There’s no doubt that many departing employees have felt like going out in a blaze of glory - unloading months or years of built-up emotions during their final days or even in their exit interview.
But when the time comes to leave, many decide against this course of action, a move perhaps borne out of fear of burning bridges.
However, some employees, like Jules Norton, hold their nerve and make their true feelings known.
In a post on TikTok, Norton, a project coordinator in the construction sector, revealed how she quit her job by sending a company-wide email containing her resignation letter, after her boss had previously berated her over a small mistake by also penning an email and CCing the entire company.
Describing the high pressure environment she was working in, Norton told her audience: “My work environment was go, go, go, push, push, push. And not in a positive ‘let's go’ but in a ‘do it or else’ type of situation. And it became very toxic”.
She added that her boss “really needed to take a management class” and that she had been planning to quit her job for a while before the incident.
The tipping point came after a minor mishap – sending an email to the wrong recipient – which led to her supervisor's overreaction, ultimately guiding her decision to quit after months of indecision.
She explained: “On this particular day, I made a mistake.
“I emailed the wrong person.
“And to that email, my boss replied all to the whole company.”
She went on: “(he) replied all to the entire company and said ‘Jules, what are you trying to do here?”
“Now, I have ADHD, and the rejection sensitivity is strong, and I don't do criticism well.
“I had already caught my own mistake. It wasn't like he pointed out to me. I had already caught it, rectified it, and then he caught on and wrote me this email.”
After taking a moment to compose her emotions, Norton returned to her desk and wrote a reply email.
“I wish I could say I went out with a blaze of glory,” she said, admitting “but I don't exactly have those kahones.”
“So I basically said…clearly this was a mistake, but this is as good a time as I need to say I'm unhappy here, and I really think that I want to find something remote or something that I could be home with my kids more…”
She concluded: “I hit send on that b***h”.
Norton also clarified she then fulfilled her two weeks notice period before leaving the company.
@jules__norton I quit my job on a reply-all email. #corporatelife #corporatetiktok #corporategirlies #iquit #iquitmyjob #funemployed ♬ original sound - Jules_Norton
What to do when an employee’s exit turns bitter?
As Norton admitted herself, her send-to-all email could have been much more condemnatory, given the circumstances and her heightened emotions at the time of quitting. But her situation is not the only recent case study in a departing employee airing their grievances in public.
In November 2023, Suella Braverman, published a fiery response to Rishi Sunak when the Prime Minister sacked her from her role as Home Secretary.
In her letter, Suella outlined work she had completed, and discussed how they had worked together on different projects. She wrote: "Someone needs to be honest: your plan is not working, we have endured record election defeats, your resets have failed and we are running out of time. You need to change course urgently."
It was this incident that led HR Grapevine to opine on the issue of exit interviews and resignation letters. And the case of Jules Norton only adds further fuel to the fire of the debate.
The onus is often on the employee and whether they will choose to say anything - the risk of burning bridges can be a worry - but what about the managers and HR professionals who are handed (or emailed) letters that rip either themselves or the company apart (or both)?
For some, the words will be in the resignation letter they hand to you. They might have been writing it for a long time, editing and working on the words. There will be a highly emotionally charged element to it - much like there was with Norton’s, and previously Braverman's. She has not held back, and employees might do the same. For many, reading the letter in full, the words 'brutal' and 'no holds barred' might come to mind.
For HR professionals, there is probably some de ja vu if you've had a similar letter or email, or fear of this happening to you.
Legal and fact-checking
The first thing you always need to consider is the facts. Has this person raised issues which have, indeed, been noted in the past? Perhaps they allude to something they have raised in a one on one appraisal, that haven't been actioned. Perhaps they had complained in the past about lack of action around an issue that they are now saying is a reason for them not being happy with their leaving the role.
Read more from us
Suella Braverman's letter | How to react when an employee's departure turns bitter
It might be that they include something libellous, and, in publishing it to a third party (you) they are at risk legally. If they choose to share their words on social media, or publicly, that can also cause major issues and even lead to your company needing to make a press statement. For some, the idea of burning bridges just isn't a problem - they are so incensed, or upset, or angry about their experiences that they are going for it in their letter.
If your employee includes or posts an opinion about the role or company on social media, there is a fine line between them venting their spleen and them saying things which are inaccurate or damaging to your company.
Venting their feelings vs inappropriate comments
As an HR professional, or manager, you have two choices, really. You let them vent, then you move on. They are, after all, leaving anyway. What's the harm in them getting a few things off their chest? The other tack you could take is a serious one. Take legal advice if you can on what's been written, and warn the person that if they share this externally you will consider legal action.
Learnings for you and the company in the future
Encouraging staff to share their thoughts and feedback when leaving - for any reason - leaving a job depends on various factors. In some instances, open and honest communication can contribute to a healthier work environment by providing constructive feedback. This transparency may foster a culture of improvement and understanding between employers and employees. Whether you like it or not, the letter or what's said in an exit interview might ring true. It may well be factually correct that you or their manager haven't actioned something they suggested - and that they are pointing out real flaws in the processes.
Then it's time to learn. It's time to look at what's been raised and ask yourself: 'Could we do better next time?'