you want to change jobs, do it.

You never owe any loyalty to a company. Companies exist to make vast wealth for a few, based on paying a few pennies to the actual workers.

Be aware that if they happened to want to sack you for any reason (bankruptcy, save a few pennies, whatever) you'd just get a form email from a HR outsourcing company and that would be that.

It's not possible to treat a company "morally", it would be like looking for a "moral" aspect in the weather.

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  • 9
    It's funny you say that because they literally bought a full load of candy bars for the office :D. Sometimes it's hard to realize your manager/mentor is not your friend and can fire you like that (especially when it never happened to you).
    – Trueman
    Jun 1 at 18:36
  • 48
    @Fattie Well, yeah, you know, most companies are not unicorns, actually. And most founders will never make $200 million. So it seems to me like you are raging over some very hypothetical situation. Also, companies are actually run by people, not by the invisible hand of free market, and not all they want is profit above all. I don't think "be as cynical as you can" is a valid answer to a question about ethics.
    – Frax
    Jun 2 at 8:10
  • 5
    @Fattie A 50 person web shop is not trading on the NASDAQ for a quarter billion dollars. This is barely more than a mom-and-pop operation.
    – J...
    Jun 2 at 11:16
  • 9
    @Fattie Sure, but this is a 50 person web shop. They offer a basic consumable service and exist in their dozens in every city. I think you grossly overestimate the scale of such an operation, and the financial successes of the owners of such an operation. I know a few people who run businesses of this size and they're just normal people - yes, they make more money than the employees, but we're talking six-figure territory, not hundred million dollar bonuses. These are not IPO hopefuls - building websites is generally a grind to the bottom, and nobody is going to corner that market.
    – J...
    Jun 2 at 11:56
  • 17
    This is just a rant against capitalism. I've worked for plenty of great companies that were happy to pay me a fair salary. Yes, if they're doing things correctly, they'll earn more money from my work than they pay me in salary. But they're the ones taking the risk, fronting the capital, finding the clients, etc. I have no interest in doing that myself so I consider this a very fair trade.
    – egherrmann
    Jun 2 at 14:38
15

You are extremely lucky to have found a first job where your employers are willing to spend time and money training you well. This will put you in good stead for the rest of your career. Personally, I feel like you owe them something, but at the same time, they are a business and have presumably done the calculation that training juniors is worth it even if some leave earlier than they'd like. A bigger issue for you is that you wont necessarily find the same nurturing environment in your next job. In fact, you probably wont. You may well find yourself stuck in a high stress job where your employers don't care one jot about developing your skills - So weigh your options carefully.

1
  • This is a really good point. One reason I've been with my employer since 2013 is the level of freedom and resources. I get to pick the tools that I use for a given project and they encourage my professional development. Although we've gone full-time remote, which I absolutely love, so I'm not sure what OP should do. Jun 18 at 15:04
13

Leaving an employer is never, and can never be unethical. There can be no reason, no way, no theoretical concept which can make it so.

If there were a case in which leaving would be unethical, then that would be slavery - which would be unethical itself.

Leaving is the one choice and action any employee has which does never require the approval of the employer. You never discuss it with the employer, you never threaten with it. It is simply at your disposal - the final action that ends the relationship with your employer.

If your employer forgot to make provisions for this case, it's their own fault. Normally, this would be handled somewhat like this:

  • Say the employer funds a very expensive training for you. It would then be fine (and, in my experience, also quite usual) if you make a contract beforehand that says that if you leave within 1 year of the training, you are required to pay back part of the cost.
  • If your employer allows you to spend plenty of time on side projects or developing the skills, then he is required to calculate these "opportunity costs" (i.e., your time not generating money for the employer) in the everyday business. These things are part and parcel of the overall work structure. You could, instead of quitting, simply become ill or die - in both cases it's the employers task to make sure that this would not somehow lead to losses, simply because before your demise you had 20% time to learn stuff...
  • If your employer wants to give you a bonus payment for our good work, this needs to be in such a way that it is for your past good work. I.e., you brought benefit to the company, you are getting the bonus, but the bonus is payed by the benefit you brought. That is, you have no further obligations through this bonus.
  • If the employer wants to make sure that you do not leave and go directly to the competition, he has to add a non-competition clause to your contract; you have to agree to it (and know of it, of course) right from the beginning. This may or may not be legal in your country, but it is what it is.

And so on.

TLDR: You never need to feel obligated because the employer was "nice". You of course need to fulfill any contracts you signed, and consider the workplace laws and so on. The concept of "ethics" does not come in for your decision to leave.

1
  • 3
    I'd love for there to be a canonical "Is it OK to quit" question with this as one of the answers.
    – BSMP
    Jun 2 at 18:30
6

The ethics of employment:

You are loyal to your company as long as they pay you and treat you decently. When you quit, they stop paying, so you don't have to be loyal anymore. If they behaved decently, you behave decently after quitting.

On the other hand, the company pays you as long as you work for them, and ought to treat you decently. If you quit, or you are laid off, they stop paying.

That's it. So there is no ethical problem about quitting. They are a company, which means they should behave like grown-ups, and they have to consider the possibility of employees quitting in their planning.

Since you worked from home for eight months without problems, and I assume it is much more convenient for you, they are changing the employment deal very much to your disadvantage. That is a situation where it is unethical if you don't consider what is best for you. If quitting after finding a job with a company that lets you work remotely is better for you, then do it.

Now about "threatening" that you leave: You don't threaten. You can have a talk with your manager and explain that working at the office is a substantial downside for you, and probably a very small upside for the company, that you would very much prefer working from home, and that you might start looking for a position that allows you to work remotely, if there is one. There's always the possibility that they change their mind, especially if you are not the only one saying this (and you won't be). If they force you to come to the office, you might give them notice one day and leave 14 days later, but you don't threaten.

4

Throughout your career, developer is a learning position. You will constantly have to spend a large portion of your time learning new things, because the field is in a constant state of advancement. What is current today is obsolete tomorrow.

Smart companies understand this, and factor continual professional development into their approach. If they don't they can't attract and retain talent. However, the provision of professional development does not create an obligation to the developer to stay. After all, the same company is also going to benefit from developers that some other company trained.

Most companies pay junior developers considerably less, knowing that a particularly large percentage of their time is spent in learning, and that they have high turnover. If a company has not taken this into account, that is their problem, not yours. Your ethical obligation is to do your best work to the best of your ability at any given time.

-14

Yes, it's unethical. You're hurting other people who might want to become software engineers in the future.

The company spent money training you, in the expectation you would stay and earn the company more money. You now want to leave, before they're able to recoup the value of their investment in you.

This will result in the company being more hesitant to hire junior software engineers in the future. When this happens often enough, it becomes almost impossible for a new software engineer to find work once this happens to a large enough portion of the companies in an area. They become terrified of turnover and wasting money on training on employees who leave, so they refuse to hire anyone who's unable to hit the ground running.

I've personally spent years fruitlessly looking for work because of the actions of people who have done things like the thing the OP is proposing. Yes, it is unethical, without a question.

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  • 2
    Also I learned today that a few years ago the turnover where I am was extremely high due to a previous leader putting a lot of pressure/stress to the employees. It seems the current, pleasant work environment is a living proof that forcing changes by leaving can actually improve things while you're claiming it will degrade things. I think both routes are very plausible but it's more the responsibility of CEOs and managers. After some thoughts it simply seems it is ethical to leave if I explain my reasons so the manager will make sure to screen future candidates that prefer in-office work.
    – Trueman
    Jun 2 at 17:34
  • 3
    ahh... no. You have no obligation to anyone else. Jun 2 at 20:44
  • 5
    Hahahahahahah. This is a hilarious parody of an answer. nice work.
    – user428517
    Jun 3 at 18:18
  • 3
    "Why are these employees so fickle, with no loyalty to the business" said the CEO, shaking their head as they return to a planning session re: the outsourcing of 10,000 jobs oversees (to raise the stock price by a couple pennies). Give me a break, at-will employment is a thing because of lobbying by rich corporations, not because the average worker wants the ability to quit at any time. Never mind that there is absolutely zero evidence to support the actual claims made by this answer -- it's wrong both philosophically AND on the merits.
    – eps
    Jun 3 at 23:59
  • 3
    You keep referring to the tragedy of the commons but that is totally irrelevant because an employer is not an "open access and unregulated resource" - it is in fact the complete opposite because access to it is controlled by supply and demand. You can't apply random but vaguely correct sounding economic principles to unrelated cases to prove your point - that is known as a straw man argument. Jun 4 at 8:22

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