Burned bridges

Ned Bellavance
3 min read


There’s a really good Coalesce song called Burned Bridges, which The Get Up Kids covered. Both versions are awesome so go take a listen, I’ll wait.

The reason I bring it up is not just because it’s a good song, which it is, but because some people prefer to flame out and burn bridges. Recently, I heard that someone I worked with had put in their notice, which was probably a good idea. He had been at the same place a long time, and had become enmeshed in the politics of the organization, and not in a positive way. This led him to be defensive, secretive, and at times cantankerous. A fresh start was definitely in order for both him, and the department he worked in. So, a win-win for everyone.

That should be the end of the story; an amicable split is not uncommon in our industry. People grow and change, and so do organizations. If the arrangement doesn’t fit anymore, then it’s time to move on. But of course that isn’t the end, because a few days before he left, he sent a series of scathing emails to his entire department criticizing the leadership, the group competency, and specific things he found objectionable about people he worked with. I like to call it a scorched earth policy.

And you know what? I get it. Not everyone you work with is a bastion of competence. You aren’t going to get along with everyone, and you may think that certain aspects of the company’s leadership are amiss or wrong-footed.  That’s normal.  That’s why you leave a company and work somewhere else.  And you know what else?  I bet writing those scathing emails felt good.  It was probably cathartic, and possibly illuminating.  But what will the recipients of those emails think?

“That guy was a huge jerk, I hope I never work with him again.”

Did you know that dissatisfied customers will tell between 9-15 people about their experience? If you think of fellow employees as customers, then being a total asshole to them means they will probably tell 9-15 people about what a Jerky McJerkface you were.  Once word gets around that you are difficult to work with, or tend to flame out at a company, managers are not going to want to hire you.  Even if you are extremely competent at your job, in all likelihood it is just not worth the headache for them.

The IT community is not that big.  As a consultant, I end up at a lot of different places, and unsurprisingly I run into a lot of the same faces.  The average tenure for a job in Information Technology is less than five years according to the 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Combine that with LinkedIn and other networking technologies and your reputation can precede you big time.  If you want to flame out, fine.  But even if you already have a new job lined up, which I hope this guy did, that job will probably not last more than five years.  You think in five years everyone will have forgotten?  Get real.  One Google search will bring it all right back.

When you are preparing to depart for a new job, be gracious.  If you can’t be gracious, be courteous.  If you can’t do that, then just be civil.  Go ahead and write those nasty emails, then delete them.  You still get the catharsis, without the penalty to your reputation.

It all goes back to my third pillar:  Be Nice.