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Guilt Over Leaving Team With a Toxic Workplace

Guilt Over Leaving Team With a Toxic Workplace

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

A reader writes:

I’ve been in a fairly toxic workplace for two years, and in one week I’m finally done with my contract and am moving on to greener, and saner pastures. This is all well and good, except I’m leaving behind a small team of people who I’ve grown very close to while I’ve managed them.

And I know things are about to get much, much worse for them at work.

The company is in trouble financially, which we all know: it was used as an excuse to downsize, move us to tiny offices, increase unpaid overtime, not give raises, bonuses or paid leave, etc. We’ve all pulled together to make that work because we loved what we do. We used to have a really incredibly bad owner, who recently sold the company to her partner and fled: we’re still uncovering the mess she made of things. I’m the manager, and as such even though I’m leaving, I’m still being called into meetings about the future of the company. This makes me nervous on a couple of levels as I never want to be accused of taking company secrets to my new employer, and I’d really rather prefer if they DIDN’T have the money talks in front of me, but I’m not quite sure how to make that stop- I’m still here, doing my job, for one more week (I gave 3 months notice), and part of my job is planning for the future. It also means I’m privy to things my team is not – like further plans to downsize, or that they’re planning on moving another company also owned by our new owner into our small workspace.

Our direct manager as well is feeling the pressure, and with the prospect of me leaving, has started to make some changes to the workplace that I feel will be detrimental, to the work, the culture, and the team I’m leaving behind. Add to that that I found and hired my replacement, who I’m now worried is going to get burned by all this, and I’m feeling incredibly guilty and confused.

My question: what can I do for them? Do I have a responsibility to stick my nose in all this mess that is going to come raining down as of Monday (my last day is Friday) or does my leaving mean I can’t have anything to do with it? Is there some trick to just washing your hands and moving on?

Okay, some principles to keep in mind about all this:

1. It is normal in a situation like this to feel guilty that you’re jumping off a (possibly) sinking ship and leaving people behind you. But these are adults who are getting plenty of signals themselves about what’s going on. The downsizing, the smaller offices, the halting of paid leave (!), the fleeing owner — your coworkers may not have all the same information you do, but they have enough to understand that the situation isn’t secure or stable. Anyone who is shocked by further downsizing in that context and didn’t see it coming was almost willfully not paying attention. So you don’t need to struggle with whether you need to sound an alarm for them — the situation is already warning them. They may not know the specifics that you know, but they know the situation isn’t good, and they’re making their own calculations accordingly.

2. And that’s good, because you really can’t share confidential information that your job makes you privy to. This is the nature of some jobs; you signed up for a job that would expose you to internal decision-making and you agreed to keep it confidential. That stuff is not always easy, especially when you’re learning about things that will affect your coworkers, but there’s no exception in the confidentiality provision for “when it becomes hard.”

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