Can burning bridges be sometimes good for your career?

Can burning bridges be sometimes good for your career?

Most of us are taught that burning bridges should be avoided. The professional world, especially in Singapore, is now so interconnected that the likelihood that you may bump into someone from your past – whether online, or on the street – is greater than ever before.

However, there are sometimes circumstances when burning bridges is not only desirable, but a necessity in order to move forward with your career or business. Here are those times when cutting your losses and moving on isn't just okay, but smart.

Escaping a bad boss

A leading reason for burning bridges is friction with the boss. According to a report by Singapore Business Review, 65% of employees would rather get a new boss than receive a pay rise. This could be due to a basic personality clash, or they might simply lack good management skills.

In either case, burning bridges with that person can be justified. If it's a boss who is verbally abusive or bullying, it's important to put your mental health first. But if the organisation has put someone in charge who is unqualified or behaves unethically, it could be costing them in money, productivity and reputation.

That's when it may be necessary to speak out – provided that doing so doesn't put you at risk of harm, and that you can back up your case with real-world examples that explain why you are choosing to leave. This is especially true if there is a culture of unethical behaviour being ignored or sanctioned, as this could end up reflecting badly on you in the eyes of future potential employers.

Just as with any bad relationship, the earlier you leave it behind the better. If you've done nothing wrong, remember that no single boss or organisation has the power to derail your entire career.

Putting your career first

While advancing ones career isn't usually a good reason for burning bridges, it may be unavoidable if your employer consistently behaves in a way that puts your career development last.

Examples of this can include:

  • Routinely being asked to work extra hours without pay
  • Not receiving the staff training or mentoring you need to advance in your job
  • Being passed over for promotions because you won't get involved in office politics
  • Being asked to break off a professional contact or relationship that has been valuable to your career
  • Feeling unappreciated or unacknowledged, even if it's just a verbal or written 'thank you'

Similar rules can also apply to the business-client relationship. If your client consistently pays late, makes unreasonable demands, or keeps asking for discounts or freebies, it may be time to let them go. Ultimately, the costs to your self-confidence and ambition of being in a toxic work environment can be much greater than getting out while better options are still open to you.

Doing it right

Quitting in a blaze of glory or telling the boss your true feelings can bring a rush of relief, but it's rarely a good strategy. Just one instance of “exploding on the job” can have far-reaching professional, financial, or even legal repercussions. If you've decided that you have no option but to kick away the ladder, here are a few tips:

  • Be diplomatic. While it may be tempting, channeling your frustrations into strong language in front of the boss, badmouthing your former company to others, or posting an extended rant on social media that violates non-disclosure agreements will only come back to haunt you later. It's better to stick to the facts and remain discreet, and courteous, in expressing your reasons for leaving.
  • Have a safety net. Ideally, you will have another job or client already lined up before announcing your departure. If not, it might be the case that your professional reputation is already so strong that you don't need a reference from your current employer. In most cases, however, you should find out if you can get away with using references from people other than the boss or manager you're burning bridges with.
  • Weigh the risks carefully. Keep in mind that you will be nixing any chance of working for that employer, boss, manager or client again. Moreover, future interviewers may ask you to explain why you really left. While there are certainly times when it's best to completely cut off a connection or relationship, it should only be done after careful consideration.

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Tread carefully if you’re burning bridges

Burning bridges can be among the hardest decisions we make in our professional lives. But if it preserves your mental wellbeing, and distances you from people who are impeding your career growth, it can also be the right one.

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