I’ll never forget the time I decided to leave my first major job out of college and move half way across the country for a new job with a new company. I had quietly conducted the job search, which included clandestine flights and weekend interviews. When the offer came, I then let my employer know I was quitting. I felt extremely guilty throughout the process. I still remember going to my boss’ office early one morning and sharing the news that I was leaving—it was a very difficult conversation; he was surprised and disappointed, and for good reason. My employer, a very large company, had treated me well and had a cradle-to-grave employment mentality. My boss was a “company man” and saying you were leaving was like a stab in the back. I had given 4 years of committed service, but there were a lot of employees with 20 or 30 years of service, so 4 years was almost nothing in terms of loyalty or dedication.

My reason for leaving was not due to the job itself or company, it was more of a geographical consideration for me and my young family. While “job hopping” is more common today than it was when I started my career, how you communicate a potential job change can still be difficult.

I think the answer to the title of this post depends on what your intentions are—for example, how open are you to staying or is your mind definitely made up to move on?

When you explore your intentions further, do you really want to stay at your current job but need something to change (e.g. compensation, role, boss, etc.) to feel better about your situation? (In my case above, there was nothing the employer could do, since my reason for leaving was a geographic consideration and working remotely was not an option).

Are you on a “fishing expedition” to see what your value might be to other employers and maybe use what you find out as a negotiating lever?

Is it a “race to the door” to see whether you get fired or can leave on your own terms first?

Or, are you intending to leave regardless of what your boss or company might try to do to convince you otherwise and just want to get it out in the open and move on?

Once you’ve clarified your intention, there are additional considerations:

  • Will your decision burn bridges? What might be the longer-term consequences of burning those bridges, within your profession or industry or community?
  • If you stay, will your boss or company “write you off” (maybe not overtly) as unreliable and not include you in important meetings or decisions and thereby potentially derail your career?
  • On a related note, might others always be suspicious of your motives and true intentions, and lack trust in you?
  • If you announce your intent to resign, might you get walked out the door immediately, before you had planned to leave, therefore leaving you without pay or the ability to transition properly?

Although the risk might be high, I believe there are some real advantages in sharing your situation with a trusted internal resource, which hopefully would include your manager. Reasons that come to mind for me:

  • It shows you have commitment, respect and enough loyalty that you want to do the right thing by letting others know how you feel and what your plans might be.
  • It gives your boss and/or company a chance to work things out in way that is more favorable to you; it may “a wakeup call” that the status quo is not good enough for you and potentially other employees too.
  • It conveys your openness and willingness to extend trust to others.
  • It allows the company and your boss to have more time to adjust to the potential reality of your not being around for the long term.
  • You may find that just talking your concerns through with someone allows you to rethink your situation and even change your mind.

Taking the manager perspective for a moment, I know I always appreciated my direct reports being candid with me and being willing to talk through these serious decisions. In some cases, we were able to change course and work out whatever was needed (sometimes the fix was simple). In a few cases, we agreed that moving on was the best thing for the person, as well as for our team and company.

What I’ve also learned is that the worst time to negotiate and try to fix things is when an employee brings another employment offer to the table and indicates they’re leaving. Honestly, it’s too late. I’ve seen way too many instances of scrambling and trying to “save” the relationship only to have it end shortly thereafter. If the employee truly has her mind made up, then the best we can do is learn from the experience and work out a smooth transition.

So, should you tell your employer you’re thinking about leaving, or not? I think the answer comes down to two things: your intentions and the mutual level of trust with your manager. I’d love to hear what you think.