I Feel Manipulated

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about loyalty vs. opportunity:

Recently I got a short term higher paid job within the same department. My boss was not happy that I applied but allowed me to go in the end. After 9 months I had to return to my job, but my boss said that I had to promise never to leave again. I thought she was joking. I have just been given the opportunity again to go into a new job, one that will be permanent. My boss was very annoyed at me, even saying that I promised not to leave. I feel guilty but at the same time I need to earn more money and do want a more interesting job. Now she is giving me the cold shoulder and likely not give me a good reference to my new job. Did I do the wrong thing?

Signed, Almost Gone

DearĀ Almost Gone:

Promises are promises or promises don’t mean “I promise never.” What have you learned from this experience? Most likely you have learned not to make a promise that you are unwilling to keep and to think carefully before you make another promise. (I will assume your boss is a woman and I’ll name her Joan.) You now wish at that time when you talked of your return from the temporary leave, you had said to your boss, “Joan, I appreciate that you want me to promise never to leave, but I want a boss who will support me should opportunities to improve my career come. Would you do that? I will return if you won’t say, “You promised never to leave again.”

From the way I read what you’ve sent, it is not clear if you actually have been hired for this new permanent job or if getting it hinges on a good reference from your current boss, who now is giving you the cold shoulder since you have informed her you want to leave. Whichever it is, I understand that you intend to leave and take this new job. How did you inform your boss of this opportunity? Did you talk with her about what to do and ask her permission to break the promise? Of course that would still be breaking a promise, but it could mean you would not leave if she said, “When I said never, I mean never.” You now say, “I thought never was just a joke.” Right? And I can understand how you feel that way.

Moreover, I can understand that your boss, made you promise never because she wanted someone who wouldn’t jump ship, but that she knew, or should have known, to make your return to your old job contingent on a never leave requirement was unfair. What can I advise? Is there anything I can do to lessen your guilt feeling? Possibly, you can rationalize you shouldn’t feel guilty because a good boss would be like a mentor who wants the best for you rather than the best for herself; keeping her workforce stable and not having to break in a new hire. In my opinion, as a disinterest outsider, I think that is the way a good boss should behave.Also, it should soften your guilt if you understand that it is common for a boss and even one’s coworkers to feel rejected and a bit hurt when they learn that one of them has decided the grass will be greener elsewhere. The fact is that even marriage promises should not include never in them because we know never is a too long a time for changing unknowns. But it is reasonable for them to include the expectation that both who marry should not leave if one of them comes across someone who tells him/her, “You’re so hot!” Finally, these thoughts about never promises should not relieve you of another talk with your boss, one in which tell her that you feel guilty about leaving and have the feeling you are being given the cold shoulder. In such an eye-to-eye, you should say how much you appreciate having been welcomed back and that now you hope she will be supportive of the opportunity you have before you.Do these thought make sense? Hopefully you and I learn from our mistakes.

Hopefully we find that learning how to live and work is unfinished and on-going. Hopefully you find this new workplace is everything you expect it to be; that it is a continuing honeymoon. Hopefully you will find these thoughts provide insight and don’t dull your sense of values that prompted your query. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS; that is what I want for you and all with whom you connect.

William Gorden