Guilt Over Quitting A Job?

Recently, my best friend (we’ll call her BF) was faced with a dilemma. She could

  1. Stick with her current job and be a “loyal employee”, or…
  2. Allow herself to be poached by a former boss who recently left her workplace.


BF’s Current Situation


Looking for the gold at the end of the rainbow…

She works for a big company, a couple of steps up from the bottom of the bureaucratic ladder. But, for the past two years, has found herself doing the job of someone one rung higher than she is currently paid for. While she’s been okay with that – stepping up and proving she is ready for promotion! – she was recently told pretty bluntly that there is a line of people with “more years” ahead of her for that pay bump no matter what the quality of her work. [Bureaucracy in action, huh?]

Also, even though she’s been permanently assigned to a team she’s really enthusiastic about, the last year or two she has also been mostly “on loan” to other teams whose work she’s pretty indifferent about. Basically, although she likes her job most of the time, there’s an underlying current of dissatisfaction that’s been growing for a while even before this opportunity.

What’s Changed?

One of BF’s bosses recently left to join a different company, and has offered BF and several of her other “good” colleagues promotions and more opportunities to follow to this other company. If BF goes, she’ll get to work on projects she finds interesting and with people that she considered the “cream of the crop” at her office. The offer (which is a formal written offer at this point) takes care of money and benefit issues, so she won’t have to worry about anything there – and she’ll get a bit of a pay boost, though nothing that will dramatically change her lifestyle or savings rate.


Sounds like a no brainer, right?

  • Jump the line for the promotion.
  • Get the pay boost.
  • Get to work on projects she cares deeply about.

But this is actually a decision that BF has really been struggling with, and one of the main reasons is guilt. BF (like me) was raised Catholic – and let me tell you – Catholics know how to lay on a quality guilt trip.


The Parental Guilt Trip

BF’s parents are extremely well-practiced at the guilt trip and gave BF and earful when she told them she was considering leaving her current employer for another. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think they would have guilt-tripped her at all if she told them she was quitting to give them grandkids! Double-standard!!)

Since BF’s mom and dad each only ever had one employer in their entire life (dad was a military man, mom a teacher), they couldn’t get over how “disloyal” BF was considering being to her current employer.

“They gave you your start – even when you were just an intern still in school!”

“Who’s going to take care of you and guide you in your new job!?!”

“Think of all those burned bridges and contacts!!!”

Seriously. I wasn’t there, but knowing her parents – these statements would have come with a lot of hand wringing and perhaps tears on her mom’s face.


BF and I talked about their concerns, and together we decided that they didn’t really apply in the twenty-first century workforce the way they might have 30 years ago for her parents – especially since it seems like people in our generation (genX/millennial) are finding they have to hop jobs to move up the corporate ladder. But once we had assuaged the parental guilt, another more ugly form reared its ugly head.


Self-Induced Guilt

BF still had to deal with her own guilt about those she felt like she would “leaving behind”. Since she knew that others in her organization were also being poached, she felt like she would be blindsiding her remaining boss who would already be losing a good number of his staffers. She also felt really bad about the staffers that would be left behind, since they would have to deal with all the remaining deadlines on her projects once she left – and she knew they were already overwhelmed with work. No matter how much preparation BF did after giving notice, the reality of her job is such that she knows there would be a scramble after she left to deal with various impending and unbendable deadlines.


While BF and I were talking about this, I reminded her of when I quit my last job. Since it was a company where giving notice isn’t really an option (often they walked people after they quit), and I didn’t want to screw anyone over, I worked night and day the few weeks leading up to the date I had chosen for my resignation. I completed projects well ahead of when they were needed so that the people I was “leaving” would be as little inconvenienced as possible by my departure. I, too, felt guilty about it.

In the end, my coworkers were fine after I left. I fielded a few calls to help direct them to documents or explain details behind outlines that weren’t 100% clear, but it wasn’t life-changing for the coworkers I left behind. They dealt with the temporary increase in workload and got through it. And judging from the friendships I still maintain with many of them, no one was ever mad at me for “inconveniencing” them.


What Do You Think?

If you were in BF’s shoes, what would you do? Are BF and I wrong to feel guilty about leaving a job? Do you think her parents are right to make her feel like she’s being disloyal to her employer? Is loyalty to an employer passé?


31 comments to Guilt Over Quitting A Job?

  • I would have no guilt whatsoever. You can be grateful that the old company gave you a change, and a paycheck for so long, but if they had to let you go they wouldn’t think twice about it. I would take the opportunity to earn more, and have a more interesting job, because I have to watch for myself and the old company can find a million new me to work for them.

    • I think that’s the kindof guilt trip her parents were laying on her, and it didn’t really work. But any guilt for the co-workers you’re leaving behind? Sticking them with finishing projects when they’ve already got full plates?

      • Not really to be honest, there is only so much one person can do, especially at a certain level of income. I can multitask for 15 hours a day if you pay me right, but it didn’t seem to be the case there. I would feel sorry for other people staying at the company, and encourage them to do better too if they can.

        • It’s tough because her company really has been asked lately to do a lot more with fewer resources – this has been a theme for a while and it is finally really starting to have an impact on the employees.

  • I have actually done this and felt no guilt. I followed my bosses from a investment research company and took a job with Bank of America. In the end it didn’t turn out so well because I got caught up right in the middle of the financial meltdown, but it led me to where I am at today.

    • Yeah, switching jobs in late 2008 was a crazy time in the finance arena. I know some people that ended up completely changing directions then, and couldn’t be happier – even though they didn’t plan it that way.

  • Seth

    I would have no guilt for the co-workers I am leaving behind. If I was one of the co-workers not leaving, I would understand if someone left for a job opportunity and be happy for them.

    • Maybe it’s a girl thing? Mr. PoP didn’t understand why we would feel bad, either. But BF and I are so similar that we both felt totally the same way.

  • I have a guilty complex so I can see where the guilt would come from! When I left my old position (same company as I am in now) to move to my new position, I had a hard time even applying for the job. I was excited-both the job description and the pay raise were amazing but I had only worked in my old job for 6 months. So there was that guilt of “this supervisor gave me my job and I do love it” but I continued to do both jobs until they hired the person I recomended. That helped clear any guilt on my end :)

  • I understand being loyal, but I would have no guilt at all. In this economy, you have to look out for yourself. If this change will earn her more PLUS allow her to work on things she enjoys and follow someone like this old boss, then it’s a no brainer in my book. I think the time of staying in one career has passed us by and it often takes moving around to really be able to move up. Also, in the end, a firm would feel no guilt in letting her go if they deemed it necessary to cut her position back. So, why hold yourself back if your employer has shown they’re not willing to recognize someone’s talent and move them up.

    • I totally hear you – I think the battle for us is not in feeling guilty about the employer, but rather your other co-workers for putting them in a position where they’re going to have an extra workload. Especially with the economy, there’d be a decent chance if she left they wouldn’t replace her because of a hiring freeze.

  • First of all, that’s total BS that someone has “more years” and skill level won’t contribute to promotion. Screw that. I’d have no guilt over leaving that place if I knew the new one wouldn’t fold in right away. If she has the drive, the motivation, the talent, she should pursue whatever is most important to her (job security, or advancement). Personally, I’d go for advancement.

    • I think I’d make the same decision that you would but in BF’s defense, the company is a very structured, union-type of place… So things like “years” matter in ways that I get frustrated on her behalf for because I’ve never run into that in my career. Every job I have had it’s been what you did that mattered, not how long you were there. But there are companies where your tenure matters.

  • I always felt guilty leaving one job for another but I quickly got over it. I realized that I had to put my career and best interest of my family above loyalty to people who didn’t care if I worked there or not.

    I don’t think that your friend has any reason to feel guilty. As long as she’s comfortable with her choice, that is all that should matter.

  • Rachel

    I understand the relationship and the responsibility your friend is feeling toward her current co-workers, but I think it might help her if she reframes the situation: It is the responsibility of her current employer to resource the work it has committed to accomplishing. As part of that responsibility, the company has a duty to adapt when (not if) resources change. The company’s options include replacing, reprioritizing or reshuffling the workstream. However, resolving this situation is _not_ your BF’s fault or responsibility.

    Now, one of the things that probably makes her a fantastic employee is the sense of responsibility and connectedness she feels to her co-workers. It is admirable. But help her understand that just because she’s leaving the company and that causes a change in the status quo, it isn’t her responsibility to fix it or that she is causing the team to suffer. The cause of the team’s suffering is the choice that the company made, ultimately, because they have the responsibility to work through resource changes.

    I had to do this exercise myself not too long ago, so I feel for her. But once you frame up whose responsibilities are whose, that helps with the guilt.

  • As a business owner and boss, I have “poached” good employees from other jobs and I have seen a fair share of employee leave for one reason or another. We are small, so I get to know everyone and their families. I never take someone leaving a job personally. You have to do what is right for your situation, and you should feel no guilt if you give proper notice. People might struggle at first when faced with filling you shoes if you were a good employee, but someone always steps up. It is not your job to worry about the company after you leave. Don’t feel guilty at all.

  • Anne

    Your BFF should have no guilt. (Not that she won’t feel it…I was raised Catholic too, but happily, I am over it.) In this day and age, your current company has absolutely no loyalty to you. They may, at this very moment, be in talks to sell to another company. They are not thinking about you at all.

    They have also shown that they are not loyal by letting you work your butt off at a higher level for no pay raise. (By the way, I believe this is a Catholic and a women thing.) They have trained you to do the position at a discount. So they should not be surprised when you go to a company who will pay you what you are worth.

    It is a whole new world from when her parents started. I’m not sure why she even asked their opinion on this.

    Finally, if she doesn’t take this new opportunity, someone else will and her current company will know that they can leave her right where she is for a very long time and her loyalty will keep her there.

  • I don’t feel guilty when I leave a job for a better one. I continuously changing my jobs to seek new experiences and have a greater job.

    I know one thing that I leave a company and my co-workers, there life is still going. It doesn’t matter if work or no longer work with them.

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  • It’s a tough business. Got to look out for yourself first as companies are no longer loyal to you.

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  • Kate

    Her parent’s advice was way off-base and TBH, ridiculous. People move up the professional ladder, usually, by switching jobs. Colleagues are not going to hold grudges for going after other opportunities.

    Her parents are not in her shoes. If she’s dissatisfied, it spills over to other parts of life. Work is one big chunk of our time each day, week, month, year, life. etc.

    This notion of loyalty to one employer is very antiquated. If she were in a situation where the company was laying off people, the company would have no guilt laying off people.

    • Yeah, we thought her parents’ advice was pretty outdated – but at the same time, just a year ago her company had to deal with pretty severe budget deficits and ended up freezing salaries having furlough days and limiting promotions to prevent firing people. (That’s part of why she wasn’t being paid for the job she was performing in the first place….) So while everyone was glad that no jobs were lost, everyone had to pay the price of it.

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  • I’m actually going through a very similar process right now. I always feel terrible when I leave a job, and feel like I’m being disloyal for “job-hopping” as much as I have in my career. With my current company, I was brought in as a Temp to fill one open position, then hired on permanently and immediately promoted to train for the position of someone who was terminally ill. It’s been just over a year now since I started with the company, and the person I replaced just recently passed away. When I started they knew that I was interested in moving ahead with my career, as I’m going to school to obtain my Masters and CPA, and this is a very entry-level position. They ensured me that there were promotional opportunities with the parent companies. But the longer I’m here, the more I realize that they don’t promote… Most people stay in position 5-20 years, and then either retire, get fired, or leave. I’m considering exploring new opportunities, but feel so guilty, especially given the fact that I replaced someone who was terminally ill (who otherwise would have held this position for 10-20 more years). I know I have to do what is best for me, but that doesn’t ease the guilt. And it doesn’t help that there is no one to fill-in for my position, and it is a somewhat difficult one to train someone on. I keep reminding myself that I just started looking though, so it could be months and months before it’s even a reality.
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  • I can relate to feeling obligated to ride it out with a company that you have been through so much with. Many of the things you and her thought about had crossed my mind, and I’ve left more than a couple jobs due to a similar situation. Ultimately you have to make the decision that works best for you and really figure out if it is a an opportunity that will better you.

    Great story for people to relate to!
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