Burning Bridges

A friend’s daughter recently ended a very unhappy employment experience. The young lady in question was employed in a public relations agency and handled several medium-sized clients. In what sounded like an unprofessional atmosphere, her supervisor and two co-workers had made her experience there unpleasant during the past few months. The decision to leave was difficult because, although she’d been interviewing with other firms, she hadn’t yet found another job.

In the best tradition of the expression “Not to decide is to decide,” she concluded that she would rather work full-time at looking for a new position than continue working in an awful environment. She submitted her resignation and offered to stay on to help with the transition of work to another account representative. Her supervisor declined the offer and asked her to leave by week’s end.

In an interesting turn of events, the day she resigned she received an offer from one of the firms she had been courting. As it turned out, her decision caused no significant financial pain, and her outlook on the work world and her own abilities quickly and dramatically improved.

Acting on a friend’s advice—”Never burn your bridges behind you”—she wrote to the owner of the agency she had left and expressed her thanks and appreciation for the opportunity she’d been given over the past two years. During that time, she wrote, she had learned a lot and had contributed to the firm’s success. She ended the letter by saying she was surprised that her offer to stay on and help with the transition process had not been accepted.

Burning bridges has never been a good tactic.

I thought about this scenario in connection with some changes that I’ve noticed in the industry during the past few years. Attitudes and business practices seem to be changing—and not for the better. Whether it is the retail community or manufacturers or wholesalers, there appears to be a movement to ignore commitments. This is most often seen in the credit and collection area: Promises are made to pay what is owed, and these promises are broken routinely. Those who grant credit are asked to understand and forgive the balances owed.

Perhaps the situation is simply a manifestation of people refusing to take responsibility for their actions. Still, “It didn’t work out” is not an acceptable form of problem solving. An agreement is still an agreement.

Manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, publishers, and trade show operators all depend on honoring commitments. Not honoring them is the worst form of bridge burning.

fdallahan@reedbusiness.com