Talking smack about former employers not advisable

Toni Bowers cautions those who leave their jobs (willingly or otherwise) to be careful about those farewell messages they leave behind.

There's a scene in the movie Broadcast News, between an employee who has just been laid off and the guy doing the laying off. The manager, dripping with insincerity, asks if there is anything he can do. The employee replies, "Well, I certainly hope you'll die soon."

Although that makes for some good entertainment in a movie, it doesn't work as well in real life. For one thing, in most cases the person delivering the news of a layoff in person, is most likely not the person who made the decision. It may be hard to believe when you're on the receiving end of such news, but it's not very easy on the person who has to deliver it either.

Recently, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dan Neil announced he was leaving the Los Angeles Times to go work for the Wall Street Journal. Here is the farewell message he sent to the newsroom on Feb. 11.

I will admit that that had to have been an enormously satisfying memo for Neil to write. But he's already landed a pretty impressive gig and doesn't have to worry about potential employers being concerned with his having a negative attitude (at least this time around). He's also fortunate that he is a rather high-profile person in possession of a Pulitzer.

But someone without those characteristics -- which would be most of us, I'm guessing -- should be more concerned with leaving a company on a bad note, especially that publicly. It really is a small world. (My husband and I once went on vacation to Florida and, while there, struck up a conversation with a couple who lived just down the street from us and knew many of the people we knew, though we didn't know each other at all.)

Even if you mention something derogatory about a former co-worker or boss in what you consider the relative safe territory of Facebook, you're taking a big chance. Keep in mind the theory of seven degrees of separation, which is the idea that, if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is at most six steps away from any other person on Earth.

Spouting off negatively about someone you worked for might feel good for a short time but the repercussions could dog you forever.

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By Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.