Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues-everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I have a good relationship with my boss and enjoy my current job and employer, but I'm about to interview for another job that is both a career step up and a shorter commute.
Do I tell my boss the real reason I'll be requesting time off is to interview, as a courtesy to her? If I don't tell her the real reason for the time off, what do I say? I won't lie, and I suspect that being vague will tip her off anyhow.
The answer to this is highly dependent on the culture at your workplace and your relationship with your boss.
The standard answer to this -- and the answer for you unless you have concrete reason to believe otherwise -- is that you don't tell your employer that you're job-searching until you have accepted another offer. This is because many employers, once they know you're looking, will begin treating you differently -- for instance, giving you fewer plum assignments or no long-term assignments, curtailing any investments in your training or development, seeing you as disloyal or a short-timer, and in some cases, even letting you go. And after all, you may not get this job, and then you could be stuck in an awkward situation for quite some time.
However, there are some organizations and some bosses where this is not the case. In fact, smart employers go out of their way to cultivate an atmosphere where employees who are ready to move on can freely share their plans, for two reasons:
1. When employers do this, they get employees who give them really long notice periods. I've had employees give me as much as eight months notice that they planned to leave! That was fantastic for me, because it allowed me to structure the hiring of the person's replacement so that the new person started with a week or two of overlap with the exiting person, which both helped with training and eliminates the vacancy period I otherwise would have had. (And since vacancies cause strain on other employees who have to pick up the extra work, this is good news all around.) When employers penalize employees for giving lots of notice, they guarantee that they will just get the standard two weeks, which leaves the manager scrambling to cover the vacancy and rushing to hire.
2. It's good for morale for employees to know that when they're ready to move on, they won't need to sneak around, and that they can even seek help from the person who may be best equipped to find them their next position -- their current manager. If a good employee comes to me ready to start looking at other options, I'll likely try to persuade them to stay -- but if I can't, I'll go all out for them in helping them network into their next job, giving interview advice, etc. It's good for any organization to have employees who know that this is how they treat people.
So there's the argument for employers creating an atmosphere where employees know it's safe to speak up when they're job-hunting. But how do you, as an employee, know if your office is one of those?
The key is to pay attention to how your employer has handled other employees who resign. Are people shown the door immediately? Pushed out earlier than they would have otherwise planned to leave? If so, assume the same may happen to you, and give two weeks and nothing more. But if your employer has a track record of accommodating long notice periods, has been grateful to employees who provide long notice, and has generally shown that employees can feel safe being candid about their plans to leave, take your cues from that. Some employers "earn" long notice periods and employees who keep kicking butt through their final day ... and some don't.
If you end up deciding that you shouldn't risk being candid, the usual options when you have to take time off for an interview are to say you have an "appointment" or "something personal that you need to take care of." Those aren't lies, but they don't share details that you're not obligated to share.
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