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ANALYSIS: When 'take this job and shove it' isn't enough

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 | 5:49 p.m. CDT

NEW YORK — Sometimes, giving two weeks' notice just isn't enough.

The Goldman Sachs muppet manifesto — a departing executive's lengthy and very public screed against the company's blind pursuit of profits — is only the latest example of taking bridge-burning to an art form.

Greg Smith wrote that he once had pride in his employer but had watched it decay into a "toxic and destructive" environment where little or no thought is given to clients, only how to "make the most possible money off of them."

The essay, which was splashed on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, sent shock waves through Wall Street and gave the fed-up cubicle-dweller a new stick-it-to-the-man hero. Let's face it: Who hasn't wanted to storm into the boss's office and tell them where to put that quarterly report?

"Complaining about your job, next to baseball, is the national pastime," said Michelle Goodman, author of "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."

Smith is hardly the first to leave a job in a firestorm. Some are more creative than others, such as the Rhode Island hotel employee who walked into work one day in October with a 19-piece marching band to deliver his resignation.

And who can forget Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who cursed out an entire aircraft over the PA, grabbed a beer and deployed the emergency chute? He slid his way into unemployment — plus criminal charges. Slater managed to stay out of jail by agreeing to counseling.

Reading Smith's scathing essay, you can almost imagine him sitting down to draft a resignation letter, turning on the TV and stumbling across the movie "Network."

As anchorman Howard Beale screamed, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore," maybe Smith thought it was time to tell the world that Goldman Sachs' managing directors referred to their clients as "muppets."

Goldman Sachs said it disagrees with Smith's assessment. Smith's rant went viral, anyway — perhaps because it allowed all those office workers who forwarded it Wednesday to daydream about their own dramatic exits.

"Most people don't have the luxury of doing what this guy did," Goodman said. Even those who might have the financial means to withstand the fallout "probably don't want to be branded as somebody who is going to reveal secrets on your way out the door."

After all, most people have future references to think about. Or, at the very least, making sure the old boss doesn't bad-mouth you. Not to mention nondisclosure clauses.

But sometimes the frustration grows too strong, and employees feel as though a "Jerry Maguire"-inspired farewell is the only way to gain some long-deserved attention and grab a little power, no matter how fleeting.

"We all want to feel like we have authority, a sense of control over our lives," said Penelope Trunk, founder of Brazen Careerist, a professional networking site.

Being fired from Yahoo didn't stop CEO Carol Bartz from bad-mouthing the board of directors. Just a day after being canned, she called them "doofuses." Jonathan Schwartz announced he was quitting the top job at Sun Microsystems with a haiku on Twitter.

When NBC forced Conan O'Brien out of his time slot in favor of Jay Leno, the comedian penned a letter addressed to "People of Earth" — talk about needing a large audience — that bashed executives for making a decision that would "seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting."

These dramatic letters might come because employees feel as though they have no other way to make a change, said Paul Argenti, a professor of management and corporate communication at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business.

In other words, if you're forced out, you might as well stomp your feet and pound your chest.

"People are always secretly wishing they have the power that they don't have," Argenti said.

These blow-up departures often hit close to home. They typically mention how things used to be, a bit of nostalgic pride, maybe a mention of how it was never about the money but a sense of doing something greater.

Smith used to recruit graduates of top colleges to work at Goldman Sachs. He even noted in his resignation that he was one of 10 people "out of a firm of more than 30,000" to appear in a recruiting video.

"I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work," he said.

Like any good martyr, he made a sacrifice for the greater good of the company — and Wall Street. Not to mention a possible seven-figure book deal.

 


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