How to leave a job with class

Take this Job and Shove It…If you’re over 40, you probably remember that old Johhny Paycheck song. It’s a sad tale about a man who worked long and hard for no reward. It struck such a chord with disgruntled workers in America, that it spent 18 weeks at Number 1, was the basis for a movie of the same name and has become an anthem for overworked and under-appreciated employees everywhere.

I found myself humming this song as I read about Kai Nagata, a 24-year-old CTV correspondent who became so disillusioned with what he termed the “Barbie and Ken” style of TV news that he felt he had no choice but to resign. But he didn’t just hand in his letter, eat his farewell cake, clear his desk and leave. Instead, he chose to vent his frustration in a 3,000-word missive about everything that’s wrong with the business. The essay went on to receive widespread attention from journalists across Canada and was even lauded by Roger Ebert.
Before I go any further, let me say that his parting words, admittedly well-written, are much more eloquent than the words in the Johnny Paycheck song and he makes some valid points. Among other claims, Nagata bemoans the “unspoken ratio of talent to attractiveness” and the focus on the recent royal visit when “there was real news happening”. And, in a world where few people act with integrity, I admire his decision not only to resign from a position which doesn’t align with his personal values but also to have the courage to outline the reason for his departure in so candid a manner.
From a business etiquette viewpoint however, I don’t believe it’s a good idea to burn your bridges so spectacularly at such a young age. I’m not totally against the burning of bridges and I’ve torched a few myself but in each case, I weighed the pros and cons of the consequences and really asked myself if my discomfort, dislike or disgust of the person or organization was so great that I was comfortable knowing I could never count on them for support again On the few cases, I decided to burn a bridge, I shared my opinions freely but only with my direct supervisor, in person and in private and without any desire to gain fame or notoriety from it.
Although he may be one of the few to act on his impulses, Nagata is simply the latest in a long line of young people (myself included) who have chosen a profession, studied it and dreamed of all the wonderful things we would do with it, only to find out that, once we were finally working in our chosen field, it didn’t live up to our expectations. This is a huge disappointment for an idealistic young person and sadly, remains a source of frustration for many people who have been toiling away for decades.
We are all tested in the workplace and we all face times when we have to decide whether or not we should continue working at a job which has become unpleasant, that is, assuming we have the freedom to do so. If such freedom exists then we need to establish our personal threshold for frustration. How important it is that the way we pay our bills match our personal values, that the role we have is the one we signed up for, that the business operations of our employer match the values on its mission statement, that we feel comfortable with the state of the industry in which we toil?
And if it’s unbearable, then we leave, and etiquette dictates that we do it in as gracious a manner as possible, not only because it’s the professional thing to do, but also because it’s a small world and we need all the friends we can get.
I’m not sure how the future will unfold for this young man. Perhaps the infamy he has achieved from his farewell letter will catapult him to a much more rewarding position and his risk will have been well worth it. But he’s very young and has a lot of working years left. Let’s hope he never has to ask his former employers for a reference.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *