employment

Don't try this at work: Dramatic tales of leaving jobs

Sep. 10, 2012 at 7:34 AM ET

Joan Clear quit her job as marketing director for a consulting company in the early 1990s, but she still remembers the day vividly.

Clear, who is now 67, had spent a year and a half working for a man who she said was mean, insecure and a terrible communicator. The situation had grown so bad that one day she found herself in tears, a very uncommon occurrence for her.

That’s when she hatched her plan to quit.

Her opportunity came when her colleagues had gathered for a national marketing meeting. Clear said she told them they were going to start with a lesson in the power of language.

She then gave her hated boss an unabridged dictionary and told him to turn to the “P” section.

Then, she recalls that she said, “Now, I want you to look up the word pissant, and you’re going to find your name after the colon.”

It took him a second to understand what was going on, but when he did she said he turned bright red. That’s when she told him to do everyone a favor and have a heart attack.

“To this day I still remember just how much fun it was,” Clear said.

Of course, most experts will tell you that the correct way to leave a job is to first secure a new one and then offer two weeks’ notice, along with the usual niceties about how you’ll miss everyone and you learned so much.

But sometimes, that just isn’t possible. Last week, we wrote about a finance executive who lost his job – and, eventually, a multimillion-dollar bonus package – after mooning company executives.

The story prompted readers to share their own stories of ruining equipment, calling bosses names and otherwise making a dramatic exit from their soon-to-be former workplace. Given the circumstances, we couldn’t independently verify every detail of our readers’ stories.

Clear, who lives in St. Louis and now works as a supervisor in a school writing lab, said she feels like she’s actually been very lucky in terms of the jobs and bosses that she’s had for most of her career. And although she recognizes that you have to make some compromises for work, she said there does come a point when you have to put your foot down.

“I don’t think anybody can allow themselves to be treated disrespectfully,” she said.

Of course, you also want to have a plan for paying your bills. When Clear started making plans for her dramatic exit, she said she also started documenting the behavior she’d endured from the boss. She said she was able to convince human resources to give her severance despite the way that she quit, and she found a new job a couple of months later.

It is actually possible to recover your career – although perhaps not your job – even after something as dramatic as mooning your boss, said Jodi R.R. Smith, who runs the etiquette consultancy Mannersmith.

“The first thing is to take a moment, calm down, pull up your pants and get your wits about you,” Smith said.

If you’ve got adrenaline pulsing through your system, calming down can take as long as 20 minutes. Then, it’s time to apologize – and that doesn’t mean making excuses for your behavior.

“An apology does not contain a ‘but’ - no pun intended,” Smith said.

Chances are, you are still going to lose your job. But Smith said you still want to make sure that you are doing everything you can not to burn any more bridges on the way out.

You also need to remember that your peers, if not your boss, may end up serving as a reference. There’s another opportunity to remind your peers that you did other great things before your big outburst.

You don’t want to peer (to say), ‘She was awesome! She totally told off the boss, she threw a stapler at his head and then she mooned him,’” Smith noted.

When Matt Herriot decided to quit a job he despised, he also knew he wanted to let the whole company know how he felt.

So one Monday morning, Herriot walked into the company’s weekly all-staff meeting.

“I opened the door and I said, ‘I’m not putting up with this anymore, I’m not doing this,’” Herriot recalled.

Then, with everyone staring at him, he put his laptop on his desk, explained the situation to another colleague who was standing there, and walked out.

That's a wrap: Famous quitting scenes

Herriot, who is now 53 and lives in the Atlanta area, had once loved the company he ended up leaving so dramatically. He also had become very close with his co-workers, even attending the chief executive’s wedding.

But after first one and then another private equity firm bought out what had been a family-owned firm, he said things became toxic.

His new bosses were demeaning and aggressive, he said, even going so far as to interview new candidates for jobs in front of the people they would be replacing.

“It was just a horrid environment,” he said.

He left in 2005. It took about six weeks for him to find a consulting gig, and he said his former CEO didn’t speak to him for two years.

But gradually, things began to thaw. And in 2009, he said his former chief executive actually hired him again, to work at a different company. He’s been there ever since.

In retrospect, Herriot said he probably should have found a new job before quitting.  But he doesn’t regret the dramatic way he walked out.

 “No, I don’t have any regrets because I don’t think I would have the job I’d have today if I didn’t take that stand,” he said.

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