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I work as a software engineer under direct supervision of a project manager. Since I became employed, the project manager started trusting me more and more and now there's a lot of trust between us.

One thing which surprised me about him was that he viewed the resignation of one of our colleagues as a form of betrayal. He portrayed him in a negative light after he resigned. He has the attitude that if someone comes in one day and says "I want to resign" and that person didn't decide to discuss the reasons for leaving prior to leaving, that's betrayal. I disagree and I was particularly surprised when he started portraying our former colleague in a negative light (he did this when we were alone, not in front of the entire team).

That being said, the project manager is a good guy overall. Although he has room to improve, I respect the fact that he trusts me and is generally good towards me and the team.

Recently, I began thinking about applying to other jobs. The reasons why I'm thinking about changing jobs include, but are not limited to, changing the technology I work in, higher salary and different company culture. Even though I want to leave the company, I'd like to leave the company on good terms, especially with my project manager.

In my mind, I have the following choices:

  1. Tell my project manager that I'll be potentially looking for new jobs. This seems like a bad option, because he seems like the kind of person who would then trust me less and also try to manage me more.
  2. While I'm interviewing for another job, tell that to my project manager. This seems bad for the same reason as in point 1.
  3. Apply to jobs and once I get an offer I like, hand in my resignation. This option is completely fair and honest from my point of view, but I think that my project manager will view this as a form of betrayal.

If I were to chose, I would chose option 3 and as I hand in the resignation, I would be honest and tell him: "Look, I think you're a good person overall, but I wouldn't take my resignation personally. The other company works with a new technology I want to work in and has an offer which I find more attractive at the moment. From your point of view this might seem like betrayal, but I think I've done my job correctly and ethically while I was working here and I hope we're parting on good terms."

My intuition tells me that my project manager will still portray me in a negative light to the coworkers that remain in the company, whatever I say or do, if I leave the company. That's something I can't affect. Ideally, I would wish that I leave the company on such good terms that I can come back there and work if something on the new job doesn't pan out, but I think that I will be burning bridges if I leave this company.

So, my question: How do I leave a company on good terms if my project manager views leaving the company as a form of betrayal?

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    Would your company or superior let you know in advance when they consider letting you go? There is your answer...
    – Namoshek
    Dec 11, 2021 at 9:10
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    Is your goal to leave on good terms with the company or leave on good terms with the project manager?
    – asgallant
    Dec 12, 2021 at 2:28
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    I'd like to know what you said in response to the bad-mouthing, and the "discuss the reasons for leaving prior to leaving"? Did you ask what your manager would do, had the leaving colleague done this? Almost all answers reject your #1 and #2, and with good reason. Have you asked your manager what he would have done, presented for #1 or #2? And have you told your manager that the leaving colleague had the reasons mentioned in the answers below, to exactly not do this? Dec 12, 2021 at 10:36
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    @Namoshek depends on the country I guess but "performance improvement plans" are exactly the company telling you they are thinking about letting you go. Legally required in the UK (for performance related issues) Dec 12, 2021 at 22:18
  • This is the reason for you and the company both signing a contract for your employment. If you follow that to the letter, you have done your part, and nobody should carry a grudge against you. Dec 13, 2021 at 23:10

11 Answers 11

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Apply to jobs and once I get an offer I like, hand in my resignation.

This is the only option that makes any sense.

This option is completely fair and honest from my point of view, but I think that my project manager will view this as a form of betrayal.

Everyone's entitled to their own opinion. If your project manager feels betrayed whenever anyone leaves for a better job, he's going to see a lot of betrayal in his career. Perhaps he'll learn better with a few more years of experience.

Don't let his off-base feelings deter you.

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  • “ Don't let his off-base feelings deter you.” - unless you need a glowing reference, of course…
    – Dai
    Dec 11, 2021 at 21:14
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    @Dai: Someone who views leaving the company as betrayal is never going to write a glowing recommendation for an employee who leaves the company.
    – Flater
    Dec 13, 2021 at 12:48
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    @cst1992: Project manager != manager. Unless one person is performing both roles, project managers are not the authoritative source on a developer's employment at the company.
    – Flater
    Dec 13, 2021 at 12:51
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    @cst1992 If the OP has already received a job offer from a new job, then they would not need a reference from the PM.
    – Graham
    Dec 13, 2021 at 14:09
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    "If your project manager feels betrayed whenever anyone leaves for a better job, he's going to see a lot of betrayal in his career." If you're REAL comfortable with them, you can even say this to them. This seems like one of those glass-shattering statements that someone like that needs to hear (though not necessarily from you).
    – John Doe
    Dec 13, 2021 at 17:12
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The most important question is: WHY do you want to leave on good terms with your project manager? Firstly, your project manager is not your manager, they are the manager of your project, not the manager of you. If the manager of your project is the manager of you, then you have other problems; it's generally not done this way because the manager of the project should not have hire/fire power over the engineers working on the project. Because your project manager is not your manager, they aren't actually overseeing you, so their reference or lack thereof is of minimal importance, so that's out the window as well.

The only rational explanation is that you like this person as a friend. Which is fine, of course, you can make friends at work. But if this person is your friend, and then once you do a single thing they don't like, they stab you in the back, were they really your friend to begin with? So, either this person is your friend, in which case, by definition, if you resign from the company, they won't badmouth you, or they will badmouth you when you resign, in which case they are not your friend. Either way, it's win-win for you; either you lose this person as a friend, which is fine, or you don't get badmouthed after you resign, which is also fine.

If this project manager is also your manager (which would be a strange company hierarchy but sometimes happens), the situation is only slightly different. The only difference is that this person may not write you a reference for your next job. Depending on your locale, this may or may not be important. Personally speaking, I have never gotten a reference letter from any previous jobs for any future ones, and I've worked out just fine, so it's not that important for me. If it's important for you, then perhaps you may want to ask your boss for a recommendation before you resign. If you have LinkedIn, this is easiest: "Hey boss, I'm just going around periodically to people who I know to get LinkedIn references; there's no particular reason but could you put one on my profile?" People do this all the time, so it's not (or shouldn't) be out of the ordinary. Asking for a full reference letter might ring some alarm bells, but a simple LinkedIn reference probably won't.

As for when and how to resign: Never even indicate you are resigning until you are ready to hand in your resignation. There's the old saying "you can't fire me, I quit!", but that also works in reverse: "you can't quit, you're fired!", and that happens more often than you might think. You don't want to put yourself in that position where you hint that you might be quitting and then the company fires you before you've found a new job. First you find a new job, then you quit, in that order. If someone doesn't like that, then too bad for them. If they won't give you a reference or unfriend you on LI or social media, whatever, you didn't need that person anyway. If they start badmouthing you around your former company, well, that's why it's a former company anyway, right? You'll never see or hear from any of those people again.

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  • OP says "under the direct supervision of a project manager". I'm not a fan of it, but it's not that uncommon, especially if it's not a dedicated software org.
    – Adam Burke
    Dec 13, 2021 at 3:29
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    Re references, a manager will almost always consult people who oversaw your work when it comes to deciding on a reference, and may even ask them to write that part of the reference. So it makes sense to leave on good terms with everyone. Also it's not at all uncommon to meet people again, further down the line - and if they're in the position of making the hire-or-fire decision at that point then you don't want to have burned bridges in the past. (Assuming you can work with them again, of course; I have some ex-managers who I'd nope out of the process if they were there!)
    – Graham
    Dec 13, 2021 at 10:36
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You seem like a pretty smart person, but you're totally overthinking this. You had a colleague who took another job. The colleague has no way of controlling the conversations by people (including your manager) who are still at the company. There's a high chance that your colleague wouldn't care, either.

Your project manager is frustrated by the unexpected change of staff members, and instead of blowing off some steam in a healthy fashion, there's badmouthing going on. Do you think your project manager has never changed jobs? Do you think he's one bit concerned with what others might have said when he left?

Right.

The correct thing to do is to find a new job, get a written offer, and turn in your resignation. But until you have secured another job, keep your intentions to yourself. Leaving on 'good terms' simply means you don't curse out your manager on the last day, or set the building on fire, or similar. As for being upset if you leave, the manager has no choice but to get over it. And he will. There's no situation in the world where everyone you deal with will ever be 100% pleased with what you do, and the sooner this sinks in your brain and you don't live in fear of disappointing others, the happier your life will be!

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  • I'd include a couple of other things in the "good terms" list (such as not compromising any projects/tasks when you can help it, i.e. by not taking up important projects you know you won't be able to finish/transfer before you departure). But it's all common sense and your ability to do so is limited (especially depending on the country/terms).
    – Dan M.
    Dec 13, 2021 at 13:36
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Tell my project manager that I'll be potentially looking for new jobs.

No, do not tell him that.

While I'm interviewing for another job, tell that to my project manager.

No, do not do that.

Apply to jobs and once I get an offer I like, hand in my resignation.

Correct.

Ideally, I would wish that I leave the company on such good terms that I can come back there and work if something on the new job doesn't pan out

This is where risk-vs-reward comes into play. You're risking your current position for a different. The risk is you won't like the new job, but the reward is you get a better job.

How do I leave a company on good terms if my project manager views leaving the company as a form of betrayal?

It sounds to me like when you say "good terms" you want to say you want to come back to the place. This is a very, very bad idea for many reasons. Off the top of my head I can think of these:

  1. You risk being stuck in your current position by coming back. You're basically saying, "There's nothing better out there than this."
  2. You risk your mental health because your boss can then tell you that you won't find anywhere else as good as this and you'll believe it because you just tried to get a new job and failed.
  3. You risk never growing as a person in your field. The risk is higher when the company you work at lays you off or close down. You're essentially stuck with whatever sort of things they done at that place.
  4. It's harder to find a new job the longer you stay at a place. You become comfortable and accustom to where you are and it's harder to convince yourself you need to leave even though you know that is true.

There are always risk-vs-reward when moving position. This is your first job, it sounds like, and in my personal experience, it's the hardest to let go of. But trust me, once you do, you'll find yourself way, way better off. You just need to be smart about how you move about and don't ever feel obligated to your current employer. They will not hesitate the get rid of you if the roles were reversed.

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    4. is so true and is exactly what's happening with OP. Trust, loyalty don't exist.
    – Alexis
    Dec 12, 2021 at 11:51
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None of the previous answers seems to address this:

and that person didn't decide to discuss the reasons for leaving prior to leaving

So just do that. Without talking about any job search stuff, tell him you yearn for

changing the technology I work in, higher salary and different company culture

(Ok, the culture part will be difficult.)

Either way, he can try to fix the first two points. If he does, nice for you. If he does not, look for another job, then hand in your resignation as usual. If your manager is reasonable, he has to recognize that you did ask him to fix your reasons for leaving.

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  • Describing your reasons for leaving after you have a signed offer from someone else is OK. Doing it before that is dangerous, particularly with someone who considers leaving a "betrayal". Dec 14, 2021 at 17:07
  • @StephenG My impression was that only leaving without a previous discussion was considered betrayal by this manager. Of course it is unclear if this is really true. But either way, a tactful and diplomatic discussion about the desires of the employee should always be possible - if it were not, it's hard to imagine anyone would want to work there. One would, of course, not say "Do this or I will leave!".
    – mafu
    Dec 15, 2021 at 9:48
  • The bad-mouthing a recently left junior to another junior is pretty bad behavior (regrettably not uncommon enough) is apparently enough to make the OP (who knows the PM) anxious enough to post here. That should not happen with a good PM. I see all the signs of a terrible person, never mind bad manager. No manager is entitled to think their staff owe them loyalty. If you want loyalty you earn it, not by badmouthing people, but by being pragmatic and polite and constructive. No sign of that here IMO. Dec 15, 2021 at 14:33
  • @StephenG That was my impression, too. This answer only addresses 'compliance' - I'm not sure if it will work out, fair chance it won't. But then again, it does not make a difference at that point anyway.
    – mafu
    Dec 15, 2021 at 23:24
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I think the other answers are missing the point somewhat. If I read it right, you like and respect your project manager. You want him to continue to like and respect you even after you leave the position.

Find a new position and have a written offer in hand. If you would consider staying with the current company then maybe you can get some of what you want. Inform them you have a new offer but be open to a discussion and counter offer. Maybe you can get a raise and stay for example. Be fully prepared to take the other offer if the discussion is not fruitful.

You may lose a friend and mentor. This has happened several times to me and left me guilt ridden each time. My career has always prospered however which is the point after all.

Try not to wrap your self worth up in a particular job. Be dedicated to company goals and open to work friendships but keep perspective. You are not your job and your colleagues are not your family. People changed jobs and that’s ok.

Make the best decision for your career, be comfortable with the consequences and confident in your future

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    I down voted because the day he mentions he has an offer, it's over for him. He will never get a raise and stay. Never ask for a raise, change job. Tell your current gf/bg you have a potential new bf/gf, you'll see how it'll end.
    – Alexis
    Dec 12, 2021 at 11:53
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    You might be surprised @Alexis, I’ve gotten multiple counter offers in my career. Never my love life though :) Dec 12, 2021 at 13:19
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    @MatthewFisher: Counteroffers are always given with the knowledge that you're someone who is looking for better opportunities and "can't be trusted to stay", and are often just a mitigation while they look for someone to replace you. This is especially going to be the case in a toxic environment like OP is talking about (where leaving is seen as "betrayal"). Dec 12, 2021 at 13:49
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    I've found the counter offer card to be effective, but can only be used once per company and with caution. The last time I used it was at a company I remained at for several years afterwards, and it never halted my progression.
    – Jon P
    Dec 13, 2021 at 1:22
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It sounds to me like the PM was upset that the employee didn't discuss reasons for leaving before leaving.

My suggestion is to discuss with your boss what you'd like to get from work. This good advice, whether you want to pave the way to go to a new company or just improve your current company.

If the company cannot accommodate your desires, and if you highlight those desires when you do resign, the PM can't say that you didn't discuss it first.

You said that you'd like:

  • A higher salary
  • An opportunity to work with a different technology
  • A different company culture

Consider having a chat with your boss about:

  • Getting a raise to adjust to the current market conditions
  • Opportunities inside the company to work with the technology you want to learn
  • The possibility to change a bit of the company culture that bothers you

There is classical advice to "try to change your company, before you change your company". This gives the company an opportunity to improve, before you seek new employment.

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Why going should be a good, guilt free idea.

One thing which surprised me about him was that he viewed the resignation of one of our colleagues as a form of betrayal.

That's a narcissistic viewpoint. Your PM views the world as centered on their needs, nothing else. In that world view everyone else should prioritize the PM's feelings and needs, not their own.

Working for or with people like this always results in down sides.

He portrayed him in a negative light after he resigned. He has the attitude that if someone comes in one day and says "I want to resign" and that person didn't decide to discuss the reasons for leaving prior to leaving, that's betrayal.

Again other people's views don't matter to your PM, only their own.

Of course people have many reasons to leave any (or all) of which are, by definition, personal reasons. They owe no explanation to anyone.

A company will give you no sympathy at all if they decide to lay you off for whatever reason they decide to - e.g. share price falls because CEO and board screw up - lay of staff. They're not sentimental, don't think you have to be.

I disagree and I was particularly surprised when he started portraying our former colleague in a negative light (he did this when we were alone, not in front of the entire team).

He should not be saying anything at all. Someone left, it happens all the time and a good manager or PM should always be ready to deal with that like an adult. Bad-mouthing a former junior is just very poor behavior. A more responsible manager would be trying to identify the reasons for the person leaving, including whatever failings their own management style caused.

That being said, the project manager is a good guy overall.

Rethink that.

Good guys don't think "betrayal" and don't bad-mouth people when they're not there to defend themselves.

Consider that if he's doing this with you, what does he say to other people and higher-ups about the rest of his team when you're not aware. This person is not someone to trust - quite the opposite.

Although he has room to improve, I respect the fact that he trusts me and is generally good towards me and the team.

Until he feels "betrayed". Then it's bad-mouth all the way. If he needs someone to blame for a project failure, will he take the blame or try and shift it to someone else ? Based on your description I'd expect him to try blame everyone else (below him).

Leaving is your right. You owe no explanation beyond "I feel it's time to move on". Don't feel any guilt about this, it's just business.

In fact, feel good about it - you're likely getting away from an untrustworthy PM who says one thing to people's faces and another behind their backs.

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Many good answers, I'd like to offer a different perspective.

I have been in the exact same position. I agree, there is no upside to burning bridges if avoidable.

One card to play is "personal reasons". Almost anything can happen for personal reasons. Don't go into details either, say something very complex is happening in your life, you're going and it's final. If you can, avoid any detail at all, if really pressed against the wall, think of something the new job can give you that the current one can't. Completely different location ("for personal reasons I have no choice but to move to Timbuktu/across the country" etc.) Working nights? Working flexibly? Take holidays with retrospective notice? 60 days' holiday a year? This can be countered with "oh I could give you flexible terms", to which you could say "I know this company doesn't work like this, I don't want to be an exception, I want to be an integral part of the team, or out".

Even quite narcissistic people with an outsized sensitivity to offence can't really argue with an implication of family sickness, etc. Personal reasons are also perfectly acceptable to keep to yourself. And if they don't flinch even at that, then you're just out of luck, there's no pleasing some people.

Is this deceptive? Well, it's only a response to underhand emotional blackmail. Also, if that makes it better, ultimately everything is personal - perhaps you personally like having more money - so if you don't go into detail, it's superficially true.

As the other answers say, do not discuss leaving ahead of time, get an offer, sign a contract, then tell your boss you're leaving, it's purely personal, you love the company, but you're going and it's final.

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I think there's one key part here, which other answers haven't really covered.

He has the attitude that if someone comes in one day and says "I want to resign" and that person didn't decide to discuss the reasons for leaving prior to leaving, that's betrayal.

Your manager may really care about the people working for him, so if they're unhappy about salary or want to change their role, he'd expect to go in and fight your corner with senior management. At least for salary, that's something he has some control over. Whether you can move into other technologies would depend on your company, but if it's something in scope for your company then that's also worth asking. If you don't ask, you don't get; and maybe it's something he could have fixed for you.

Also it depends on the discussion. If the person leaving just stonewalls about everything, that's not really constructive. If you have a rather different role lined up, especially if it's something which couldn't be done where you are, your manager is likely to wish you well and completely understand it. You don't need to go into the negatives of where you currently are, but certainly you can talk up the positives of the new place which are different from your current place.

And give plenty of notice. Unless the new place really needs you urgently, give your old place at least 4 weeks notice. That's not enough time to hire a new person, but it's enough time to manage a safe handover of all your work so that there isn't knowledge lost. As a courtesy it's also good to give them your phone number and say they can call you for any small bits and pieces that have been missed. It's not uncommon to forget to hand out passwords or unlock codes, after all. Just generally try to treat your manager with courtesy, and they're less likely to bad-mouth you later.

Assuming they deserve it, of course! But it sounds like your guy does.

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As a general rule of thumb, never, ever, ever say anything to anyone at your current company about your intention of finding a new job until you have a signed contract from a new company, so that you can be sure that they will actually hire you.

Warning your current employer at the start of a job search, instead of at the end, is dangerous for you for many reasons.

What if, for example, your job search takes way longer than you were expecting, and you already told your manager that you intend to quit? If they are, as you said, prone to taking it personally when someone quits, they will probably try to make your life worse for your remaining time there. And what if, instead of the couple of months you anticipated, finding the perfect new position for you takes 6 months, or more?

Handing in your resignation only when you have accepted another offer is the only way to protect yourself from these kind of behaviours, or at the very least, make the "unpleasant" part of your stay at your current company as short as possible (that is to say, your notice periods).

Notice periods are meant for that. To give your company enough time to prepare for an employee leaving. Your company, and your project manager, aren't entitled to even a single day more than what your contract states.

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