3 Times It’s Worth Burning A Bridge In Your Career

There are times when cutting ties is the best thing to do. Here are the circumstances when burning a bridge can be a good thing for your career.

3 Times It’s Worth Burning A Bridge In Your Career
[Photo: Aziz Acharki via Unsplash]

There is certain career advice that just about everyone seems to take as gospel. Always pay your dues, don’t be too picky about your first job, and keep your options open when you start out. The merits of these types of advice have been questioned, debated, and in some cases–even debunked. But there’s one piece of advice that seems to stick: “Whatever you do, avoid burning bridges!”


But is this still good advice to follow? After all, we live in a time where job-hopping isn’t considered to be too much of a stigma, and where career changes are commonplace. Not to mention, technology has forced many industries to undergo rapid transformations, which means that layoffs and restructuring are also pretty common among companies.

According to HR professional and career strategist Dorianne St Fleur, this advice isn’t always applicable to the modern workplace. She tells Fast Company, “Most of it stems from the way the workforce used to be. The market…we have now, where people can jump around, and they do jump around, it’s not really looked down upon anymore. I don’t think the advice is keeping up with the way the workforce works.”

St Fleur’s own experience shaped her outlook on burning bridges. “By nature, I’m a rules follower.” So early on in her career, she largely stuck to this advice. But she found herself laid off in 2011. “I know we’re at-will employees here in the U.S., but seeing it at work where you go in to work one day, and literally the next day you don’t have a job, I realized I needed to look out for myself and my career, because these companies look out for their bottom line.” 

Related: What You Should Do After Getting Fired 

St Fleur began to understand the flaw in the advice that you should avoid to burn a bridge at all cost. Of course, it’s never okay to do anything with malicious intent, and you should always strive to be as professional and as transparent as possible, she asserts. But sometimes, ruffling a few feathers is what it takes to move forward in your career. Here are three instances where it may be worth burning a bridge:

1. You Are Experiencing Harassment, Or The Job Has A Negative Impact On Your Health

“If your health and well-being are in danger, it doesn’t matter if you’re burning bridges,” St. Fleur says. In the ideal world, individuals who are mistreated at work should be able to report their experience, and have the company take appropriate actions. Unfortunately–as we’ve learned from the experiences of several women in tech this year–many times companies don’t do so. This leaves the employee with a choice of putting up with the abuse, or leaving the company and potentially burning some bridges in the process.


2. You Have A Strong Suspicion That The Company Might Be Going Out Of Business

If there’s evidence that the company is on thin ice financially–and likely to go out of business soon, it’s probably smart to start planning your next move, even if doing so might upset your employer. “You can read the writing on the wall, they’re not doing well,” St Fleur says. As she pointed out earlier, companies rarely hesitate to let go of employees when they need to cut costs or restructure, so an employee shouldn’t hesitate to protect themselves when they need to. 

3. It’s The Only Way For You To Move Forward In Your Career

For former attorney turned publicist and Fast Company contributor Kristi A. Dosh, it was necessary to burn a professional bridge, because if she didn’t do so, she’d be missing out on opportunities for career growth. When Dosh was laid off as an attorney in 2009, one of her partners at the firm connected her with a friend who was a partner at another law firm, and she secured another job straight away. She soon found that it was the opposite of her previous firm. She was micromanaged, and was told to fire a client she bought to the firm who generated $80,000 in revenue. After just four months on the job, Dosh left. She wrote, “Traumatic though it was (and still is), it was the best decision I ever made for my career.”

Related: 4 Ways To Bounce Back When You’re Treated Unfairly At Work 

St Fleur agrees that if a better career opportunity came along that would be better for you in the long term, you shouldn’t hesitate to take it. “You should be doing things that are in your best interest, and if you leave early, you should never feel bad for making moves for yourself and your family.”

How To Rebuild A Burned Bridge

It’s important to mention that if you’re ever faced with circumstances that require you to burn a bridge, it is possible to rebuild it. St Fleur says that a lot of times, people assume they can’t mend the relationship, so they don’t even try. But that’s not necessarily true. It is important to give them some distance to heal the wounds, but once sufficient time has passed, she recommends making an effort to touch base. This article has some tips on how you can best prepare yourself when that time comes.

St Fleur urges people to remind themselves, “At the end of the day, these managers, they’re human. They can change their minds.”


About the author

Anisa is a freelance writer and editor who covers the intersection of work and life, personal development, money, and entrepreneurship. Previously, she was the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section and the co-host of Secrets Of The Most Productive people podcast.