The One Time that Burning a Bridge Will Benefit Your Career

Sign reading "Bridge Out"

One of the standard pieces of advice for good career management that is regularly dispensed is: never burn a bridge. So I found it very interesting when it was asked on Quora: “Is there ever a scenario where burning a bridge with an employer can be beneficial to the employee?”

My first thought was, “No, you don’t want to do that because you never know if/when you may want to cross that bridge again.” But then, I challenged myself to try to come up with circumstances in which bridge-burning would very much be called for. And then it came to me:

What if an employee discovers that the employer is involved with some illegal activity that could result in people getting hurt and/or defrauded?

As hard as it would be to do, anyone who finds him/herself in that situation and is absolutely certain that something bad is going down should alert the authorities.

Choosing to be the whistleblower will certainly burn the bridge with that employer and with the people involved, but the benefits to your career far outweigh any potential consequences:

1. You will retain your integrity. In this case, standing idly by while fraudulent activity is taking place is often considered to be passive agreement. Even though you may not have been actively involved with their dealings, some folks may think, “You could have stopped this sooner, but you didn’t. Why not?” You don’t want that question raised about you, not to your face and not behind your back.

2. You will not be inadvertently condemned if another insider chooses to expose the illegal behavior. Given the fact that you would have been privy to the damning information, it raises a seed of doubt as to your involvement. No, you may not have been part of the main scheme, but were you actively covering up the misdeed? It can be really challenging to figure out exactly who was involved and who was not.

3. You will not earn a bad reputation with other companies in the industry who operate honestly. This can be one of the biggest fears that keeps employees from saying anything. But think about this for a minute — would you truly want to work for anyone who believes you should have let that situation continue? I would hope not! For those employers who are ethical, they would be glad to have an employee like you who is above-board.

My last thought on this isn’t so much a benefit to one’s career, but an observation: would you seriously be going down that way again? I mean, that’s the big reason that people give for not burning bridges, so that you have that option to cross it at a later time. But really — is that even a factor in this case?

Image courtesy of Jean

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  1. Mark Anthony Dyson
    Twitter: MarkADyson

    Like the old Temptations song, “Walk And Don’t Look Back!” To be associated as a witness to wrongdoing or a crime, and not a teammate is an awful feeling. View “snitching” as protecting the interests of everyone at work.

    • Melissa Cooley
      Twitter: TheJobQuest

      Exactly, Mark!

      I feel badly for those who find themselves in these positions — the anxiety and stress about the situation has to be one of the worst. But at the same time, how terrible would they feel to be responsible for all those who were hurt after they found out about the situation? To maintain integrity, there’s only one difficult path to take.

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