In the past two years, three Americans have quit their jobs loudly, proudly, and in public. I’m wondering what this says about our workplace culture – and the broader culture from which the trend stems.
Only three, you say?
Yes, but their audiences were staggering, each one trumping the last. First it was financial executive Greg Smith, who wrote a condemnatory op-ed for the New York Times (readership = 1.8 million) announcing his resignation from Goldman Sachs. Then last fall there was American animator Marina Shifrin, who told the story of her professional frustration – and departure – through a quirky YouTube dance video (17.4 million views). And the latest iteration of the trend involved a machine engineer named Gwen Dean, who broke the news to her boss in a GoDaddy Super Bowl ad. Audience size? 111 million.
Though the tone of their announcements varies from noble and accusatory (Greg) to cool and detached (Marina) to fearless and straightforward (Gwen), all three of them savored their goodbye in a way that can only be described as smug.
“Ciao, baby” says aspiring puppeteer Gwen, animating the feathery blue puppet on her arm.
Maybe we’re just so used to letting our lives play out on social media – sharing the tiniest updates with people we are barely acquainted with – that it doesn't seem like an unreasonable stretch to share that deep personal decision with millions of other people.
It's also a move that's largely accepted by an audience of strangers who admire independent go-getters. According to Today Money, GoDaddy knew this and wanted to capitalize on our tendency to cheer for the underdog. The ad gave any viewers "who've ever fantasized about telling their manager to 'shove it,' but never had the guts," the "chance to experience it vicariously." (Gwen’s “shove it” moment is implied, conveyed mainly through a smoldering gaze). We cheer in solidarity with the quitter, watching all of that pent-up frustration escape with the words “I quit."
But do we also tend to rally against the employer?
Gwen’s desire to start her own puppetry business had nothing to do with her boss. In fact, her “day job” as a machine engineer probably fostered and funded that dream for years. All those yards of blue fur can’t be cheap. And once she had sewed enough puppets and gained enough courage, she was able to cut those ties. This faceless, bad-guy boss "Ted" should not be held responsible for impeding her progress.
Quitting in public further complicates things for the company, because any response is going to come across as reactionary and defensive.
For example, in response to Marina’s dance video, the Taiwanese animation company felt a need to defend itself, so the remaining employees made a video of their own to advertise the fact that they're hiring. It was received with hostility, garnering 4,340,569 “down” votes and just 8,996 “up” votes -- and the following comments:
“You guys all look fake… man, just look at your expressions. Your smiles look as if they were plastered onto your faces.”
“You all look like you were told to dance or be fired.”
“And that’s how you know the company’s pissed.”
In Greg Smith’s case, his employers say they had no idea he was enduring such dissatisfaction. Greg’s opinion of their fraying morals came up only once – and the timing of the comment suggests he had already submitted his op-ed to the New York Times. The letter sparked a serious internal investigation that scoured Goldman Sach’s corners for any signs of the corruption. They told CNN Money that they have found "no evidence to support them." Tellingly, it was later reported that Greg's attempts at promotions and raises were unsuccessful, and that he was almost let go from the firm.
We can't all quit our jobs this way, nor should we, but the preferred method may be creeping further and further into "non-confrontational" category. Technology has enabled us to avoid face-to-face interaction with lots of people, including our bosses. Last week, the makers of “Break-Up Text” launched the “Quit Your Job” app, which allows users to select their reasoning for quitting, draft an email from a template, and email their supervisor directly.
All of these methods contrast sharply with the job-leaving advice we dish out right here on this blog. In fact, quitting publicly violates the number one suggestion Scott Morefield offers in this post, which is “give notice.” For Greg's, Marina's, and Gwen's supervisors, the public announcement was the notice. I'd take that tip one step further and say "give notice when you're dissatisfied," so that management has a chance to work on a solution. Or, if you view it solely as a disposable day job, then quit quietly. But then again, not doing so may land you a book deal.