Canada·In Depth

Leaving a job brings choice of grace or fury

Leaving a job makes it tempting to tell off your boss or even try to exact some clever revenge. But in the digital age, everything you say, do, write or tweet can come back to bite you.

Blogs, tweets, messages about ex-bosses — hidden or no — won't help land your next gig

The final edition of the News of the World contained a crossword with hidden messages savaging News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks, the now-shuttered tabloid's embattled former editor. (Ian Nicholson/Pool/Reuters)

Admit it. You've thought about it. Telling that boss of yours off once and for all.

Other than one's love, the most precious thing one can give is one's labour. And lately, your labour hasn't been feeling the love.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch leaves his London flat with Rebekah Brooks on Sunday after indicating his support for her continued role in News International. ((Olivia Harris/Reuters))

Maybe you've thought of doing more than just say something. You want to do something clever to get even, show your bosses by showing them up and getting the last laugh. 

And what better time than to do it as you're walking out the door, either by your choice or by theirs, free and clear from the reaches of their tyranny?

Some disgruntled News of the World employees who were laid off amid the voicemail hacking scandal did just that, leaving some choice parting words for News International's chief executive and former editor Rebekah Brooks in the clues and answers of the paper's last cryptic crossword puzzle.

Taking the sack

What to do when you are told your job is no longer yours:

  1. Keep calm: "Take a deep breath, count to 10, remain calm and listen to what they have to say," workplace consultant Linda Allan says.
  2. Don't say anything:  At the point a person is being told they're being laid off or dismissed, there's nothing he or she can say that will change the situation. "It's cast in stone," Allan says. "So arguing, bullying, raising your voice, using profanity doesn't work. And it very much affects your opportunities down the road."
  3. Take the information: Most companies will give you something in writing. Take it. Do not throw it at something or someone, at least not until you get home. You'll likely need what's in that paper after you leave. 
  4. Thank them: Huh? But they're canning you! True, but you've been their employee for some time and have been paid by them, Allan says. "The relationship has presumably been positive for the time you've been there. This is your opportunity to really make your mark as a professional." But what if it hasn't been a "positive" relationship at all? You're an adult, says Allan, and you likely have some form of control over where you work. If you decide to leave, do it with class, not a line from Johnny Paycheck. "Professionalism all the way through is hard to manage, but has to be done," Allan says. "It's quite likely that if you do any sort of unprofessional behaviour on your way out, it will get to the outside world and will affect you at your next job opportunity."
  5. Cool off: Venting feels good, but doesn't look great down the employment road. Allan recommends waiting at least a month before raising one's head to comment on anything publicly or on social media sites, if commenting on it at all. If you want to let friends know what happened, but not the world, make darned sure your privacy settings are properly set up because most often they're not. "We don't know where and when it will come back and hit us," Allan says of the information people put up online. 
  6. Be honest: These days, everyone's been downsized at least once, even the potential future employer interviewing you. "There's no shame in it," Allan says. "Say you were sorry to leave, but you're looking forward to your next opportunity."
  7. Lose the anger: "If you talk about the biggest interview blunder people make, it's going into your next interview with a chip on your shoulder," Allan says. So it's not a good idea to tell them you hated your last boss. "The person interviewing you will be saying, 'Whoa, I don't want to be the next boss you hate.' "

Among them, "Tart," "stink," "Brook" "catastrophe" and "criminal enterprise," along with the clue, "Woman stares wildly at calamity."

It makes sense some staff felt compelled to fire a parting shot at Brooks, who was in charge at the 168-year-old tabloid during the events that sparked a growing scandal in Britain and led News International to shutter the publication — seeing as she still has a job.

But as deliciously tempting as getting even sounds — be it in print, on the web or in person — everything you say, do, write or tweet as you exit a job can come back to haunt you the next time you walk into an interview.

"It's really shooting yourself in the foot," said Linda Allan, a Toronto-based management consultant who specializes in workplace conduct and professional etiquette.

"We can be very, very clever at those kinds of things and yet, it's the exact opposite of being clever if you intend to find yourself another job."

The hidden message trick employed by the News of the World crossword-creators was hardly new, and according to British media reports, even Brooks was concerned  about them being slipped into the final edition.

In 2001, British journalist Stephen Pollard wrote a personal and profane hidden adieu to Daily Express owner Richard Desmond in his final piece for the paper, which Pollard spelled out using the first letters of each sentence. The move cost Pollard his job with the paper he was leaving the Express to join, The Times, before he even started.

Ernest Hemingway didn't hide when he wrote a lengthy and furious letter of resignation from the Toronto Star in 1923 — which, according to Star histories and biographies of the author, was reportedly left on a newsroom bulletin board for weeks. But despite his public venting, the author continued to file stories occasionally for the paper in future years.  

Not with a whimper, but a bang

Then there's the path chosen last week by Kai Nagata, the now former CTV reporter who quit his job covering Quebec's national assembly after less than a year on the gig.

Nagata took the extraordinary step of explaining his decision publicly in a blog post, "Why I quit my job."

The 3,000-word essay — which the 24-year-old himself has labelled a "cathartic breakdown" — appeared to strike a chord among many journalists when it quickly fanned across Canada's relatively tight-knit media circle, before going viral on Twitter and reaching vast audiences through retweets from high-profile figures as longtime U.S. film critic Roger Ebert.

Nagata wrote in the post that his decision wasn't triggered by dissatisfaction with his employer, but a growing disillusionment with Canadian broadcast news that he felt was "increasingly irrelevant" among his generation in the digital age.

"I didn’t quit my job because I felt frustrated or that my career was peaking," wrote Nagata, who also previously worked for CBC News. "I quit my job because the idea burrowed into my mind that, on the long list of things I could be doing, television news is not the best use of my short life."

Since then, Nagata said his piece has generated 100,000 page views on his blog alone, not to mention the reposts of his essay on other websites such as

While some have called Nagata immature for his piece and taken issue with some of his assertions on the policies of the federal Conservatives, others have praised his courage for speaking honestly about his beliefs.

Nagata told a CBC Radio Montreal show Monday that he's been overwhelmed by the response and suggested he didn't believe the post would hinder his career prospects in the long run.

"I've had more job offers and marriage proposals and emails from politicians and more people getting in touch with me to suggest projects and things in the last two days than over the course of my career," Nagata said in a phone interview with Daybreak  host Mike Finnerty.

Atwood in your corner

Kai Nagata, centre right, interviews protesters for CTV during last week's royal visit in Quebec City. Nagata cited the extensive coverage of what he called the 'Kate and Will show' as evidence of the lack of credible journalism present in television news. ( Vachon)

Julie Girard relied on luck, not venom, to get back at a bad boss.  Girard was fresh out of university in 2002 when she took a job for a small publishing house, only to find her new employer was less than a pleasure.

"He would yell at us for any mistake, call me names, say I was incompetent and stupid," said Girard, who now works as a documentary television researcher in Montreal.

Girard said she worked for him for almost a year before finally standing up to him.

"He had called me up at home, yelling at me," she said. "I hung up the phone. Then I went into his office the next day and told him, 'You can't talk to me that way, it's abusive.'

Margaret Atwood, hero to the worker. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

"He was dumbfounded, and said 'OK.' A month later, he laid me off."

But instead of trying to get the last word, Girard kept quiet and soon moved on to another job at a larger publishing house. The last word, it turned out, would come a few months later and not from her, but from Canadian literary legend Margaret Atwood.

Girard was working as a publicist for Atwood during a book tour and accompanied her to an awards banquet in Montreal, where they noticed Atwood and Girard's former boss would be seated at the same table.  

"It was a fluke," Girard said. "During the dinner, she called me over and said, 'This is my publicist Julie, she's amazing. I would highly recommend her.' All the time she was looking right at him."

As for Nagata, he said he's not making a decision on the job offers he's received in response to writing about why he quit his last one. Instead, he insisted he's focused in his road trip west to see his family.

"I feel more calm and focused and happy than I've felt in a long time," he told the CBC's Finnerty from a stop in Detroit.

"The open road beckons."