I’ve gotten a job offer elsewhere. Should I tell anyone at work?

Did you tell anyone?
Did you tell anyone?
Image: AP Photo/Jim Young
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Q: I’ve gotten a job offer to work somewhere else. Should I tell my boss—or anyone else at work for that matter?

Dear Shifting Gears,

Whether you love your job or wish it would go the way of the fax machine and Palm Pilots, keep in mind, the circumstances surrounding job offers from other companies are often open to interpretation (hint: your boss will always wonder who initiated the exchange) and once you let the genie out of the bottle, you can’t put it back.

It’s typically unwise to share your news with superiors unless you have a signed offer in hand and plan on pursuing it, in which case they deserve at least two weeks’ notice. As for your colleagues, a similar heads-up is advised—once you’ve spoken with your manager first. With colleagues, though, you needn’t be as specific with details on the new position.

In any event, should you receive an offer you plan to decline, you’re best served staying silent and keeping the information on the down-low.

A good question to ask yourself if you’re considering revealing that you’ve received overtures from another firm before sharing this information with others at your workplace is as follows: What message might it send that I’m even bringing up the topic?

In theory, loyal and satisfied employees aren’t the sort to typically point to an interest in entertaining outside proposals. Likewise, even passing comments to this effect may impact team morale, productivity, and peers. Colleagues may disappointed, taken aback, or even jealous, while superiors may question your commitment to your role and where your loyalties lie, or be concerned about the signals that it sends to your coworkers.

Even if you plan to decline the offer, letting colleagues know you have an offer out there before you’ve accepted it may, at best, be considered in poor taste. At worst, it  can come across as bragging, or a calculated attempt to negotiate more favorable terms from your employer. No matter the actual circumstances surrounding your receipt of the offer, be advised: Bringing up the topic will inadvertently cause others to consider the concept of your departure (realistic or otherwise), and this may lead them to be more skeptical and less open and/or trusting.

However, if you’ve received an alternate job offer, and would prefer to negotiate with your employer rather than leave your current position, you might bring up the subject for discussion privately with your superior. Be aware, though: Doing so may very well strain relations with your boss and you may risk offending your employer. Going in, it may provide some comfort to know that many companies have downsized and are in lean mode already, meaning that if you’re still on the books, you’re considered an important contributor. However, you have to be careful not to overplay your hand here either. Competing offers can suddenly be withdrawn, and if you operate in industries where competition is high (media, public relations, advertising, etc.) and many job candidates are available, you may have less leverage than you’d like.

If you choose to go this route, the key is to do extensive research upfront. Before you ask your employer to counter a competing offer, take time to consider precisely what it is you’re looking to gain (more money, additional responsibilities, reassignment to other teams/projects, etc.) in your negotiations. Likewise, it’s important to be flexible. Going in, have a few points that won’t trouble you much to concede on, but will make your employer feel as if they’ve gained some ground by obtaining these concessions.

When approaching the topic with your employer, lead with positivity, and keep discussions strictly to facts, not emotions. Explain what you love about your current company and role, how you’d like to progress within them, and where you feel room for constructive change exists. Be prepared that conversations may not go as planned though, and that you may need to part ways with your present employer, in which case it’s best to do so on amicable terms. After all, it’s not uncommon for working professionals to leave a company to gain new insights and experience, only to return to their former employer in a new role at a later time.

If you do need to give an employer notice, try to end things on as high of a note as possible. When communicating, stay positive about your company, colleagues, and time with the organization, and don’t make negative or critical comments about them. Being respectful and helping with the transition—e.g. by offering to bring others up to speed on accounts or train new hires—can help promote goodwill.

And remember, you’re not obligated to share extensive details on your new job (just that you’ve found another position), and shouldn’t put contact information for it in your outgoing email signature. Rather, use that space to let folks know whom to contact in your place at your former employer, and use personal contact information if they’d like to follow up on non-work-related matters instead.

Scott Steinberg is the author of The Business Etiquette Bible.

Do you have a workplace etiquette question? Submit it to Scott by emailing work@qz.com.