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Career Advice: It's OK To Burn Bridges

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TALKING TO HR
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Career advisers will always tell you to never say anything negative about work or your boss. Even when you're leaving a toxic work environment, the common refrain is, "never burn your bridges." Play nice and get out on good terms with everyone.

The fact is that it's not always necessary, and sometimes it might actually be harmful.

Thirty years ago, 'don't burn your bridges' might have been good advice, but things have changed. According to Statistics Canada, two-thirds of Canadian Baby Boomers entered their fifties in long-time employment -- holding down jobs they had been in for at least 12 years with the same employer. More than half had worked for the same company for far longer -- often 20 years or more.

In a situation where you were likely to only have one or two employers in your career, of course it would be important to toe the line and ensure a positive reference from your manager. Given the current employment trends where the majority of Canadians stay in any one job for less than two years, the importance of that working relationship is greatly diminished.

The number one reason why people change jobs is because of a bad manager.

Most Canadians can now expect to hold roughly 15 different jobs in two or three completely different fields over the course of their careers. You're likely to going to have to work for a jerk or two on that career journey, and you know what? It's OK to call them on it. And sometimes it's even preferable. Here's why.

Oust bad managers

The number one reason why people change jobs is because of a bad manager. And yet bad managers remain in place to make life miserable for cycles of new hires. One of the reasons they get away with it is that we've all been taught from day one to never say anything negative at work. If departing workers would start calling out bullying or incompetent managers to their bosses or in exit interviews, maybe organizations will start to get the message. They've put the wrong person in charge and it is costing them productivity and talent.

It's not career suicide to speak the truth to power as long as it is done in a professional manner. Document your case with real-world examples and explain how these are why you need to take your talent and services elsewhere. No one job or boss has the power to derail your whole career.

Get out of a bad situation early

People are often reluctant to quit jobs that they know aren't right for them because of the fear of how it will look to future potential employers. Staying in a bad work situation can take its toll on your mental and physical health and hurt your career in the long run. You won't be motivated or productive in a job where you're miserable. Trust me, staying on while your self-confidence and ambition are being ground down by a toxic work environment will do more harm to your long term prospects than getting out while the getting is good.

Keep your career moving forward

The expression to 'burn bridges' comes from a military idiom. It means that as an army advances it would burn the bridges behind it to make any chance of retreat impossible. Advancing, further conquest is the only option.

Of course you shouldn't leave every job on bad terms with your former employers. A working relationship should be friendly and professional. It should last as long as the arrangement contributes to further success for both parties and end peacefully when it's time to move on.

But 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. Jerks are vindictive about other people's success.

Burning your bridges means there's no going back, and so you just have to advance.

You'll make more money

Loyalty doesn't exist on either side of the table anymore. Companies don't have ten-year plans where they hire, train and nurture talent for future leadership. Business leads are under pressure to deliver this quarter's numbers or hit this year's goals. And so they hire for the skills they need to accomplish short-term metrics. Whole departments are shuffled or let go as those goals change.

As I mentioned, two years is the new average tenure in any one role. Job hopping isn't a thing anymore; it's just how we work now. The good news is that as you frequently change jobs, and expand your industry knowledge and skills, you become more valuable on the job market.

The amount a new company will offer you as an employee they are trying to woo is higher than the average annual raise most companies pay their employees.

Bad managers cost companies money, resources, time, and talent. And there is no need to be afraid of them or their impact on our future success. They need to be called out.

Just don't be a dick about it

You can burn your bridges without surrendering the high ground. This isn't advice to be rude or unprofessional at work. The best thing you can do for your career is to work hard and be as nice as possible to everyone.

But it is OK to leave bad jobs and toxic managers. And it is actually important to let employers know this is why you are leaving. Bad managers cost companies money, resources, time, and talent. And there is no need to be afraid of them or their impact on our future success. They need to be called out.

Oh, but not in a job interview. Remember to always speak positively about all of your past work experience in interviews. It's a little disingenuous, but it's how the game is played. Expressing negativity in an interview will only reflect poorly on you and hurt your chances of being hired.

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