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my boss renegotiated my new job’s start date behind my back — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I’ve just given notice to leave a job that I love because my manager has become intolerable. I’ll spare you the details, but for context, this manager (let’s call them B) has a negative reputation in the company and the two previous departures from my team have cited abuse from B as their reason for leaving. I am the third (at least) to quit because of B.

Just before I gave notice, an excellent new job opportunity fell into my lap at a different company with a start date at about the same time I was planning to leave.

I tried to offer four weeks’ notice and gave up some PTO to ease the transition. B asked me to speak with the boss at my new job (let’s call her C) to ask for more flexibility with the start date. I agreed I would call C, but within an hour of leaving that meeting with B, B called C themselves to try to negotiate a later start date for me. (The field is small, so they are not strangers to each other, but as far as I am aware do not have any relationship beyond passing professional acquaintances.)

C called me surprised and a bit shaken to have heard unexpectedly from B, and the start date for the new position was pushed back by a month because of the pressure she felt. I stuck to my original notice of four weeks anyway, because I am confident I can wrap up my work in that time, and frankly, because I am tired of being bullied and was not interested in being cornered into staying longer in a position than I want.

HR has been aware of the situation with B from the beginning and has been supportive of me, but upper management is hesitant to take any action despite the ongoing departures. My new role will involve contact with important people in my current organization (though not with B), so I need to maintain a positive relationship with the company while I exit.

So, three questions:

• Is it completely bananapants for my manager to have called my new boss like that, or am I off-base in thinking this is wildly unprofessional? I could use some validation if I’m right to be upset, or greater context if I’m not.

• How do I approach my exit interview? It now looks like I am leaving because this new opportunity came up, but the truth is that I was out the door anyway, 100% because of my manager. Should I be honest about my reasons to leave, or does providing honest feedback run the risk of damaging my relationship with the company, given they are not inclined to do anything about the cause of the turnover on my team?

• How do I approach what happened with my new boss when I finally do start the new role?

Yes, it is full-on bananapants for your boss to have called another company and tried to push back your start date. Your arrangements with a separate job are none of her business, and that was a wild overstep.

If you’d been moving internally, this kind of conversation sometimes does happen. But absolutely not with a separate company.

Your old manager and your new manager aren’t two parents arranging a play date for their kids. You’re an adult who makes your own decisions about when you end your work for an employer. (And good for you for doing exactly that and sticking to your original exit date regardless of what your old boss thought she had worked out.)

Ideally your new boss would have shut it down when she got the call — saying something like, “That’s really something I can only negotiate with Jane.” But many people find it hard to shut down weird behavior in the moment, and she’s not the one at fault here; your old boss is. Don’t worry about needing to finesse it with her when you start; it might not even come up, but if it does, you can just say, “I’m sorry about that, I had no idea she’d call you and I never would have okayed it had I’d known.”

Also, do you still want your original start date? If so, call up Jane now and say, “I had no idea B was going to call you and I’m keeping my last day here as (date) for a bunch of reasons. I’d still love to start with you on (original start date) if that still works on your end.”

As for your exit interview, if your sense is that your input won’t matter, stick to bland answers. If your company wants real input from people, they should ask for it before people are leaving — and they should make it safe for people to offer and should show they take it seriously when they get it. Occasionally real change does result from an exit interview, but it doesn’t sound like you’ve seen signs of that being likely here. That said, you could certainly say something like, “I think you’re aware of why people are leaving the team, and I’d rather not rehash those issues in detail.” You could also mention your boss’s overstep with calling your new employer and say that it’s “indicative of the types of issues that drove me to think about leaving in the first place.” If you do really want to say more, though, do it as unemotionally as possible; the less emotional you sound, the more credible you’re likely to seem. But I’m skeptical there would be much value in it, given that they already know.

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