Sunday, August 09, 2015
How honest should you be with boss about departure plans?
L.E., an editor working at a startup company in Chicago, decided to leave her full-time position and start working as a freelance writer. Her plan was to wait two months before giving several weeks' notice so she'd have time to update her resume, create a website and get things in order so she could hit the ground running once she left.
Then, just as L.E. was about to put her plan in motion, her boss, the chair of the company, assigned her the task of ghostwriting the monthly chair's column for the company magazine, which L.E. helps to edit.
"It's kind of an honor to be asked to write this," writes L.E., because the chair is the voice of the company. In the past, the person who's ghostwritten these columns has developed trust and a strong relationship with the chair.
The meetings about the chair's column were scheduled to start months before L.E. planned to give notice.
"I really like and respect my boss," writes L.E., who says the boss is quite maternal toward her employees, in spite of having a reputation of being tough. "I really don't want to leave her in a lurch."
Given the boss' request, does L.E. owe it to the boss to reveal her departure plans earlier than she'd intended?
Leave aside for a moment the appropriateness of having someone else write columns on which the boss then puts her byline. Such practices are common in organizations where communications departments write words for which others take credit. At the very least, we should expect that those adopting others' words should at least read them before publication. And given that editing is already part of her job, L.E. is hardly in a position to tell the boss to write her own column.
Even though L.E. has been offered the opportunity to ghostwrite her boss' column, L.E. has no obligation to tell her boss that she plans to leave earlier than she'd planned to reveal this news. If L.E. believes that giving notice several months in advance of when she planned to leave would jeopardize her position, she has every reason to stick to her original plan.
However, if L.E. truly doesn't want to put her current boss in the position of having to lose her ghostwriter shortly after they've begun working together, the right thing to do is for L.E. to tell her boss. This would also allow another employee to start working on the column right away.
Depending on how her boss responds, L.E. might risk having to launch her freelance career earlier than planned, but she will have done what she believed was right.
In the end, L.E. decided to tell her boss about her plans and how she originally intended to hold off giving notice but felt the chair's column was too important.
"She is very sad to see me go," writes L.E., "but was grateful that I put the good of her department first. The good that came out of this is that she's going to give me freelance work -- a huge deal for an organization that typically doesn't freelance anything."
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
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