Should you tell your employer that you're looking for a new job?

Working in HR for many years has left me with a conviction that I can only help a person if I know what they really want.  Lying or being economical with the truth is the surest pathway to poor decisions.

So when I discuss my career needs and decisions with a Line Manager, if I'm unhappy I'm inclined to be honest about it.  But if I know that my current employer can't meet my needs and, as as result, I'm looking for work elsewhere, should I tell them that?

I've always had very open conversations about this sort of thing with my line managers and subordinates, but others I know - outside HR but in a wide range of industries and roles - consider this to be an absolute no-no and are horrified by the ease with which I talk about career aspirations within my circle.  When I've pressed them to explain why they consider it to be such a red-line issue, they're struggled to articulate anything concrete but there seems to be a wide belief that telling your employer that you're looking elsewhere is career suicide, that you'll be the first to be made redundant and that you'll be sidelined from anything important.  Of course, I can imagine that an employer would want to exclude a potential leaver from commercially sensitive work, but isn't it more professional to say "I'm probably leaving, so don't put me on that thing because I won't finish it" than to lie about it then leave your employer in the lurch?

I can't decide if I'm hopelessly naive and trusting about this or if my friends are unnecessarily cynical.

Any thoughts?  What sort of risk might you expose yourself to by being honest about your career plans with your boss?

  • Hi Robey,

    I tend to agree with you. In the past I have told my boss that I am looking for another job and always felt much better for having the honest conversation up front. It gives the opportunity to explore if there are things that can be done to solve whatever the issues are and also means that I don't have to invest numerous doctors appointments or reasons for short term holidays to attend interviews!

    I haven't ever suffered any detriment when I have done this - it has also worked well for the employer as they have time to consider and plan for replacing, focus on completing particular bits of work etc.

    I am sure that in some companies, if someone did this then they might be "frozen out" but this probably just goes to demonstrate that the decision to leave was the right one!

    I don't get the worry about being first in line for redundancy anyway. If you are planning to leave then getting a redundancy payment can be a good thing!

    I think it does come down to the individual and their manager and whether they have developed the relationship where they feel they can be open and honest.
  • The real risk with your strategy is that (especially the more senior you are) it leaves you as a bit of a lame duck the longer your search goes on.

    I personally am not sure the language of being "open and honest" is the right terminology here or is that helpful.

    In the best of all possible worlds we all know what the psychological contract with each other and our employer is, we can have conversations around this and can plan neat, well executed exit strategies. However things have a habit of not fitting so neatly into boxes.

    Certainly I can see some merit in discussing long term career aspirations around where I want to be and if my current organisation can help me get there. But personally (and I have a terrific relationship with my boss) I wouldn't put either of us in a more difficult situation by going much beyond that.
  • This could be a good idea, a neutral act or utter folly depending on the culture of the organisation, the nature of the work you do, the personality and beliefs of your boss and your relationship with your boss. If you know someone has one foot out the door, with the best will in the world it is going to affect how you manage them.

    Does that expose you to risk? Decisions have to be made on how to allocate the training budget, who gets the juicy project that provides development opportunities etc etc . I don't think it is unfair to prioritise the person who will be sticking around for a while. So the risk there is of a slightly less rewarding experience.

    The greater risk is that outlined by Keith - the effect on your working relationships and professional standing if the next opportunity doesn't come along on cue, and the more senior you are, the longer it can take to find your next move. A headhunter of my acquaintance told me she usually advises people at director level to allow a year to find their next role.
  • Interestingly I can add a little personal experience here as *full disclosure alert* Robey is currently my line manager!

    I have to say that I have never previously discussed my future career plans in any of my previous roles, and was initially unsure about being 'open and honest' as Robey describes, going with the 'career suicide' school of thought. I have had a few interviews in the 2 years he has been my LM and kept a couple to myself before I felt brave enough to discuss them with him, however I am glad that I did work up the courage. Not only did he encourage me to apply for roles he felt were suitable for my development, but he offered interview coaching should I wish to take him up on it and helped me pick over the feedback I was given to increase my chances of success in the future. It was always prefaced with a very clear 'I'm not trying to push you out, just push your development on' which helped remove some of the paranoia! This also coincided with me completing my level 5 studies (again, which he encouraged me to do, he's a good egg!) so it felt natural to discuss my career.

    I think our organisational context has something to do with it, we are a SME charity working essentially as a standalone (the team is us two; a HRM and a HRO combined FTE of 1.0!) Both of us have very different reasons for being here at different points in our professional and personal lives, and to be able to talk, honestly, about my journey and the sacrifices I am choosing to make - I am a mum to two small children and wish to work part time around school/nursery whilst still progressing my career (don't get me started on the lack of part time and flexibility within HR roles!) - is really refreshing.

    I will admit that it was very bizarre at first as it was against my way of thinking, and most people who I have spoken to do find it weird, however, it does work for us , but I don't disagree that it is a big risk.

    Also *full disclosure again* knowing that my line manager is looking for a new role gives me excellent time to consider and prepare my next move, especially as I was already thinking about options when my youngest starts school in September. I may just stay around.....
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    16 Mar, 2017 11:45

    In reply to Elizabeth Divver:

    Elizabeth said:

    "This could be a good idea, a neutral act or utter folly depending on the culture of the organisation, the nature of the work you do, the personality and beliefs of your boss and your relationship with your boss. If you know someone has one foot out the door, with the best will in the world it is going to affect how you manage them."

    Totally agree. It DEPENDS. 

  • In reply to Steve Bridger:

    Yes, it depends, *but* unless one is totally sure that no-one that matters at your existing employer will be open-minded and relaxed / happy with this, personally I wouldn't ever risk it. That said, in the past I have canvassed to review sharply upwards the salary of certain staff where word on the streets has it that they're looking for a better-paid job,
  • In reply to David:

    If .... 

    • the company culture is supportive of people developping into bigger and better professionals, and
    • it accepts that it will not always be able to provide opportunities to progress, and
    • it understands and accepts that people can and will go elsewhere to grow, 

    then an open and trusting approach can work well. I've done it with my own staff over the years, and seen them grow into better professionals elsewhere - some of them have even come back to the company into bigger jobs for which no natural stepping stone existed internally.

    Sure, from a selfish company view it can leave you with the hassle of training up replacements, but fresh faces also bring in fesh perspectives, don't they?

    On the other hand, if the 3 conditions above are not met, then taking this route can be at best "risky" and at worst dangerous or suicidal

    Look before you leap

  • Johanna

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    17 Mar, 2017 09:06

    In reply to Angela Jellyman:

    Can't remember having a participating line manager and direct report on these boards for a long while! Good though and glad you're both finding value here :)
  • In reply to Angela Jellyman:

    That's exactly how I approach it. I'm open and honest with my team. I try and help them change what's causing them to want to leave and if all else fails and they've made their mind up to go, I help them with the time off they need to go to interviews and have offered advice in relation to next step roles too. I'd rather help someone leave and become happy than stay in my team and be miserable, bringing the rest of the team down with them.

    I'm liking your thinking in relation to your own personal development - it's always hard to move up when the roles above your current one are limited in numbers. Good luck!!
  • Hi Robey
    know that situation very well. I think the bottomline for my decisions would run along a SWOT and risk-assessment. Identifying the motivators to 'share' is best connected to the risks. Am I just making aware of my feelings or actually believe this motion will change things.
    Staying factual and solution focused has helped be both not loose my face and really get to the point what 'they' can do for me.

    hope it helps
  • Robey, this is a great question and an interesting viewpoint for you to take. I've enjoyed your responses so far, and I love that both you and one of your team have both responded; this level of genuine transparency is really refreshing.

    I've seen both approaches with this. Personally, I've not told an employer when I've been looking for another role, mainly for the reasons others have highlighted, but mainly because I did not want to risk my immediate financial security by doing so, despite that being fairly unlikely in reality. That's not to say I wouldn't be open though - I would assess the situation against a number of factors including my boss, the business culture, my own personal security etc etc.

    At a previous employer, I had a HR pro who worked for me who decided to be really honest with me, about all manner of things, including their desire to obtain a new role. As the manager, I was pleased to have been told. It meant I had time to prepare for that eventuality, I had thinking time to consider how I would deal with it if it happened immediately or six-12 months down the line, and it meant I had time to decide if I wanted to change their mind, if that was the right thing to do, or to help them with their search so I had a motivated employee leaving on great terms. In this particular situation, I was glad to be told, continued to treat them as if they were staying indefinitely, made contingency plans, allowed them anything they needed such as time off for interviews, but I stopped there, I didn't proactively go out of my way to hurry the process along, as from a business point of view, I really needed them for as long as I could keep them; they were excellent and replacing them was going to be difficult.

    I'm a firm believer that the employment environment is about to change dramatically, beyond the traditional norms that we have become accustomed to, and whilst I have serious misgivings about the 'millennial' stereotyping and the perceived benefits of the gig economy, I do believe that there is something in the desire to be more transient in how we approach employment. Therefore, I feel that if workers want to move on, develop themselves, try a new challenge and learn new skills then surely it's better as an employer to support them, use the benefit of time to prepare the organisation for the eventuality and part on positive terms as you'll never know when you might need each other in future.
  • Hi Robey

    I don’t think you are hopelessly naïve or your friends are unnecessarily cynical. You sound like someone who is self-confident and not afraid to trust others and take risks. This is a great strength to have and doesn’t come easily to everyone.

    Having said that, I think a decision to be honest and open about wanting to leave depends a lot on the type of relationship you have with your line manager. How supportive of you are they? Would they take it as a betrayal or appreciate your telling them in the best interests of the company? Do you have a plan to submit to your manager to ensure a smooth transition?
  • In reply to Johanna:

    I kept on telling her how much I learn here and what good people the CIPD community enjoys. :D
  • It all depends on the relationship you have with your boss coupled with the culture of the organisation. In some companies once people know you want to leave they write you off as if you have done something wrong. This is probably the experience of most people you know. What is the point in telling people you want to leave - if you don`t find another job soon and you remain where you are people begin to view you differently ie he`s always saying he`s going to leave. What are you trying to achieve by saying you want to leave? Do you want a raise, or do you want people to say please don`t go. Remember none of us are indispensable. As soon as you leave your employer will replace you with someone else. You may disagree but you will probably have more credibility if you find a job and then resign. There`s plenty of time for people to make a better offer once they know you are actually leaving.
  • In reply to Caroline Veronica De Silva:

    "What is the point in telling people you want to leave?"

    Succession planning for your employer is the main one. It's a way of saying "it'll be a bit inconvenient when I go, but I'm going to do my best to minimize that before I do". It feels more grown up, responsible and professional than going on like everything's normal then dropping everything in a puff of smoke and a cry of "seeya, suckers!"

    But I also value the opportunity, when asking for some flexibility in working hours, to say "I have a job interview" rather than "I have a dentist's appointment".