93

I work for a 25-person startup company. Even though we are a startup we have good funding from a big investor. My role here is CTO (not co-founder) taking care of 5-6 people (used to be 10+).

My boss seems to like me a lot (and few other people) because I have helped him a lot with both work and non-work related tasks, and have done my job well. I am also well-respected throughout the company.

However, I have been looking for a job for a few months because of my boss, who is CEO and founder. The reasons are:

  • He effectively fired my project manager who worked under me by putting pressure on him, and letting him decide to leave by himself so the company didn't need to pay compensation.
  • He hired the wrong people. For example, he hired a new guy with a couple of years experience to work as head of a Business Analyst team. The CEO asked this guy to conduct an interview for positions that he has no experience with such as Marketing Director, UX and others. If this guy said no to the candidates, the CEO would also say no to them. This BA guy is also watching the employees and reporting back to CEO about things such as some guys watching YouTube, etc.
  • One of my strong senior developers is shy; he never says hello when he arrives at the office in the morning, and doesn't smile a lot, but he is a great guy. My boss hates him and would like to fire him because of the reason above. (I have had to protect people in my team many times.)
  • He concentrates too much on details, not the big picture; for example, when the UX designers complete their images, to me overall they are ok but most of the time he asks the designer to move something over a pixel.

These kinds of things also happen in other teams, not only my team. In January, we had six people resign and since the company started in early 2015, we have had six CEOs, and the current one is the founder who has been managing company himself.

Anyway, last week I got a job offer from a big corporate with more pay, and the work is also good. I told my boss that I'd like to resign without telling him the reasons above, as I knew if I tell him those reasons our relationship would break.

He tried to bring up many reasons to prevent me from leaving such as:

  • He said that I should have told him at least 2-3 months in advance so that he could prepare; if I leave now the company may collapse because I am a key person, and he won't get money from investors (although I have never talked to investors even once in the past six months, only him and the head of BA guy)
  • If I give only one month notice I would be a selfish guy to the company (I have one month notice in my contract by the way)
  • He said I am a responsible person, so I shouldn't leave my development team behind.

Am I doing something wrong if I decide to leave the company?

** My questions does not duplicate this question — it is more about "how to handle the transition period, from both ends", but my question is more about "toxic environment".

marked as duplicate by gnat, Rory Alsop, keshlam, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Lilienthal Jan 30 '17 at 9:02

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 17
    I read this question and about fell over when I saw it only had two upvotes, and even more so when I saw the highest voted answer had 16. This is a valuable, useful question. Toxic environments pop up all the time all over the place, and helping people recognize them and react appropriately is a good thing that The Workplace can do. At the very least this question is not so flawed that anyone thinking it's worth an answer should have also upvoted it. – Todd Wilcox Jan 28 '17 at 17:08
  • 9
  • 28
    He said that I should have told him at least 2-3 months for him to prepare (...) - then he should structure your contact accordingly with 2-3 months notice. People change jobs all the time, a "business" that collapses after one guy leaving it's not a solid enterprise, IMHO, with some minor exceptions of folk doing cutting edge science, etc. – Konrad Jan 28 '17 at 19:25
  • 4
    Your only obligated to do what your contract says. If it doesn't spell out what you have to do after you give notice, you come to a mutual agreement, if that can't happen you still leave. The arguments your boss gave are horrible business practices, the company's future, isn't your concern if your leaving – Ramhound Jan 29 '17 at 6:28
  • 2
    If it's really that important to him, and the start time for the next job is flexible enough to allow it, I'd offer to stay an extra month or two for significant compensation. This puts the onus on him to backup his words with real action. He says your staying for an extra month is indispensable to the business, so that should translate to hard cash if he really means it. – Tyler Jan 30 '17 at 0:41
109

Did I do something wrong if I decide to leave the company?

Of course not.

You are a C-level executive in this company, not an indentured servant. You have every right to try and find a company that meets your needs both professionally and culturally. If this company isn't a good fit, you are smart to find a new one.

Your boss is grasping to find a way to keep you around. That's a natural reaction, but nothing you need to concern yourself about.

If the company needed 2-3 months notice from you, it should have been written into your contract. If the original contract stated a 1-month notice, but they realized they now need 2-3 months, they could have asked you for a revision (and probably offered you some compensation for the changes). Sounds like that didn't happen.

It's unrealistic for your boss to essentially say "you should never leave us", and I suspect he knows that it doesn't make any sense.

Time to serve out your 1-month notice, leave this company behind and in as good shape as you can, and not look back. (And don't be surprised if some of the employees might like to follow you.)

  • 10
    I think you bring up a good point - it's an unreasonable request, but a natural reaction. Either this is something that may blow over during the notice period so you can leave on a good note, or someone that's not reasonable and it wouldn't matter how much notice you gave. – Raystafarian Jan 29 '17 at 12:28
  • As for the last line about employees might follow you. I observed this on a program I interacted with. 4 out of the 5 developers on it followed the team lead to a different company. Despite the program failing as a result, it was not the fault of the team lead leaving, the fault was with the toxicity that made him and everyone else want to leave. – Anketam Jan 29 '17 at 18:38
  • Also, unless the contract stated otherwise, 2 weeks is the business standard for "advanced notice of resignation". One month is already being generous. – nijineko Jan 29 '17 at 22:44
  • 2
    If the CEO didn't have at least a basic plan for him dying while falling out of bed (which is 3x as likely to happen as being hit by a bus, by the way...) then he wasn't a very good CEO. – corsiKa Jan 30 '17 at 0:44
76

A toxic environment is not going to get better, especially since owner seems to be at the center of the company's climate.

When the situation is bad and you've taken steps to improve it, at some point you have to make a decision since you've done what was in your power. If you stick with it for some reason (friendship with coworkers, etc) you have to accept that things will stay the same.

Now, if you have a 1 month notice period, remember that the employer also has one. The question I think you should ask yourself, in light of what's been happening at that company: if the owner wanted to get rid of you, would he tell you 2-3 months before as a courtesy? or invoke the 1 month clause?

And there you have your answer.

  • Thanks for your answer @Thomas, you have the same question that I have been in mind. At the end of the day, if he really wants to get rid of me, I think I would have a month or less. – user54817 Jan 28 '17 at 14:20
  • @user54817 I don't think you should even talk to your boss about leaving again. +1 great answer – paparazzo Jan 28 '17 at 14:30
  • 7
    @user54817 If he wanted to get rid of you, it would've been without warning, not a month. Good answer. One small addition that might improve it: if the CEO isn't capable of preparing the company to lose employees, that's his own failing, not the employee who moves on, regardless of the reason the employee leaves. The fact he blames an employee for leaving only shows his own inability to lead even more. – jpmc26 Jan 28 '17 at 19:21
  • 1
    "And there you have your answer." I never understood this logic. Just because the other party is discourteous doesn't mean you should be. Rise above. Be better. Don't be like the people you complain about. ..... However, I agree with the material suggestion of this answer, which is "you've done what you can; get out". – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 28 '17 at 20:49
  • @lightness: a work relationship goes both ways; most companies will not remember if you took the high ground since they see employees as a disposable commodity. I worked for a large (>$10b/year) company that would fire most team members at the end of each project, no matter the success, and give them 2 months severance during which time they'd look if there was a fit in any other department; some people lasted over a decade of being let go yearly. This shows the climate, which is very different than during the .com boom; it's a cycle, people will become valuable again :) – Thomas Jan 28 '17 at 20:58
18

There is no doubt that the CEO is trying damn hard to put you on a guilt trip. You are best placed to know whether he has been successful in his attempt, as you are best placed to know what's going on in your mind :)

  1. Stick by the letter of your employment contract and bring the end of employment clauses therein to their logical conclusion. If your employment contract states that you give a two-week notice, you give a two-week notice. If he gives you any harassment during the two-week notice, notify him the next day that you are taking a sick day - you are sick of working for him. Rinse and repeat for each time he harasses you during the two-week notice period.

  2. Again, don't let him give you a song and dance about when you can morally leave and when you can't. When a slave driver tells you what your schedule is, he doesn't exactly have your welfare in mind. You are legally entitled to leave, so leave. Don't look back, don't negotiate - give an inch to this guy and he'll take a mile.

  3. He doesn't get to define you as a responsible or irresponsible person, you do. Especially when his definition of "responsible" is so convenient, self-serving and dare I say, so one-sided? Hint: relationships are two-way streets. Why is it that you have nothing but obligations toward him? What are HIS obligations toward you?(*) Give your notice and don't look back. You have accepted an offer from your next employer and your priority after you give notice is your responsibility toward your next employer. As for the CEO, screw him. He can call you anything he wants and he's got two weeks to do it before your resignation becomes effective. Again, if he gets abusive, take as many sick days as necessary for each time he gets abusive. Don't let this guy mess with your mind on your way out and if he somehow has you convinced that you did something wrong, then he indeed messed with your mind. Successfully.

(*) I can think of a couple of obligations to start with: 1. treat you fairly. Obviously, a one-sided definition of "responsible" is hardly fair; 2. treat you with respect - I told a CEO not to go after my staff behind my back; 3. pay you on time and in full - I had the same CEO cheat me of my last paycheck including the vacation time that I had accrued and never got the chance to take. I felt this keenly because I had put in 20 hours of unpaid overtime per week for the entire year I had worked for the company.

9

Before you made the decision to leave, your employer could have decided you were a critical employee, and asked to modify your contract to increase your notice period. If your employer had done so, I'm sure you would have negotiated for some compensation for the increased notice.

Now your employer is asking for the benefit of an increased notice period, without having negotiated it and without having had to meet your terms for agreeing to it. That is completely unreasonable.

If you have not done so already, give your boss a resignation letter specifying a final work day that conforms to your contract. Work to the best of your ability during your notice period. That is all you owe your current employer.

4

Like other answerers, I would put it more simply. What you are describing is an incompetent and abusive manager, pure and simple. Incompetent because he doesn't know how to lead or do the role he's in, abusive because the behaviours you describe are emotionally abusive behaviours. It doesn't matter if they are common or almost expected, it's still abusive behaviour. Sorry for the "calling a spade a spade" blunt speech, and research how abusive spouses stop their partners leaving - it's often virtually the same. He makes life intolerable for those he sees as valueless, and pressures (perhaps against their own interest) those he wants to keep and use into staying. He may be very good in other areas but those don't seem likely to be relevant to your own life - which is what you have to work with.

My own personal red line is that, short of living on the street, I won't work for abusive people. I don't like being used or guilt tripped and invariably if I accede now it'll continue and eventually go bad anyway, possibly worse. Like any relationship you decide is set in its power dynamic, and bad at heart, it probably won't get better and the longer you are there, the more normalised it may feel and the less good it'll do.

That doesn't mean leave today, but it does sound like a place you want to leave as soon as you can, and start working towards that now. Expect fireworks, guilt tripping and eventually, anger and hostility all as tricks of the trade, to persuade you to stay, that going will hurt him or the business or others, that legally you can't, or that he won't give you a reference or whatever. If you keep a level head and recognise these for what they are - tactics designed to influence your decision against yourself, and stay calm, the odds are good you will be ok in the end.

0

I will share my experience with you hoping it can help in your choice. This answer is loosely related to the question, but I hope you can look at your company with a different "eye".

I don't know if Startups are that good places to work in. I've been doing a startup thing with some friends. I was the only who took the work seriously in beginning, I did my part of work, I tested it, and wrote a Continuos integration test suit (note they had a serious issue with PHP exceptions, basically if one test failed because of 1 exception, all other tests stopped executing, I tried to patch that and they declined the patch -_- )

I also suggested an important design change in their restless API: that fixed a tremendous REST vulnerability (allowing users to cheat the system, in a manner similar to the one used by the guy who wrote a message on Zuckerberg's FB's page).

Note: It was just my first PHP related work, most of the other people in there were Web-development "veterans", and no one noticed the vulnerability (neither the guy who had a software company with his father for several years).

Basically, my friends, were "hired" by another "their" friend (someone I met only at a second time). I'll call him the Original guy (the one who had the "milionaire idea").

At some point the work by Others was so slow that the Original guy, wanted me to become the leader of a new team, and cut away all other developers. Here I did the "stupid" choice. I declined, because I would never hurt someone, especially my friends. All other developers were school friends afterall.

I stopped working on the Startup because they were not taking it seriously and in the meanwhile I had to search for a real job (still my current job by the way), afterall I cannot work for free forever.

Now, they tried to exclude me several times from the project since it beginned with the excuse I was not working on it anymore (I was the only one who taked it seriously instead).

  • They changed requisites over my DB layer, so needed some refactoring: nothing serious, but the boss assigned the work to the less experienced guy, and he did a terrible work, throwing away all good programming practises and "patch & fixing" there and there, degrading the code and breaking the Whole code base.

  • They called me to "fix" (it was clear they attempted to refactor and were not able to do so)

  • I fixed and refactored everything in 1 day (I reverted changes done by Others, and started fresh from my latest code snapshot, code was already decoupled enough: they just wanted to move from PostgreSQL to MySQL). In total I had to change something like 50 lines of code of over 2000 lines. No need to break everything, not a single API change in my module.

  • How is it possible they were not able to change in 3 months what was possible fixing in 1 day?

  • Then they asked again to fix requisites to my code (they changed again requisites after having completed the Whole REST API part)

  • They sad there were already interested investors, then why not paying me for 1 week of work?

  • Nope instead they had to "expand the team" by another 3/4 people, to do that change. (of course unpaid, with the promise of a possible payment in future)

  • At that point I gave some suggestions on how to refactor again, but told them I was no longer interested to do work for free. (basically they just had to plug a little syntax tree to avoid SQL injections, probably that change would have required 1 week, again nothing serious or complicated).

  • Notice the syntax tree was required to avoid breaking the DB API, I wanted to do the API in a certain way, they forced me to do a slightly different API, then later they were bite back (to avoid breaking the API, the only solution became keeping track of called chained methods using an AST). But ok, I was not leading the project so basically I did already the best I could have been able to do due to bad management.

  • Before they removed my GIT account read access, I just noticed they were changin again the Whole code base (breaking again everything).

  • I also sent to them "new year best whishes" without getting a response. Not very nice.

"Friends".

  • Also I see most startup companies continue by working for free even after receiving fundings. "We are re-invensting our money because we truly believe in our project". I do not believe in that, instead I just see it as a way to trying to promote the company. If the business can cause income, and is really truly profitable, no one would tell "I'm investing in it". If you are investing in something profitable you will never tell that to other people. Instead really profitable business are "kept secret" as long as possible.

  • It seems all Startups are started with a Group of friends, and it is sad because usually at least one or 2 are not really skilled usually and will be fired later, after the business started. It is better starting with new people so they can build their relationships after the start of the works, and it is better they already have some skill at least (to avoid bad architectural decisions in the beginning especially).

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.