That's It, I'm Outta Here

With work plentiful, employees are quick to stomp off

Marty Mangold was fed up. The 40-year-old Minneapolis man had worked at U.S. Bank (USB) in St. Paul for five years as a trust officer, setting up 401(k) and profit-sharing plans for clients. But he was spending so much time acting as his own secretary, answering phone calls and e-mails, that it became impossible for him to get his work done. On top of that, while the sales staff got away with missing deadlines, his own boss was a real stickler. Finally, last spring, he quit.

Just 10 or 20 years ago, a guy like Mangold wouldn't have dared such a move without first lining up another gig. But in today's sizzling job market, practically anybody with a pulse is a hot commodity. The brashness with which Mangold left U.S. Bank is also indicative of the times--he only gave a week's notice.

If his boss asked for more time, Mangold figured he would ask for an incentive bonus to stay on another week. He planned to spend his last week handing over his accounts to co-workers. But after a terse exchange of e-mails, his manager, red-faced from the short notice, told Mangold to turn in his security badge, pack up his belongings, and leave. Says Mangold: "You don't want to burn bridges, but there's no bible out there that says you have to give two weeks." U.S. Bank says it has added jobs in Mangold's department and that attrition is low.

Call it brazen, call it rude, but Mangold is part of a new movement in career land. Gone are the days of two-week notices, cleaning out your office, and giving a polite exit interview. With unemployment at its lowest level in modern history, job-hopping is at its highest rate in a decade. That means many workers with skills are getting downright nervy--even nasty--in the way they quit. For companies, this is adding only more throbbing to the biggest headache they have: finding and keeping good people. The bad-blood and often very public departures are morale bombs for companies, causing bouts of second-guessing by those who remain behind and even hurting profitability--since it often costs twice ex-staffers' salaries to replace them.

There was a time when private, discreet, and diplomatic resignation letters expressed gratitude for the support and paycheck. And now? Companywide e-mails, heavy with invective about what's wrong with the organization, are popping up everywhere. That's the way Mike Drummond, 36, left his job as a telecommunications reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune. After close to two years at the paper, he gave two weeks' notice and then fired off an e-mail to 2,000 Union-Tribune employees--from management to press operators. He groused about the high turnover rate among business news editors, blaming it on management's "unwillingness to advocate salary increases, flexible work hours, telecommuting, and other family-friendly remedies to stem the brain drain." After all, what did he care? He had a new offer from Business 2.0--which is paying him twice his newspaper salary--to try the slower pace of magazine journalism. The Union-Tribune declined comment.

Increasingly, departing employees no longer feel compelled to sidestep sticky issues graciously when they say goodbye. Mark W. Lowder, vice-president of American Dairy Queen Corp.'s international division, says when some employees leave, they use the exit interview to seek revenge on a supervisor. Even so, that can sometimes help out the old cubemates. At Dairy Queen, after hearing repeatedly from departing staffers that salaries were too low, senior management started giving out raises, putting DQ pay on a par with the industry average, Lowder says.

MORALE PROBLEMS. Sometimes companies even have to abort bold strategies and settle for lesser ones because of employee churn. Mark Zivin, president of the Chicago-based software consulting group Business Productivity Systems Inc., decided to curtail growth three years ago because of high turnover and the subsequent morale problems it created. "One guy, we spent $20,000 plus training him, and he just walked out after five weeks," Zivin says.

Such short-term moves can often damage business strategy. If an engineer at a software startup quits mid-way through a project for a new application, for example, the launch can be delayed for months because another engineer often has to start from scratch, says software engineer Peter Haight, who worked on the RealAudio software for Seattle-based RealNetworks Inc. Before he took the RealAudio job, Haight signed a contract banning him from consulting for the company for six months after he left. The purpose of the contract? To prevent him from forcing RealNetworks to hire him back as a higher-paid consultant if he quit before the job was done.

No doubt companies will be employing more protective tactics like these. Meanwhile, all the bouncing around has some managers wishing for a downturn mixed with a little more carnage. At least that way, politeness might become fashionable once again.

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