Never Burn Your Bridges


“I’m so glad to be out of here! I’ll never have to work for you or see this place again!”

Ever wanted to leave and tell somebody exactly what you think? You know, the boss who made your life miserable, the support staff who drove you insane with their never-ending chitter-chatter, the co-worker who made sharing office space only slightly better than nails on a chalkboard? Bite your tongue.

Unless you’re super power is knowing the future with 100% accuracy, you’d be surprised at how many times life finds people either going back to work for former employers or possibly needing their good word in the form of references. How terrible would it be if for example you got a third interview for that absolute dream job you’ve wanted your entire life, and then your potential new boss calls your former employer to conduct a routine reference check, only to find that you dished out some pretty choice words the day you walked out.

Now in my work life, I once worked for the City of Toronto in the capacity of Social Services Caseworker. For three years I worked there and traveled two hours just to get to work. When my only child was very young, I made a joint decision with my wife to quit that well-paying job and trade it for a local but lower paying job.

About seven years later, my daughter was older, and I saw her for longer periods of time in the evenings so I approached my former employer who welcomed me back for what turned out to be another three years. My good reputation and the way in which I’d left had me on good terms with people who worked there, and I’m grateful to this day they let me return to that job.

But I hear you saying that the job I’d had was one I liked. What about quitting jobs you don’t like and making sure the boss and anyone within earshot really knows how you feel? Well, still not a great move. Again, I’ll draw on my own career path. I once worked in a non-profit organization and had a boss that I grew increasingly ill at ease working for. When I walked away I kept those thoughts to myself and thought it best to make a clean break. How surprised do you think I was therefore to find he was on the Board of Director’s for the organization I was just starting with? Good thing those thoughts were kept locked away inside.

The image of a burning bridge is so perfect for this process. When the bridge burns, it collapses, and there is no going back unless the bridge is mended and once again provides a passage back. Some relationships are forever strained beyond repair because of a loss of self-control, a momentary thrill of letting someone have it right between the eyes; but that moment might be a poor trade-off for years of regret.

Think about your image and reputation in the industry or your field of work. Word does get around. On a television sitcom, it’s funny when someone says something they shouldn’t and the person is standing right behind them. It’s equally funny when they put down the boss to their face. But that’s television. Producers even build in laugh tracks so we have the okay to laugh along. But in real life, it isn’t that funny. And those we offend don’t get all fuzzy and forgive us within the 30 minutes of a television show either.

You could find yourself in situations where one employer talks to another – they do network you know. They meet each other at Chamber of Commerce meetings, company cross-training events and you might come to feel you’re on some ‘no hire’ list. If you get ‘blacklisted’, and you live in a small community or the field you work in is a tight-knit kind, you may find it will take a career change to really kick-start things and get the earnings you need.

This same logic applies to the interview when the question is, “Tell me about your last Supervisor”, or “How would your previous employer describe you?” If you say nasty inappropriate things in the interview about a former employer, the person asking the questions today may well be your former employer some day in the future and wonder what you might then say about them.

Wouldn’t it be most unfortunate if your former boss was this person’s golf or poker partner? What if they are in-laws or pals on Facebook. You could have a damaging tweet beat you to the rest of the world before you even reach the parking lot. And worst of all, you may be totally oblivious, thinking to yourself, “Well I nailed that interview! And when I get this job, I’ll call up that idiot Perkins and rub it in his face one more time. Ha! Said I’d never need him and look at me now!”

Problem is, comments like these say more about you than they do about the person you are referring to; and it’s not good!

Good advice is to mend any bridges now no matter how hard it may seem. The best advice however is don’t burn any in the first place so you never have to worry if your career or life journey circles you around to those in your past.

3 thoughts on “Never Burn Your Bridges

  1. This is especially true in a small town. I live in a city of 35,000 and the business community is pretty connected. You want to make sure all your bridges are intact.

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