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Helping a friend trapped in a dead-end position, got me in hot water

Dear Office-Politics,

I am a manager in a company. I am friends with another manager and one of his employees (though, closer to the manager). The employee had been there a number of years and felt that he was in a dead-end position. He confided in me and asked if I would give his resume to my wife, who heads a large organization in another (non-competing) company.

The employee eventually did get a job in my wife’s organization and gave the obligatory two-weeks notice. His manager (my friend) figured out what happened and was a little disappointed that, as a manager, I helped an employee leave the company, and as a friend and manager, I didn’t give him a heads-up earlier that his employee was looking for another job. I said that we should always be prepared for turnover, and I didn’t want to violate the employee’s trust and do something that might hurt his current position, if he didn’t get the new job. The manager admitted that, if he had known earlier than the two weeks, he would have begun to shift responsibilities in the group.

Should I have done anything differently?


Just helping a Friend

franke james

Dear Just helping a Friend,

Greetings! I thought your letter was so relevant that I asked two Office-Politics advisers to answer it.

Arnie Herz, who practises law in New York State, gave an expert opinion that zeroes in quickly on a solution. Jennifer Glueck Bezoza, who has an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University, responded with a checklist of questions that explore the emotional and psychological issues around your actions.

Please let us know if this helps — we appreciate ALL feedback. Both authors have spent considerable time thinking about your dilemma and would LOVE hearing whether you think the advice fits. Please send us a quick note! Thank you for writing Office Politics.

arnie herz

Dear Just helping a Friend,

I think you handled it well with one possible tweak. Perhaps if you told the employee he had to give 4 weeks notice (or even 3 weeks) it would have served the other managers needs as well. It seems that you had the leverage to request this of the employee. ~ Arnie Herz, Esq.

Arnie Herz, is a lawyer, mediator, speaker, author and consultant nationally recognized for his practical and inspired approach to conflict resolution and client counseling. Visit his blog at LegalSanity.com

jennifer glueck bezoza

Dear Just helping a Friend,

Any time an employee talks to you in confidence about his or her plans to look for a new job outside the organization, you want to understand the situation and honor the individual’s privacy. At the same time, as a manager, you want to ensure that the employee has thoroughly explored options with your organization before walking away. All too often, employees find it easier to quit than to express and advocate for their needs within the organization. Eventually, employees’ frustration builds to a breaking point where “getting out” feels like the only solution.

You ask whether you should have done anything differently in this situation – namely whether you should have refrained from sharing this individual’s resume with your wife’s organization and whether you should have alerted the manager of this employee’s plans.

The short answer is it depends on the nature of the conversations you had with this disgruntled employee.

I thought I might offer you a checklist on what types of questions and actions you might consider when an employee shares his or her intentions to leave the company.

    1. Ask the employee to share the context and reasons for wanting to leave the organization and listen carefully for both the stated vs. the real reasons for wanting to leave the organization

    2. Encourage the employee to talk with his or respective manager about his feelings and what it is he or she needs to stay with the organization; whether or not the situation is amenable, it will allow the manager the opportunity to at least try to accommodate the individual’s needs, even if it’s just a short-term solution.

    3. If the employee believes he has voiced his concerns to his manager to no end, you might enquire about other departments or roles that would keep him at the company, and ask whether he might consider openly share this with his manager

    4. If the employee asks for your help in connecting him with other organizations, you might respond that you would like him to at least explore options within the company before you support him in looking outside.

    5. If you feel the employee has not adequately discussed matters with his manager and/or has no plans to do so before giving notice, I believe it is your responsibility to find a respectful way to inform your fellow manager that you are concerned about this employee and think it would be prudent to check in with this employee on how things are going. While it might be construed as breaking confidentiality, I believe you can do so in a way that keeps the nature of the concern confidential and still alerts your fellow colleague of an impending crossroads with a particular staff member.

    6. If the employee has adequately explored options internally and still feels that leaving is the right thing to do, it is advisable to stay out of the employee’s job search, to the extent possible. However, if the employee comes directly to you with a specific contact request – as occurred in this case – I think you can provide the information and step out of the way. You just don’t want to be perceived as actively helping someone leave your company.

You walk a delicate tight rope as a manager in this situation. You want to be a trusted confidante to the employee, a proactive manager and ambassador for the company, and a trusted colleague to your fellow mangers.

I sense on your framing of the question that you are reflecting on your actions and wondering if you might have handled this situation differently. The answer is “perhaps,” but at the same time, maybe that is what felt right to you with this particular employee.

I hope you and your fellow manager can have an open dialogue and clear the air. If you do in fact think you could have done something differently, I would share your reflections and remorse with this fellow manager and discuss how you might do it differently going forward. I hope some of these tips might be helpful in the future. Thank you for writing to Office Politics.


Jennifer Glueck Bezoza, MA

Jennifer Glueck Bezoza has an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University and a BA in psychology and humanities from Stanford University. She currently works in Organizational Development for the largest not-for-profit home health organization in the country where she focuses on succession planning, leadership development and coaching. Previously, she worked for GE Commercial Finance and HR consultant, Towers Perrin.

  1. 2 Answers to “Helping a friend trapped in a dead-end position, got me in hot water”

  2. Feedback from Just helping a Friend

    I was away on a business trip last week and just noticed you had answered my note. Thank you very much for your time and insight. I did many of the steps you recommended, in terms of having the employee consider other avenues within the company. His concern was that, any effort to leave the manager’s organization would have been seen as disloyalty.

    I also wondered if I should share your advice with the employee’s manager, as well as mine, and I see you answered that question, as well.

    It was interesting to see that both of you thought I owed the company more than what was standard, such as having him give four weeks of notice, because of my involvement, or even withholding assistance until conditions were met. Just to provide you with a gauge of the sentiment from the field, I have 10 years of management experience in IT, and I was confident in my actions, but wrote to you because of my friend’s reaction. My wife is a senior IT manager at a large company and has been in the industry for about 17 years. She felt that companies let people go when it’s convenient for them, and she has helped co-workers find new jobs numerous times. My sister works in HR, and she also thought there was nothing wrong from an ethical standpoint. So not to say either of you are wrong, but your advice came as a surprise.

    I do plan to take your advice in similar situations in the future. Thanks again.

    By Letter Writer on Apr 3, 2007

  3. Response from Jennifer Glueck Bezoza:

    I think both Arnie and I responded to the letter writer with suggestions for how managers need to walk a delicate balance between being ambassadors for the organization while also being employee confidantes and advocates. I think our recommendations and suggestions merely pointed out the actions that should be considered to balance out what appeared to be his clear advocacy for the individual employee.

    By Jennifer Glueck Bezoza on Apr 4, 2007

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