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I recently accepted a job offer from a startup but declined their request to start immediately after leaving my previous job because I needed some downtime. Currently, I am on a break. However, despite being on vacation, the new employer keeps emailing me and expecting prompt responses. They want me to set up a work email, review work-related documents, attend meetings with bosses, and participate in company events. Although they invited me to a Slack workspace, I deliberately ignored it as I am unable to respond during my holidays. Unfortunately, my teammates have already started sending me messages and mentioning me as if I'm already working there. Last week, due to being busy, I couldn't reply to them for two business days, and now they are following up and asking when was my last day at my previous job.

Despite still having 10 days until my official start date, I am unable to relax and feeling anxious. It seems like they are crossing boundaries, and if I allow this behavior to continue, I fear I will have to prioritize work over my personal life and family until I burn out. Before offering me the position, the hiring manager expressed concern about my level of enthusiasm for their vision and wanted assurance that I am truly committed to working hard to achieve it. Although my previous job was also at a startup, where I was accustomed to long hours and chaotic situations, I believe the demands being placed on me now are excessive, and it is starting to raise major red flags.

Moreover, I have already compromised on salary and work style for this opportunity, and now I am beginning to question the fairness of this arrangement. Given these circumstances, I am starting to wonder if it's best for me to reconsider and potentially walk away from this opportunity.

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10 Answers 10

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What you've described is a relatively common experience in startups, especially the ones with less rigid work/life balance expectations.

That doesn't mean the work doesn't respect those limits, it may, but those types of environments require you to stand up for yourself, and what's essential for you. Whether it's a good or bad place to work at depends on how they react to the pushback, the correct response is to embrace it while doubling down is obviously a very dangerous sign.

Moreover, I have already compromised on salary and work style for this opportunity, and now I am beginning to question the fairness of this arrangement. Given these circumstances, I am starting to wonder if it's best for me to reconsider and potentially walk away from this opportunity.

Based on the above, there's very easy way to see if it's a good fit - respond directly to your boss/manager/force-to-be that you do not plan to do any work until your start date, and would appreciate setting expectations around that with the team. What will be the response should give you all the information you need to make an informed decision on whether to continue or pursue other opportunities.

The silver lining here is that you've run into this cultural clash very early, and can exit with minimal damage to either side if that's not going to work out for you.

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    Such a great answer that I will delete my own Jun 7, 2023 at 10:29
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    > That doesn't mean the work doesn't respect those limits Yes it does? It's literally violating the limits. Jun 8, 2023 at 4:51
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    > It's literally violating the limits They don't know yet where OP's limits are, so they are probing to establish that. As posted in the answer, startups often have a different work/life integration; therefore some empolyees might consider it acceptable to start the onboarding process before the official first work day. OP can tell them that this crosses a line, and learn from the response.
    – dobiwan
    Jun 8, 2023 at 11:33
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    Echoing @dobiwan: The startup I work at is like this and respects limits for those that set them, and happily make out-of-hours requests of those that don't. Mostly they don't see rules, and tolerate various ways of working which leads to very un-even application of standards, because they're essentially unconsciously negotiated per-person by a probing process. Luckily most staff here have enough life experience to set boundaries. Though there have been a couple of burnouts over the years and plenty that left because they don't like that environment.
    – coagmano
    Jun 9, 2023 at 2:41
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    @dobiwan setup some things and send some emails can be considered probing, asking to attend meetings and company events is simply illegal in many countries, in my country it is undeclared labor. The to-be employee is also not covered in case of problems
    – Kaddath
    Jun 9, 2023 at 8:42
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This may simply be their standard requests when onboarding someone, sent out automatically by someone who isn't aware that you're not starting immediately.

I'd suggest contacting them and saying explicitly "Thanks for the list of expectations; I'll take care of those immediately upon starting work on the 19th" (or whatever your actual start date is). Then you can file them until then with confidence that folks won't feel they're being ignored.

If you get pushback in that, then you can worry about boundaries being crossed... Though as folks have said, startups often expect employees to be enthusiastic overachievers, so I wouldn't be surprised if you got a request to at least start listening to get a feel for what's going on and where you'll fit in.

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    This doesn't seem to describe the way their teammates are acting as if they're already onboard. That hardly seems to be "standard requests".
    – Barmar
    Jun 7, 2023 at 21:39
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    If they aren't used to delayed start, this DOES seem to me like stuff they'd automatically forward as soon as they knew someone was being onboarded. Alternative is to bombard the new hire with it all on the first day. As long as you understand what management expects (as opposed to what teammates expect) and that's reasonable, that's all that matters.
    – keshlam
    Jun 7, 2023 at 22:05
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    Yeah, it seems like there has been communication error with the team. "We've hired so-and-so" and they think he's already on board.
    – Barmar
    Jun 7, 2023 at 22:06
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I have seen this before. Sometimes management has a requirement that you don't know about. They may have told their boss that the position will be filled, by a specific date. They may have told a customer or investor that a position will be filled by a certain date.

If this is the case a couple of emails from you using the corporate email address will allow them to meet the goal. Of course it would be nice to know that. You would then have to decide if you are comfortable participating in that attempt to deceive.

Having a non-employee participate in these types of activities is a danger for the company. You may have access to things before the NDA is in place. You may do something that harm, while not being covered by the corporate insurance. Having you perform work, without being paid, can bring legal problems.

Only you can determine if this is due to one person not understanding boundaries, or if this is the way it will be throughout the company.

Last week, due to being busy, I couldn't reply to them for two business days, and now they are following up and asking when was my last day at my previous job.

Asking about your last day is a legitimate question when determining your start date. After that has been determined, there is no reason to inquire again. It certainly isn't supposed to be used to judge your level of commitment to the new company.

You haven't started with the new company, and you have concerns, therefore don't shutdown the job search because you might need to jump quickly.

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  • Sounds like they're asking about the last day with the last job well after having agreed upon the start date. (But +1 for calling out the possibility that someone within the company might have deliberately misrepresented when you start.)
    – mtraceur
    Jun 10, 2023 at 19:35
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+200

TL;DR Decide on your boundaries. Clearly communicate your expectations based on those boundaries. This clarity sets you up for decreased anxiety and increased certainty as you make decisions about your next steps.


It seems like they are crossing boundaries, and if I allow this behavior to continue, I fear I will have to prioritize work over my personal life and family until I burn out.

I have already compromised on salary and work style for this opportunity .... Given these circumstances, I am starting to wonder if it's best for me to reconsider [this] opportunity.

While the compromises you've already made can increase feelings of uncertainty about this opportunity, it's difficult to move from "starting to wonder" to a concrete decision without first solidifying your expectations and boundaries. Additionally, if you aren't clear on your boundaries and sticking to those boundaries (allowing the behavior to continue), your new employer can't understand and respect your boundaries.

A few of the possible boundaries suggested by the question:

  • Are you willing to complete onboarding tasks prior to your start date? If not, email your hiring manager with "I look forward to completing all the onboarding and set up tasks after I start on [date]. Is there anyone else I need to inform so additional requests are sent only after my start date?" This still communicates enthusiasm while establishing a clear boundary. Alternatively, you can ask that all requests are sent only to your work email. (In all four startups I've worked for, the company could create this account and send emails to it before I started and set up my access to that email. This can also protect the employer by keeping possibly private or sensitive information contained within company systems.)
  • Are you willing to work before your start date? Meetings, interacting on Slack, and reviewing documents beyond possibly an IP agreement or NDA are work, not onboarding tasks. In some startups, these requests are holdovers from the early, informal days of the company depending on how the company formed. It hasn't changed because no one has challenged it. Similar to the previous point, this can be addressed with a polite, concise email to your hiring manager, especially in response to a request to do work: "I am excited to complete this--and all other requested work--after I begin work on [date]."
  • Are you willing to work while on vacation/PTO? Unlike working before a start date, vacations are usually paid time (the 'PT' in 'PTO'). This may be a boundary or expectation to address with your manager between your start date and the first vacation or time off you take. In my experience, my teams & managers have respected my boundaries better when I treat all planned time off the same way; they don't need to know whether the time away is for a vacation, volunteering, family commitment, appointments, or something else. (Unplanned time off like a sick day or family emergency can not always be treated the same way.)
  • What personal information are you willing to share with your employer/coworkers? Just because they ask a question doesn't mean they have a right to know. I've often encountered broad or personal questions because the employer or recruiter prefers more information or because they didn't realize the question was personal. In your case, they probably don't have a right to know when the last day of your previous job was (except establishing that it was prior to the start date of this job, but that should have been covered when the start date was set). I've also been asked about my previous salary (which is not a required factor to determine this salary) and my family composition (as it related to insurance coverage, but the person asking had no involvement in the insurance setup process). Often, answering broader questions allows the employer to make decisions for you (or at least suggest decisions that benefit them more than you). It is your choice to expect a salary based on the value you bring to the company instead of based on what the last company paid you. It is your choice to take time off between jobs.

Despite still having 10 days until my official start date, I am unable to relax and feeling anxious.

Once you are clear on your boundaries and have communicated those expectations to your hiring manager, it will be easier to relax. Simply clarifying your expectations decreases uncertainty and related anxiety. Communicating your boundaries can also decrease guilt since you are acting according to your explicit expectations instead of wondering if you're meeting their implied expectations. Additionally, the new employer either respects your boundaries, further decreasing anxiety, or they don't, and you have more information to make a decision on potentially walking away from this opportunity.


Note: I have used 'requests' instead of 'demands' in this answer. Any employer you can leave can only request, not demand. There are many times an employer would rather address an employee's question or concern than risk the expensive & time-consuming process of replacing that employee. Realizing this decreased some work-related anxiety for me.

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This is quite an emotive subject. The concept of work/life balance and mental health is treated very differently in different cultures and between different groups of people. For these reasons, I'm not going to advise you or make comment on the company culture you'll be joining as I know neither you nor the company.

That being said, in my answer to this question , I said that someone I respect once told me "Never do anything at the start of any relationship that you wouldn't be willing to keep doing for the rest of the relationship", and I think that is especially applicable here. I've modified my response for that question below to better fit your specific situation:

Basically, do you want to set the precedent with this company even before you start working for them that you're willing to compromise your vacation and give up your unpaid personal time to accommodate them or their timescales? Is this something you would be willing to do for the rest of your time with this organisation? Is this an expectation you want to set at the very beginning of your working relationship with this company?

Now, some people are quite prepared to answer "yes" to those questions. You need to decide if you're one of those people and that is a decision only you can make.

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Despite still having 10 days until my official start date, I am unable to relax and feeling anxious.

You have 10 days until your start date- while I appreciate that it is hard to do so, try to 'disconnect' yourself from the new job until you start (at least emotionally/ in your personal life). You have an agreed start date with them (in 10 days time), so they shouldn't be expecting you to start working for them until that date.

Currently, I am on a break. However, despite being on vacation, the new employer keeps emailing me and expecting prompt responses. They want me to set up a work email, review work-related documents, attend meetings with bosses, and participate in company events. Although they invited me to a Slack workspace, I deliberately ignored it as I am unable to respond during my holidays. Unfortunately, my teammates have already started sending me messages and mentioning me as if I'm already working there. Last week, due to being busy, I couldn't reply to them for two business days, and now they are following up and asking when was my last day at my previous job.

The admin that they are emailing you and requesting you to do, such as setting up a work email is something that they should be doing ahead of you starting. You are not currently an employee, it is not your responsibility to set yourself up with all of the necessary tools & equipment that you will need as an employee. They should be getting all of that ready for your start date. As you have said - this raises major red flags... although I appreciate that they are a start-up, and probably don't have an HR department, they should at least have some process in place for onboarding a new employee, even if it's not particularly formal/ structured.

I had a similar experiences a few years ago where I started working for a start up - in the first week after I started working there, there were a number of delays with regard to getting a laptop setup correctly/ access to code repositories & version management software, etc, such that I couldn't actually get started on any work until a couple of weeks after starting. However, none of this was my responsibility to sort out - and it shouldn't be yours.

I fear I will have to prioritize work over my personal life and family until I burn out. Before offering me the position, the hiring manager expressed concern about my level of enthusiasm for their vision and wanted assurance that I am truly committed to working hard to achieve it.

Don't prioritise your work over your personal life or family, but do be enthusiastic & work hard once you actually start there. Show your commitment and enthusiasm once you actually start, but set those boundaries between the professional and the personal early, especially if you don't want people to take advantage of your willingness to work long hours, etc.

For any communications they send requesting that you do any work before your start date, even just administrative tasks like setting up an email account/ joining a slack community, etc, reply to them politely and kindly (but in your own time, not as necessarily as soon as you receive the email), that you will be happy to get on with this once you start the job on your agreed start date.

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You haven't started yet, from their perspective you are not even on holidays. For all they know you might be still working at your previous company, and they would be asking you to do work for them on another company's dime...

While expecting you to work before your first day is completely unnacceptable, it might be an honnest internal communication mistake on their part. Set an email filter answering (or answer yourself) with the statement of the starting date that was agreed upon and say you are looking forward to it. Then stop addressing any request.

If they do insist that you do work for them after a possible misunderstanding has been cleared, it's a huge red flag. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and no such thing as free work.

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You've already gotten great answers, but your feelings remind me of mine, so in case it helps, here's another perspective:

Unless I was feeling full of goodwill and charitable patience, or in love with the job, or financially desperate, I would quit on the spot with a message like this:

It looks like we're not a good fit after all, and I have decided to pursue other work. We agreed that my start date was YYYY-MM-DD, and yet I have received multiple communications expecting me to do something prior to that date. I am not interested in working in an environment that requires me to dial up assertiveness about already clearly stated boundaries and preferences. I wish you success filling the role.

If I was feeling particularly happy about the opportunity, or like I had the "spoons" to deal with them, or could not afford a longer job search, I might instead shoot my future manager or point of contact during the hiring process a message like this:

Hi, I noticed some work-related messages coming in that seem to expect a reply. Please remind everyone that I am not available until my agreed-upon start date of YYYY-MM-DD.

Because, well... I have a high compulsion to proactively avoid being unpleasant for others, and a sensitivity to interpersonal push/pressure. When I perceive a want or need, my emotional default is to want to help. My default when I sense that something I say or do might be unpleasant for someone is to feel some aversion to it - only sufficient anger and a clear view that I'm right to be angry overrides that. And I have some burnout, both related to that and in other ways. So every. single. time. I. have. to. push. back. is draining for me.

And because it is not just a casual zero-cost thing for me to defend my boundaries or preferences, I also want to try to more proactively solve oversteps more lastingly - which greatly multiplies the cost: I end up feeling like just saying "sorry, busy" to an inappropriate demand on my time/effort/availability is leaving a serious problem unresolved, so it feels like a necessary proactive self-defense (and defense of others like me) to call out or challenge over-steps in ways that stick.

Which is of course unhealthy - there's a healthier mental configuration I could grow into where I value myself and my time more, where I have a better sense of what else I want to do or need to save my capacities for, and don't feel so codependently reactive to others having any degree of negative feelings. Which is a great goal to work towards to, but that's not where I'm at right now, and we can't heal a wound in an environment that chronically reinjures it.

So I am not currently interested in a workplace which is anything less than systematically proactively considerate of boundaries. I am not interested in having asymmetric effort imposed on me by people who just chuck expectations out as if there's nothing wrong with it, while I have to figure out how to politely yet firmly say no, exactly what to say and what to leave unsaid, how many chances to give, whether it makes me look bad to the company or the team, how/when/if to call out the bigger-picture abstract pattern while not coming off as over-reacting (all the while putting in the work of actually trying to check myself because maybe I am over-reacting), and so on. If I had a better mental muscle for just saying "no" and moving on this wouldn't cost me nearly as much, but again - not where I'm at right now.

So if that sounds like you, and you don't feel ready to start casually replying in the style of the second suggestion above (and then muting/hiding things if they don't stop after the first or second time), then this work environment is probably not for you.

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  • This is a valuable perspective. Thanks for sharing it. Jun 29, 2023 at 2:35
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I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess you just have first day anxiety and are misreading the situation. You're not crazy to be protective of work life balance, quite the opposite. But the examples you give are not flagrant attacks on that balance, and in fact are excellent opportunities to reinforce it. Even if there is a legitimate problem, you would be jumping the gun by acting now.

It's normal to ask you to send paperwork and make a Slack account in advance. It's not really work, doesn't take all day, and it would be very annoying for everyone, including you, to sit the first few days literally twiddling your thumbs because you have no accounts, no laptop, etc. However, it's also reasonable to tell them that you'll spend the week before backpacking through Nepal so you'll create the Slack account on Sunday night, no earlier. Most likely, they're just excited to meet you and start working with you (remember, you were the best of everyone they interviewed!) and they're pinging your name to spread the news so that everyone has heard you're coming and can get ready for a warm welcome.

Regarding the enthusiasm, maybe you're confusing "enthusiasm" with "I want you to work work work". Perhaps what he really wants is for you to just tell them, repeatedly and convincingly, that you are really excited about the job and can't wait to start (as opposed to being "meh" because they're just your safety while you wait for the real offer from your dream job). It doesn't mean you have to respond to every mail within 5 minutes or less, day or night. Say they ask for some paperwork, reply and say you'll do it in X days. But make sure you actually do it by that time. Set and maintain a pattern where, if people ask you things, they will get done when you say they'll get done - no later, but no earlier. And of course, only during business hours - ignore all communications outside business times until they specifically demand otherwise. And when (if!) they do, you can inquire what extraordinary circumstance calls for such an extraordinary work schedule, and when the emergency is expected end (surely soon!).

Understand though, that many people get anxious when starting a new job. Change is scary. The job may be great, terrible, mediocre - it's all orthogonal to nervousness, because the source of that is not external, but internal (stage fright, impostor syndrome, FOMO, buyer's remorse, etc.). Also, the grass looks greener on the side, because there's people whose job it is to make these jobs look really good. Then you start and the mask begins to come off a little, so to speak, and you see the warts and all. But it's not logical to compare your tour of the sausage factory, to another hot dog company's pretty little store display. Those other jobs you think are better, would have also started feeling off had you taken them instead. For better or for worse, you have now committed to this one, and you would gain little from bailing at this stage. You should try to be positive and give it your best shot - for about 3 to 12 months, and if you still have misgivings after that, start looking for a new job then. That way, also, you won't then have second thoughts about your decision to quit, because you'll have amassed plenty of hard experience.

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    "It's normal to ask you to send paperwork and make a Slack account in advance. It's not really work, doesn't take all day" : filling paperwork (except employment-related), setting up tools, etc. is definitely work in the sense that it’s something that the employee does as part of their contract with the employer (remember : the employer is buying the employee’s time. If the employee dedicates time to perform tasks for the employer, then it’s contractually work).
    – breversa
    Jun 8, 2023 at 11:19
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    @breversa Yes yes the employer is buying your time... To utilize advanced and rare skills that you put in the resume, that you spent the interviews demonstrating! Unless the job you interviewed for is "paperwork filer", putting your name and address in a form is not worth your full hourly rate that you would get for doing your actual job, sorry. You can insist if you want, but nickel and diming people like that is bad business and will drive the best employers away. You'd be saving a nickel but losing a dollar. Jun 9, 2023 at 9:18
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    What the employer does with the employee’s time is the employer’s problem, not the employee’s. Of course, using the employee’s time for menial task is a bad use of their skills, but that’s a totally different matter.
    – breversa
    Jun 9, 2023 at 12:26
  • @breversa "Fill out your new employee form before you start, so we're not wasting your first few days waiting" is a reasonable request. "Not my problem what you do with my time, I'm not touching it until my first day!" is less so. To the employer, it looks like they agreed to pay you a large amount for some valuable skilled work, but you are trying to avoid that instead drag out low-value activities like paperwork, which leaves the employer not getting what they paid for. You're antagonizing the employer for no benefit. They're not gonna get a secretary to do your HR paperwork for you. Jun 9, 2023 at 13:08
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    I believe there’s been a misunderstanding. If you re-read my previous comment, you’ll see "filling paperwork (except employment-related)". An employee form may or may not be employment contract-related (I don’t know what it is). Setting up a professional email account is definitely not employment contract-related. Same goes for preparing your desk, your Slack account, your email signature, etc. It’s menial, low-value work, but it’s work nonetheless and that’s what I was getting at.
    – breversa
    Jun 9, 2023 at 14:27
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I am starting to wonder if it's best for me to reconsider and potentially walk away from this opportunity.

It appears they expect you to hit the ground running and work very hard (not unusual for a startup in my experience).

If this isn't what you want, you may wish to reconsider.

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    It seems they expect him to already start working before they start paying him. Setting up email seems reasonable. Attending meetings and responding to instant messages does not.
    – quarague
    Jun 7, 2023 at 9:55
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    The situation described is not 'hitting the ground running'. As quarague already said, they are asking him to work for free.,
    – Steve Ives
    Jun 7, 2023 at 15:04

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