So, I am the SME in one area, and a backup SME in an area that overlaps. I cover my coworker's (Let's call him John) area while he's on PTO, and he does mine. A few weeks ago, he came by to let me know that he would be leaving the company as a heads up, but asked me not to discuss it with anyone. I kept silent, assuming he would give a customary two weeks notice, at which point we could start planning a shift of responsibilities.

His final day is a little over a week away, and we're getting to the point where I really should start talking to my manager to let him know my attention is going to be divided. While the two areas overlap, there is generally enough work to do in both that it will affect my performance trying to cover both areas, I would like to Inform my boss in advance so he can plan.

The thing Is, I want to respect my coworkers wishes (he didn't need to tell me). I've asked him about it and he said "He'll let them know" but isn't telling me when. How can I approach this situation?

Edit: As per Alroc's comment, dual coverage is a company standard to improve bus factor. Every person has a dedicated backup (most of the time it's a paired backup in two related areas, but sometimes not). Additionally, to my knowledge. I'm the only person he has told. I know explicitly that he has not told our team lead.

  • 1
    Does your manager know that you cover John's area, and vice versa? Does John's manager know? Do your managers ever talk to each other? This is really on both your managers to sort out and John has put you in a bind by asking you to keep this quiet. Can you press him a bit harder to find out who has been told what about his departure?
    – alroc
    Sep 12, 2016 at 17:05
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    If he has not told anyone then I would stay out of it. Yes you re in a bad spot but announcing John is leaving is worse spot in my opinion.
    – paparazzo
    Sep 12, 2016 at 18:06

4 Answers 4


I would discuss it with John. Depending on company culture it may be the norm that departures are announced with minimal lead time. Saying something like "Your final day is about a week away but I haven't seen any announcement yet. I don't think my boss knows yet so I'm worried that s/he may have unrealistic expectations of my availability over the next few weeks. Is it okay if I talk to my boss about workload coverage?"

Edit: If you know that John is planning on leaving on short/no notice the only thing you can do is encourage him to provide adequate notice. You are not in a position to tell management about his departure date (what if he has changed his mind or details have changed).

What you can do to prepare is have a proposal written and ready to go for how to cover workload. Once John's announcement goes public give it a last once over then submit it to your boss.


Keep the secret.

At the end of the day, it's relationships with people that count and not necessarily companies.

It will be his manager's responsibility to handle his work and cover his knowledge transfer. Just because you covered his area in the past doesn't mean you will have to now. And if his knowledge is siloed and irreplaceable, you just became that much more valuable for what you know.

That said, it doesn't hurt to talk to John and press him for more info if it is really going to affect you in the long term. At the least get a personal phone/email to ping questions to later.

  • While I agree with the generic sentiment, you seem to forget managers are also people, you could could hurt your relationship with them by keeping it secret too long (certainly if you/John disclose your knowledge in afterwards).
    – KillianDS
    Sep 13, 2016 at 8:13
  • @KillianDS agreed 100%. I just didn't get the impression that the mgr relationship was important. But if it is then he absolutely need's to find a middle ground along the lines of, "you've got x amount of time and then I will need to speak up". Sep 13, 2016 at 11:50

Let's look at this logically.

John is a person, the company is not. John took you into his confidence, trusting you not to betray it.

If you tell the company, you are absolutely betraying his trust.

If you tell the company, and they already know, but they are the ones keeping it quiet, you've betrayed his trust for nothing.

If you tell the company and they don't already know, you've betrayed his trust, will likely get him terminated early or do some other unknown damage to him. The company will then ask you when you found out. You will of course tell the truth, because you know John won't cover you after you've betrayed him. The next question is going to be "Why didn't you tell us immediately". In which case you've caused trouble for yourself and John.

This is between John and the company. Not only is keeping the secret the ethical thing to do, but also the action that will cause the least amount of grief.

  • "Why didn't you tell us immediately" : This question could be asked to the OP by the management, even without betraying John's trust(after John informs). They could penalise OP for not keeping the company's interests paramount. OP is stuck that way, because he is the one to bear the brunt for someone else's fault, because he chose to keep the trust. How does one handle that angle ?
    – Whirl Mind
    Jan 1, 2017 at 11:08

If he hasn't given notice at all and you are going to find yourself mired in work due to him leaving I would give my manager a heads up.

At this point he is leaving anyway, you should be looking at for yourself - and by proxy doing that is also helping out your management team and company since they'll at least have time to put in a new vacancy to fill versus getting slapped over the head by it.

You did well for him already by keeping your mouth shut, but a week out, you're going to suffer from him now giving advanced noticed for no reason, you do not owe him anything more.

  • 2
    This utilitarian approach will cause unforeseen consequences, while remaining silent will not. Sep 12, 2016 at 19:00

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