Never Badmouth Your Old Employer If You Ever Want A Job Again

San Francisco Black HeartNo matter how tempting it is to speak ill of your old employer, don’t do it. Seldom is work a panacea of lollipops and fuzzy koalas. Not even the nicest, hardest working, and best performing worker can escape the barb wires of work politics. Why? Because even though you might be a good person, other people may hate you for your work flexible hours, your race, your sex, your compensation, your title, your looks, your age, your political stance, or even your religion.

One of my book interviewees was a fella named Bob who got in at a respectable 7:30am every morning for five years. He seldom called in sick and was an overall solid performer. Bob always stayed past 6pm while the rest of his colleagues left by 3pm. His colleagues hated him because they had to get in by 4:30am in order to get on a daily 7:30am EST morning call with New York. Every morning Bob walked into the office one of the colleagues would shout out some snide remark to make Bob look bad.

Hey look everybody! Bob just got in!” or “Good afternoon Bob!” or “Thanks for coming into work today Bob!” were common phrases. Bob’s colleagues were clearly miserable for getting in so early and used Bob to vent.

Although Bob laughed off his colleagues’ constant derision, deep down Bob was hurt and annoyed. Bob busted his ass every evening long after his colleagues had left. He didn’t make fun of his colleagues for leaving before 3pm while he stayed behind for another three hours on average.

One has to wonder, “If a tree falls down in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I think not. Even though Bob worked past 6pm, nobody was in the office to see. It’s all about creating positive perception at work.

Not only was Bob ridiculed on a daily basis, he was also ganged up on by his other colleagues when it came time to doing business with existing customers. Bob worked on a smaller product and was outnumbered eight to one. The herd mentality of ganging up on others is a dangerous phenomenon that is growing at school, online and in the work place.

After five years of misery Bob shot me an e-mail to see if I could help him out with his exit.

EMPLOYEE RAGE IS DANGEROUS FOR BOTH

Like a patient to a doctor, Bob finally let go and opened up to me about how he truly felt about his company.

“My office is full of pompous, miserable assholes who thinks the world revolves around them!”

“Every time I do the work to win an order, I get pushed aside by a colleague in another product who claims the credit.”

“Every person my office manager hires is a white male just like him. Everybody looks the same in the office, yet they claim to be a supporter of diversity. Meanwhile, all the assistants are Asian women. What a freaking joke!”

“The office manager can’t even look me in the eye for more than 10 seconds while speaking to me. He’s constantly fidgeting and looking left and right like an uncomfortable weasel who got caught talking behind another’s back.”

I could see the fire in Bob’s eyes as if he was on a mission to write a tell-all book. Luckily for the employer, I calmed his nerves and told him about the pitfalls of going apeshit. Luckily for the employer, Bob doesn’t have a massive blog to telegraph all his stories either.

At the end of our month long consultation, Bob was able to successfully negotiate a separation package worth about six months of pay and find another job with a competitor six months later. In a twist of fate, one of Bob’s oppressors at his old firm got fired soon after Bob left and applied to work at Bob’s new firm. Needless to say Bob’s nemesis got denied and is still looking for work one year later.

REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD NOT SPEAK ILL OF YOUR EMPLOYER

* It’s an employee not your company. Whenever you feel grief at work it’s usually at the hands of a particular person or set of people. Seldom ever is it the company that is causing you misery unless your company’s name is MCI Worldcom, Enron, or Zynga. The large majority of your colleagues are probably good people who are also dealing with their own issues. In fact, the more miserable the employee the higher the propensity to take out their frustration on others. If you paint everybody who works at your company in the same bad light, chances are high that you will end up offending and hurting innocent colleagues who have nothing to do with your oppression.

* The world is small. Let’s say you rip Zynga for being a sweatshop and a place were executives get to sell shares at all-time highs (like they did at $12 in the Spring of 2012) while prohibiting everyone else to sell as well. Yes it is unfair to let employees hold the bag while executives cash out for mega millions. However, chances are high that Zynga employees will leave to join other companies in your field which you may want to work. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve overlapped with people I’ve worked with over the past 13 years. They could become potential employers, clients, business partners, poker adversaries, fantasy football league buddies, etc. The internet has made the world infinitely small. Be careful.

* Nobody likes a complainer. Complainers are the worst. They are the ones who congregate around the water cooler whining why they didn’t get a raise or a promotion. They then start badmouthing other colleagues who they think are undeserving of their pay raise or promotion. If you are labeled as a complainer or a hater, nobody will want to work with you. Complainers/haters are the virus that drags down company performance and morale. They try to take others down because they realize they can’t move up on their own merit. A manager will always worry there’s something that’s making a complainer dissatisfied. A manager knows that complainers have a higher proclivity for quitting. They suffer from wanderlust where the grass is always greener. As an ex manager, there is nothing more frustrating than spending a year training someone only to lose that someone to a competitor.

FORGIVE AND MOVE ON

If you simply must speak ill, then make sure you differentiate between the person who you feel ill towards vs. the organization that once gave you employment. Very few people stay at one place for their entire careers anymore. The job market has almost turned into a mercenary type of marketplace where people constantly go to where reward is greatest. The people who you despise may end up holding the keys to your employment future.

I’ll never badmouth my old employer because I’m forever grateful for them taking a chance on me when I was just 24 years old with only two years of experience. Without my employer I would not have been able to build a financial nest egg that has allowed for the financial freedom I experience today. My old employer enabled me to canvas the world for investment opportunities and meet a ton of terrific people I call some of my closest friends. Being able to work is a privilege, especially in an economy where millions of people are still unemployed.

Old colleagues need to stay professional towards departed colleagues as well. What goes around comes around. It always does.

Readers, do you know of colleagues or ex-colleagues who like to bash their old employers? Any stories of people who ended up shooting themselves in the foot for being so negative?

Photo: How Black Is Your Heart? 2013, SD.

Hmmmm, don’t do this!

Regards,

Sam

 

 

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    Here here! My buddy just got rehired by a company he quit 3 yrs ago. At the time he was unhappy with his boss, but he kept his mouth shut and now he’s been rehired into a cushy management job.

    • says

      Getting rehired by a company you’ve voluntarily left or got laid off from is always a curious situation of pride. A good variable many of us don’t even consider as old thorns move on.

  2. says

    Timely post for me since I just got laid off! I follow the philosophy of never burning your bridges, you never know when you’ll have to reach out for help with a job. I got my last job because of my professional network, if I made it a habit of flaming old jobs I probably would never have gotten that opportunity.

  3. says

    I think this post should be read by every person who thinks that Facebook is a private avenue to vent. No matter your privacy settings, you need to keep your personal thoughts personal or within a small, tight-knit circle. Great post for today’s internet crazy generation.

    • says

      The amount of revelation folks post on FB continues to amaze. Seems like things are getting better, but it’s as if everyday we hear of someone who has shot themselves in the face.

  4. says

    The interesting part of this post to me is the fact that Bob’s work environment seems to privilege time spent versus results achieved. I’ve experienced this for years in the military where, even when you aren’t deployed or training in the field, the mark of “success” for so many is how many hours you are willing to spend at work versus how much you are actually accomplishing.

    This is one of my primary drivers toward financial independence and autonomy, as I can’t stand this confusion.

    • says

      FaceTime is an inevitability. In Bob’s case it was more of his colleagues wanting him to suffer the same or even more by having him get in at the same 4:30am work hour and leave hours after they’ve gone. Ridiculous.

  5. says

    I don’t understand people who bash their old employers. So many people think that it’s acceptable to say that you lost your old job because of “problems with management,” but do you people realize how BAD that sounds?

  6. says

    It always amazes me how frequently I will run into people from the past, whether it be an interview that I had or someone I worked with, regardless it’s someone that I never thought I’d see again. It’s important to realize how small the world really is, especially if you narrow it down to one industry, and that you’ll come across people again. Therefore, I’ve always made attempts to keep any parting amicable.

  7. says

    I can’t imagine badmouthing any old employer. Sometimes I might complain about certain aspect of the job and things that I felt were not valuable uses of company resources, but I would never bad mouth a specific person or even the company in general. If the job is so bad then you shouldn’t be working there in the first place.

  8. says

    I make it a point to part ways amicably with my former employers, since it is always good to know that I can always ask them for recommendation instead of worrying about what they will say if the new company decides to do a background check. If you’re not happy anymore in your work environment then it’ time to bail out before the situation gets worse and you’ll end up losing more than just your job.

  9. Mike Hunt says

    Not bad mouthing former employers is a given. Never burning bridges, even with real jerks is also very important- the world is too small and things come around all to fast.

    -Mike

  10. says

    I couldn’t agree more about the “office complainer”. They really do drag the whole place down, and its definitely not a reputation you want to have.

    I never speak ill of former (or current!) employers to anyone other than the people in life I’m absolutely closest to. I’d much rather vent my problems to then than in a more public forum where my words could come back to hurt me.

  11. says

    Oh man, I just saw a post from a guy I know who had just been offered a new job. He preceded to bad mouth his current employer pretty badly. Well about two days later he put up another post saying his new job saw what he put up on Facebook and took back their offer. I wonder if the old employer saw this.

    While I do like the guy it is just a bad move to do stuff like that. If you must, do it over a couple of beers with close friends.

  12. says

    It is never smart to bad mouth a former employer! It says so much about your judgment. It illustrates how you handle yourself in difficult situations. Employers like people who make good decisions and solve problems. There are no perfect companies because they all have employees. There are always employees you have to get a long with or possibly work for some day.

  13. says

    It’s such a small corporate world out there, that burning just a couple of bridges can easy put huge limitations on your future career trajectory. I guess unless you can burn bridges in a flamboyant enough way (like Steven Slater who jumped out of the Jet Blue plane), you have nothing to benefit from being a jerk. He at least got a book deal, I think.

  14. says

    I’ve worked at a number of jobs that I hated in the past. Sometimes the boss was the problem, sometimes the other employees, and sometimes the work load/culture. But in every case the best course of action was to find a new job and politely bow out. This is not to say that the younger me always took the best course of action, but the older me certainly learned from my previous mistakes.

    My work policy is to be as positive as possible and complain as little as I can. Everything goes much easier this way.

    • says

      That’s tough to have worked a number of jobs you’ve hated. I guess it helps make you appreciate any decent job you like.

      The only job I hated was having to open up McDonald’s at 6am on the weekends for $3.25/hour. Now that sucked!

  15. JayCeezy says

    Great subject, great post, great advice. I took that ‘high-road’ for 30 years, and have to say I have a pretty black heart (great pic, always funny). Many times, the ‘low-road’ jerks just got away with it and without consequence. As far as my feelings about past employers and colleagues, I have concluded that the only difference between my emotional poles of rage and joy is this: Joy has limits.

    Personally, my rage burns with the heat of a thousand whitehot suns, and decades of unrevenged injustice has turned my heart into a fascimile of our moon. By that, I mean a BB-sized core with the density of a small planet, covered with a six-inch layer of dust where nothing grows. And the surface is the same kind of cold as Dante’s seventh ring of hell.

    Two weird occurrences, semi-related. In two different interviews, it turns out that the people who were interested in me saw my resume and wanted to talk. One I went to Jr. High with, and the other to High School with; never had any heat with them, but was not friendly either. They both made it quite clear that they were “big deals” and “the deciders”, and they “decided” that I was not what they were looking for. Not exactly the result of badmouthing them, but it is a drag to be the foil for an ego-trip.

    Speaking of which, here is my best story: A former employer invited me to breakfast to “catch up”. There was an implied idea that he would be attempting to rehire me with an attractive offer. You will not be surprised to hear that didn’t happen. Actually, I was prepared for that, and prepared to settle his hash. It was awesome. I got all my talking points in, never raised my voice, and did not curse (a friend gave me some great advice, that when I curse, it gives others permission to stop listening). Anyway, he opened up complaining about our old company, where he still worked but was on the bubble, and asked me to help get him some work. He was very surprised when I laughed in his face. I told him I wouldn’t lift a finger to help him or my old company, and I don’t need him for anything, not even a recommendation because I have clients for that. Why should I? Why is he once again coming to ask a favor from me without reciprocating? He was stunned. I told him that he tricked me into coming down to breakfast, that every time I hear from him, he wants something and that he doesn’t understand the concept of “win-win”. (I never expected to hear from him again after this, but the very next week he sent an e wishing me a ‘Happy Birthday’, which was weird but whatever…) Anyway, it was really great to say all this without worrying about my final paycheck or 401k. And it was cathartic for me. Years of resentment and anger gone. It was unfinished business, and it felt great to speak a truth we both knew. We shook hands, and I got what was as close to an apology as I will ever get. Nice.

    Anyway, I hope you liked the story. It felt great! I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t at the end of my worklife. But I highly recommend talking shit right to somebody, when you finally can do it without consequence.

    • Mike Hunt says

      @JayCeezy, that is a great story. I’ve made it a point a long time ago to resolve any open issues with all the people I’ve interacted with in my life. And since then I’ve always been on good terms with just about everyone. Make me feel relaxed and easy to sleep at night.

      -Mike

      • JayCeezy says

        Mike Hunt, I admire your professionalism and ability to resolve outstanding issues with others. That feeling you have is one we all desire. It hasn’t always worked out well for me when I attempt to resolve an issue with an offending party; on occasion, I have received a smirk and a stare. They are telling me that in their mind, the issue IS resolved. I am a consultant who works on time-certain contracts, and it is remarkable how client behavior can change as I come to the end of my time (as noted above by Sam, it is people and not the client company). They can really take liberties, knowing that it is in my interest to avoid drama.

        Another thing I have seen in this thread, and one I have attempted in incorporate in my worklife, is to move on when things are no longer tolerable. The worst is when there are either no options, or undesirable options. As I have aged through the workplace system, the openings for higher salary bands/positions really shrinks and the competition increases. But I have made the occasional lateral move as reaction.

    • says

      Must have been very gratifying mate. Did this guy give you a lot of grief when you were working with him?

      You point out one of the key benefits of financial freedom. Not being afraid to stand up and fully speak your mind!

      • JayCeezy says

        FS, he did not give me direct grief, but his passive-aggressive behavior caused me many problems that I had to solve while he skated. I started to write my complaints about him, but it just turned into a bitchlist that would bore your readers. In 7 years working for him, here is my best example: he put me on a project with a brand-new consultant who was a job-hopper. My company billled us both at the same rate, but I made 2x the salary so clearly the new consultant was more than 2x profitable. The newbie proceeded to behave like a sociopath, got caught in lies, insult the client, and blame poor work on me; meanwhile I had to do both jobs and correct their work. I pride myself on solving problems and being low-maintenance; so when I finally addressed this issue with my boss, I was stunned to hear his reply, “you have to protect yourself.” In effect, he was telling me that he was not going to deal with the problem or back me up. I could go on, but long story short I left the company and the newbie was exposed as a troublemaker and the client cancelled a six-year engagement. Millions of dollars lost for my old company. Many examples, but I am just one of many that he burned HIS bridges with. He just didn’t know it until he asked for help one too many times, when he had nothing on the credit ledger.

      • JayCeezy says

        FS, one more thing…I tried to find and link a post you made about the freedom you have to speak your mind. The post included a story about a tennis pro who complained about a line call and walked off the court mid-match with you. That was one of the many posts I have enjoyed at Financial Samurai. Still trying to work your “Engineer” program, will keep you apprised.

  16. says

    Thanks for the wise words Sam. I have a current coworker who likes to bash our place of employment to anyone who will listen. It leaves a sour taste in all of our mouths and I doubt anyone will be providing him with inroads to any future jobs we may find ourselves in.

  17. says

    Even big cities can have small job pools by industry so it’s easy to cross paths with people at more than one time in a career. I learned the hard way never to get too close to anyone at work too because people you think are friends can turn on a dime and you don’t want them to have any negative leverage on you.

    I think it’s true that a lot of times certain individuals can make a work environment bad, not the company itself. And yes, nobody likes conplainers. Stick at a company long enough and those complainers and other bad apples will get tossed out of the barrel.

    • JayCeezy says

      Sorry to hear about the hard lesson learned, Sydney, that is always a drag. In my 30 years, there is one guy I have worked directly with on four different assignments! So it is a small world, as you say. I have made the mistake of thinking that everyone shares my opinion (Cognitive Egocentrism), and speaking too freely. Years go by, agendas and loyalties change, and you know the rest.

      I think that gossip and trust are something that I have mistakenly offered (in the past) to others, in order to attempt to bond in friendship or become professional allies. It is fun and comforting, as long as it stays in that immediate context. But I have regretted it when the context changes.

  18. Shaun says

    Haha I was Bob a while back for a small remote office of software engineers. I got in at 830 (when I was required to get in) and all my coworkers in the office got in at like 6am or earlier for traffic reasons (they lived far away and traffics crazy near me if you drive later). Either way there was serious animosity towards me among them for that and other reasons.

    I’ll spare the details but things got really bad. I was luckily the highest performer and made a power move by telling the owner of my small firm that if he didn’t fire my underperforming managers I was leaving the company immediately(I of course waited until my managers messed up bad on something). The next day both my managers got fired and the other people who didn’t like me eventually quit. Probably because they were terrified that they had picked the wrong side in our office spat(I was now unofficially their boss and they were all of the sudden very nice to me). A bit cut throat but now I work with people who get in at 830 are good at their jobs and are a better fit.

    As far as I’m concerned it all worked out but I’m lucky as a software engineer who the clients loved and was probably the only person on staff capable of delivering the product we were building on time, I had a lot of clout. I guess what I’m saying is its dangerous to be both Bob and the group who doesn’t like Bob. Never spat with somebody who is more strategically important to your company’s money making goals than you are because you will eventually lose that fight even if you’re in the majority. As the owner if you have to take sides in a fight you’ll side with your wallet.

      • Shaun says

        I was outnumbered 5:2 + was well preferred by the clients and owner. If you count them it was roughly even. It was definitely the hardest office politics I’ll hopefully ever see.

  19. says

    You never know when something you say comes back to haunt you. Too many people don’t have this particular foresight to see that what they say can come back to bite them in the worse possible way. It’s perhaps best to exit, make mends when possible, then try to leave on best possible terms before transitioning into a new job.

  20. says

    It is wise to avoid speaking poorly of a company that you worked for (unless it is really bad, and you have no intention of ever returning). On a job application, office politics should never be cited as a reason for leaving a job, even if it is. On the flip side, I have worked in an industry where some companies will not hire you if they discover that you have worked for specific companies (with bad reputations) within that industry. Anyways, I think that people should be grateful if they have employment. If things are so bad at the workplace, it is best to leave rather whine and complain like a kid. Complaining doesn’t help the situation, and I try to avoid people that complain too much. It gives me headaches.

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