All Commentary
Monday, October 10, 2016

“Take this Job and Shove It” Is a Terrible Mistake

Leaving in an obvious huff is not good for your career.


It’s in songs. It’s in movies. Every employee at some point has dreamed of saying it.

In reality, saying “take this job and shove it,” is a terrible way to leave a job, and not mainly because it harms the employer. It is harmful to you, the employee. It means that you have to scrub that job from your resume, leaving a suspicious hole that could vex you for a decade. It sends a terrible signal to any future employer that you are not really a professional.

People tend to hang on to bad jobs much longer than they should.Let’s say you are in a terrible job and hate your boss. You might fantasize about just walking out. And certainly it is your right to do so, and this right survives as one of the few that is unquestioned in today’s highly regulated world.

It is probably the case that the right to quit is exercised too infrequently. People tend to hang on to bad jobs much longer than they should. The transition costs to a new job are high and people are risk averse. The health-care chaos of recent years has intensified the problem. So long as you hold the magic card to get into the clinic, people try to console themselves that they can suffer every wrong.

This is a terrible way to approach work. If you are at the point of walking out, you have already been there too long. It speaks to the need for you and every worker to always be on the job market. You need to be constantly conscious of other alternatives and your skill set should never be so circumscribed as to be purchasable only by a single buyer. In other words, quitting should always be a viable option.

Quitting Yes, but Walking Out, No

Providing notice is not just a courtesy to your employer; it also shows respect for your co-workers.But there are good and bad ways to quit. The industry standard is “two weeks notice.” Why? There is no law, but the provision for two weeks is typically in the labor contract. If there is no labor contract, the general practice is still to provide two weeks. It’s a great example of a Hayekian-style norm that emerged over time and became culturally binding without coercion. The professional norm emerged long before it became a contractual obligation. And it still doesn’t exist in law.

Providing notice is not just a courtesy to your employer; it also shows respect for your co-workers. If possible, you want them all to be left with a good impression of your professionalism. This is how you build a lifetime network of support and respect for your career ambitions. Remember that your job is not just about getting money; it is about building reputational capital that follows you throughout life.

Here’s the key: your future employer respects that norm too. She might want you to start immediately, but she will also appreciate the respect you show to your present employer even if that means a delay in starting your new job. Stating very clearly to your next employer that you have temporary obligations to your current employer only increases your value. It suggests that you have character and keep your commitments.

The general assumption of every employer is that what you did at your last job is a good forecast of what you will do in your next job. This is why it is so important to leave a job, if not on good terms, at least on professional terms.

The Bad Boss is a Sunk Cost

If you leave abruptly, you are only harming yourself.And this speaks to why it is actually in your own interest to never just storm off the job site. Whatever sufferings you have endured, whatever slights have been driving you nuts, you only make things worse for yourself by failing to put up with them just a bit longer as you wait for the professional norm to play itself out. The sufferings are in the past, but if you live with them for an additional fortnight, you can turn them to your advantage.

If you give two weeks notice – even if your current employer declines to accept your offer to work – now the months or years you suffered turn into a resume item that is very much to your credit. It shows that you are a responsible person, and your future employer will respect that.

If you leave abruptly, you are only harming yourself. It permits the old boss that you hate to hold all the cards in her hands. She can make you suffer for years to come, with full knowledge that you have no bragging rights about the job you did at all. If you leave in compliance with professional standards, you even the score and keep your professional trajectory clear of strange static.

What If Your Boss Is Truly Horrible?

To be sure, there might be exceptions. If you feel a physical threat, or that you will have a nervous breakdown unless get out as soon as possible, that is another matter. Be aware that walking out comes at a heavy price. And the truth is that jobs are rarely a clear and present danger to your life. Bucking up and putting up with annoyances for two weeks longer is very much to your advantage.

No future employer is interested in your tale of woe.Above all else, never tell a prospective employer that you can dump your present employer at any time. You might think that this will impress. It does not. It conveys the opposite impression: that you don’t care about your obligations. It starts your new relationship off on a bad footing.

Oh, but you say, you can explain to your future boss that your current job is terrible and that you hate it, right? Wrong. Here is a weird truth: no future employer is interested in your tale of woe. They have all had experience with disgruntled employees. Jobs, like marriages, are complicated and there is plenty of blame to be spread around when relations turn south. No matter how bad your current boss is, no future employer wants to hear about it. Keep it to yourself.

From time to time, it could be tempting to tell an interviewer that you don’t like your current job. Why are you leaving your company? “Because my job sucks” is the worst possible answer, even if it is true. Just say, “I’m ready for new challenges.” That’s a good enough reason.

It’s fine to dream about all the awful things you will do to your present boss. But leave them as fantasies. In real life, hurting your boss is only hurting yourself.