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Is it ever okay to quit a bad job dramatically?

While leaving a job on good terms is ideal, there are some epic tales of bridge burning. Is it always a terrible idea?

Is it ever okay to quit a bad job dramatically?
[Photo: SeventyFour/iStock]

Several years ago, Sarah Johnson had a lot on her mind. Now the public relations director of FitSmallBusiness.com, she was working for a public relations agency. Her mother was dying of cancer while a hefty client roster required a great deal of travel. Her boss, who was mourning the death of her cat, began channeling more energy into finding fault with employees’ work, Johnson says.

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“I had very little time with my mother left. Is this worth it to deal with this overly pedantic woman who is making my life and everybody else’s life miserable?” she wondered.

But it was the day that the sunscreen press release came back for its sixth revision that proved to be too much. “I walked into her office and told her this was BS. I guess in the back of my mind, I realized that my mom was dying, and that I didn’t need the headache anymore from this self-absorbed woman,” she says.

Johnson ticked off a litany of reasons why her supervisor was unpleasant and off-putting. She was summarily kicked out of the office and never looked back.

Take this job and . . .

“We all have a breaking point,” says career coach Emily Frank. “When things are really bad at work—they’re starting to fantasize about slashing tires and are getting a little worried that those thoughts might start to bleed into real life—that’s when it’s time to go, no matter what.”

When possible, the best way to deal with a bad job or boss is to simply give two weeks’ notice and move on. Other times, bad working conditions may call for a more extreme exit. While not everyone is going to air their grievances over the company intercom or fake being a vampire, sometimes, external conditions don’t lend themselves to leaving gracefully. And, while you never want to do something that could be dangerous or leave yourself open to liability, she says, it’s not always the worst idea to leave in an outspoken or flamboyant fashion.

Within weeks of starting her dream job, Lorrie Thomas Ross, now founder of digital marketing firm Web Marketing Therapy, realized that something was terribly wrong. Her team was miserable, and on any given day, the tenor of the office was driven by the owner’s mood. She describes the environment as “chaos.”

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One Friday night, “after an awful meeting,” she hit a wall, she says. She drafted “a burning resignation letter” over the weekend, packed up her personal items, and hit “send” from her office early Monday morning. Shortly after, the CFO asked her to leave. Ross refused, saying she would instead wait for her final paycheck—and proceeded to “camp out” in her office until she got it.

“I knew if I left, I’d never get paid, and I wanted to show him I was not going to be a victim to his ridiculousness,” she recalls. She threatened to cause a fuss and rally the other employees. Roughly a half-hour later, check in hand, she left the building.

Laura Hamill also had a rude awakening after traveling cross-country from Washington, D.C., to work at a think tank in the Bay Area. Her boss was a micromanager and could be arrogant and condescending, she says. But then things got strange, says Hamill, who now works as the chief people officer at employee experience platform Limeade.

“She started really digging into my personal life,” she says. “I was engaged, and she started forwarding me and sending me places that she thought we should get married.” At first, that seemed nice, if odd. But, the intrusions into her personal life were unnerving. The final straw was when Hamill’s boss grilled her about the results of some tests she had at the gynecologist’s office.

Hamill notified the company’s HR office and a joint meeting was scheduled. Even though she was afraid that her supervisor could have a long-term negative impact on her career, perhaps poisoning her network and preventing future hires, Hamill recounted the transgressions in a no-holds-barred session with HR, detailing each. “It wasn’t a pleasant conversation,” she says. The boss blamed and was dismissive of Hamill, who moved on to a new job soon after.

Preserve what you can

None of the individuals who shared their abrupt departures said they regret it. And good employers understand that bad employers exist, says nonprofit career consultant Anthony Babbitt. “What they’re looking for is how you handled the situation,” he says. “What I tell my clients is to just be as factual as you need to be. Don’t go into the details, and put a positive slant on it when you can.” Instead of recounting an unpleasant story, explain that “It wasn’t a match,” and move on.

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And if you do find yourself burning a bridge as you walk out the door, Frank also suggests reaching out to former coworkers after the dust settles a bit. You may find their reactions are supportive, and it’s a good idea to try to preserve the relationships you built there when you can.

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About the author

Gwen Moran writes about business, money and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites. She was named a Small Business Influencer Awards Top 100 Champion in 2015, 2014, and 2012 and is the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010), and several other books

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