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Is it okay to cut ties with your employers?

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

We’re often told to never burn bridges with our employers, yet the inverse is entirely unheard of. However, with the advent of workplace mental health, quiet quitting and quiet firing populating the workspace these days, burning bridges with your employer is becoming a lesser-frowned notion. What more, matters such as job hopping and constant restructuring and layoffs are such commonplace in the job market that many employees are being spurred on to caring for their job wellbeing. In fact, half of the world is now encouraging you to do so, for the right reasons.

Why people torch bridges

Burning (or torching) bridges is an old military term to describe the act of denying your adversaries passage to a specific route whilst also cutting off your own escape route. Today, the phrase has been adapted into the corporate world to describe an individual who chose to cut off any form of professional relationships they may have with someone else, usually an employer or a boss, which puts the both of you at odds against each other. In short, you are consciously sabotaging and severing all ties to your employers to the (professional) point of no return. Examples of burning bridges may include:

● Threatening your employer

● Exposing the management’s malpractice or mismanagement to the public

● Joining a rival company in an act to spite your employers

● Goading your employer into a conflict

● Any other behaviors or actions that is intended to humiliate, tarnish, defame your employers

Perhaps the more intriguing part of the question is why people do that. Here are some typical reasons employees burn bridges:

Toxic workplace environments

After years of prolonged frustration and stress as a result of oppression and mismanagement, people have simply reached their limit and had enough of it.

Deprived of career advancements

Nothing is more heartbreaking than to give 120% to your job and hope that you’ll be noticed for a promotion only to realize you’ve been passed up in favor of another candidate for various reasons.

Lack of engagement

According to a workplace report published by Gallup in 2021, 60% of the corporate folks globally reported feeling unhappy and detached from work. Put simply, while you are good at your jobs, you may not identify nor feel a sense of attachment towards it, and you want out of the role.

Poor compensation

Employees are not going to be earning the same wages year after year. At some point in their careers, they may desire a raise or want to be properly compensated for the blood, sweat and tears forked out to the management. When this isn’t acknowledged, people may eventually leave for greener pastures.

When company cracks are showing

When a company’s financial wellbeing is starting to show some cracks and its future prospects look grim, it’s a cue for employees to hightail out of there. Employees do not wish to take the risk of staying on in the name of loyalty, as they are more likely to be furloughed than to be rewarded for their behavior, given the management will instinctively prioritize the business before anything else.

Miscellaneous factors

Including but not limited to harassment, bullying, corporate politics, negative impact on health and if it is the only feasible solution to the problem. Sometimes, you’ve exhausted all options to address the option and come to a compromise, but your employers have refused to budge time after time, which causes employees to undertake drastic measures to ensure their voices are heard.

When do you burn bridges

In spite of all the reasons we have highlighted above to justify cutting your ties loose, burning bridges isn't something to be taken lightly. While burning bridges can be cathartic and liberating for you, quitting your job in an aggressive and boisterous manner isn’t something you should resort to unless you’re certain of the following:

When you are 100% certain about your decision

Have you ever thought about how this would affect your future job hunting experience? There’s a saying every industry is inherently a small one and word travels fast. Someone you know might have heard about your explosive tirade at work. If that doesn’t bother you one bit, go ahead.

When you don’t require input from your recent references

Unless your next employer does not require vouching from the very people you’ve blown off at work, exiting your current job in a loud and explosive manner should be something for you to think twice about.

When it does not bring your a hefty lawsuit

Be wary, exiting a job and doxxing your employers for what they’ve done could result in a lawsuit if confidential information or public image is involved. You may want to be very careful with your words once you’ve departed the organization, lest a legal sue awaits you at your doorstep.

When it is negatively impacting your health

As mentioned above, if a job is beginning to affect your wellbeing negatively after some time, it might be good to start keeping an eye out for options elsewhere. Sticking with a toxic employer can dent your self-esteem and cause you to question your self-worth.

When your whistleblowing efforts are commended

If you end up burning bridges with your employers and word about your stunt gets around, it may reflect positively on you, especially if your employers are notorious for having a bad reputation. Certain employers may be impressed with your valiant efforts and integrity and will want to hire you based on your principles, however this will ultimately depend on how you tell the narrative and position yourself as a valuable candidate.

Not an excuse to go guns blazin’

Regardless of your decision to burn bridges or stay, Huffpost contributor and career expert Peter Harris believes cutting ties is not an excuse for employees to behave in an incessantly rude or crude manner. The goal of burning bridges with an employer is to send the message that something needs fixing, either a bad management, leader or toxic work environment, and it’s costing them manpower, time, money and investment. However this doesn’t mean you should go around badmouthing your employers, as doing so will only serve to put you in a bad spotlight and cause your next employers to have doubts about their hiring decisions. Professionalism and honesty are still at the centermost front of a job interview, and you want to impress your next group of employers by sharing how the ordeal has helped shape and grow you.

It goes without saying that burning bridges with your employers will devoid you of any future opportunities to work together, and it may even reflect badly on you if your paths were to cross again. We’re often reminded to play nice, leave on graceful terms and walk out with a smile. Yet the truth about most bridge-burning is most people knowingly commit them, and they don’t look back once the verdict has been made. Will news of your stunt travel? Absolutely. Is your future success dependent on one toxic job or employer alone? No. Unless you’ve had a trail of rather unpleasant behavior running behind you, it’s unlikely a sole employer alone will slander or tarnish your reputation to an irreparable degree. In Harris’ words,

“...there's no point in pretending a negative relationship is going to be important for you moving forward. You'll never use a manager you had a bad relationship with as a reference, and you'll never want to go back to that toxic work environment. That manager would be unlikely to help you anyway.”

Don’t burn the bridge in ways that scald your hand

We love the way Mark Swartz from Monster described the dichotomy of burning bridges and employers (the headline above). At the end of the day, your career choices and the fate of it are entirely yours to dictate. You may play the game if you wish, but be mindful of the rules. If you foresee yourself crawling back to them because you’re out of options, you will want to reconsider severing ties in the first place. It is possible to rebuild a burned bridge, but it takes tremendous effort to do so, a topic we’ll save for another time.

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