When A Normal Job Resignation Won't Do

Mar 15, 2012
Originally published on March 15, 2012 6:46 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. A Goldman Sachs executive who quit his job yesterday joins a proud tradition. Greg Smith wrote an op-ed in the New York Times slamming the financial firm where he worked for years.

INSKEEP: He claimed they didn't even pretend to care about their clients anymore and talked only of how to make money from the clients. The Times was so impressed, it wrote a news article about the significance of its own op-ed attack on Wall Street culture.

MONTAGNE: Other people soon wrote parodies, including "Why I Quit the Empire," written by Darth Vader.

INSKEEP: New York Magazine wrote of past financial industry flameouts - like the executive who wrote that he was leaving Wall Street, and went on to endorse hemp. Then there was Jake DeSantis, who ripped AIG as he departed - also with an article in the New York Times. NPR's Chris Arnold reports there's a history of people telling their employers to take this job and...

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: There's something fascinating about people who don't just quit, but who go out the door in some kind of grand style. A personal favorite is a disgruntled grocery store worker in Seattle who wrote "I quit" in Cheez Whiz on the customer-service window before leaving. And at the top of any list of recent job quits has to be the JetBlue airline steward Steven Slater.

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ARNOLD: After 28 years as a flight attendant, Slater gained folk hero status in the summer of 2010. After a flight with some difficult passengers - at least, according to Slater's version of events - Slater loudly quit his job over the plane's intercom, using the F-word many times; then grabbed a beer and went down the plane's emergency exit slide.

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ARNOLD: Slater's grand exit was picked up by all the news networks. And there were countless Internet tributes, some of them musical.

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ARNOLD: For some reason, there is definitely an element of the heroic in dramatic job quits; that someone is willing to sacrifice their future job prospects for the glory of the moment - although in the case of the Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith, given his pay scale, he probably doesn't need to find another job right away.

BEN DATTNER: This is kind of id - pure id.

ARNOLD: Ben Dattner is an organizational psychologist and the founder of Dattner Consulting, which works with major companies on executive coaching and culture change. He says there is a vicarious thrill about watching somebody else give in to the desire to do something that we know we shouldn't do.

DATTNER: The desire for revenge, the desire for public retribution without thinking more rationally about, what are the consequences for me and for my career?

ARNOLD: In the Goldman case, the company said it will examine claims by former employee Greg Smith that executives, quote, callously talk about ripping off their clients. Dattner says Goldman probably should do some self-examination.

DATTNER: Perhaps there's also something for Goldman to learn about an employee who was pushed to the breaking point.

ARNOLD: In recent years, some employees' over-the-edge moments have been captured on tape, and then posted on YouTube. One hotel worker in Providence, Rhode Island, named Joey snuck in members of his rag-tag-looking brass band to the hotel, and they played a surprise protest march to his boss when he quit his job.

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ARNOLD: And there was a D.J. at the Gulf Coast radio station WBLX. She went by the name Inetta the Moodsetta. She had had enough, too, and quit on the air.

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ARNOLD: Chris Arnold, happily employed at NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF WBLX BROADCAST) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.