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'Take this job and ...' Bad workplace exits abound

By Kathy Gurchiek   11/6/2006

Unhappy workers don’t always pack up their desks and go gently into that good night. Some leave their jobs a little less gracefully than others, according to a national survey by Vault Inc.

Sixty-one percent of 706 U.S. workers in various industries had exited on bad terms with an employer, it found, and an employee’s bad departure sometimes created a domino effect among co-workers.

Among the most volatile types of exits, according to Vault’s first-ever Survey on Employee Exits, which was conducted in August:

    • 42 percent involved screaming matches.

    • 24 percent sent negative mass e-mails on their way out.

    • 18 percent gave negative speeches at company meetings.

    • 12 percent vandalized or stole company property.

    • 4 percent were involved in physical scuffles.

“One employee continued to chest-bump me as he screamed ‘I hate you,’ ” reported one unidentified survey respondent.

Nearly three-fourths, or 74 percent, of those surveyed said their departure was attributable to disagreements with management, 12 percent cited disputes with co-workers, and 14 percent left on bad terms because of their decision to leave with virtually no advance notice to take another job.

Nearly half, or 48 percent, had left a company on bad terms at some point in their work life. Among the reasons they gave:

“My manager would not refer to me by name and also wanted me to do something unethical in order to have an employee terminated to fulfill her personal vendetta.”

“The manager constantly disregarded my requests for better learning and growth opportunities.”

“I was in a newly created job and bullied by “old-school” co-workers who feared being replaced.”

“My manager wanted me to do something that violated [Federal Drug Administration] regulations, and then he got HR to begin disciplinary steps because I was ‘disobedient.’ ”

“Managers had unrealistic expectations based on positive comments about me from previous employees. Managers constantly tested employees by assigning work that was already done to see how long they would take to complete it as compared with someone else, etc.”

Other reasons cited included disagreements with co-workers that management would not address; disagreement over the company’s merger layoff process; poor treatment of employees; disputes over payment; working for an owner the former employee said was a “severe micromanager” and “indecisive.”

One person, hired to be the general manager for a new office, claimed he/she closed a large contract the first day but didn’t see the salary he/she had been promised for a month.

Another, a contract employee, said the owner of the consulting company “decided he would pay me when he wanted and would not reimburse me for travel costs.”

Almost half (47 percent) who left on bad terms did not give notice in person. Instead, they called or e-mailed their manager, although at least one respondent copied the vice president of HR on the resignation e-mail, “as I thought she should be [apprised] of exactly what sort of practices were being executed within her department.”

Nine percent just didn’t show up for work the next day,

“I called [the] manager,” said one person, “to let her know not to expect me to work there anymore and to mail me my check.”

Some seemed to pick up their exit technique from those around them.

“I watched my boss do the above (screaming and e-mail/voicemail) with his boss prior to leaving the company,” said one person.

More than half (52 percent) said a co-worker’s exit caused them or others to follow suit shortly.

One respondent who quit said his/her entire 10-member team quit as well.

Another said: “All my employees left because I left. The company had to re-hire new help.”

Another observed the effect the ugly departure of a “natural leader” can have on others. “When a natural leader gets the shaft and can’t take it anymore, their decision to leave often impassions the desire of others to do the same.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News . She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org.

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