As far as this author knows, these are the three scenarios when leaving a company that can inspire us to unleash our inner unbridled asshole:
- You’ve accepted an offer for a better gig, so why not milk your ego?
- You’re ditching a toxic work environment and there won’t get a better opportunity to give a memorable F.U. to those who (you think) deserve it.
- You got canned.
But let’s be real: no matter the reason why you’re heading out the door, it’s never worth it to give in to any ugly temptations. Leaving a company in a mature and professional fashion does a whole lot more for you in the long run, even if it feels inauthentic or grates on you. It’s never beneficial to be remembered for how awful you were as you made your exit.
So, here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind as you head towards the door:
Don’t talk shit on your way out
Leaving means you can put all that was unsavory behind you, be it bad politics, obnoxious coworkers, unfair compensation, or a biased culture. You’re finally free—forget it and move on. That kind of detachment is what really separates the true professionals from the rest of us.
Also, don’t say or do anything that could land you in legal hot water. Chances are pretty good that your soon-to-be-ex-company has great lawyers. Don’t publicly or anecdotally disclose sensitive information like churning customers, internal disputes, product roadmaps, etc. And don’t intentionally delete data or hard drives as a final “screw you.”
Do leave a good-hearted “thank you” email or cards
Leave with your head held high. Thank those who you worked with for the time spent together and highlight what you've accomplished together (without using it as a chance to stroke your ego—you don’t need to go into detail about all you’ve done for the company).
But let's be real: no matter the reason why you're heading out the door, it's never worth it to give in to any ugly temptations.
Handwritten notes are even more personal and appreciated, and fun to keep. Even if you really disliked a coworker to the point where a nice card seems passive-aggressive, it’s still the move that benefits you the most. There’s an art to the thank you, and the more you can be specific about a certain memory or project, or just the attitude your coworker brings to work, the better. You’ll probably feel better after writing it, too.
Don’t do anything that might go viral
Don’t use your last day to fake your death, trip on psychedelics, or spin around on the top of your desk like a helicopter with both middle fingers in the air. (Or a possible combination of all three, since you’ll probably end up in jail.) Going viral can really hurt your chances for a new job down the road. “For the lulz” is not a great excuse as you’re being vetted by hiring managers.
Do finish the job
Don’t leave unfinished work behind to be picked up by others; that’s an easy way to foster resentment. Formulate a plan to see your work through and make it easy for your ex-coworkers to proceed in your absence. Be real about how much time you need to finish up so that you can feel good about your hand-off. It’s often said that first impressions are the most important, but last impressions tend to be the ones we remember.
[Read also: Odds are your career will be an epic road trip]
Don’t be bitter
A really, really awful job is tough to shake. The business world can bring out the worst in some folks, leaving you with emotional scars and dumb delusions of getting back at those who have wronged you. Getting fired is also a catalyst for bad terms—it can feel personal, and the hard truth is that sometimes it is.
But bitterness over an old job tends to carry over into your next one, which might cause you to act out in ways that can seem insecure or immature in a healthier work environment. Check yourself when facing triggering circumstances so that you can try to better understand them and know what to look out for in the future.
Check yourself when facing triggering circumstances so that you can try to better understand them and know what to look out for in the future.
That said, if you feel you’re being harassed, or your employer is trying to illegally or unethically screw you over, don’t let them. If needed, document everything, get legal representation, and don’t lose your cool. Let the asshole-ness of others be their downfall, not yours.
Do be aware of the company’s strengths and areas for improvement
How you accept the challenges and learnings from each job is how you grow as a professional. Walk away with an understanding of what you gained, or how the company excelled, while you were there. Similarly, what could have been better? That will help you know what to seek (or avoid) in future jobs.
Also, be smart if you’re going to leave a Glassdoor review. Highlight the positives alongside the negatives—providing a well-rounded perspective will be good for you and your ex-company (if they read the reviews). If you use the review as an excuse to be petty and anonymously bash away, there’s still a good chance your ex-coworkers will know it was you.
Don’t steal the laptop: It’s expensive. Do you like having expensive things stolen from you?
Do remember that people boomerang all the time
There could be lots of reasons why you’d say hello again to the company you’re saying goodbye to. Maybe it shapes up and does away with the parts that you couldn’t stand before. Perhaps it eventually provides an opportunity that aligns perfectly with your work experience and career aspirations. Or maybe your next job ends up sucking more than the one you’re leaving behind.
Our futures aren’t set in stone, which means our careers aren’t either. The only thing that can be guaranteed is that your work life won’t be easy if no one can stand to be around you. Keep your options open and always err on the side of being courteous.
Brett Grossfeld is a San Francisco-based writer, marketer, and information junkie. He's a content marketer with Zendesk and a frequent contributor to their blog. He'd also like to be the first to congratulate you for reading all the way through this.
In a time when we're all inundated with self-improvement advice on how to go from good to better, maybe what we need is some help being… less annoying. For more where this came from, read our tips for how not to be an asshole in the office kitchen, at a conference, while commuting on public transit, in a meeting, while taking a selfie, or when you've got a flexible schedule and your colleagues are trudging in for the 9-to-5.