my company is incredibly weird when people resign

A reader writes:

For the past seven years, I’ve worked for a small marketing agency with five full-time employees and two partners who own the businesses. It looks like (fingers crossed!) I’ll be receiving an offer for a new position with a different agency soon, working on projects that I’m excited about with a substantial pay increase and benefits. While I wait for the paperwork to go through, I’m thinking about how I’ll transition from one workplace to another.

The agency partners who I work for now are normally great. They have good management styles and are respectful of boundaries … until someone resigns. Then it’s like a switch is flipped, and all hell breaks loose.

A few examples: one colleague resigned and was met with three extravagant goodbye dinners, including expensive bottles of champagne, photo collages, and tearful speeches about how proud they were of her. Another was publicly berated about her “lack of loyalty” and “betrayal” until she cried, even though she was exceedingly professional and gave them more than a month’s notice. Another became so uncomfortable with their emotional outbursts (both positive and negative) that she started having panic attacks and, eventually, just skipped her last week of work.

It’s bewildering, considering they’re typically very even-tempered towards all other aspects of running their business. I don’t believe it has anything to do with favoritism/gender/seniority – their reactions genuinely seem to be random, but always at one end of the emotional spectrum or the other.

As much as I would like a middle-of-the-road, professional, and appropriate response to resigning, I don’t see that happening. It would be one thing if I could steel myself for a certain response, but not knowing how they’ll react (except that it will be extreme) has made me surprisingly nervous about resigning! I do not want any grand gestures or tantrums. I just want to hand in my two weeks and part on mutually respectful terms.

Do you have any advice or possible language to use? How do I mitigate all of these emotions when I’m not totally sure what’s in store for me? I’d like to keep this bridge intact, considering they’re otherwise great to work for.

Some people are pretty bad with good-byes, but your bosses are terrible at them.

I admit to being amused that they flip from one emotional extreme to another. Usually, managers who take resignations badly stick to being inappropriately disappointed and sad or acting inappropriately angry and betrayed. Yours do both! Sometimes with the same person! If this didn’t have real professional ramifications for you and your co-workers, it would be funny.

It’s strangely common for managers to react badly to resignations. It’s not normal, but it happens a lot more than it should. I regularly hear from people whose bosses reacted to their resignation as if it were a personal betrayal — more of a breakup than a business decision — sometimes even refusing to speak to the employee during their final weeks on the job.

This is, of course, ridiculous. People leave jobs for all sorts of reasons; it’s a normal and expected part of doing business. Managers who are shocked when team members leave aren’t doing their jobs, since they should be assuming everyone will leave at some point and planning accordingly (which includes things like thinking about how to entice their most valuable employees to stay, as well as creating structures that don’t fall apart when one person moves on).

In any case, you’re in an especially weird situation because you don’t know what to brace for when you announce you’re leaving: Will you be berated for your disloyalty or fêted at three separate celebratory banquets? You might be able to mine past departures for clues — any chance the people who were fawned over were already favored, and the ones who were renounced and reviled already had rocky relationships with management? Or is there a difference in how they resigned, what they left for, or any other common denominators that might help you figure out how your own exit is likely to be treated?

If not, you’ll need to prepare for both. The excessive love-bombing is, obviously, easier to deal with. Let them extol your virtues for two weeks, agree it’s sad to be parting, take your commemorative photo collage, and go on your way.

But if you spin the wheel and it lands on “treasonous defector” and you’re treated like you’ve been colluding to bring down the company … well, if it’s possible to just let it roll off you, do that. If we’re just talking about a few snarky comments and some low-level grumbling, ignore it and cheerfully go about your final two weeks. Let them grumble! You’re leaving; it doesn’t matter anymore.

But if it’s not so easy to brush off — if you’re yelled at or pulled into long sessions about their grievances — keep in mind that once you’re on your way out, you have a lot more power. When you didn’t have an end date in sight, you were dependent on staying in this company’s good graces for your income. Now, though, the stakes are much lower if you decide to say, “No, I’m not willing to be treated this way,” and leave. Obviously, you want to avoid doing that if you can — you don’t want to burn the bridge, and you want a good reference from them in the future — but you’re not required to stick around if they truly lose it on you.

Keep in mind, too, that asserting yourself in that way wouldn’t need to mean dramatically storming out of the office. For example, if you’re being berated in a meeting, you can say calmly, “We see this really differently, and I don’t think it’s constructive to dwell on this. I have a lot that I want to finish up before I leave, so I’m going to leave this meeting and work on putting my projects in order.” If necessary, you can also say something like, “It’s clear that you’ve been upset with me since I gave notice. Will it still work for me to finish out my remaining notice period, or would it be better if I wrapped up earlier?” (This can sometimes jar a manager into realizing they need to pull it together if they want you to finish your transition work.) And if they become truly abusive, you’re free to say, “I’m not willing to be treated like this, so today will be my last day.”

Sometimes just knowing that you have those options can make a couple of nutty weeks easier to bear. You’re not stuck there no matter what they do — if you need to wrap up early, you can.

But hopefully, you’ll just end up with a mildly strange two weeks and leave with an entertaining story for the future about an otherwise-great job that couldn’t handle rejection.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 65 comments… read them below }

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Like in ‘The Office’ where you know Michael or Dwight are about to do something over the top goofy but you don’t know what. This would be kinda funny except that it’s happening to real people.

      1. Dee*

        I worked at a place like this. The owner was abusive to people who resigned and the would not give references. One woman tried the strategy of bursting into tears when she resigned, claiming she did not want to leave but was forced to due to financial circumstances and pressure from her family. It worked like a charm. The only person to get a gift, flowers and reference letter from the owner. Ugh.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Right? I was confused as to why the LW was writing in because when I read about the huge send off they gave the first employee, I was here for it. But then the poor second departed employee had the exact opposite reaction, and now I’m intrigued, lol.

      1. PeteAndRepeat*

        I thought the next sentence was going to be that the departing employee got stuck with the bill for the extravagant goodbye dinners. Reading AAM has made me expect the worst!

  1. voyager1*

    I would try and find out if possible who does the references for reference check calls. Hopefully that duty who is done by someone not flipping out when people leave.

    1. Cats and Bats Rule*

      I was wondering that also. If the reference-giver is one of the managers that flips out and berates the person who leaves, can they be trusted to give a good reference? If it goes badly, OP just might want to bail as they may not get a good reference no matter what they do!

    2. Inspector Newcomen*

      Letter writer here! Thankfully, I’ve never seen them try to sabotage a reference before. But JUST IN CASE, I have an old colleague on standby to vouch for my work here if needed.

      1. $2Donuts*

        I’m guessing the distinction in send-offs is in direct relation to future-ex-employees new role. If they think it can bring the agency new business, its time for wine and roses. If you’re going to a potential competitor, sleep with the fishes. Even if you’re going to a competitor, I would try and position your exit discussion in language that offers what’s in it for the owners (i.e. business referrals, partnerships, money), rather what’s in it for you (i.e. a new job somewhere sane). It’s up to you if you really want to follow through, but at least it might help get through the period of notice.

  2. Ali G*

    I honestly wouldn’t worry about references if they go in the bad/weird direction. When I gave my notice from my first job ever, the CEO definitely saw it as a “betrayal.” She ignored me and left it to me and the COO to handle my transition. Two days before my last day she asked to see what we had done and flipped out on us and sent us more than one scathing email about how I was leaving them in a learch, didn’t do anything, etc. etc.
    I run in a small industry, and even with that, we’ve had nothing but a great (actually better once I didn’t have to work for her anymore) relationship. LW, as long as you remain professional, what bad can they say about you? That you had the audacity to take another job to further your career? As long as you haven’t witnessed them making up stuff about past employees to bad mouth them, etc. it sounds like this might be an eccentric, if not uncomfortable 2 weeks.

  3. I Love Llamas*

    I am going to be the contrarian here. I have always believed that 2 weeks notice only benefits the employer. There isn’t much upside for the employee other than a paycheck and the opportunity to tie up some loose ends. I would suggest that you start getting your loose ends wrapped up sooner rather than later, so if they do give you a hard time, you can walk out the door at any moment with your head held high. Good luck!

    1. Anononon*

      I feel like this argument is going in a similar direction to those (in the US) who say that they don’t believe in a tipping culture, so they don’t tip at all.

      Like, yes, the two weeks is generally more of a courtesy to the employer, than the employee, but pushing back is mostly just still going to harm the employee. Also, at good workplaces, there is nothing wrong with giving a courtesy to your employer.

      1. Anonym*

        In many cases, it’s also a courtesy to your colleagues who will have to pick up the slack when you go. Transition time can make it easier on them. (Mostly relevant for those with crap management and decent coworkers.)

        Not that that should hold you hostage if you need to get out, though!

        1. Anononon*

          Yes, agreed that there are definitely situations where someone shouldn’t work the full two weeks, especially in hostile (colloquial definition, not legal) workplaces.

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            Absolutely. OR – if you’re asked to do something unethical – or are being treated unethically – yes, sometimes immediate termination is warranted.

            I had to do that once – to get management to back down from an unfair action. I said (on a Monday), “let me know by tomorrow morning if you change your mind, I’ll bang everything out with HR, I’ll be out the door Wednesday”… they backed down.

      2. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        “I feel like this argument is going in a similar direction to those (in the US) who say that they don’t believe in a tipping culture, so they don’t tip at all.”

        And then on their way out the door they knock over the table for the wait staff’s other tables.

        Two weeks notice 100% is for the businesses benefit. For most industries, though, part of that is it also benefits the entire work team. Sure you might not always care that you’re burning a bridge with a business or management team, but you really should care about the bridge you’d also be nuking with your former co-workers. As someone that came into a position that was left empty by somebody pulling a one day’s notice, I very much do not have a high opinion of them due to the wreckage they left behind. Neither, in fact, do any of my coworkers, the vendors and clients they left in a lurch, or the entire professional network that knows they basically just cut sling load and left.

        Our actions are not always about ourselves. They’re what ourselves actions do to other people.

        1. MassMatt*

          A colleague had a coworker quit over the phone with no notice. It was definitely not the sort of case where they were afraid of abuse etc. The person leaving shared clients with my colleague, who really had to scramble to call and meet them, etc.

          The odd thing is that the person who left Had clearly been preparing this for a while, and even set up these meetings right up until he left. Very strange, and people definitely talk. He did a lot of damage to former colleague and the clients he left behind.

    2. Donna*

      Given what OP’s described here, though, I think this is still good advice. Try to document and wrap up as much as possible before you give notice. That way, if things do go south, you can cut and run without leaving your coworkers in the lurch. Your employer might not appreciate it, but they’re not the only ones telling the story.

    3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      A lot of HR departments have an employee separation/termination form in their system. It has a checkbox for gave adequate notice/did not give adequate notice and then subsequently eligible for rehire/ineligible for rehire.

      If you don’t give adequate notice, you will be marked ineligible for rehire, and that’s what will be given in a reference when a future employer calls HR to do a reference check. (And yes, your boss can fill this out incorrectly to be punitive and a jerk and there’s nothing you can do about it!) But you always want to dot your i’s and cross your t’s on your end.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Yes there IS something you can do about it. I had to do that twice.

        You always have the right to look at your personnel file. If there’s false information in there – such as – you gave a 2 week notice but Badboss said you didn’t, or they padded it with “bad stuff ’bout this employee” that isn’t true – not talking subjective BS, like a scurrilous appraisal, but fabrications = incidents that didn’t happen, or bad things that are directly attributed to you that you had nothing to do with ….

        That’s SLANDER. And defamation. And you can demand that things be fixed if they are wrong. And you can take a copy with you.

    4. TCO*

      But following professional courtesy (when you have a good employer who returns that) and convention is good for your reputation. The letter posted earlier today is an (admittedly extreme) example of how a poor reputation can follow an employee for years into their career.

    5. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Giving notice is a relationship thing. By helping your company manage a smooth transition, you maintain good relationships with your former employer and colleagues, which can be valuable down the road. At the very least, you get a reference that doesn’t end with “And then s/he quit without notice and left us in the lurch.”

      Which doesn’t mean you are obligated to give notice if you know you’re going to be abused and suffer for it. A relationship is a two-way street. But if you have a normal reasonable employer, it’s worth the effort to preserve.

  4. Lena Clare*

    I wouldn’t necessarily work the whole day if they were being really rude. I wouldn’t storm out either, but if they’re being rude and abusive, then you don’t have to put up with it for longer than it takes to gather your things and calmly exit.
    And if ever a letter needed an update it’s this one :)
    ‘Owt so queer as folk as they say.
    Good luck OP.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      That’s the same as “nowt” I presume? I love old sayings, and want to get it right. :)

      1. linger*

        Yes, though aught/owt can also mean “anything” rather than “nothing”.
        The meaning aught/owt “nothing” derives from naught/nowt through resegmentation. (Cf. the historical relationship between an apron / a napkin, both being items of napery.)

  5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I think it’s important to realize that any company (no matter how great they seem normally) will let you go in a second if it affects their bottom line. It’s not necessarily malicious, but it’s fact. They’re running a business and if they have to let people go to keep that business afloat they’ll do it – it’s not personal. So when you find a new job, don’t make the resignation personal either. Yes you’ve witnessed some oddball reactions to resignations, but there’s no need to stress yourself out about it. Don’t let them treat you like crap, but otherwise just let them be weird.

    1. notyourproblem*

      If any company wants to prevent its employees from leaving or leaving without significant notice, all it has to do is provide its employees with contracts. Any company that does not have its employees under contract is making the choice to value the flexibility of a contract-less workforce over the stability of a contracted workforce. This choice is not the responsibility of any individual employee.

      Seriously. If you ever hear anyone in your company complain about people leaving or leaving with little notice, say “well, if you wanted him to stay, you should have offered him a contract” and see how quickly they shut up.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        In the US, that’s really really unusual. They might shut up, but only because the conversation just turned weird.

        Who gets contracts? Businesses create contracts with other businesses, but for people? Well, entertainers, and very high-up management. Yer average Joe doesn’t get a contract and it doesn’t matter how much it’s usual in the EU, it’s still not usual in the US.

        1. notyourproblem*

          Regardless of how common or uncommon employment contracts are in the US, they are available to any company worried about an employee leaving with little to no notice.

          If an employer is complaining about the problem of people leaving, how is it weird to suggest that employer use a tool to prevent said problem?

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            Because contracts can be negotiated. Either way. Management has an advantage in the US called “at will employment / right to work” – which means the employee is free to walk, but management is free to fire. For no reason at all — barring discrimination, or if someone’s approaching a milestone like pension or 401K vesting.

            Management doesn’t want to give up the right to fire that way.

            1. notyourproblem*

              Exactly! And a cost (to employers) of the flexibility of at will employment is that employees are free to leave at any time. If any employer would actually be devastated by an employee leaving, that employer has the option of giving up the flexibility of at will employment and giving the critical employee a contract.

              That’s the point — if these hysterical business owners are really so upset by employees leaving at will, they have the option of employment contracts.

    2. A penguin!*

      I think your first sentence is unfair. Sure, companies will let you go if it’s the difference between closing up and not – and on balance that’s not a bad thing. It means at least some people stay employed there. And there are companies that will let people go pretty quick if it’s impacting the bottom line but isn’t at life or death of the company level. But there are also companies who will hold onto employees at a hit to the bottom line, if they can (mine is currently doing so).

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        It’s not unfair, it’s realistic. I’m not saying companies won’t try and protect their employees and keep them on until the last minute they’re able, but it’s a fact that they ultimately will do what’s best for them.

        1. A penguin!*

          I think we agree in your follow-up here. All companies will certainly cut people if that’s what they have to do to stay afloat. My interpretation of the original first sentence as written was that companies cut people loose the moment they impact the bottom line. ‘the last minute they’re able’ to keep an employee is, after all, well after the point they have an impact on the bottom line.

  6. Niktike*

    It might also help to remember that YOU don’t think badly of the people who left, and your colleagues won’t think badly of you either. Even if your boss gets super inappropriate, your peers who are reasonable people will stay reasonable. They’ll still be willing to speak for your work even if you have to burn the reference from the boss.

  7. Happy Pineapple*

    As someone who’s worked mainly contract jobs and could simply ride into the sunset when the job was over, I’ve only had to give my two weeks notice once. It was the polar opposite of the extreme emotions here: there was no reaction at all. It’s definitely better than being berated and treated like a traitor, but after more than three years in a close-knit small business, I at least thought someone would say goodbye on my last day! I think the moral of the story is that quitting is always going to be weird in some way.

  8. 30 Years in the Biz*

    I’m so sorry this is happening to you! I’m hopeful the anticipation of drama is more than any actual drama that may occur. Alison’s advice is great as always and it’s also great you have this site and group at times like this!. Best wishes to you as you start the next chapter.

  9. Treebeardette*

    I am facing the same situation. My super isor is acting poorly. My last day is Friday. She went on vacation and had been telling me what to do but half of it doesn’t make sense.

    I told myself that I can handle it. If she yells, manipulates, or treats me disrespectfully, I’m out of there. I have references that I’ve collected from other supervisors and managers. You don’t have to have your own manager as a reference.

  10. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    I think it is important to remember that whatever way they choose to act, you cannot control it.
    Don’t waste time and energy trying not to “make them angry” or to “make them happy,” the way people in abusive situations do.
    Yes, resign in an upbeat and professional way. And then move on in your mind.
    Focus on how you have nothing to regret, nothing to apologize for and nothing to change.
    Good luck on your new job!

  11. H.C.*

    *shrugs* the OP may not know everything behind the scenes about the co-workers’ leaving. Maybe the “love overload” co-worker was able to close out on a major project or signed on a new client just before giving notice. Or that traitor-labeled co-worker seemingly accepted a counteroffer but really used it as bargaining chip to negotiate higher with NewJob. Granted, employer should have kept it more professional on both fronts so it doesn’t give current workers the jitters (& reduce likelihood of a shortened notice period, like the 3rd coworker who left).

    Actually, my bigger concern would be with the types of reference they’d give – usually more lasting than whatever reactions they have when I practically have both feet out the door.

    1. Jaybeetee*

      Yeah, even if an employee resigns “badly”, it’s kind of on the employer to take the high road, especially if the defector is still among them.

    2. Inspector Newcomen*

      OP here! It’s certainly possible that there were circumstances of the other resignations that I wasn’t privy to. I totally concede that point!

      But I’m still close with all of my old coworkers, and it sounds like this has been the case for quite some time. Each of them put in their notice and braced for impact, not totally sure what the response would be. Even the woman who received all of the dinners was touched but VERY confused by the whole ordeal.

  12. Safely Retired*

    I’m wondering if it can be addressed in the resignation letter. (OT: With all the great resume and cover letter advice here, is there advice on what makes a good resignation letter?) After you get the basics down (I resign effective X date)…

    “I have two requests relating to my departure. First, please refrain from goodbye dinners such as were held for the departure of Frampton Hartford. Second, please skip the public flogging for disloyalty and betrayal such as was inflicted on Henrietta Springfield. I believe my 99 years with Contabulated Ltd have been productive and rewarding for both myself the the firm, and have earned me the uneventful departure I prefer.”

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      A good resignation letter simply says, “After several years at Llama Industries, I have decided to leave and take a new position. My last day will be September 15th. Thank you.”

      I would NOT use that stuff about what they should during her notice period! That would look really, really bad. It sounds like needless drama stirring when it’s healthier and more productive to just let things go.

      There’s a lot of good info about resignation letters; check out the “resigning” link on the right side of the page.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        Agreed, especially considering Alison usually encourages people to resign either in person when possible or over the phone/Zoom when not, and to use the letter just a formality. Maybe the OP could get a feel during her conversation with her manager about how her resignation will be handled by them, and figure out what her plan of attack will be at that point.

    2. Perbie*

      Maybe just resign in a really peppy way? “I am so excited to tell you i got accepted at (place)!!! It’s been so wonderful to work here and I can’t wait to apply all of learned!!! Let’s go celebrate my new position and hammer out wrapping up my projects with a flourish!” (Not really. But maybe???)

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      I did do a nasty – on a resignation once I was asked to not say I was leaving because – yes, this industry pays low but I was being paid WAY below my pay grade and attempts to negotiate a living wage for my profession were fruitless; I was forced to leave to avoid personal financial disaster. WHICH WAS TRUE.

      I did write a nice one once – the office was moving to a new geographic location and I suggested that if the moving perks were better I might stay. That was a little stretch, but I figured (and my boss did – amicable departure) that it might encourage the company to offer more to those who stay.

      The other times – just bland – “I’m leaving to go to Acme Teapot, and I expect my last day will be …. If there are any questions, please ask, and I can be reached at my home phone at #####” although I might have been more revealing in an exit interview.

  13. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    That is really weird behavior from the two owners, considering how OP describes them as level-headed and normal for every other part of running the business. I wonder if there is similar weirdness around hiring that OP just hasn’t been privy to.

  14. Jaybeetee*

    I always wonder about employers who react so personally when someone leaves, especially since it *is* so commonplace. While I know there are exceptions (I actually work in a place where people tend to stay on for years and years, sometimes for entire careers*), but it feels like some of these employers are still expecting the “Company Man” of the 1950s, where someone spends their entire career in the same place, sometimes the same job, and leaving is somehow seen as some huge indictment of The Company.

    *Even as I work at a place with high tenure and low turnover, people still do leave, and I’ve never seen any ill-will leveled against anyone for that.

    1. irene adler*

      I think employers recognize on some level that employees will leave at some point. Just not in the foreseeable future. And life is so much easier -for them- when they don’t leave (when there’s no plans in play to cross-train or otherwise cover needed functions).

      A former president/CEO where I work marched into the accounting clerk’s office and call her a “chicken” because she gave notice. She had been there for a couple of years. But this was a startup with not much cash to spare. No doubt she was underpaid, knew it, found a better paying job and took it (more power to her!). But that meant it would be hard to replace her for the same pay.

      Course, this is the same president/CEO who threw a piano out the window and into a pool because something didn’t go his way.

      So glad he’s long gone.

      1. BookishMiss*

        Sorry, he threw a piano out of a window and into a pool? Any chance you can share that story on the Friday open thread?

          1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

            Agreed! I mean, was it a full on grand piano or maybe one of those smaller beginner ones? How did he get it out of the window, let alone all the way to the pool?

      2. Cat Meowmy Admin*

        《°0°》… So my mind instantly went to… “Play us a song you’re the piano man!
        Play us a song tonight – cause we’re all in the mood for a WTF Story, and CEO done lost your damn mind!”
        Seriously, this needs to be in the Friday Open Thread!

    2. Sleepless*

      My first professional boss took it extremely personally when anybody left. He absolutely was one of those old-style bosses who had a mental picture of the “Company Man.” Didn’t matter how low or high level they were, why they were leaving, or anything. He would spend days grumping around, making up increasingly ludicrous theories about why they were REALLY leaving (that had nothing to do with any issues with the job, or certainly with himself as a boss). Sometimes he was excessively nice, sometimes he would blow his stack, you name it. When I resigned, I was prepared for anything. I gave two months’ notice (a long notice period is customary in my position). He called me the next day and let me go on the spot. Whatever. I resigned for a reason and it’s not like I really wanted to work there for another two months.

      1. Tatiana*

        I used to work at an agency where we were not allowed to have a goodbye party/cake/circulate a card for anyone who was leaving. The CEO saw any resignation as “disrespectful to the company”, and by God we were not going to celebrate that.

  15. Wendy Darling*

    I quit a job because my boss was straight up abusive, and what got me through the experience was repeatedly reminding myself that if she kept treating me like crap I could just hand over my stuff and announce that I was not willing to be treated like that so it was my last day RIGHT NOW.

    I lucked out and she ended up refusing to interact with me in any way and communicated by telling HR to tell me things, and HR ended up telling me to hand in my stuff at the end of the week and they’d pay me through the end of my notice period. So that turned out well.

  16. Suzy Q*

    If you get the ugly side, perhaps you could act confused and say, What is this? I was expecting a farewell dinner!

  17. Lemon Ginger Tea*

    I had a boss who did not speak to me in person again after I gave my two weeks notice, and was conspicuously out of the office on my last day. I wasn’t personally hurt by it, but it was weirdly unprofessional, especially for that person.

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