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.
  • Keith

    | 9726 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    15 Mar, 2017 11:46

    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.
  • Elizabeth

    | 1584 Posts

    Chartered Fellow

    15 Mar, 2017 14:43

    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

    | 6855 Posts

    Community Manager

    16 Mar, 2017 11:45

    In reply to Elizabeth:


    "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. 

  • David

    | 19819 Posts

    Chartered Member

    16 Mar, 2017 12:04

    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,
  • Ray

    | 2029 Posts

    Chartered Member

    16 Mar, 2017 15:40

    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

  • 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!!
  • Michael Ranft

    | 9 Posts


    3 days ago

    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
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