Guest Article: Why it’s Okay to Burn Bridges

If you have worked for a few years and are thinking of changing jobs, you’ll probably have heard this oft-repeated advice: Don’t burn bridges. In other words, this means: Don’t do anything which may leave a bad taste in the mouth of your soon-to-be previous employer.

For the most part, this piece of advice appears to make perfect sense. Here are some reasons why email blasting your entire firm about your grievances on your last day may be a bad idea:

  1. If you ever regret your decision to leave, you may face difficulties in getting your old job back.

  2. It is a small world out there. What if your new employer gets wind of what you did? Perhaps they might not be so willing to hire you after all.

  3. By airing dirty laundry, you not only drag your firm’s name through the mud, but your own reputation too.

The above reasons are great for people who intend to take drastic action to showcase their unhappiness with their jobs – they are like “Stop” signs warning them not to do anything they might regret. While we may leave our jobs because we dislike some aspects of it – the boss, the nature of the work, the politics – I believe I speak for most of us when I say that we aren’t going to feel the need to “get even” with our firms when we resign – we just want to disappear quietly into the sunset.

If this is the case, what am I really referring to when I talk about burning bridges?

Chances are, by the time you wish to leave your job, you’ll have been saddled with quite a bit of outstanding work and heavy responsibilities. For you to be able to quit in this situation requires the following understanding:

Your organization, if given a decision to make between placing itself first or placing you, their employee, first – they will always place themselves first. It is therefore only fair that you, if given a decision to make between placing yourself first or the organization, should place yourself first.

Why does quitting require the above understanding? Because you quitting will always be bad news to your firm (unless you are being terminated, but let’s not go there). And if quitting is bad news for your firm, that means that the very act of quitting itself is tantamount to burning bridges with your firm and the people in it.

After all, isn’t this why many fantasize about quitting, but few dare to walk into the boss’s office to actually hand in their resignation? The boss will be unhappy at losing a valuable resource, and he will have to allocate your workload to the remaining resources – your other colleagues. That’s not going to make you Mr. or Mrs. Popular. This makes the mandatory notice period a pretty unpleasant one due to all the potential resentment that may arise from your departure.

As we previously established in another article what a Bad Boss is, and how a Bad Boss can become the main reason for why subordinates quit, it’s safe to assume that such a boss will not take your resignation well at all. This may lead to a sudden assignment of work to you, as the boss attempts to squeeze every last bit out of you before you disappear, instead of formulating a smooth handover of duties to others. As dreadful as it sounds, such situations are not at all uncommon in a high pressure work environment with poor organizational culture (For your sake, I hope this doesn’t ring any bells).

So, let’s say you find yourself in this position upon the tendering of your resignation. What should you do? Placate the boss by attempting to finish whatever tasks he sets for you, no matter how unreasonable?

The important thing to realize here is: The boss has set an unreasonable expectation for you. Even if you sacrifice much of your personal time and effort towards meeting this expectation, it will be impossible to ‘repair’ your relationship with your boss to pre-resignation levels. Worse, making such a sacrifice and showing your boss that you are willing to be a slave in your final days just makes heaping yet more responsibilities upon you a very tempting proposition. After all, you’re leaving. Why should the boss care if you hate him by the end of your notice period? You’ll be gone by then.

It goes without saying that the above scenario should not arise if one has an understanding boss. However, we live in an imperfect world, and besides – there are other compelling reasons why standing your ground and fighting for your rights is the way to go:

  1. With Generation Y, changing jobs these days is a commonplace, if not everyday occurrence. Bosses and employers know this as an irrefutable reality of the modern workplace. Therefore, any negative reaction to you leaving is an overreaction designed to guilt-trip you into retracting your resignation or to accept additional conditions or responsibilities to bear in your last days with your firm.

  2. If your next job is in another industry, what are the chances that your new employer is going to hear of how unpleasant your exit was? Use a little tact: Unless you went around trumpeting where your next job was going to be, you shouldn’t have to fear your new employer’s ears getting poisoned against you.

  3. Understand that there is no incentive for your boss to make your exit smooth and easy for you. Your resignation has created a problem for your boss – an undeniable fact no matter how good your working relationship with your boss is. If your new job is in the same industry, your boss has even less incentive – to him, you are joining the competition.

  4. If you are leaving your job due to push factors, leaving on a less than positive note is not a bad thing. It is human nature to fear leaving ourselves ‘no way out’, or to deliberately not ‘keep our options open’. This sometimes blinds us to why we made the decision to quit the job in the first place. By closing the door on our old job, it allows us to look forward and focus on our next job with a greater sense of purpose. You may know people who quit your firm, only to return months later after experiencing difficulties outside. Don’t be like these people.

  5. See the bigger picture of your life. Just as some activities are good for you to do and some people are good for you to associate with, it naturally follows that there are bad activities and bad people to have in your life. You should regularly prune your activities and associates by ensuring that they are helping you achieve your personal goals. The activities you do and the people you associate with as a part of your job is not exempt from this pruning. If ‘burning bridges’ with your old job just means you have greater peace of mind to pursue what’s best for you – then why not?

Many of you reading this may feel that you should try to make your exit as smooth and pleasant as possible. It is definitely possible to execute the ‘perfect exit’, albeit at great personal expense. And, to be honest, if you really cared so much about what your firm thinks, why leave and risk their wrath anyway?

Don’t be afraid of burning bridges. Be afraid of a slow and stifling death, as you continually place others before yourself. You only have the rights you fight for.

This article was a collaboration work between guest contributor Song and The Thinker. Kudos to Song for making his second valued contribution to The Thought Experiment!

Want more advice on standing up for yourself? Read more here!

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