An engineer resigned this week from an LA startup. This otherwise insignificant event turned into a big story when that engineer posted the exchange with his boss on his blog. It’s a lesson in human nature and how to comport oneself in a business environment.
Free advice for entitled Gen Y trophy kids: if you spend 12 months at a company over and over you look like a flake.
The “trophy kid” remark refers to a previous statement by Jason about the trend of Gen-Y now getting trophies or awards for participation, basically for just showing up.
and then posted the somewhat controversial Never Hire Job Hoppers. Never. They Make Terrible Employees, which was later tempered with Job Hoppers Redux: An Employee’s Perspective.
It became clear that this referred to the resignation of one Evan Culver when he posted the email exchange on his blog (now removed). TechCrunch posted the exchange in How Not To Handle A Resignation Gracefully, which has triggered a firestorm of response, much of it directed at Jason and allegedly much of it has been removed by the moderators.
Evan’s email says:
This isn’t an easy email to write, but as the subject suggests, this email is to inform you of my resignation from Mahalo effective in 2 weeks.
This email was sent to Jacob Burch (Director of Technology), Jeff Ammons (Developer) and Jason. It appears Jason was out of the office (his reply is from his Blackberry) and it’s alleged in the TechCrunch comments that Evan resigned to the CTO (Mark Jeffrey).
California is an at-will employment state so barring any relevant contractual terms, no notice was required to quit and no reason is required to fire someone (barring legal issues such as discrimination).
Evan’s email was polite but otherwise perfunctory.
Jason addresses this issue in This Week In Startups #49 saying that he liked the guy, two weeks prior he had been promoted into a management position.
That being said, let me give you some advice.
Showing Up Is Not Enough
It’s about what you do, what you’re achieved. Nobody cares if you simply showed up. This is the tragedy of the modern education system in that it rewards participation not winning. Whether it be children, employees or whatever you are doing them a huge disservice and creating an entitlement culture.
You Will Get Yelled At
A lot of comments on TechCrunch revolved around being treated badly. If you’re lucky you have a boss that’s passionate about what they’re doing. If so, such bosses will get heated and yell because they care.
Getting treated badly is actually having a boss who is completely indifferent. At that point you’re simply a square on an org chart and a line item on a budget, utterly expendable and replaceable.
This shouldn’t be taken as carte blanche for employee abuse but nor should isolated incidents of being yelled at be taken for abuse.
Man Up (In Person)
Apologists will argue that in the age of modern communication, it’s OK to resign by email. Let me be absolutely clear: it absolutely is not.
You walk into your boss’s office and say “I’m not happy because of …” or “I’ve been offered this opportunity to do …” or whatever the case is. Give your boss a chance to respond. This isn’t about making a play for more money. It’s about respect. Even if you have no intention of staying, just by giving your boss a chance to respond and to do in person, you’ve shown that person the respect they probably deserve.
They’re not in the office? You wait a few days until they are. They new job can’t way? Bullshit. Or, if true, it’s a good sign that it’s an organization you don’t want to work for because they don’t care about you.
Most of all, be honest. If it’s more money you want or need, say so. If you simply don’t like it where you are or you think it’s a mistake, say so.
A Startup is not a Large Company
The vast majority of startups are small. That means that each person is much more valuable and much harder to replace. What’s more, most employees will have some kind of equity stake in the company. Contrast this to a large company where you tend to be a small cog in a very large machine and infinitely replaceable. You can’t compare the two experiences.
Generally speaking, there are two approaches to relating to other people in the business world. The first approach is transactional and legalistic: work is primarily an exchange of labor for money, and agreements are made via contracts. Enforcement is provided by organizations, especially the legal system. The second approach relies on trust, verbal agreements, reputation and norms, and looks to the community to provide enforcement when necessary.
In the startup world, the latter approach dominates…
For this reason, if you are an employee working at a startup where the managers are honest, inclusive and fair, you should disregard everything you’ve learned about proper behavior from people outside of the startup world.
So ignore any comments about the “at-will” issue. It’s irrelevant.
Never Ever Embarrass Your Boss
This is Evan’s biggest faux pas: posting the email exchange on his blog. Note the self satisfied:
I should note, that instead of responding, he instead removed my email account. Real pro of him. Good thing I forwarded it to myself first :P
Make no mistake: this is deplorable behaviour. Had it remained private, which it should’ve, Jason may have calmed down and mellowed about the situation over time. As it stands, he would rightfully be incensed because this has become a news story.
Worse for Evan: any future employer will find this story on a Google search and it makes him look really bad.
Barred From The Office
When someone resigns or is fired it is not uncommon to pay them for their notice period and send them home immediately. Frankly I wish more companies would do this.
Employees that are fired—especially programmers and other IT people—can be a security risk as they can do a lot of damage. That rarely happens but it is an issue. What’s more common is soon-to-be former employees can be disruptive and drain the morale of the team that’s staying. It’s often better to simply tie things off cleanly.
In TWIST #49, Jason also mentioned the salient point that Yahoo (the company Evan is apparently joining) is a competing company to Mahalo. They’re both search companies with Q&A platforms.
Some tried to turn this into an issue about unlawfully withholding belongings. I can guarantee you that if there was anything urgent there (eg prescription medication) that he would’ve gotten that ASAP. Otherwise his stuff would be put in a box and either couriered or delivered to the lobby for his collection in a timely manner.
An employer is well within their rights to bar you from the premises.
A Final Point About Human Nature
There is a key observation you can make from the comments on this about human nature: the majority of people will start with a conclusion and then look for facts to support that conclusion.
A vocal minority really doesn’t like Jason. So what? How is that relevant? You don’t like Mahalo either? How is that relevant? It isn’t. This story for many has simply become another opportunity to bash Jason and grind whatever axe it is you feel the need to grind.
This story that never should’ve been a story is a good opportunity to learn a few lessons about conducting oneself in a professional manner.