when does an employer burn a bridge with an employee?

A reader writes:

I have heard a lot about not burning bridges when you leave a company. When can it be considered that a manager or a company has burned a bridge with an employee?

I recently left a job. I was hired almost two years ago, and at that time I was hired as a senior software engineer. This is a start-up so I took a salary that was lower than standard because I thought that as the company grew, I would also grow and my salary would rise faster than at a regular company. The average pay for my experience level was somewhere between $134K-$145K. I took the job at $117K.

After a year, my manager, who was the CTO, let’s call him Matt, told me that the company did not have the money to pay me more but that they were hoping to be able to increase my pay after they got more funding. Less than a month after I was told that, my manager hired another senior software engineer, John, at $150K. I have about twice as much experience as John. Six months after that, Matt called us to a meeting and said that John was going to be doing technical lead work but that was just for now and everyone would have the chance to do the more advanced work.

As time went on, I was not getting any better work, and I started to be micromanaged by John and given work at a mid to low level. Another four months go by and I see that the technical lead work (John’s work) was falling very behind. I asked Matt if I could help in any way with it, and about my salary, and Matt said that they were still trying to procure funding and they didn’t need help with the technical lead work.

After hearing that, I sent in my resignation. At that point, Matt offered me $150K, which was still way below where my pay should have been. (A consulting company that I had worked for previously noticed my change on LinkedIn and offered me $180K without my solicitation.) I had conversations with Matt’s boss and she told me she didn’t have an answer about why I had been treated like this, but hoped we could work something out where I would stay.

Considering that I was being kept at a low salary, was given bad work, and was lied to while someone else with less experience and skill was getting promoted, would this constitute the company burning their bridge with me? What would a company need to do to burn its bridges with an employee?

That’s entirely your call — there’s no universally agreed upon set of standards for when an employee or employer burns a bridge. Some things are obvious, of course — knocking over a filing cabinet and shouting “F you” on your way out the door will do it if you’re an employee, for example. But there are shades of grey in there too, where people draw their lines in different places.

What I think you’re really asking, though, might be about why no one ever really talks about employers burning bridges — you hear it nearly exclusively about employees. That reflects the historical balance of power between employers and workers, where economic forces and social norms have both made workers feel like they’re at the mercy of employers’ whims and need to kowtow to them in many ways … and employers have happily embraced the power that gives them.

In practice, that has meant that workers are the ones who worry about burning bridges. They worry in case they ever need to seek work at that company again or run into a manager from that company somewhere else in the future, or because of future references. That worry often translates into people leaving quietly rather than complaining loudly about legitimate concerns (from pay to discrimination to harassment to poor management) and into feeling obligated to make nice with people who may have badly mistreated them. It can also mean that they’re afraid to share their experiences with others (worrying, for example, about giving an honest reference about a manager out of fear it will get back to that manager, who may then stop giving them good references because of it).

And one upset worker usually can’t do as much damage to an employer as an upset employer can do to them. Workers can try to take more power by doing things like unionizing (first and foremost!), leaving public reviews, and just talking with other people and sharing their experiences. However, it’s a lot more work and a much less certain outcome than with an employer who can give a crappy reference without much effort.

Moreover, the impact that one employee speaking out can have on a company is usually much less than the impact a company can have by badmouthing an employee. A company can usually weather the concerns an unhappy employee might stir up among other employees and prospective employees (at least until a critical mass is reached). But an employer has the power to seriously mess with a person’s livelihood. So the power dynamics are deeply skewed.

But an employer absolutely can burn a bridge with a worker (or workers) and it’s seriously problematic that we rarely talk about it that way. Things that more people should consider bridge-burning from employers: lying, dismissing salary inequities, dismissing or refusing to address discrimination or harassment, abusive managers (particularly those who continue to be tolerated once the company is made aware of it), bad behavior when people resign (like badmouthing them simply because they’re leaving), bad behavior in general… the list could go on and on.

I talk a lot here about how job interviews are a two-way street; candidates need to be interviewing and assessing employers just as much as employers are doing to them. But the same is true once you’re working somewhere: the employment relationship goes both ways, and either side can burn a bridge.

Whether your employer burned their bridge with you is up to you, but you wouldn’t be wrong to decide they did.

{ 263 comments… read them below }

  1. Justin*

    My outgoing boss is telling people I’m leaving because I’m graduating (this is happening, but it’s not why), whereas I’d advise against anyone working on this team if they were outside of a certain demographic (or even if they just cared about these certain things).

    We absolutely should talk about these things but it’s hard because the chances of someone you know actually working there isn’t nearly as high as you running into colleagues/managers later on if you’re in the same line of work.

    1. OP*

      My colleagues knew what was going on and why I left. I still keep up with a bunch of my colleagues from former places I have worked. It is interesting to see how they all have felt the same way, but no one speaks out.

      A lot of my colleagues I would work with again, but the bad bosses (like in the situation I was in) I would not want to work for. If I did see them at another job interview, I would probably end the interview there. It would be there loss.

      1. Justin*

        Yeah, workers tend to clue each other in. Why (bad) management thinks we don’t talk to each other is… odd.

      2. Smithy*

        While that’s all certainly true – I do think that AAM’s point about most employers having ways to insulate themselves from the worst of this impact is why the impacts are just less.

        About a year ago, a former colleague was interviewing at my current employer and then another place that has a structure governance to somewhere I used to work. I told him the pluses of my current employer and what I knew he’d see as the cons (thematic focus, not on the management track) as well as what I thought the pro’s were. For the other job, I knew the pay would be higher and he’d be on a management track. While I had never worked for that organization, from my previous experience I knew that structure inevitably meant far more bureaucracy and internal politics than he was used to (despite what I know he felt he’d previously experienced). He opted for the second job and a year later I get frequent texts complaining about bureaucracy and internal politics…..

        I didn’t have that smoking gun that would show hard facts that the job would drive drive him crazy, and make less money appealing. Often you’ll have a situation where you know A is a horrible manager but grandboss B you’re less certain about – so when C who also reports into B is hiring…..someone’s caution might be softened or might be dismissed as not being worrisome enough. And 101 other ways that let employers who do burn bridges not have to pay as much.

        1. Smithy*

          *governance structure similar to somewhere I used to work.

          Lordy what a poorly written sentence.

          1. Chili pepper Attitude*

            Pointing out awkward sentences is a great Way to burn a bridge here!
            I also did not love that sentence. I just scrolled past it and still got the gist of the comment. It makes this community a whole lot nicer is we avoid adding comments like that.

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              I scrolled back up to see if it was Smithy because, just like you, I was immediately shocked by that comment!

            2. Clefairy*

              Friendly reminder that one of the rules of AAM is to be kind, and you should follow it too.

            3. Smithy*

              Oh wow – on re-reading my own second comment I see that as very harsh, but truly was just intending it as a facepalm on my own end of the day syntax.

              1. Anna*

                Haha, Smithy, we’re all here to make sure you speak nicely to yourself, too, I guess!

        2. Cedrus Libani*

          Some people have to learn the hard way. Particularly young, ambitious people, where there’s a tendency to dismiss other people’s advice as calibrated for lesser talents than themselves.

          I went to a competitive grad school, where I had a classmate who was generally acknowledged as the best student in years. He had his heart set on working for Dr. Famous – who was famously difficult, and proud of it too. The people working in that lab treated my classmate to an off-the-record lunch, where they spent an hour begging him to go anywhere else. He told me this, and also told me he was joining anyway. I called him a bleeping idiot. No, he didn’t listen to me either. He didn’t even last long enough to get the consolation prize Masters.

          I’ve been at least that blunt on several occasions re: my opinion that one should avoid working for persons who are famously awful to those who work for them. If I’ve learned anything via the School of Hard Knocks – watch how they treat others, because that’s how they will treat you. You’re not special, you’re just new and shiny, and eventually you won’t be. But it’s a harder sell than it really ought to be, because that’s human nature.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            I’ve come to that realization when it comes to telling bright, ambitious young things about the realities of the academic market. You tell them in blunt terms about the uncertain job prospects, work load, pay, toll on family life, and so on, and they nod and smile and you can see them thinking “But I’m smart and hard working and talented and ambitious – I’ll make it, even if others don’t”. And yeah, to this point they have been the top student, award winner, first accepted, smartest in the room – the problem is they’re now in a pool of people like them. Then ten years later, they look back and think “Oh, that’s what they meant!”

            Anecdotally, I find that people who go in with a slightly humbler and more practical approach (and a plan B) tend to do better in the long run, because they’re not expecting to be top and getting offended when they don’t get what they feel they deserve.

            1. L.H. Puttgrass*

              I’ve come to that realization when it comes to telling bright, ambitious young things about the realities of the academic market. You tell them in blunt terms about the uncertain job prospects, work load, pay, toll on family life, and so on, and they nod and smile and you can see them thinking “But I’m smart and hard working and talented and ambitious – I’ll make it, even if others don’t”

              The path to tenure-track academia is rather like hoping to make it big in the pros, except for nerds instead of athletes. And the odds are somewhat better, of course, although mostly because fewer people want to go through the pain of a getting PhD than want to play, say, college hoops. I’m not sure the number of tenure-track positions in some fields actually is actually greater than the number professional basketball players, for example.

      3. JSPA*

        Normally, “bridge burning’ is conceived as an intentional act, or at least a decisive action taken in knowledge of clear consequences, so severe that there’s no ability to walk it back. Passive stupidity, avarice, and presumption of always being in the control chair usually don’t qualify on the grounds of non-intentionality.

        It also means not only that someone won’t go back, but that they cannot. No matter what.

        In that sense, it’s possible that your boss intentionally burned the bridge…but equally possible he was so far up his own posterior that he couldn’t see where he was going, even if everyone else saw it. As far as the grandboss, again, a determined choice, or just unwillingness to actually manage? Who knows.

        As far as the whole company…if you’d end the interview with a different company over that specific boss or grandboss being there, but would consider rejoining the original company if a handful of specific people left, then the company doesn’t even meet the key criterion of a “burnt” (thus forevermore uncrossable) bridge.

        Conversely, if the situation convinced you that the whole company is irreparably mismanaged (as well as the individual problem people being jerks you can’t trust) such that you’d never work for it again, regardless of who came and left in the interim, and regardless of how otherwise desperate you were…and if you think they were happy to see the back of you, and actively intended for you to leave (even if it was clearly their loss, in practical terms) rather than intending to pay you as little as they could get away with, I…suppose you could say they burnt the bridge.

        Only you can say if you’d rather live jobless and homeless and penniless than work for them, if it came to that.

        I also don’t see how describing it as them burning a bridge makes a better impression or stronger impression than quietly saying, “I was dismayed by their problematic hiring and promotion practices.” The first sounds combattive; the second, analytical and competent and clear on how work should work.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          I was thinking along the same lines. It is the old adage that people don’t quit companies, they quit managers. While this is not entirely true, neither is it entirely untrue. There is such as thing as company culture, and this may be toxic. But often the toxicity is more narrowly focused.

          1. TW1968*

            Would it be appropriate to have a glassdoor review that called out more specifics? I like JSPA’s “I was dismayed by their problematic hiring and promotion practices” but wonder if it would be helpful to add Specifically, less experienced worker hired at higher salary, when I was told no budget for raised, L.E.W. given more challenging work than they were able to complete, I was only offered a MATCH when I quit but by then it was of course too late. If you work at this company know you won’t get the raises you deserve, so use as a stepping stone to something better.

            …Because IMO top management either knows about this and lets it go on, so they’re at fault, OR they don’t know…and if they don’t know, they’re failures at managing. It’s their job to know.

      4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        This is why there is a certain org in my city that can only hire new graduates in my degree from out of state. Between how my old boss treated her peers in other organizations and how she treated 3 of us who already had roots and respect in the local field, she can neither hire anyone nor find a job in this state outside that org. In areas where the talent pool is pretty small and everyone know someone who works in every organization, bosses can definitely burn bridges.

        1. JustaTech*

          There are two companies in my industry in my area that have earned themselves such a reputation for terrible practices that they are generally considered “it’s working there or living in a cardboard box” employers.

          One is a job that would suck at any company, but also has consistently had terrible management practices and has ended up in the news at least once. Most people who work there are from out of state or genuinely desperate and it isn’t (usually) held against them when they (inevitably) move on.

          The other company would be a fine job if the CEO/owner didn’t have the actively worst management philosophy/practices possible. But by now it’s one of those places where, when you see it listed on someone’s resume you don’t really have to ask “why are you leaving”.

          But because of the power dynamic Alison described, it’s still just the whisper network warning people away, rather than a towering cloud of smoke from a burned bridge.

  2. supertoasty*

    Yeah, I’d call a spade a spade and say this bridge with Matt and the former company is sufficiently burned. Congrats on the new job with the fairer salary, and keep looking forward to grander heights OP!

    1. OP*

      Thanks for well wishes. In these times where employers can’t even get enough qualified resumes of people who want to work in my field, it is hard to imagine why a company would want this type of reputation.

      1. pancakes*

        Do they actually have “this type of reputation,” though? In another comment you said your colleagues “all have felt the same way, but no one speaks out.” That’s true in many industries — it’s risky for people who need work to criticize former or prospective employers. It’s not as if employers haven’t noticed that, though!

        1. OP*

          They are fairly new and small(25 current employees) and don’t really have any reputation. In my industry it is normal for people to jump jobs every 2 years. It is terrible for the industry, but that is what it is. I think they can get a reputation if they don’t change things. Before I take a job, I look at company review sites, and if I don’t like what I see, I don’t apply to the job. A lot of people do this. When all your reviews are “Everything is great” and then one review says it is bad with very specific examples, I think that company does get hurt, because people can be choosy. Just my 2 cents

          1. Mockingjay*

            Most former employees don’t leave reviews, bad or otherwise. Often it’s easy to figure out who the “anonymous” poster is and that can result in a bad reference very quickly, even for a mild critique. So people keep silent.

            It’s a terrible system which is slowly shifting in favor of employees, but not fast enough. Better to do a thorough screening of your own during interviews: How are employees evaluated – product output, team collaboration, sales goals, soft skills? How does the company manage salary equity? What is the company’s retention strategy – career track, training opportunities, cross-training or work with other teams, etc.?

    2. PersonHuman*

      Not the point but google the history of the phrase, “call a spade a spade” and maybe rethink using it!

      1. Cheap Ass Rolex*

        The history is that it refers to gardening implements, and both predates and has nothing to do with the slur. It still might be advisable to phase that one out, but a lot of people (not sure if it’s regional) are totally unfamiliar with that as any kind of derogatory term, just as a card or a shovel.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          Yes – hence the related phrase/joke “Call a spade a manually operated excavation tool.” :-)

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          In related news, “rule of thumb” has nothing to do with wife beating. That is an urban legend. In fairness, the spade expression really was adopted as code. What implications this has for its traditional use is not entirely clear to me.

          1. KayDeeAye*

            Me, neither. But it’s a very common expression around here, and I am just as sure as I can be that the people I know who use it are thinking of that manually operated excavation tool, not a racial slur. I believe the racial slur originates from the color of spades in decks of cards.

            I’ve never actually heard anybody use the racial slur, except maybe in older movies. I’ve never heard it in real life. People who use racial slurs in real life are much, much cruder and overt!

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              Even further removed is “tipping point.” The metaphor is of a dumping material from a wheelbarrow, the tipping point being when you can stop lifting the handles, as it will take care of itself from there. The metaphor is about a century or so old. The issue is that during the post-WWII era of white flight from cities, the “tipping point” metaphor was used for when a neighborhood reached a certain percentage of Black residents. This in turn made the metaphor far more common than it had been. I have seen the assertion that this usage has skunked the expression, and we therefore should not use it at all. This conclusion seems to me non-obvious for several reasons. One is that this bit of linguistic history is obscure. The vast majority of people using the expression have absolutely no sense of its being racial. The second is even among we happy few who do know it, it is never used as code. I suppose I could come up with some scenario where it could be, it in practice it isn’t, and any such scenario would be pretty forced. Lastly, it was never a racist expression. It was a description of a racist phenomenon. If this skunks the expression, the logical conclusion is that we cannot talk about racist phenomena. I know people who are eager to not talk about racist phenomena. They generally are racists.

              1. Artemesia*

                Well not only that but this is a very useful idea and phrase. It is very explanatory of lots of phenomena.

              2. Anonymous Bosch*

                I would think that after Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” came out and especially since it was a best seller, that the expression has been restored to a more conventional meaning.

      2. supertoasty*

        I’ve googled it – tl;dr for anyone in the future scrolling through the comments: in the 1920s, well after the phrase already entered common parlance and completely unrelated to the origins of the phrase itself, “spade” independently became a coded pejorative for African Americans. I don’t use the phrase often enough anyways but I’ll be more cognizant of it in the future

      3. MechE*

        The history of dating back to Plutarch and predating any pejorative connotation by almost two millenia? I think we are in the clear. No need for pearl clutching.

        1. Esmeralda*

          That’s not how language and culture work. It doesn’t matter how Plutarch used the phrase. What matters is that “spade” is a derogatory term NOW.

          There are lots of words like that. Once they were acceptable. Then their meaning changed and now they are offensive. And that’s what happened with this phrase.

          1. MechE*

            Oh spare me. The phrase is only offensive to those looking to be offended.

            How does the uber-sensitive subset of society refer to the card suit?

          2. Eyes Kiwami*

            I don’t think anyone has used “spade” derogatorily in half a century at least. The card suit/gardening usage is much more common!

          3. Batgirl*

            But the meaning of spade hasn’t changed. If I want to buy a spade, I would use the word spade because that is still what it is called.

          4. Hired Hacker*

            I’m not a native English speaker, although I consider myself to be a bit educated concerning the use of the English language. I am familiar with the idioms that were mentioned here and it’s the first time I hear about a possible racist meaning of them. I guess some people just enjoy feeling offended.

          5. Accountant*

            Pretty clear that the OP thinks the phrase has a racist origin, given that they specifically suggested looking up its etymology.

  3. Lobsterman*

    It’s 100% a power thing. One of my previous employers is a tiny regional distributor, and I have moved far away. I have no trouble cheerfully announcing their stinginess and incompetence to anyone who asks.

    1. cubone*

      my previous (very toxic/abusive) job is not small and is extremely well-known where I live. There is a sense of respect because they are well-known, participate in a lot of community events and have a pretty niche specialty (so are seen as respected experts by many).

      I have had this conversation lately with former colleagues, some of whom have left and some who are still there. ALL of these people express how difficult it is to maintain “professionalism” when asked about or complimented on how great Toxic Workplace is. This extends even to family, friends, medical professionals, etc. (like telling their doctor they need stress leave for personal reasons when it is really because of workplace harassment, but doctor opened with “I love the work TW does in the community, they’re so amazing!”)

      I….. have given up. I mean, I get it in the sense of new jobs or interviews, I wouldn’t go in saying “they’re terrible!” either. But I am tired of pretending, lying about that time in my life, and covering up for their behavior. I know it’s not my responsibility to “well, actually…” all the time, but I also don’t think it’s my responsibility to perform “”professionalism”” about it either.

      It reminds me of that quote: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

      1. Artemesia*

        I have never heard that phrase but really like it. It reminds me of what Bing Crosby’s second wife said when asked about the sons of his first marriage badmouthed their late father. She said something like ‘he was their father, they have a right to express their feelings about growing up with him.’

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      I will happily discuss life working for previous Terrible Boss, but he was subsequently disbarred for reasons only tangentially related to his being a terrible boss, so the point is kind of moot.

  4. I should really pick a name*

    What do you mean by “would this constitute the company burning their bridge with me”?
    If you would not work for them again under any circumstances, then yes.
    If not, then no.

    1. OP*

      I have worked for a company in which I would not work for the company again, but would work with my boss or even other at the company. I think the company had to downsize because of economy, but they were very respectful when I worked there. I would not want to take a chance in that industry again. I would not say they burnt a bridge, even though I personally would not work there.

    2. Koalafied*

      Yes, I think it’s sort of a tautology. By definition, burning a bridge means doing something which causes another person (or company) to permanently bar your access to a path that would have previously been open to you.

      Did the company do something that makes you want to permanently bar their access to ever working with you again? Then the bridge from the company to you has been burned, even if the same actions may or may not have burnt their bridge to another person in your shoes. It’s also possible that the bridge is so rickety that you refuse to drive on it until it gets repaired by a qualified engineer, but it’s still there and could theoretically be traveled again in the future.

      Either party can unilaterally decide to set a bridge on fire, or they can mutually agree to leave the bridge where it is (even if nobody is particularly interested in crossing it at the moment).

      1. time for lunch*

        Exactly. The point at which you are so fed up with their nonsense that you no longer want to have anything to do with them . . is whatever the point is at which you no longer want to have anything to do with them. When have they @#$_ed around too much? Whenever you decide they have @#$_ed around too much.

        What that means is also up to you.

  5. WantonSeedStitch*

    I wonder if the OP is a female-presenting person in a male-dominated field. This sounds VERY much like a situation that could happen in that context.

    1. OP*

      I am not 100% what this means, but the only time I have been mistaken for a girl was when I grew my hair out, it was low lighting, and the person who saw me just came around a corner. Software engineering is a male dominated field, but I have worked with some very talented female software engineers. I think the reasons for the male domination is better left for forums outside this website.

      1. Popinki*

        I think WantonSeedStitch was asking if you’re a woman, and that your boss was giving you lower pay and worse work than he was giving a man. It’s unfortunately common in male-dominated industries that women, especially young women, get the short end of the stick when it comes to pay and assignments.

        1. OP*

          One of the two co-founders is a woman who is very vocal about women’s issues. I think there are issues with the company, but I did not get any sense that gender discrimination was one of them.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            I think the point is that the scenario that you describe of a younger less-experienced man being hired to do the same job for significantly more money, and being given better work, is a common experience for many women in the working world. I think WantonSeedStitch was just trying to assess if that situation was at play here. But now you know that you have experienced what many professional women experience on a fairly regular basis. It is unpleasant, isn’t it! I am glad you have found a new position where you are properly valued!

      2. Myrin*

        Wanton is saying that your letter reads a lot like what many women – especially but not exclusively those working in male-dominated industries – experience. Basically, a bit of a roundabout way of asking “Are you (perceived as) a woman, OP? Because this reads like sexism.”.

      3. lemon*

        “Female-presenting” is language that’s used to describe people who tend to be perceived as women, for example, people who identify as a woman or a gender/non-binary person who chooses to wear feminine clothing and hairstyles. I think WantonSeedStitch was wondering if there was some gender-based discrimination going on here on your employer’s part. But sounds like that’s not the case here.

      4. Canadian Librarian #72*

        Yes, as everyone else said, they were asking if you were a woman and experiencing discrimination based on that. It’s so often like that that I (incorrectly!) assumed you were a woman based on the letter. Of course it’s still unfair treatment and you’re right to be pissed, but it sounded like textbook gender-based discrimination to me.

          1. Airy*

            And/or nepotism – that the other guy was related to someone powerful (an investor’s mediocre grandson?) or was someone in leadership’s fraternity brother or similar. A triumph of contacts over competence.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              I figured frat brother or drug connection. I decided OP would mention if racial / gender discrimination was a possible issue.

          2. TheRain'sSmallHands*

            Or tall guy bias. Or good looking guy bias. Or neurotypical bias. Or weight bias.

            (But as a woman who has been through a “here is a 30% raise because we suddenly realized that there was a statistically significant disparity in salaries due to gender – when we ran numbers for a class action lawsuit – this doesn’t bring you to parity, but it will keep us from paying out hundreds of millions of dollars” – it did read gender bias to me as well).

            Or it could just be what a lot of companies do – if you don’t come in with a high salary, you aren’t going to get a significant raise without jumping ship, and you have set your value as “low level developer” with your salary. I’ve worked for people who MUST be good because we pay them so much…..(cough….yeah, not worth the paycheck). But having committed to “this guy is so good we need to match his salary request” admitting you are wrong is hard.

  6. Mitford*

    At one job, I apparently reached the upper limit of the salary range for my position, so that year instead of a raise, I got a lump-sum payment equivalent to the raise I would have gotten. This meant that, the next year, the value of my raise would not be included in the computation of that year’s raise (raises, of course, being a percentage of your salary). I’d be standing still. All this from a company that provided retirement plan services to government employees and expended time, money, and energy on preaching the value of compounding when saving for retirement.

    I started looking that day. HR was shocked! shocked! when I cited that as my reason for leaving. If that isn’t burning a bridge with a loyal, long-time employee, I don’t know what is.

    1. Anonymous librarian*

      I used to work someplace with truly terrible internal communication. Getting information from the director to the front line staff was basically a game of telephone and the message would get garbled multiple times on the way down, so staff were pretty much always confused about new policies and procedures. I worked there for almost a decade and it was something staff talked about ALL. THE. TIME. It was a constant complaint and a running joke. I knew so many people who had quit over it, or were close to quitting out of pure frustration. I had what I thought was a good relationship with our second in command and I tried to make them understand the true extent of the problem, and they pretty much refused to admit it was a problem at all and said that if people were confused about how to do their jobs they should just google it.

      I now consider that conversation my pre-exit interview. I left a few months later and I consider the bridge well and truly burned from their side.

      1. Leela*

        I mostly refuse to do exit interviews at companies where I’m leaving and have brought up the reason why several times. If you’re not going to listen to me while I’m working for you, you can wait until the Glassdoor review to see what I thought, and so can all your candidates who might think twice now.

        My company has lost SO MANY good people and refuses to replace them so lots of us are doing 3-4 jobs at once. This has been brought up many, many, MANY times and the result is almost always a “thank you for your hard work!” e-mail from the Managing Director….who will not or cannot do his job, is making 6 figures while some of us (not me thankfully) are making minimum wage but are absolutely critical to never dropping their work like he always does, and he got the job because he’s friends with the owner.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I think this gets at an important detail, which is that companies often seem to be shocked! shocked! that something they chose to do has annoyed a good employee to the point where that person quits. “Alex will quit, and never work for us again, and badmouth us wherever Alex feels they can get away with that” is never a foreseen outcome.

      As Alison observed, employees are much more aware of the possibility of bridge burning from their actions than employers seem to be.

      1. Jora Malli*

        Like the letter from the teacher at the boarding school who asked for permission for her partner to come for visits and was told no. When she resigned her boss was shocked and astonished.

        1. Sasha*

          The Graduation boss was shocked and appalled too weren’t they? That their employee was ungrateful enough to resign.

      2. TheRain'sSmallHands*

        I did internal audit work for a while – the type that if a company isn’t in compliance there can be huge fines. My boss decided to fire a whole bunch of my coworkers – while we weren’t in compliance – for not taking the blame for not being in compliance (we were audit, we didn’t have power or budget to get into compliance, just to point out we weren’t). SHOCKED, SHOCKED when I said “you know, they are going to take everything they know to the regulatory agency.” “They wouldn’t do that, they are professionals.” And then I found a new job. I don’t look good in stripes.

        1. WoodswomanWrites*

          Stories like yours are just unbelievable. And yet they happen. Glad you got out of there.

        2. Jerusha*

          No, they’ll do that, because they _are_ professionals, acting in service of the profession, not the employer.

          1. TheRain'sSmallHands*

            Are you surprised when they almost immediately saw an external audit? I wasn’t.

        3. DJ Abbott*

          I’ve seen this level of management stupidity so many times, I believe it easily.
          At my old job at a hospital, corporate kept pinching pennies and centralizing, laying off a few admin staff each year. They let me go in 2019 and the HR coordinator told me she was being let go too. In spite of a law they had to have someone in that position.
          Well, guess what happened a few months later. They’ve been scrambling to hire and when I interviewed for a couple of positions and they rejected me instantly. Both were a bit of a reach and I understand that, I’m just amused by how their running lean plan turned out. :D Now I have a job I like much better.

        4. refa*

          My uncle was a health inspector for restaurants. He told me once that disgruntled ex employees are behind uncovering at least 50% of serious infractions. It is a bit difficult to hide your *special* fridge if the inspector knows exactly where it is.

    3. Momma Bear*

      I once got a lump sum bonus (which was then taxed accordingly). I agree with you that it’s kind of a wash when it doesn’t get factored into your overall salary later. It was nice…but it was once. I certainly did take that and the fact that I didn’t get a raise in 3 years as a reason to leave.

    4. Mitford*

      The other issue I raised when I left was their workers comp carrier took 18 months to authorize surgery on my right wrist (I’m righthanded) which I’d injured at work. I worked in a brace, and in pain, for all that time. HR was also astounded that I’d leave over that.

  7. Andrew Kadel*

    “knocking over a filing cabinet and shouting “F you” on your way out the door will do it if you’re an employee, for example.” A newspaper in Orange County, New York fired Hunter S. Thompson for, among other things, destroying a candy machine by kicking it to pieces. Oddly, they tell this story with affection for Thompson–their editor recognized his talent, but the consequences of having him employed there were too much trouble, basically.

    So Hunter S. Thompson did basically leave by knocking over their equipment, but somehow the bridges weren’t ultimately burnt.

    1. MK*

      That sounds more like having compassion for his mental health issues, frankly. I doubt they would hire him again, so the bridge is probably burnt.

    2. pancakes*

      I don’t think this is all that odd! Sometimes people try to retroactively repair their bridge to a celebrity. There’s no real cost to publicly saying “he was talented but not suited to working here,” and no benefit to being churlish about it years later. It’s not as if HST was going to try to go back to that job if he happened to see that.

    3. Another health care worker*

      Well, a lot of things that didn’t burn bridges for creative white men in the 20th century, are immediate bridge-burners for the rest of us.

    4. Antilles*

      Honestly, to me, that sounds like revisionist history.
      Ask the editor two decades later when Thompson is successful? Sure we liked him and recognized the talent.
      If you’d asked that editor two weeks after the incident? Not a chance the editor was praising Thompson’s brilliance and hard work – if anything, reference checkers would have heard “he’s seriously messed up, I wouldn’t bring him back if he was paying me”.

      1. Dinwar*

        Maybe, maybe not.

        I’ve worked with a few people who were brilliant in certain areas, but were such pains to work with that they simply are no longer welcome on certain jobs (which is a nice way of saying, are being pushed out of the company), or who were fired outright (a rarity in the company I work for). There’s one person that has deep site knowledge, and can be a real asset when they want to be–but we do a cost/benefit analysis every time before inviting them to work on the project, because whey they want to be they can make life MISERABLE.

        Sometimes you really do get Gregory House/Spider Jerusalem types, where the genius outweighs the problematic aspects. It’s rare, and as the problematic aspects get worse the rarity of the trade-off being worth it increases. But it does happen.

    5. Anonymous Hippo*

      Sometimes the bridge gets rebuilt over time, but doesn’t mean it wasn’t on fire in the first place.

  8. Kate*

    I know this isn’t the point, but woof, LW is talking about unfathomable amounts of money for many of us. This company’s misdeeds would seem really different if this person was fighting for a living wage (and yeah there’s plenty of expensive cities where $100K doesn’t go super far, but it would be a life-changing amount of money for me)

    1. QWERTY*

      I was quietly also thinking that. Software money is just completely insane to me. And I work in NYC. Not to say they shouldn’t be pursuing fair wages for the work compared with the rest of their field.

    2. Mouse*

      I think it’s pretty dangerous to say that it’s only worth fighting for your market value if you’re on the low end of the income spectrum. This is how you end up with wage stagnation and compression across the middle class, which only widens the income inequality gap.

    3. OP*

      Software is pretty insane right now. My first job in high school was working for a grocery store for $5.25 an hour. I finished high school, got a computer engineering degree and over 15 years of professional experience. I think, as QWERTY says, this is more about fair wages for the experience and field as opposed to a living wage.

      1. Barry*

        Also, from what I have heard software has extreme age discrimination, so you need to get while the getting is good.

    4. Nanani*

      Maybe it would help to look at the difference instead of the absolute?
      OP was being underpaid relative to their peers, including peers demonstrably worse at the job. That’s bad in any income bracket.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. I make less than a friend but comparatively my salary goes farther in my area so I’m better off even if my friend makes more on paper.

        My read is that OP was taken advantage of not just with salary, but with tasks and management and overall expectations. OP was given lip service instead of advancement while they hired people with less experience at a significantly higher salary. I’d be salty about that, too.

        Because many of our industries are tight knit a lot of people don’t want to call out bad managers on the way out, but there are absolutely two managers I would only work for again if I had zero options, and I do mean ZERO.

      2. Airy*

        Kind of like how it was hard to feel particularly sympathetic for Scarlett Johansson in her lawsuit with Marvel over the way they distributed/promoted Black Widow because hey, she’s Scarlett Johansson and she’s already rich and famous, but the result could set a helpful precedent for others in show business with a lot less leverage and resources, which I cared more about.

    5. AvonLady Barksdale*

      That’s really unfair to the OP. He deserves to be paid at market rate for his experience and skills, just like anyone else.

      1. JSPA*

        If (say) it’s a silicon valley startup, and if you’re not (say) in vancouver proper, OP’s rent is probably also 2 to 10 times your rent; it’s all Dickens Micawber principle.
        Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.

    6. Observer*

      That’s a very, very short sighted point of view. For one thing it absolutely does insure the continued existence of “glass ceilings” for marginalized groups. And the reality is that people who will pay inequitably, will do so at all levels of the pay scale.

      I find the differentiation based on pay scale very disturbing. What other misbehavior would you overlook if the victim has a high enough income?

      1. Canadian Librarian #72*

        No one is overlooking anything, unless you consider noting a high salary while acknowledging the point of the letter to be “overlooking” – which is one heck of a stretch, if you ask me.

    7. Query*

      Is this website only for low income earners? I’m new here and I haven’t seen anything that officially says its for low income earners, but I’ve seen these kind of comments a few times. I was planning to submit a question, but it’s related to my salary which is over $100k, so I’m not sure I should. Is there another website where higher income earners can ask questions?

      1. Mie*

        An earlier post today was about the wages of this reader base, so I guesss you could wait for the results before deciding?
        I never use US dollars so I have no context for the numbers and don’t know what is considered a high income.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Query, if you look at the salary spreadsheet, there are plenty of people in the $90-$120K range on there already. I wouldn’t avoid asking your question.

        2. Alexis Rosay*

          Honestly, I think the opposite. There are vastly more questions on this blog that relate to white-collar work than service work or blue-collar work. Everyone at every income level should feel free to submit their question and have it answered, of course, but I’d personally love to see more questions from different sectors.

      2. Myrin*

        Nope, ask away, if you want to. Some people might grumble but this site is for everyone regardless of profession, experience, or income.

      3. Elder Millennial*

        You could always submit your question without explicitly mentioning numbers/amounts and instead resorting to percentages, if that is possible at all. (In this case the letter writer could have said he was paid 13% under the lowest range of the average salary and gone from there.)

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        We’ve had questions from people with wages all over the map from very low to fairly high. If anything, the complaint I hear is the opposite — that it’s heavily geared toward healthy-earning white collar workers (which is true and is both a function of the letters I get and the limits of my expertise).

        In any case, I do not want the sort of gatekeeping that started this subthread; anyone is welcome to ask questions here, regardless of salary.

      5. Everything Bagel*

        I say feel free to ignore the people who think you shouldn’t be complaining because you make more than they do. They’re being ridiculous.

  9. MishenNikara*

    The retail industry seems to make a personal point of burning bridges as soon as they can

    1. Arabella Flynn*

      Many, many years ago, I quit an especially hellish retail job on 20 minutes notice. They wouldn’t have gotten that much, but it took me 15 of those minutes to locate my manager, which might give you an inkling of why I did it. They took me back into the office told me very seriously that if I did not give them two weeks’ notice, I would be lifetime-ineligible for rehire. They seemed to think it was a threat. I thought, “Great! No one can make me work here ever again!” and walked out.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      So true. The grocery store I worked at made it very, very clear they did not value or appreciate the associates in any way. Everyone there wanted out and would have left in a minute if they could. It was not unusual for people to quit in the middle of a shift and leave.

      1. Leela*

        It really is. I worked at a few places when the recession was really bad that were big retail locations overseen by corporate offices full of people who didn’t work at the retail locations, never had, and had *no clue* what our needs or what our customers’ needs were, or what would be logical decisions given what happens in the store. Just ridiculous policies that sound good to business majors handed down without any thought to how it would actually impact anything.

      2. DJ Abbott*

        It doesn’t have to be though. It’s not complicated. To make customers happy, give them what they want at the lowest price possible. To make associates happy pay them as much as possible with good benefits and treat them with respect. It could be done.
        It’s always on fire because the people in charge don’t actually care about either the customers or the store associates. They are looking at how to make the most amount of money in the shortest possible time and don’t care about the people.

  10. Nervous Nellie*

    At one of my previous jobs, I was the back-up office manager. One day, when she was out and I was sitting at her desk, I saw that my personnel file was on her desk, so I opened it. I found the notes she had taken when she had gotten a reference from my previous job. I saw that she had asked my previous supervisor if they had had any problems with me, and my previous supervisor had complained that I couldn’t speak Spanish. This infuriated me, because:

    1) I had answered an ad in a newspaper in order to apply for that job. Nowhere in the ad did it say that a knowledge of Spanish was necessary.

    2) My resume in no way implied that I was fluent in Spanish.

    3) During my interview, I was never asked if I was fluent in Spanish.

    4) It was not needed for my job that I be fluent in Spanish.

    I was furious, because it gave the impression that I had lied about being fluent in Spanish, and then they found out that I wasn’t, and that caused problems. That company burned a bridge with me, because I was so angry that they were so determined to go out of their way to give me a bad reference that they had to resort to distorting the truth, if not actually lying about me. It also made me like and respect the office manager of my current company even more than I did previously, because she took a chance and offered me the job, even after having been told (erroneously) that I had deceived my previous company.

    1. JSPA*


      “Nervous Nellie doesn’t speak Spanish” doesn’t say, “Nervous Nellie lied about speaking Spanish.”

      The question may have been formulated as, “is there anything that would have been useful at the job, that N.N. couldn’t do?” (That’s a common way to prompt for weaknesses. It can turn up broadly relevant stuff like, “doesn’t like computers,” “doesn’t do mornings,” “isn’t open to changes in protocol.” Or really minor, situational stuff like, “can’t carry a tune” or “doesn’t remember people’s babies’ names.”

      If the only thing old boss can think of that might have been a useful trait was, “doesn’t speak spanish,” sure, that gets written down…even though it’s not relevant for the current job. It signifies, “we asked the question, this is all they could come up with.”

      I’d assume that “lied about speaking spanish, and doesn’t” would have been two separate bullet points!
      1. lies on resume!
      2. (doesn’t speak spanish)
      And it’s #1, not #2, that would have gotten you off the hiring list.

      1. anonymous73*

        The lying is implied. If it wasn’t a requirement of previous job, there is absolutely ZERO reason to mention it in a reference call with new employer. If your reference can’t think of anything negative to say, they don’t need to make something that’s completely irrelevant a “thing” that could impact their ability to land a job.

          1. Nervous Nellie*

            If that office manager wasn’t implying that I was lying, then why mention it at all? Speaking Spanish had nothing to do with the job. I was fortunate that she didn’t add that I couldn’t do calculus in my head and that I couldn’t speak Korean and that I didn’t have perfect pitch, because they also had absolutely nothing to do with the job.

            If a former employer were contacted about you and was asked if there had been any problems (because that’s the word that was used) with you, and they said that you couldn’t do this and you couldn’t do that and you didn’t know anything about the other thing, and NONE of those things had anything to do with your former job, would you be okay with it? Because I don’t know why you think that I should be okay with it. Because, according to you, my former office manager did not tell a lie about me. You said that it was a “huge leap” to say that my former office manager lied about me.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            There is a subspecialty within linguistics called pragmatics. This is the study of how language is actually used, which is quite different from the formal semantics of language. A foundational person within the field was Paul Grice. I laid out four maxims of conversation. The one in question here is the maxim of relation, sometimes also called the maxim of relevance. It states “Be relevant — i.e., one should ensure that all the information they provide is relevant to the current exchange; therefore omitting any irrelevant information.”

            As a hypothetical example, suppose Bob mentions that he needs to travel downtown. John then says “I’m driving that way.” What just happened? On a purely semantic level, Bob and John have made two unconnected statements of fact. But of course what has actually happened is that John just offered to give Bob a ride (at least if John is neurotypical–neurodivergent people sometimes have trouble with pragmatics). This is because of the maxim of relation, which calls for John’s comment about driving downtown be relevant to his conversation with Bob. If John then drives away without Bob and proclaims injured innocence when Bob later calls him out for it (and again assuming he is neurotypical), John is simply a jerk.

            So bringing this around to Nervous Nellie’s situation, Previous Boss made a statement that was factually true but irrelevant. New Boss would naturally interpret as if it were relevant. The obvious way to do this would be that Nervous Nellie had claimed to speak Spanish. Otherwise why would Previous Boss complain that she can’t?

            This is all very weaselly. Call out Previous Boss and you will get the protestations of injured innocence, just like with John after he left Bob in the lurch. Like John, Previous Boss is a jerk.

          3. anonymous73*

            Not a huge leap at all in this specific situation. As I said above, mentioning that NN doesn’t speak Spanish when asked if there were any problems, when speaking Spanish is neither relevant to her former job or her new one, implies that she lied about being able to speak Spanish…because why else would you mention it?

      2. Nervous Nellie*

        I disagree with you. My current office manager had a script (that she always used when calling references), and I saw that she asked the specific question “Did you have any problems with Nellie?” and she was given the answer “Yes. She couldn’t speak Spanish.” So my office manager asked if there had been any problems with me (she did NOT ask if I had any weaknesses), and the answer was “Yes! We had a problem with Nellie. She couldn’t speak Spanish.” Then the script showed that my current office manager asked if there had been any other problems with me, and the answer was no. Nowhere was it indicated that my lack of fluency in Spanish was a weakness. No – my former office manager insisted that it was a problem.

        According to my current office manager’s script, she didn’t ask about weaknesses, or if there had been anything that an ideal employee could have done that I wasn’t able to do. No – she just asked about problems, and my former office manager was very quick to say that there was a problem. The only reason that she knew that I couldn’t speak Spanish was that two other employees at that company spoke Spanish to each other, and it wasn’t difficult for anyone to figure out that I didn’t understand what they said when they spoke to each other. But speaking Spanish had absolutely nothing to do with the job.

        1. Not A Manager*

          Even after this explanation, I just don’t see this as “NN lied about speaking Spanish.”

          1. SnappinTerrapin*


            But the former manager did say it was a problem, which would lead most folks to infer that she needed to speak Spanish to do the job. It’s not a great leap to infer that she had misled the prior employer about her qualifications.

            In any event, it’s reasonable for Nellie to resent the former manager’s insertion of the issue (which should not have been an issue) into a reference.

          2. Nervous Nellie*

            When they said that I couldn’t speak Spanish, they said it in response to the question if they had had any problems with me. Saying that it was a problem was a lie, because I never needed to know Spanish in order to do my job well. And it wasn’t a problem that I couldn’t understand my two co-workers who spoke in Spanish to each other. No one else could understand them either.

            1. allathian*

              Yes, but since you got your current job in spite of not knowing Spanish, maybe give your current office manager the credit that they saw through what your reference said? Clearly, not speaking Spanish isn’t a problem in your current job, and the person who hired you knew that, regardless of whether it was a problem in your old job or not.

              1. Batgirl*

                The reference doesn’t reflect as well on Nellie as it should have though; the reference should have been “No there were no problems, she fulfilled the role perfectly well”. “Her lack of Spanish was a problem” would come across to me as though she either bites off more than she can chew when she applies to jobs sometimes, or that she might even actually lie about her capabilities. If she had been neck and neck with another choice for her current role, this might have scuppered her.

  11. zolk*

    Any employer where when I leave I tell as many people as possible exactly why I am leaving and then continue to encourage people not to work for is, to me, a bridge burned by the organization.

    In a former job my (consultant, contract) boss made homophobic and racist remarks, including telling me to my face that all bisexual people are basically prostitutes. (Which is rude to both parties.) She “couldn’t remember” the names of anyone with a non-anglo name and would “confuse” anyone who wasn’t white with anyone of even remotely the same skin tone.

    Many, many employees on that floor even outside of our department complained about her. Upper management listened to us and then extended her contract. My entire department quit within a month.

    The problem I think is that if an employer is big enough they feel invincible. My current employer is being absolutely wild re: covid stuff because they are sure we’re all replaceable. Half the people I know here are job searching. So while they’ve already burned the bridge, they don’t care, and that’s deeply unfortunate. (We’re already unionized. The union is, unfortunately, not taking any action on this.)

    Glad you got out and got what you are worth, OP. Wishing us all new and better jobs and pay in 2022.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for the well wishes. If you could prove what you are saying about illegal remarks, I would get a lawyer. Any lawyer would be happy to take a settlement for you. If not a lawyer, then a newspaper could do just fine.

      1. JSPA*

        An upstart carmaker with both union and non union workers is in the news for this sort of thing currently, and in court currently, and being loudly problematic about Covid protocols to the point of moving headquarters…and it’s still not really slowing their roll. (This is not to guess where Zolk was, but to point out that we’ve created some real juggernauts; workers and passers-by alike get crushed under the wheels as they career.

    2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      I think that your next-to-last paragraph hits the nail on the head. In theory, a sufficiently bad bridge-burning carries heavy consequences for an individual employee – they might have to change industries or cities, and I’m sure that there are scenarios where people have died from it (either from the mental health/stress consequences or from having to take a job with worse or no health benefits). It’s hard to picture a situation outside of a mom-and-pop shop in a small town, or perhaps an industry that relies not just on ‘rock star’ employees but genuine celebrities, where burning a bridge destroys the business but leaves the individual unscathed. Even places that slowly accumulate a reputation as not-great places to work tend to plug along until something else knocks them over.

  12. The New Wanderer*

    People do talk about leaving a manager, not a job. I think it’s similar to that. A former manager burned a bridge with me, and a huge part of why I left that job was because that manager was going to continue to have promotion authority over me. To the detriment of the team, he also got promoted just as I left, indicating that higher ups valued his methods.

    LW, I don’t know how you kept your cool when your requests for a raise were denied “because funding” but they could hire some guy at near market rate and you were immediately offered a significant increase when you put in notice. I was waiting to hear that John was buddies with Matt. Regardless, it’s great to hear you’re being valued elsewhere!

    1. OP*

      I am not sure if they knew each other before. I don’t think so because they live in different cities(120 miles apart). This was a start up, so it was somewhat conceivable. The ideas with startups is that you take less in the beginning for a better payout. When I realized there wouldn’t be a payout, I left.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Pay disparities can result from negotiation and timing – timing especially for start-ups. OP, you came in at the beginning and settled for a comparatively low amount (based on future promises). They got used to you in that slot and at that rate. John came in later and (presumably) negotiated pay and possibly role.

        A good manager at an established company would recognize these disparities and correct them. But a startup doesn’t have established processes or role progression – maybe on paper, but not in practice – things are busy, growing, emergent (emergency?). Managers do crisis management, not real management, so requests like yours get ignored or refused.

        So yeah, I’d say the startup burned a bridge. Or at least has smoldering embers. Ten years from now (if it survives) ExJob might be a completely different entity. Who knows. Do what’s right for you right now, find a place that gives you satisfactory work and compensation commensurate with your skill level and market value. But as I noted upthread, don’t rely on public review sites to vet companies. Dig into them yourself; ask tons of questions in the interview; look at industry awards and contracts awarded, etc.

      2. Batgirl*

        I think it’s the depressingly common situation of it being more about an incapable and lazy boss, than a corrupt one. Sure, he may have paid more because the new guy was his friend, but the more likely scenario I see is bosses who simply pay whatever is easiest, with no thought to consistency. Sometimes it’s whatever the person asks for, or whatever flits into their head in the moment. Correcting a poor pay decision that they made previously will always take some work… Until they are faced with the job of rehiring for the post and then suddenly it is no problem!

    2. JuniperGlass*

      I was jumping in to say the same thing – I don’t know that employers often burn bridges, but managers sure do. At my last job I had a terrible manager who thoroughly burned the bridge on my way out, and I’d never work with that person again. But if the company were to (finally!) fire them, and implement a few changes to management training/structure to prevent a similar situation from emerging, I’d consider returning because I liked a lot about the company other than this one person.

  13. Sloanicota*

    Yeah, I’m with Alison on this. Employees are subordinate to their employers because so many hiring managers place a very strong emphasis on a good reference when considering an applicant. For that reason, employees will always have to tiptoe around and kowtow even if the company really stunk, trying to leave on the best possible terms; even one bad employment experience several jobs ago can still sink your future prospects. Angry ex employees can leave a bad glassdoor review or badmouth the company when asked about it later, but that’s not quite as likely to personally hurt an individual’s bottom line.

    1. OP*

      I don’t think people in my field call references. The consulting company that I will be working for said they are turning down new business because they can’t find enough workers. From what I have seen companies are happy to get anyone they can.
      Also, I have made enough friends to make it not matter. I have many people who are very happy to give me a good reference.

      1. AD*

        So if you’re set in your mind that you would not work for this company/your former manager again and you’re comfortable with that, I’m not entirely clear on what your question to Alison is? “Burning a bridge” is a very subjective term and can be used in multiple contexts. Are you looking for wider validation of your negative experience, or are you looking to lodge a formal complaint with your former employer?

        We all have the right to feel however we want to about former jobs or managers or coworkers. If you’re asking if there are ways to “blackball” a former employer in ways that employers can sometimes do to their staff, the answer is, not really, I guess.

        1. Another health care worker*

          If there’s a small enough pool of specialized workers in a locale, it can sort of be done. I see it happening in health care right now, and it’s glorious. These are small communities of workers who tend to know each other and compare notes often. If enough people say enough negative things about working at X place, no one will apply anymore. I know of several jobs that are chronically unfilled in my area, and one lab that has closed permanently, because basically they were blackballed by the people they used to/want to employ.

        2. OP*

          I think Alison got to the root of my issue. There is a big stigma about employees burning a bridge when they leave, but in the over 15 years I have been working professionally, I have never heard anything about an employer burning a bridge. If you google “Burn a bridge employee” there are many very specific things that an employee can do to burn bridges, but it is hard to find anything about what an employer can do.

          The question was about the power imbalance and why it is there(with me complaining just a little bit).

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            The two reasons people generally talk about why you shouldn’t “burn a bridge” as an employee are 1) if you need them for references in the future (that’s the main one) and 2) if you think you might ever want to apply there again.

            Neither of those things are generally going to be something most companies have to think about. There are things like glassdoor and word of mouth of course but there is generally no formal reference check process for a company, and most of the time they are not going to be reaching out to employees that left trying to get them to back.

            Obviously there are lots of employees who don’t have to worry about references or wanting to apply back somewhere and there are surely plenty of times that companies try to recruit back prior employees. But in the overwhelming majority of cases those are things that employees would consider and employers would never have to.

          2. Ellie*

            I think the concept still exists, its just not as common. I work in a relatively small town, just under a million people, which contains a lot of Defence industry (so they can’t just bring people in, there are citizenship requirements). Its a known fact that its very difficult for a certain company to hire here because of the number of former employees they’ve alienated. They are always hiring, and the amount of marketing, etc. they have doesn’t seem to be making a difference. But that’s not just one employee, its many, many people over a number of years.

            In your case since its a startup, I expect they won’t continue to be in business for long, if that’s how they treat people.

  14. Andrew Kadel*

    On the topic of employers burning bridges, I’d say that the real problem is that not every ill-treated junior employee stays junior or down and out. Two or five years later, the person who was treated badly might have advanced to a position where either the manager who treated them badly or the firm itself really needs/wants opportunities which that person has a big say in who gets them. Even if (or *especially* if) that person has been quiet and polite in the interim, their revenge can be devastating.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      This happened with an old boss of mine. She was awful. She acted like we were in Jr High (e.g. asked a coworker why he wasn’t hanging out with the “cool kids” -i.e. her favorite employees anymore), lied to get someone else fired (thus bringing an age discrimination lawsuit), absolutely unable to manage anything on time and in budget, etc.. I have never been so happy to get a new job in my life! Fast forward 5 years. I’m project officer on a grant with decision making power on which applications get funded and, lo and behold, guess who put in to be PI on a grant that I would manage? Yep, that’s who. Her application might have made it past the first because, on the face of it, the proposal seemed reasonable on first read, but with my insider knowledge of how that office operated and how they lied with budgets, it was rejected first round. Apparently she flipped out when she saw my signature on the rejection.

  15. Powersportschick101*

    I had an employer burn a bridge with me. I left to work for a competitor. I was kind and let them know that if the new manager (who had no experience in the industry) had questions they could reach out. And they did.
    However, I came to visit my fiance that was still working there and asked if I could borrow some bubble wrap. No issues. Except the general manager’s wife saw me come out of the stock room (no, she is not employed there)
    I get told that I cannot be unsupervised in the building anymore because I work for a competitor……
    My response:”if I cannot be trusted to be in the facility, then I cannot be trusted to give advice”

    1. OP*

      Good for you. I am always reluctant to give advice to previous employers, unless someone asks me for a personal favor. I try hard to not do anything that would make the next person have a hard time, because I have maintained enough code to know that it is probably the worst thing I could do. If the employer couldn’t get by without me, they probably should have tried harder.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think “people who don’t work here can’t move about the building freely” is like the most normal policy ever. That seems like a pretty big overreaction honestly and an odd thing to be offended by.

      1. Jerusha*

        Yes, but not when the complaint is being lodged by someone who also doesn’t work there and theoretically should also not have the freedom of the building! Also, Powersportschick101 may not have been formally employed by them, but they were serving in an (admittedly informal and likely unpaid) advisory role. But if “spouse/partner of current employee” was good enough for the GM’s wife, it should be good enough for Powersportschick101.

        1. SnappinTerrapin*

          More to the point, her response was to stop giving free advice, which is an equally common and reasonable business policy.

  16. Hills to Die on*

    That’s awful. I don’t blame OP for leaving.

    There are a couple of companies I will never work for because they have hired truly awful, abusive people (former coworkers) who have stayed there for years and thrived. Maybe the bad person has changed, maybe not. But I’ll never take the chance even if the bad people leave those companies.

    1. Bug*

      Exactly. Plus, if the culture supports and rewards this bad behavior, it may indeed outlive the problematic people. I make sure my friends know this.

  17. Director*

    At my previous company, I went out on medical leave to have a necessary surgery. I did my best to tie up all loose ends before I left, but while I was out…. no one did anything. I returned to a pile of undone work and my boss was furious that things that should have been done while I was out weren’t done (by the way, he was supposed to be in charge of my work while I was out). I spoke with HR because it felt like FMLA retaliation and they told me “maybe you weren’t meeting performance metrics before you left and he just didn’t say anything then”.

    I was never given any metric of what it would mean to be successful after that – every meeting with my boss turned into berating me for not doing my work. I left shortly after. That company has definitely burned a bridge with me. I’m not sure what I’m going to do if I need a reference from there, though.

  18. voyager1*

    Honestly LW, I don’t think you handled this very well either. You spoke to Matt what looks like one time. I have gone through something very similar as you but I communicated multiple times to my then manager that I needed certain things (job duties and such). She didn’t make changes. When I left she and her manager had meeting with me. My manager acted like it was the first time she knew I was unhappy, I however brought several printed emails of where I brought things to her attention.

    In the end you need to care about your career, you can’t expect your manager to care more then you. Your former manager Matt does sound like a tool bag though.

    1. OP*

      I had been talking to the manager for 6 months about my salary. And for 3 months about the work I was doing. When I was hired there I said that I wanted advanced work and they said that was one of the reasons they wanted to hire me. Matt’s words when I said that the salary was one reason that I was leaving was “I know our salaries are low and you can get a job for a lot more somewhere else”. Matt left a month after me, suspiciously when all his stock options vested(I am not saying that he is a tool but it does look kinda weird).

      When I was leaving, I had a talk with the owner of the company who basically told me that Matt had free range to do whatever he wanted and they didn’t know about the salary or my work. The company had 25 employees when I left. I don’t know exactly what happened here. Matt may or may not be a tool, but I don’t think I would want to work with him ever again

      1. ArtK*

        I would certainly stay at a place that wasn’t entirely intolerable in order to wait for some options or grants to vest. That’s compensation earned and it doesn’t make one a ‘tool’ at all to want to get it.

        Matt is a tool for how he treated you. Like many here I’m wondering if there was some specific bias against you, or just bad management.

  19. Goldenrod*

    Yes, yes, yes. YES. I love everything Alison says here. We should talk about the power imbalance more.

    “But an employer has the power to seriously mess with a person’s livelihood. So the power dynamics are deeply skewed.”

    I would have LOVED to publicly share more about my abusive former manager, but I still work at the same organization (different department). I took the high road every single step of the way, because I felt (and feel) that I had no power to change anything. My speaking out could only harm my own career.

    I wish it were otherwise. But leadership isn’t interested in doing anything about this toxic manager, so I didn’t even see any point in requesting an exit interview. Like the saying goes, “You can’t wake a man who is pretending to be asleep.”

  20. Phony Genius*

    In a situation like this, you sometimes have to decide whether you are burning bridges with the employer, or just that boss. I have seen people return to a previous employer after their old boss has left, in one case asking to return as soon as that happened.

    1. BurnBabyBurn*

      Absolutely agree. I was kind of irritated that the boss who contributed heavily to me leaving old job left less than a year later. I very well might have made different choices in his absence.

    2. OP*

      When Matt left I contacted Matts boss(who is one of the co-founders) to see if they wanted me to come back because I thought it was just the old boss. I was told to talk to John who had been promoted to CTO. He said that even though I had the most experience in the company and had been there the longest time, the company didn’t have anything to offer me except a low level job.

      I said no. John’s skill is very much to the side of politics as opposed to being a manager or getting work done. And if a co-founder doesn’t want to try to get one of their most experienced people back when they have plans to hire 5-10 people with my job description, I don’t think that would be a good place for me

      1. Sasha*

        Given this update, they obviously don’t like you or value your work, and don’t want you back either.

        Clearly that isn’t a reflection of your work, because you are in high demand everywhere else. Fit problem maybe?

        I have had stellar reviews everywhere I’ve worked, except one place who just hated me and everything I did. My manager literally told me she “disliked me on a personal level”. Changed jobs and was immediately back to being a superstar. Nothing had changed with my work.

        It honestly isn’t worth giving this place any headspace. And definitely never work there again.

        1. Lobsterman*

          It’s not a fit problem, except for the idea that nobody should work for OP’s former bosses, because they’re fools who don’t know how to run a company effectively.

        2. Artemesia*

          I had a long career at mostly one institution and advanced quickly and had lots of opportunities to do interesting work and to do management — and yet I had ONE boss who hated me and I think would have fired me if I had not had capital throughout the organization. After one of his outbursts in a meeting telling me how stupid my suggestion was (the suggestion was implemented two weeks later) one of my colleagues came up to me and said ‘Wow, you must remind him of his first wife or something. What was THAT about?’ It happens.

      2. Ellie*

        Well, that’s weird – there’s no way you’d turn away a known, experienced software engineer if you had 5-10 positions to fill. If you caused issues or couldn’t code well, then of course they wouldn’t want you back. But since you seem to be in high demand, I think you have to assume they’re either biased against you, or John sees you as a threat.

  21. Double A*

    Only you can know if someone burned a bridge with you and what that means for you. Usually what burning a bridge means is that the lines of communication are no longer open and a relationship is no longer possible; so an employee can burn a bridge because their former company will not recommend or allow them back.

    I think a lot of people wouldn’t go back to previous companies. If you want to consider that a bridge burned, then that’s fine. If you wouldn’t work with or speak to anyone at your previous company, that’s a more thorough bridge burning. I just don’t think of bridge burning as a useful way to think about a previous company because… what’s the consequence for the company? You’d say no if they asked you back? You would not recommend other people work there? I mean, maybe not ideal for them but it’s not really a huge problem for them, probably.

    1. OP*

      When I was working there, I did recommend someone working there and they still work there. After Matt left the company a month after me, they gave that person a $40,000 raise. Good for him.

      They are hiring right now in an employee market that is skewed very far to employees. The bad review I left them is going to hurt them a lot.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        Personally, I think you left a bad manager not necessarily a bad company. I get why you have a really bad taste in your mouth about it because from what you can see, they took no action when you flagged the issue. But you said Matt left within a month of you leaving. Are you sure that wasn’t a direct or indirect result of you conversation with his boss? A CTO is going to have little oversight by nature of the position and add in that this is a startup? I doubt Matt’s boss had any idea there were potential inequities until you resigned and spoke to her. And there is nothing wrong with that! Her priorities and role are very different and employee salary verification isn’t something she would normally be involved in.
        The difference between a good company and a bad company is what they do about bad managers/employees. Even good employers will need to take some time to investigate and document before they can take action. One employee complaint can’t lead to automatic termination even though that would be gratifying in many instances. You would want them to do their due diligence if complaints were made about you right?
        Matt leaving so soon after your complaint plus your referral getting a large raise not long after makes me think they might be doing some housekeeping. Or its totally possible that Matt is taking advantage of the market and the company is pushing money on employees to stop or prevent people from leaving. I don’t know but before you completely write off a company, be sure it really is the company that was bad.

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      Agree with Double A. While, sure, what’s being described falls under the category of bridge-burning, most of the time the company keeps rolling along with minimal consequence even though this one former employee is upset. The company has many, many, many bridges, and more resources to build new ones, so burning one just … doesn’t matter that much and doesn’t affect them, whereas the employee has far fewer bridges and each one matters much more. It’s not fair, but … it is.

      The employee has every right to decide when and that this relationship is over and cannot be repaired — i.e., that the bridge is burned — but the employee also needs to be realistic about what effect that will have on the company. The company’s world doesn’t stop for one employee, even though the employee is correct that they should have been treated differently. A company generally can keep going just fine whether this person has been mistreated or not, but it’s a different calculus for an individual who has to consider their livelihood. The company provides 100% of the person’s livelihood, while the person provides 0.04% of the company’s effort.

      The fact that a former employee has decided to “punish” a company — even for legitimate mistreatment — by leaving, never working for them again, and being vocal about that online and in their peer group is just … the hit you’re prepared to take when you employ people.

      Maintaining that level of effort also then takes up more time and energy than a person logically should be putting toward a former employer. Like, how long can you stay actively mad? I had employers that didn’t do right by me 15 years ago, and I clench my jaw when I remember, but moving on was in my best interest and I’m doing better for myself by living well than I would by standing in their parking lot shouting at them and trying to get revenge. I may well be correct, but I can’t make them care or act right by staying mad.

    3. Tau*

      Yep, this letter has made me think a lot. A lot of people are saying “if you quit and you wouldn’t go back that’s the company having burned a bridge,” but I left my last place like that and framing it like that feels so unduly personal? There were structural problems with that place which led to teams getting yanked from project to project, given really unclear directives and occasionally ending up out of work entirely which were really frustrating to deal with and I could not see improving anytime soon. So I quit, would never go back, and would advise other people against working there. But I genuinely liked everyone there, my boss was great, I wish everyone left the best (like, I don’t think it’ll work out, but I’d be glad to be proven wrong). It’s just that it was a frustrating work environment in a way that I think a lot of people wouldn’t deal well with. Nothing personal!

      So if that’s not burning a bridge, does it have to be some level of personal animosity towards the people there? If so, does the bridge stay burnt if they leave? And, really, what do you gain from drawing the distinction? Why does it matter if you’re not planning to go back to work for them or recommend them either way?

      IDK, maybe I’m wrong but I am getting a sense of “I was mistreated in XYZ way at this job, is this a good enough reason to have quit and never want to work there again?” from the post. But this isn’t a court of law, you don’t need a reason that can stand up to cross-examination. Wanting to quit is good enough. Not liking the thought of going back is good enough.

  22. sub rosa for this*

    It’s so frustrating when a company has dicked you over really badly and there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it.

    I feel for you, OP; a lot of us have been there. It’s rough, because you so deeply want to just have SOME sort of recognition of how badly they treated you. Some sort of vindication or closure or something.

    At some point, though, you just have to just take a deep breath and get on with your life.

    I know that’s easier said than done, and I’m just some jerk sitting at a computer typing inane platitudes, but it’s also basically the truth – that’s all you can do.

    Living well is the best revenge, and it sounds like you got a decent pay bump and are getting that best revenge. Good on you!

    1. OP*

      I have moved on. The pay bump, without even have to apply for a new job made moving on a lot easier. The hardest part for me was that this company’s product is about valuing employees, and one of the worst things you can do to an employee in my book is lie to them. I think the lying was a lot harder than low pay and sub-par work.

      If I had gotten even one review(I had a 1on1 with my boss ever 2 weeks) that said that I wasn’t doing well, this may be different. But I was never told, or even lead to believe in the almost 2 years that I was working there, that I had no room for advancement or getting good work.

  23. Zach*

    This 100% lines up with my own experiences at a startup and is why most people should avoid startups until they’re more established companies. I was jerked around with the promise of higher pay for years. At one point my manager told me I was getting a $2/hr raise next month. I did get a raise, but it was $1.75, which I realize is close to $2 but still counts as a lie to me!

    Anyway, I left and now I make almost 4x the salary I made there doing a very similar job somewhere else.

  24. Selina Luna*

    I wonder if “John” was a friend of OP’s manager or a pseudo-distant family member (like, my grandmother’s cousin asked my Dad if his son could come work in Dad’s computer store: 2nd cousin, once removed type stuff), or if he has some blackmail-type hold on the manager.

    1. code red*

      That doesn’t even need to be true. Former company I worked at was notorious for regularly hiring zero-experience employees at higher pay than their supervisors. They didn’t value experience at all. You had to leave to get significant pay increases.

    2. irene adler*

      Most likely not.
      I work in a start up.
      My experience: some people’s skills/experience are perceived as more valuable to management.

      I recognize that the OP is just as capable as the new hire yet received less compensation. And that’s wrong.

      In a start up, there’s a lot of subjective evaluation going on when it comes to salary increases. I’m liked; so my compensation has surpassed the manager of tech service who has been here a year longer than I have. She’s a complainer; but she works hard and has taking on new tasks when asked. But management just cannot get beyond her complaining (the CEO won’t even speak to her the schism is so bad.).

      OTOH, I will always be paid less than my male counterparts – no matter what I do. The VP retired and I took over many of his tasks (regulatory stuff, IT stuff and QA stuff too). Management saw fit to give me a $10K raise. So now I’m up to 72% of what the men earn. I will never reach parity. Their skills are more valued.

  25. PerplexedPigeon*

    I feel like this is maybe what sites like Glassdoor are for. They do allow for folks to express burned bridges from an employees POV, and also a chance for employees to give feedback a job and a company which might help others decide whether or not to take the job.

    1. OP*

      I left a review on that site. I think it will hurt them. But, people that I said I was doing that immediately said that it would burn a bridge. My usual question was, “did what they did not burn the bridge before I left the review?” My question was about this dynamic of employers seemingly never having a way to burn a bridge

  26. JamminOnMyPlanner*

    I was told I burned a bridge when I was working a graduate assistantship. My manager was mad that I hadn’t told her I was applying for other assistantships (even though I had already told her this….) so she decided she was going to refuse to speak to me for the remainder of my employment.

    So I decided to be out of the office as much as possible. I took really long bathroom breaks, and went the looooong way around campus when I was sent on errands. Then my manager’s manager told me I was burning bridges and how other people in my position did extra work which helped them get hired permanently after graduation.

    I didn’t say anything but I really wanted to say that they could not pay me enough to ever work for them again.

    1. JamminOnMyPlanner*

      I forgot to make my point. They were so concerned about me burning bridges with them that they couldn’t even imagine that they had LONG AGO burned a bridge with me! (my manager’s silent treatment was only the tip of the iceberg).

  27. nonee*

    I’ve been made redundant three times. None of them was a happy departure for me, but the only company I’d refuse to work for again was the one who used COVID redundancies as an excuse to get rid of me after I had a mental health breakdown and had to return to maternity leave. The HR person accidentally copied me into an email calling me “difficult” simply because I just accepted the redundancy after a single phone meeting with her and turned down a chance to hear the same thing again from our division’s senior partner (that they would only schedule on a day when I had my 6 month old). The email was complaining that I was asking for a courier for my laptop instead of bringing it in myself by the end of the week – again, while I was on maternity leave and after we’d all been sent home to avoid COVID.

    This bridge is very burnt, and I’d avoid any of their competitors in the same industry now.

    1. Bernice Clifton*

      As a career admin, asking them to pay return-shipping of the laptop is not only standard and not that expensive or time-consuming, but it was actually in their interest to have it be trackable on their end.

  28. JTP*

    I had a temp-to-perm graphic design job that burned a bridge with me. The temp agency told me the hours were 9 to 6. Turned out, the hours were 9 to 8 (at the earliest), and weekends. The owners would loudly berate employees (in the conference room, but leaving the door open), would brag about how they bought “service dog” vests for their dog so they could fly with it for free, bragged about how they were THE MOST CREATIVE agency in the city but doing absolutely nothing to demonstrate that, watch TV in the conference room while complaining when one of us so much as takes 5 minutes to check the weather online, and complained that we “weren’t appreciative enough” that they brought in a personal trainer 2x a week (moreso because then we would have one less excuse for not working weekends).

    They offered me a full-time position which I considered taking (I was desperate for full-time, non-temp work with benefits), and the next day said they’d have to lay me off for a month (effective that day) before they could bring me on. Then called me the next week to demand to know why I didn’t come in to work, claiming they had called and left me a voicemail, when they absoutely did not.

    I’ve had temp agency recruiters call me about working there again, and I always tell them that I wouldn’t work there again for all the $$$ in the world.

    1. Goody*

      The “lay you off for a month” part absolutely reads like they were out to avoid paying the placement agency. Just one of many red flags.

  29. Apel Mjausson*

    Dear LW, I work in software (but not as a developer) in Silicon Valley. I’ve had conversations like this one with mentees many time. Here’s what I tell them:
    Your manager is not your dad/SO/friend/tutor or any other type of personal relationship. You need to see them as replaceable, because that is how they see you, no matter what they say during all-hands. Don’t over-invest in the relationship. It’s business, not personal.

    As soon as it appears that the relationship isn’t serving you any more, it’s time to polish up your resume and start putting out feelers for your next position. Try to stay on for a full year, so it doesn’t look like you’re bailing as soon as the honeymoon is over. It may also be worthwhile to stay until after you’ve got your annual bonus. After that, it’s onward and upward for you.

    Your career is your baby. People around you will understand that you do what you need to do, to get where you want to go. In fact, people who criticize you for acting in your own best interest are emphatically not your friends. You can treat them with breezy professionalism and move on. Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated and treated to hollow excuses. It’s your future, invest in it like you mean it!

    1. OP*

      I stayed at the company for almost 2 years. Since you are in software, you probably see the market out there. It is pretty crazy.
      I personally don’t view my manager as any of those things. But I do expect from a manager to be truthful with me. In my business(as well as personal)relationships, I always try to be truthful. The outright lying was the biggest thing which burnt the bridge.

  30. Still trying to adult*

    Any decent employee will hesitate to really really burn bridges, because they don’t want it to look like sour grapes.

    But the subject needs to be addressed more. I’ve been in and near organizational units whose attitude was ‘You don’t like it here? OK, there’s the door; plenty of other people willing to take your spot’ But really there aren’t people clawing at the door to get in, and the training period is long and fraught with a high attrition rate, and the job is extremely stressful, so…. But management doesn’t recognize they’re a really big part of the problem. They continue with the attitude that those leaving are bad workers, who aren’t committed, who can’t cut the muster, etc.

    Oh, the horror stories that abound!

  31. Person from the Resume*

    If you are never going to work for that company or those managers ever again, then they burned a bridge because the phrase means to convey the relationship is over and done for, never to be renewed again.

    OTOH semantically I think of “burning a bridge” to be a single big act. It could have been burning a bridge when they:
    (1) hired another senior software engineer, John, at $150K after telling you they could raise your salary (but you stayed)
    (2) promoted the less experienced John to be technical lead over you (but you stayed)
    Since you stayed after these two events, they weren’t bridge burning.

    You left after the culmination of bad management. I wouldn’t personally used the phrase “burned a bridge” to describe what happened in your story, but that’s because what the phrase means to me. OTOH even if there was no bridge burning in your story, I agree that you needed to get out of there and think your actions to resign and not take counteroffer were justified and appropriate.

    1. OP*

      1) I only found out John’s salary 2 days before I handed in the resignation
      2) I was explicitly told that John was not being promoted and that the technical lead work would be rotated through all the developers.

      I think whether you call it burning a bridge or not, I don’t think employers should be doing things like that.

  32. Re'lar Fela*

    My pre-pandemic employer absolutely burnt a bridge with me in 2020/2021. I had been poached from a previous employer because of the relationship I’d built with the organization and did stellar work for them in 2019 and early 2020. Then COVID hit and I was suddenly a single parent working remotely while simultaneously parenting my then 3 year old. Fast forward a year and a half or so and I was “laid off” for prioritizing my family (including my parent with long COVID being cared for by the Mayo Clinic). I was careful not to badmouth them and did not engage in discussions beyond the standard “it was wonderful to work with you; stay in touch!” when colleagues reached out. Word got around, though, and nearly every employee with small children has since left the organization and multiple community partnerships have been severed. It sucks all around, but that bridge is nothing but a pile of soggy ash at this point.

  33. El l*

    Two more observations along the lines of “tell me why”, besides power differentials.

    First: another reason we don’t talk about employers burning bridges with an employee: Who’s alienating you can be the entire company – but more often, it’s just your boss or a few people within the company. Often can’t fairly blame the whole company – and bosses move companies.

    Whereas, if I alienate my old boss, they have nobody to blame but me. Makes the feelings and consequences more personal.

    Other comment: An employee leaving a job is always burning a bridge. At least a little. When someone leaves an office, the remaining workers spend a certain period badmouthing them. Complaining about little annoyances as if they were massive character flaws. Reciting the litany of their greatest-hits bad moments. We all do this, and we do this because it affirms the group as solid even after a member has left. So if you leave, people air this dirty laundry, no matter what…but there are complications all the same.

    TLDR: The natural human tendencies of bonding in groups – and personalizing disputes – are also reasons this isn’t much a two-way street.

    1. Goldenrod*

      These are good points. I really like my (very large) employer/organization. I don’t want to burn bridges with my organization, even though I had terrible experiences with an individual boss.

    2. OP*

      When the company is small (25 people) it is hard to say that it is one manager and not the whole company as the company is to small to have a bad manager.

      I have never experienced bad mouthing after an employee leaves. The teams I have been on have always said they are moving on to a better company or appreciated their work. In general I respect my co-workers and feel no need to bad-mouth them.

    3. Jackalope*

      That’s an odd take. I admit I haven’t had a ton of employers, but at the 4 jobs where I’ve been around long enough that other people left and I stayed, I haven’t ever seen that kind of badmouthing when someone leaves. The one exception I can think of was someone who was a difficult employee and so people complained about them before they left too. Usually we are just happy for them.

      1. Dinwar*

        That’s been my experience as well. The only people who were bad-mouthed when they left were the ones who were bad-mouthed when they were present. There’s some good-natured joking, but usually everyone is happy for the person leaving. It’s taken as given that if you’re leaving you’ve found a better option.

      2. El l*

        Yes, people say they’re happy. But the moment they leave, I’ve seen (almost) without fail lots of, “Oh, they were bad at x,” or mocking and huffy recounting of mild disagreements.

        Perhaps it’s just my culture – the famous passive aggressiveness of Minnesota – but it always seems to happen.

          1. LilPinkSock*

            I worked for several years in Minnesota. Most of my friends and family still do. This is not a Minnesota thing.

        1. Eliza*

          I really do think that must be something about your local culture, whether your location or your industry, because that’s not something I normally see when someone who was well-liked leaves. If anything I’ve seen the opposite; people reminisce about the good times.

        2. Nancy*

          That is not a common occurrence. Employees leave jobs for other opportunities all the time and coworkers generally do not badmouth them, even if they didn’t like them.

        3. Mannequin*

          I have worked at a wide variety of jobs and have not seen this, with the aforementioned caveat of when it’s someone who was already problematic enough to be talked about before they left as well. Even then, the general consensus is “whew, glad that’s over with!”

        4. bluephone*

          Don’t try to blame this on Minnesota. There’s passive aggressive nice and then there’s whatever serial killer behavior you and your coworkers are engaging in. Either quit that job or get therapy before you all try to kill each other during the next staff meeting.

        5. RagingADHD*

          If every place you’ve ever worked has this level of ugly behavior, perhaps you should consider what other common denominators there may be (besides Minnesota).

          This is not typical behavior for healthy adults and healthy teams. Work teams that are functioning well and have good leadership don’t need to “affirm the group” by acting like teenagers after a breakup. They affirm group cohesion by simply continuing to work well together, and pitching in temporarily to cover the gaps until the replacement is hired.

      3. WoodswomanWrites*

        That’s been my experience, too. We don’t complain about people after they’ve moved on, with the same exception Jackalope mentions.

      4. Loulou*

        Yep, this is weird to me too. Badmouthing departing colleagues is not a universal thing! If you think it is, that’s probably a sign of a toxic workplace.

    4. Gumby*

      When someone leaves an office, the remaining workers spend a certain period badmouthing them.

      That is not my experience at all. If anything we bemoan the loss but wish them well.

      If I hear negative things about former co-workers, which is rare, it is more along the lines of things we would have teased them about to their face. “Yeah, Mike, I once had to bribe him with cookies to get him to finish a report.” Or, “John once told me if he ever had a kid he’d name it Voltron Defender of the Universe because you can choose any name you want. I hear his wife is pregnant so I am really interested to see how that plays out.” (Kid was not named Voltron, or the actual name that not-actually-John threatened to use, but was given something relatively mainstream.) Even in cases where there were work-relevant negative traits which I knew about before they left, no one spent time talking about it after they left. We’re more likely to just get on with the work.

    5. BritChickaaa*

      “When someone leaves an office, the remaining workers spend a certain period badmouthing them. Complaining about little annoyances as if they were massive character flaws. Reciting the litany of their greatest-hits bad moments. We all do this”

      I’m sorry but that is not normal in any way, and it’s certainly not something “we all do.”

      I’ve never, ever worked anywhere that has happened and I don’t know anyone who has worked in a workplace like that.

      It sounds like your workplace is just extremely toxic and and has normalised some really weird and hostile attitudes.

    6. heismanpat*

      > Reciting the litany of their greatest-hits bad moments. We all do this, and we do this because it affirms the group as solid even after a member has left.

      Lots of projection here. It sure sounds like you do a lot of shitty things when co-workers leave. We definitely don’t “all do this.”. I am almost always happy for coworkers when they get a new opportunity. Throwing them under the boos after they leave is not in any way normal. Your priorities are whack.

    7. bluephone*

      “ Other comment: An employee leaving a job is always burning a bridge. At least a little. When someone leaves an office, the remaining workers spend a certain period badmouthing them.”
      …do you work at Sociopaths R Us?? I’ve worked in some toxic-heavy workplaces and not once have remaining employees badmouthed someone who left, even if that person was a lazy or rude employee. WTF

  34. LKW*

    I think there’s a blurry line between employers (the company) and supervisors (individuals) burning bridges. You can work for a terrible company but have a great manager that helps you learn, grow, etc. And you can work for a great company but have a lousy manager. In this case, I think it’s the latter, but clearly there are no controls in place to prevent the circumstances. Most of the examples noted here are bad actors, but there are a few bad companies where awful behavior was unchecked.

    So it sounds like the supervisor is a conniving, manipulative jerk, but maybe works for a decent-ish company that simply needs more transparency in pay structure and promotion tracks. If that guy left, and you were offered his job – would you take it? If so, the employer didn’t burn the bridge.

    1. OP*

      I think that if they offered me the job, I probably would have taken it. But when I talked to Matt’s boss(the co-founder) when Matt quit, I was told that I should talk to John, and John(who got promoted) didn’t want me. In a company of 25 people, I feel that if the owner of the company has a good person, they should be invested in getting that person back. I did think it was just a bad manager, but now I feel it is the whole company.

      1. Sasha*

        Do you actually know that ^any^ of this was Matt’s doing?

        Sounds like it could easily be the cofounder who doesn’t like you, and Matt being left to communicate this to you, knowing it is indefensible, and not having much to say about it as a result.

  35. anonymous73*

    We don’t talk about the employers burning bridges because they’re rarely (if ever) affected by it. Unless a company is small or in a niche industry where reputation of how they treat their employees matters to their bottom line, they just don’t care and will continue to take advantage of their employees for as long as those employees will allow them to do so. There are lots of industries where employees are treated poorly (restaurants anyone?) and people put up with it because they need jobs and the employer holds all of the power. Even with the current “great resignation”, how long will people be able to realistically hold out without a job before they’re forced to take one that may not be ideal so they can pay their rent?

  36. Faith the twilight slayer*

    This isn’t a knock of Alison because I absolutely love you, but your advice on leaving bad reviews would work better if employers didn’t have ways to get bad reviews removed. Time and time again (I am a member of r/antiwork) I see posts from members stating their reviews have been removed from Indeed, Glassdoor, etc. I’ve also seen posts from members saying that the former employer has threatened them into removing the review. I totally take those posts with an extremely large grain of salt, but the bottom line is that it does happen. How can we rely on review sites when the deck is stacked in favor of the employer? Is there any site out there that is reliable?

  37. Allornone*

    Back when I was still in retail, I had an employer burn a bridge, which is saying something because after a decade in that industry, I had some pretty thick skin. I got hired at a new store and was there for the setup, but as it came close to opening, it became immediately apparent how unorganized it was. I was hired to do overnight merchandising, so they never trained me on their specific POS system. First week the store is open? Morning shifts at the register. When I pointed out I wasn’t fully trained (I might have been able to wing it), they gave me a clipboard and said “Fine. Walk around and sign people up for our credit card.” I wasn’t even supposed to be customer-facing in the first place and now they wanted me to push their credit card to people who aren’t even buying anything yet? Nope. This was just the start. I lasted another week where stuff like that kept happening, and got a job at a closer store for more pay. That was a crappy job too, but at least they were honest about the crap I’d face. When I went to quit the first employer, I ultimately had to quite with 5 different managers because no one could figure out who I directly reported to. I probably didn’t even need to quit. I doubt they even noticed I was gone.

    I’m out of retail now. Thankfully.

  38. SnappinTerrapin*

    A few former employers and managers have burned their bridges with me.

    However, it’s unlikely any of them will ever have occasion to notice the absence of that bridge.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Yeah, exactly. They don’t need a reference from you, so it’s just usually a non-issue.

  39. Memily*

    My previous employer burned a bridge with me—he told all his vendors I “hadn’t been paying the bills” when in actuality he didn’t have the money for me to pay with. I will never recommend that company as either an employer nor to clients. I don’t think he would notice if it was just me, but poor treatment like this gets around and I know I’m not the only one he pissed off. I think it’ll come back and bite him eventually.

  40. Elizabeth West*

    $180K 0_0
    *dies of jealousy*

    Seriously, though, they did you dirty, OP. They jerked you around, probably because they could. I would definitely consider this a bridge burned.

    If OldExjob were still in business and wanted to hire me back now, I wouldn’t do it. It got so toxic it literally required therapy to deal with and definitely gave me trust issues in my next job. My former supervisor and I (we’re still in touch) call ourselves “[Company] survivors” and have sworn an oath to always give each other awesome references until the end of time.

  41. Jim*

    First time reader, long time commenter. I’ve worked in a number of startups and never, Never, NEV-UHR got a raise or a promo where I wasn’t either waving another offer around or strongly intimating I was considering leaving. Do I think they were bad/wrong/evil? no, they are balancing a number of competing cash needs and will be always trying to find the minimum $ that it takes to get the job done; so, to the hard negotiators go the spoils.

    Sadly men typically are more willing to do this than women. Another brick in the pay inequity wall.

    As an aside, I’d never take a below market salary at a startup or growth company without an equity component to the compensation…. ideally a straight grant of equity vs. options….

      1. Lily of the Field*

        I was wondering how you managed to be a long time commenter but were reading for the first time.

  42. WoodswomanWrites*

    OP, your story reminds me of my first role in my current career. I transitioned into this work when I was already an employee there, moving from a different position. The new field is typically well paid, and I became aware of how low my salary was. When I asked, my manager said they hired me at a lower salary because they knew I would say yes to the offer, and it would cost them more to hire externally. He straight up told me that he was exploiting me on purpose.

    I’m glad you left that place behind and are getting paid appropriately now.

  43. CAS*

    Oh, I’ve had some organizations burn bridges with me. One also was a start-up like your experience, OP. This was a mortgage company where the entire management team was besties, so they happily overpaid each other and blew massive amounts of money on themselves. I came into the job with decades of work experience and had way more skills than the job required. They were so happy to look down their noses and pay me next to nothing for all the skills and experience they got out of me. Then, when they managed to blow their budget and were at risk of not making payroll for a couple of months (read: could not pay themselves), they laid off all the non-besties to protect their own paychecks. One of my coworkers who was laid off was pregnant at the time and lost her health insurance because of this. The best part was that the chicken-sh!t, overpaid, bestie managers all stayed home from work the day of the layoff so they wouldn’t have to face us. The “HR” bestie and some non-management team bestie got to announce the layoff. My direct supervisor texted me that afternoon with a feeble, “So sorry.” Oh, yeah, sure. I never responded to her. In the few years since then, they’ve had to change their business model twice because they’re just not profitable. It’s no surprise why that is. And the staff is about half the size it was when I was there. I would never in a million years list that organization on my resume. They can’t even succeed at being a joke.

  44. LilyP*

    I agree that power dynamics is the main reason but I wonder if it’s also just linguistic convention — when employers or managers do worry about keeping employees happy and sticking around it’s phrased as “retention” or “engagement” or even “company reputation” instead of “not burning bridges”. Maybe just because those conversations tend to be more corporate-speaky and also more impersonal in general?

    1. Koala dreams*

      Yes, people talk about companies having a high turnover or not being attractive enough for employees, or about employee dissatisfaction.

  45. Lioness*

    This is reminding me about that hospital that filed legal action against its former employees preventing them from starting their new jobs at a different hospital. They certainly burned the bridge with their employees in that case.

  46. lalchi11*

    I had an abusive boss and left to work for one of our clients. I never said anything disparaging about my former boss at my new job, but didn’t hire them (used a competitor) when the option was up to me. He absolutely burned a bridge with me that had a negative financial impact for them.

  47. ship jumping*

    It’s curious to me how many people are expecting John & Matt to be buddies/related or the OP to be some minority. People are reaching for *reasons* for the inequity, whereas the inequity *just happens*. You get paid what you get hired at, with very little increases, if you want a better salary, you need to jump ship. Which the OP did. (good for you, OP). I’d like to say this a bug (feature!) of software development, but it’s true at many places: the only way to get salary increases is to change jobs. I’ve seen this occur both in my SO’s industry (software dev) and mine(engineering). Just a couple of months ago, I found my company was advertising essentially my job at a range, where the bottom of the range was 5% MORE than I made.

  48. Byrde*

    OP, I’m so sorry this happened to you.

    I think Alison made some really great and salient points, and I have nothing to add there.

    One thing I will say, though, is that I have had an employer burn a bridge with me, big time. Would never, ever work for them again. The position actually paid far *better* than most at that level in my former field (yes, I was so burned out that I left the entire field), but it absolutely didn’t make up for how awful the workplace was.

    Anyway, like I said, Alison made some great points about the power imbalance–there’s no way I could ever take the whole place down (especially since it was a job in the public sector). However, in the few years since I left, I have had at least four colleagues in the field get in touch because they were considering applying for positions there. These are excellent folks to work with, highly experienced and knowledgeable, and absolute delights to work with. I may have been in a better position to do this since I’ve left the field, but those colleagues got the whole, unvarnished truth. I’m happy to let people know what it’s really like to work there, and every time I can help protect my colleagues from going through what I went through, it sincerely makes my day. (Spoiler: 3/4 didn’t even bother applying after I told them about my experience there.)

  49. anon for this*

    I work in a small field where people will sometimes eventually circle back to a previous employer purely because there are so few.

    I left Employer1 for several positive reasons, and went to Employer2. A handful of other people also left E1 for E2 within a few months. E1’s CEO lost his sh-t and started taking people to court for non-competes and poaching. As neither of those things actually applied, he lost heavily. Imagine how many people have since left E1 and refuse ever to go back.

  50. Batgirl*

    Sometimes it’s the power differential which causes the bridge to burn. I’m thinking of the employee who hadn’t been paid, twice, and when she sternly told HR it was a condition of her continued employment and the third strike would be it; it resulted in a letter to Alison calling her “big for her britches”. That’s exactly the kind of thing that a) causes an employee to run out of fucks to give, b) is the kind of Glassdoor reference which would give pause to anyone who is a fan of paying their bills. If it were not for the power differential, and the fact that the OP still controlled her reference and the *chance* to get paid, they would never have expected to be able to steal her labour so blatantly.

  51. Allonge*

    For me this is not about power imbalance but consequences: we don’t talk about a company burning a bridge because the consequence is that a certain person will never work for them any more (which is the default).

    If an employee burns a bridge, institutional memory in a company can make that an issue with future relations even after the entire team is replaced, boss / grandboss included.

    OP, I am not sure why the linguistics is an issue for you here. You left a bad job for a better one. Long term the best is for you to concentrate on the new job and not to keep thinking of the old one – it will lead nowhere.

  52. All*

    People have asked me why I think reference checks are useless at best and actively damaging at worst.

    This is why.

    (Well, that and a hell of a lot of managers lie.)

  53. Graeme*

    I don’t see any good reason to insist on it being a hardline yes/no statement. There are factors that led to me leaving previous jobs, and if I was made confident those factors were removed and an interesting offer came in, I’d consider it.

    But at least one of those jobs, the “factors” included having to work with the company owner and the culture he created. I’d be very very surprised if I could be convinced those factors had gone away – so while I wouldn’t describe it as a burnt bridge, it’s definitely pretty singed and unstable. If anyone asked me why I left that job I’d happily tell them, but again, does that make it a “burnt bridge” and what’s the benefit of trying to define it as such?

  54. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    Chiming in a little late here, but wanted to say I’m so glad someone brought this up. We have always been told to tiptoe around our employers and not burn bridges. I realize this is for good reason, but it definitely goes both ways. There are some employers and managers I would never go back to and would never recommend to anyone else, and I’m sure most people here feel the same way. An employer or manager can definitely burn a bridge with their employees and someday those employees might influence someone else not to hire them. A lot of employers and managers never really think about that.

  55. Koala dreams*

    I can’t say I agree that you never hear about employers burning bridges. People might not use the exact phrase “burning bridges” but they express their discontent in other words. People talk about past employers socially, post reviews online, gossip about past employers with co-workers and with friends in the industry.

  56. Lynn Marie*

    Re the executive who was asked to take typing and proofreading tests: As an assistant, I would have loved to had bosses who were vetted for basic office and grammar skills! I know it’s a fantasy, but man, it would be nice to work for people without having to argue with them over subject/verb agreement!

    1. Lynn Marie*

      And of course I meant to say “have had”. That’s the grammar karma coming to get me.

  57. TootsNYC*

    the imbalance is made stronger by the fact that the company may be around longer than the individual manager.
    The individuals you interacted with may well have left, but the write-ups and “not eligible for rehire” info in the company’s files may last beyond their tenure.

  58. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    I have absolutely had an employer burn a bridge with me. Originally I thought that maybe it was just my office (at a university, so very siloed), but over time I came to realize the entire organization was rotten from the inside out. It started with unclear expectations, poor people management, general gaslighting, and poor behavior when things went wrong. Later I (an entry level employee) was ridiculed by the VP of my division at a celebratory dinner, and separately was regularly harassed and threatened by someone else working in my building on my way to and from nearby public transit, and HR failed to act. That, along with generally ominous news about former employees embezzling so much money that the university cut back on cleaning services and did not offer cost of living adjustments, was all enough for me to know it was not going to change and I’d be better off getting out of there than ever trying to exist in such a dysfunctional environment. When I left, one of my managers barely spoke to me and took it pretty personally. I am now succeeding and happy in a job I feel much more connected to, and I’m not afraid to warn people away from my former employer because I would absolutely never work there again.

  59. Lysine*

    I asked my spouse about this (they’re a software engineer too) and he said he’d never agree to work for a startup for well below market rate unless there was additional comp like stocks. He also felt that what happened to you is a symptom of many work places lately (not just in tech) which is that companies are willing to pay to get new talent, but not to keep talent. I don’t work in tech and unfortunately that’s been my experience as well. It’s really tough to get a raise, to get a “raise” you just have to look for a new job. He thinks they just got complacent because they got you for so much less than market rate. This is why people job switch so much in tech he believes (well that, and keeping people as contractors w/ no benefits).

    1. Lysine*

      Also there are definitely companies that have burnt bridges with me. I left them a negative review on glassdoor and washed my hands of them.

  60. X. Trapnel*

    I work in agriculture, specifically dairy farming and our job set up is not typical for your average bog-standard 9-5 corporate gig, but bad employers in my industry are known around the area and are most definitely talked about amongst employees. The first thing most of us do if we move to a new area is put out feelers to other farm workers so we know who to avoid. We had one outrageously awful employer in our district and a group of us old lags would run a sweepstake on how long each new employee of theirs would last. The record was held by a guy who managed 4 hours before quitting.

  61. Look A Random Llama*

    I have one job that comes strongly to mind. When I wanted to leave, no particularly grand reason, just wanted a change, the owner spent what I thought was supposed to be my out-brief in a 20-minute tirade about what a poor employee I was.

    I wanted to get involved in some projects and disciplines the smaller company didn’t have available. I figured it was more like my career was taking me in a slightly different direction. I hadn’t considered anything wrong with the company; it just wasn’t working for me. Instead, the owner questioned my work ethic, commitment, and threatened to sue me if I talked poorly about the company in the future. In addition, some employees of the company who were clearly not at the meeting, told my peers that I was quitting to avoid being fired.

    Bridge burned and scorched. The company is doing well from all I hear though, so there’s that.

  62. Squirrel Nutkin*

    The president of my university decided that we should be mask-optional everywhere including in classrooms. We are not allowed to ask our students to wear masks, no matter what our personal risks/co-morbidities/immune status, etc. or those of our friends and loved ones, and most students no longer mask. Shortly after that, a careful colleague’s 17-month-old son wound up in the hospital with difficulty breathing from covid, and I blame our university president for my colleague’s likely having been exposed in his classroom and bringing the disease home to his kid. The students are young and immature, so I can’t entirely blame them, but this grown woman who is our president has no excuse.

    I’m not quitting, but this is a new-ish president (started Sept. 2021), and I have forever lost respect for her and will not be supporting her initiatives. What a murderous sociopath.

    1. Squirrel Nutkin*

      I have also forever lost respect for our union president who snickered and shrugged as she explained that she just couldn’t convince the administration, with whom she is overly cozy, to keep the mandate.

      B!@#$$, you are the AAUP president, and this workplace safety issue is a matter of life or death (or lifelong disability) for your union members and their loved ones. Maybe you should at least inquire if we’d be willing to strike over this?

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