DEAR MISS MANNERS: My public, stated reason for leaving my job is that, in addition to an upcoming maternity leave, I will need some time to work on my professional qualifications, including improving my grasp of the local language and dedicating the time and effort necessary to advance.
However, I am also leaving to get away from my boss. His expectations are inconsistent and unclear; he did nothing to improve my working conditions, and his attitude is bad more often than not. Despite this, I expect to receive a good letter of recommendation from him, since I have been a dedicated employee for many years and am sticking to my story about leaving for my own development in all public and professional contexts.
I am working closely with the person hired to replace me. We are sharing an office and will spend almost every workday together until I leave. She has begun picking up on some of the dysfunction in our department and asks pressing questions about it, expressing her frustration with the way things are run.
How diplomatic and/or cautious should I be in addressing her concerns, describing what it has been like working with my boss, etc.? On one hand, I know that it is highly inadvisable and/or rude to bad-mouth one’s boss. On the other hand, we are working together intensively, these are issues she has noticed on her own, and I feel that being too cagey would come off as ridiculous obfuscation.
In addition, there is the real possibility that if she senses I am hiding something but does not know exactly what, she will spin the situation into something even more serious, and perhaps choose not to stay with the company.
Is there a polite way to walk the line between discretion and honesty in this situation?
GENTLE READER: Not, Miss Manners suggests, until the letter of recommendation has been safely written.
Miss Manners is not crass enough to imply that this is the only reason that you should not bad-mouth this gentleman unsolicited, only that it is an added incentive.
Your best course of action would be to continue to allow your colleague to draw her own conclusions. If she finds your boss challenging, you may delicately concur or offer solutions that have previously worked for you. If it gets to the point where she asks you directly whether or not he is truly awful, however, you should demur, telling her to talk directly to him or other current co-workers.
This is not only good form, but highly practical. Those who are staying on have likely found better ways of managing this difficult boss.