Just Don't Tell Too Soon

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Sunday, May 11, 2008

Q My husband recently enlisted in the Navy. He has seven more weeks in boot camp and then will have either three or 12 months of additional training before he is posted to his first assignment. I intend to stay in my current job until we are posted. Should I tell my boss about the Navy now or later? Given our tanking economy and my need to keep this job and our income, I'm leaning toward the latter.

I work for a small, family-owned company (me, the boss and his wife). I am close to the owners and don't want to be thought of as disloyal. I do most of the client work, and I am not easily replaceable, but I would prefer they not even think of finding a new "less expensive" employee in this economy. I am extremely loyal, get involved in industry trade organizations for the company's benefit, and have been employed longer and have produced better than any employee in the company's history (their words).

I certainly plan to give more than adequate notice and stay to train the replacement when the time comes. I would like to avoid a situation of, "Why didn't you tell us about this months ago," but is that realistic? Do I risk my job to prevent burning a huge bridge in a small, well-connected industry? They know a lot of people in my industry, so I need to be careful. I'm really struggling to do the right thing for everyone. They have been really good to me over the years.

A Being a loyal employee doesn't require you to instantly share personal news. So much could happen in the next year. Your husband could drop out of the Navy or flame out in boot camp; you could get pregnant or decide to go to graduate school -- really, the list goes on.

So your responsibility to your wonderful bosses isn't total disclosure. It's to strike a balance between giving them sufficient notice to replace you and not alarming them unnecessarily or making yourself a short-timer prematurely.

So when's the right time to share your news? When it's close enough that the statistical probability of it becoming a reality is fairly high. In your case, it's about a month or two from your departure date. You will have a better sense of that after your husband finishes boot camp. Any sooner than that doesn't really help them, but it could hurt you -- especially if your plans change.

Baltimore: I'm in a bit of a pickle. My boss's boss (let's call him A) has a new boss (let's call her B). So B is A's boss. B seems to think that I am exceptionally good at my job, and she keeps asking me to do projects for her. Good, right? Except my time is already fully allocated for my projects. I don't really have time to do B's pet projects, and I have to put other things aside to work on them. I talked to A about this, and he said to just ignore her. But I don't think I should do that. I want upper management to have a good impression of me. I don't want to ignore her and risk offending her. I'm also trying not to complain about the extra work because I feel as if I should be welcoming direct assignments from upper management. However, a lot of it is busy work that takes time away from my "real" work. Thoughts?

It's time for A and B to get together, and work out which projects they want you to concentrate on. This is above your head at this point. Your boss's advice to ignore his boss is shortsighted, and you're wise not to heed it.

Washington: I'm in an awkward situation at work. My co-workers feel comfortable expressing their discontent to me, and the higher-ups look to me for input. I'm stuck in the middle and feel that if I don't represent my co-workers, they will be even more frustrated. But I don't want to go to the higher-ups and look like the leader of a revolt. I'm not worried about my position; rather, I just want to make sure I'm doing the most productive/responsible thing possible for the organization. Any advice?

The next time you're on the receiving end of one of these gripe sessions, turn it back on the unhappy co-worker: Ask what the person thinks should be done to correct the problem. If he or she comes up with something useful, share that with your supervisors.

Mere complaints aren't worth passing along, though. And not doing so doesn't make you a sellout to your colleagues.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company