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How long do I help my former employer?

Posted by Elaine Varelas  January 26, 2011 10:00 AM

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Q. I worked for a difficult boss for several years and I found a better paying position out of state. During the first month at my new job, his secretary called me for help and I did provide assistance. Last week, another former co-worker called and I provided assistance.

Then on a Saturday evening, my former boss e-mailed me asking me about a report and where exactly in my old office it was located.

I've been gone now four months, and I can't remember where everything is, much less which specific report he wanted. I e-mailed back that he should check my computer. He replied with an insulting e-mail about how I didn't follow through on the report.

I know we shouldn't burn bridges with former employers but I think this is harassment. How long before I can tell these people to stop calling me?

A. Your manager should no longer have expectations that you need to find things, or support their efforts on the job. However, you may find that being supportive in your communication will earn you rewards you may need later, like a reference.

How an employee leaves a job is up to both the employee and the employer. Employers are often scrambling to find a replacement, while the employee is eagerly thinking about their new role, and wrapping up their old one. Most often employers will take the lead on the transition plans, but a manager may not know how many responsibilities an individual carried out or how much support is needed during the transition.

If your employer doesn't make effective transition plans, than you can and should take the lead. Be very clear about your areas of responsibility. Document as much as you can prior to leaving. Develop a list of tasks you are responsible for and review your job description. Have a formal meeting to review each of these and determine who will be assigned to take over responsibility for these tasks so you can offer to train them.

Review your filing system - both hard copy and electronic, and document as much as possible about these systems. Rename documents if you need to so they make sense to everyone, not just you.

After you have done this, ask your manager if they would like to go over the materials you created for the new person who will fill the role. They might decide not to take advantage of this offer, but you will have done your best to provide for an effective transition. You might also offer to speak to the replacement for their first week or two on the job.

Right after someone leaves, a manager might call a former employee for help (I know I have), recognizing that this is a favor, not a demand. After that, managers should be very reluctant to call former employees for support, unless it is an emergency. Maintaining good relationships through positive, professional, communications will ensure is important. If you can't help than a positive response like "I am so sorry I can't help you more, but I don't remember after this time. If I think of anything that I think might help, I will call you or email right away.", is always the best approach.

If the difficult manager continues to be challenging, respond respectfully in an email and copy human resources, or your former manager's boss.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

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