I have worked for a small, struggling publishing company for five years and the boss and owner is a decent man I have a lot of respect for. I have just returned from six months’ leave to write a book, but in my second week back have been offered a grander, better-paid job at a major publishing house. I would jump at it, but I feel I have a debt of honour to my boss. He allowed me to take time off when it was inconvenient to him, the unspoken agreement being that I would remain loyal for at least a while on my return. If I resign now he will be rightly angry. But should I do it anyway?
Publisher, female, 34
You are right to feel uneasy. To sidle off now would be a low thing to do. Understandable, but still low.
Most of us can dispense with loyalty to our employers as they show none to us. Your employer is not a faceless company but a decent man who has done you a favour.
Luckily, there is an easy way to solve your problem: talk to him. Tell him you have been approached. Tell him you feel tempted. Tell him that you feel under an obligation to him.
It is quite possible he will be relieved. To pay one fewer salary when he is struggling may make him feel Christmas has come early. And as he survived without you for six months, he may not be worried about doing so indefinitely. If this is right, you can both wave farewell fondly and heave your separate sighs of relief.
Equally, it is possible – given what a decent fellow he isthat he will want to keep you but will also understand that small, poor companies can’t keep good people for ever, and see five years as a fair whack.
There is another chance (smaller, I think) that he won’t take it so well, and will protest that you have broken your unspoken deal.
If he takes this line, you must make that upspoken deal spoken, agree a minimum length of service and serve it with good grace. Then you can assuage your thwarted ambition with the thought that a decent boss whom you respect is rare. One who allows you to go off and write books is rarer still.
If you do stay, there is a risk you may be rewarded by losing your job as times are hard, and small struggling publishers may well fold. Yet you would not necessarily be safe in the big one either: it might not go under, but could well fire first the last one to have been hired.