You know what they say about sailboats — the best two days you’ll ever have with your boat is the day you buy it and the day you sell it. The same goes for jobs. The best day is when you learn they’ve decided to hire you. The next best day is when you decide to quit. Everything in between is just rough seas, high maintenance and feeling seasick.
If you have been lucky enough to nab a new gig, you’ll probably spend your last days at your old job, gleefully turning over the work you’re never going to do to your co-workers. After all, these are the people who will now have to pick up the slack even a slacker like you will leave behind. With your head in the clouds and your feet out the door, you may not realize that you are also leaving behind some bad feelings. But Wendy S. Goffe, a trusts and estates lawyer with Stoel Rives in Seattle, thought about it, and she wrote about it, too — in a Forbes.com article titled, “How to Quit your Job without Burning your Bridges.”
Goffe’s first move was to turn to Google “for tips on how to leave a job gracefully.”
The search proved fruitless. The only advice she could find concerned what to do if “you have just been escorted out by the head of human resources (or, worse yet, a federal marshal.)” As everyone who has been watching “Justified” knows, federal marshals are reasonable people, and woefully underpaid. A $20 bill slipped into a holster, before the handcuffs go on, will turn your perp walk into a waltz, guaranteed.
Whether you leave your job in a police car or in a flurry of farewell parties, traditional workplace thinking says that you don’t want to gloat. “Don’t send an email to your former colleagues telling them exactly how you feel,” Goffe writes, “even if you feel sorry that they are still employed and you are ecstatic to have time to travel, read great books, and live off a fat severance package for a while.”
I don’t agree. There are so few moments in a career when you can really feel good about yourself and certainly, one of those rare moments is when you can stab your close friends and trusted co-workers in the back. Besides, a little gloating will make the poor devils you leave behind know that at least one flew over the cuckoo’s nest and landed safely on the other side.
The same traditional view also discourages flaming your former employer on the pages of Facebook, where your 10,000 BFFs will see it. I agree. You want to do your flaming on the pages of The New York Times, like ex-Goldman-Sachs employee, Greg Smith. His scathing comments about his former employer definitely burned his bridges. On the other hand, he also landed a $1.5 million book deal, so he can build his own darn bridge. Frankly, with the stories you could tell about your company, you’d get a book deal and a movie deal, too. (If you’re a woman, I see Angelina Jolie playing you. And if you’re a man, I still see Angelina Jolie. Shoot me.)
In Goffe’s case, her first instinct was to hire a lawyer — another lawyer, technically — from whom she learned that the first emotional reaction to her exit from her former colleagues would be anger. “It masks fear of change, jealousy, confusion about how to adjust to change, and sadness on the part of those left behind over being abandoned.” This may seem extreme, since nobody much liked you when you were working together, but considering that anyone who can survive at your former job has long ago become an emotional basket case, it could happen.
To sooth this anger, be sure to leave gifts in your wake, like the half-eaten pizzas in your bottom desk drawer, and — if you can bear it — your collection of Smurf Jumbo Plush dolls on the top of your computer monitor. You also need to be sure to read any legal agreements you signed when you signed on. Remember that clause where management can take your first born if you leave? That kid could be a teenager now, and how great would that be?
The bottom line here is that no matter what you do or don’t do, try to focus on your perfect, wonderful brand-new job, and remember — someday, you’ll be able quit that, too.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.