Want To Leave But Guilt Is Keeping Me Here

I’m employed at a B2B web startup in London for the past 7 months. Recently, we were told that the company was running out of money and costs had to be cut in order to give the company a few more months to live, so a few of the staff were let go. While this is often an unfortunate fact of life in startups, I believe in our case it was easily avoidable.

The CEO is really inconsistent and impulsive in their management style, and prone to making rash decisions. For example, we expanded way too quickly, opening satellite offices before making any revenue, and we were too flippant about the sales pipeline, treating leads as if they were “in the bag” when they were anything but. This is especially dangerous as we trade in a highly vertical market, with comparatively few players, huge switching costs and capital expenditure required on the part of customers, so it requires a lot of coaxing and help to get their business.  

Our CEO is also unable to properly delegate and frequently meddles in different departments without going through the proper channels. They seem to think every idea they have is a great one and should be implemented immediately, which I think has led to staff suffering from change fatigue and has creates a general sense of unfairness as ideas are often not selected on merit but the seniority of the person who made them.

The business development folks have tweaked the sales process to try and save our bacon, but the only changes I’ve seen are to charge more for the same product offering, so I don’t know how successful that will be.

I’ve decided to wait until the end of next month to see how things are going and give the new strategy some time to get to work, but if I had my choice, I’d leave today. Morale and motivation seems to have drained out of the company and all of us have plans in our own lives we would like to be getting on with. But, this is very difficult when your employer is circling the drain and you feel guilty about leaving because of the distraction and stress it will cause the business.

What would you do? Thanks.







  • I’m a CEO/founder. We’ve gone through ups and downs, lost many good people, etc. We have hundreds of team members.

    My advice – go to your CEO, tell him/her how you feel about the situation. Maybe start with something like “I realize I don’t necessarily see all the angles like you do…” and then offer your perspective on some of the challenges you perceive with the decision making and strategy.

    From a CEO standpoint, there are multiple contradicting feelings around strategy / decisions:

    1) everyone seems to have an opinion

    2) you’re the one ultimately responsible/accountable for the outcome

    3) your employees are usually right and very insightful in their perspective about what’s wrong (so you should definitely listen)

    4) but they don’t always see the bigger picture or have all the context (hence the conclusions on how to integrate this feedback can be different)

    By acknowledging points 1/2/4, you can help your CEO really hear you above the rest of the noise, and hopefully they’ll take the points of feedback seriously.

    Now in terms of what you should do in terms of your employment at the company…

    Many people say the hardest part of being CEO is firing people. In my experience it’s actually the 2nd hardest. The 1st hardest is actually when people quit/leave … ESPECIALLY in the hard times. It feels like people don’t trust you, it triggers all sorts of emotions around rejection, it creates downward spirals, etc.

    When times are hard, the CEO is well aware of the situation, and deep down totally understands why you’d be leaving. In times like this, the things they yearn for are loyalty, trust, advance notice, open communication.

    So … since you’re already going to stay a month out of (admirable) loyalty for the company … you should get the benefits of this in terms of your CEO’s reciprocating loyalty and respect … while also doing what’s best for you.

    Hence I would tell the CEO that you’ll give it another month, with an open mind about staying if things turn around. Tell him/her you’re staying in large part out of loyalty to the company, not necessarily what’s best for you individually. Ask if there are additional ways you can prepare your exit – should that be the outcome – in a way that’s less damaging to morale / other team members.

    You’ll be doing the CEO a big favor by approaching it in this spirit, which will hopefully translate to less stress and more success for everyone. And my bet is they’ll be super grateful and loyal to you down the road.

    Good luck. 🙂

    • Great advice! Thank you for answering this post. It is always good to see the situation from a different angle, in that case the CEO’s.

    • No!

      If you do that and the firm recovers, he will see you as a traitor who put the knife at his neck the moment he needed you most (even if you didn’t — just from his view).

      Leave now if you can, you wasted enough time.

  • Chances are good that your leaving won’t have as big of an impact as you think it will, no matter how good you are. It is circling the drain, after all. Thus, your guilt is probably misplaced.

    Also, it’s best to have loyalty to people, not companies.

  • Did you feel they got your back while you were there? If not I wouldn’t stay. Alternatively you could tell them you’d consult for them part time after you’ve found a new gig to make the transition easier.

    I’ve been in your shoes though, I’ve thought I was the bee’s knees when I left and they never reached out to me to get my thoughts even though I felt they’d be in hot water since I was key in certain pieces of the code. People just make do.

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