The Recent History of Grand Exits

I’m going to make wild, reckless and probably baseless assumption that the recent stories of people dramatically quitting their jobs and earning tons of news coverage speaks to the morale of the American working class in 2010. Hear me out:

  • Last Tuesday in Manchester, Conn., an employee at Hartford Distributors was caught on camera stealing beer. Instead of meeting with management to discuss disciplinary action, the man opened fire in the warehouse, killing eight co-workers and then himself. The man, Omar Thorton, had previously complained of racial discrimination at work.
  • On Monday, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater made a grand exit from his job when, after arriving at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York from Pittsburgh, he shouted expletives at passengers, grabbed a few beers from the kitchen and then deployed the emergency slide to exit. Slater — wearing visible wounds on his head — claims he was hit by an unruly passenger unloading her luggage from an overhead bin.
  • On Tuesday, “Jenny,” an assistant at an unnamed brokerage, quit her job by exposing her sleazy boss through a 33-slide sequence of whiteboard messages sent to friends and co-workers. More than 300,000 people Liked the story on, but the story was later exposed as a hoax.

We’ve all had a miserable job where we spent most of our working days fantasizing the day we’d finally quit. How would we deliver the message? Who would we expose? What secrets would we bring to life? Ultimately, we submit our two weeks and set off on our merry way.

Don’t burn bridges. In this bull of a job market, that’s never been more true. Forget upward mobility — most Americans are stuck at their current job because even lateral moves have become difficult. In many cases, workers are accepting pay cuts for job security.

Of course, none of these facts justify or explain why someone would open fire at work or terrify a plane full of passengers. That’s not what I’m getting at. What I mean to say is we’ve flocked to these stories because they represent the discontentment and restlessness of the American working class, which has felt boxed in and powerless now for several years.

Is this argument a stretch? Hell yes. I’m in no place to discuss the sociological implications of an underemployed nation, but is it such a stretch to say some of the millions of people who forwarded “Jenny the Dry Erase Board Girl” did so because a part of them saw something they admired or envied?

What are your thoughts? Ever made a grand exit from work? Do these stories have anything to do with one another? If so, what?

One thought on “The Recent History of Grand Exits

  1. Good advice on not burning bridges. As lovely as it is to fantasize about a dramatic exit from a noxious work situation (my favorite plan was to hurl a particularly obnoxious and diminutive coworker through a plate glass window on my way out) it is all too easy to forget that one way or another we are going to have to live with consequences of such an outburst long after the satisfaction it may bring us has faded away.

    So yes, I have had jobs where I thought long and hard about getting up and walking out, but I hung in there, kept my head down, and eventually I got out with grace, dignity, and increased remuneration. It’s so easy to proclaim that no job is worth suffering indignity and emotional violence for, but when you have bills to pay and mouths to feed, it is a different story. Always look before you leap, and then don’t leap.

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