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When Leaving a Job, What You Say Has Consequences

Tempted to go out with a bang on the last day of a really bad job? Think again before you open your mouth.

Who hasn’t wanted to tell a scheming, incompetent manager or boss just what we think of them while clearing our desk and walking out of an office that had become toxic, emotional poison?

If there were no consequences, giving them a piece of your mind might feel good, “But the operative word here has only two letters and is the most powerful in any language,” states Lyle Sussman, Ph.D., former Chairman and Professor Emeritus of Management, College of Business and Public Administration at the University of Louisville.

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“That word is if. What if there had never been a Napoleon, a Hitler, a Stalin or Winston Churchill? How different would our world be, today? Especially now, ‘Telling them what I think as I walk out’ has a greater potential for causing lasting harm than ever before,” Sussman cautions.

Will I Cross Paths with This Employer in the Future?

“Before saying anything of a critical nature,” he underscores, “ask yourself this question: ‘How likely is it that I will cross paths with this employer in the future?’

“If you can guarantee the probability is 100% that you never will, then being relatively candid is OK. So, if you think the person is a real jerk and that you have been treated as a second-class citizen, you can say it.

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“But this is only if you are absolutely sure that you will never cross paths with that person in the future — that you will never need them or their organization as a reference or want to work there again.”

Nothing Gets Deleted Anymore

To Sussman, today we are living in a different world — a world that doesn’t forget, in large part due to social media.

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“Five or six years ago I would have said that candor and honesty is good for the soul and might even help the other party. Now I am much more reluctant to recommend this because there are no secrets. We are living in a world where nothing gets deleted anymore. Sure, hit delete and you don’t see it anymore, but it may still be out there, somewhere.

“We have all said things at some time in our lives which may have been justified and proper then — or just plain silly — which we have forgotten, but which have the power to come back and haunt us when taken out of context, especially by someone or some group with an agenda. As Google never forgets, a search may bring up old information from 10, 20, 30 years back — events that are irrelevant to your life today and your accomplishments.”

And his conclusion about candor when leaving a job?

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“Unless the person decides that they are going to sell seashells in Margaritaville and never return to society, you’ve got to be very cautions.

“Err on the side of disclosing less than more. Be civil and concentrate on moving forward with the assumption that you may need this person in the future again. Shake hands, smile and say, ‘Thank you for the opportunity of working here and learning so much.’”

Just ask Comedian/Actor Kevin Hart about the Power of the Past

If you want an extreme case of how old words can come back to haunt you, take the example of comedian and actor Kevin Hart, says Dr. David D. Schein, Associate Professor at the Cameron School of Business of the University of St. Thomas in Houston and author of The Decline of America: 100 Years of Leadership Failures.

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Ten years ago, as part of Hart’s standup act, he made what were characterized as anti-gay statements. After he was named host of this year’s Oscars, videos of his act and anti-gay tweets circulated across the Web. He responded by saying that he is not homophobic and that this was part of his comedy act at that time. Yet, he still ended up declining to be the prestigious Master of Ceremonies.

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Schein sees, “something dangerous happening to our country. We are losing our sense of humor and shoving freedom of speech into the freezer when we punish a comedian for his 10-year-old monologue. Think of Don Rickles, Joan Rivers and other amazing comics who found funny things about all of us. The public laughed with them and made them famous.

“It is important to grow up as a society and respect who people are today. To penalize someone for something they said 10 years ago as part of a nightclub act is more than unfair. It is dangerous. A tyranny of political correctness is suffocating common sense and free speech in America.”

While you may never be up for hosting the Oscars, remember that what you say can be held against you for years, and possibly even decades, to come. Keep that in mind the next time you’re walking out the door on the last day of work.

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About the Author

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.

Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge.
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