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Say it with cake: The new ways of quitting

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When that little voice in the back of your head whispers, “Let’s superglue the boss’s desk shut and then quit this miserable job; yeah, let’s do it!” most of us don’t listen.

But some of us do. Some of us who are angry, disgruntled and jaded enough; infuriated, incensed and irate enough about a horrible job or a crazy boss, do gleefully listen to that brightly burning little voice.

Take former JetBlue steward Steven Slater, arguably the father of the incendiary job resignation. In 2010, during preparation for exiting a flight that had just landed, Slater instructed a passenger to sit down and stop unloading his luggage from the overhead compartment until the plane came to a complete stop. When the passenger ignored the safety instructions, Slater hurried down the narrow aisle to take control of the situation, reaching the passenger just in time for a loose piece of luggage to bop him in the head. After requesting an apology from the passenger but receiving an undeserved string of curses instead, Slater snapped.

After turning the other cheek for 20 years in the airline industry, the exasperated flight attendant had had enough. He grabbed the mic of the plane’s public address system and unleashed a stream of invective at the passenger for all to hear, culminating the performance with “It’s been great!” Figuring a hasty retreat might be wise — and there could be none hastier than the plane’s inflatable emergency slide — Slater grabbed a beer from the galley, hit the activation button and slid off to notoriety, tons of news coverage, an arrest and some other way to make a living.

Whether he knows it or not, Slater has become that little voice in the back of the head to a host of imitators who have rejected the discreet, neatly typed resignation letter in favor of the grand, public gesture uploaded to the Internet for all to see.

In late September, Charlo Greene heeded that little voice. The on-air reporter for KTVA, an Anchorage, Alaska, television station, had just completed a report on an anti-marijuana initiative slated for November’s ballot. Deviating from the teleprompter, Greene, whose real name is Charlene Ebge, admitted that under her real name she is president of the pro-cannabis club she had just reported on. Knowing that her breach of journalistic ethics had doomed her job anyway, she blurted out, “F… it! I quit,” leaving no one to wonder what in heaven’s name she had been smoking. Greene has hit YouTube and other media outlets, attempting to get out the “munchies” vote and raise some funds for her cause (watch video below; warning: contains expletives).

Leaving a job through attention-getting behavior may seem like a good way to make a point, says Barbara Babkirk, a career coach in Portland, Maine, but employees who publicly go negative about a former employer are not going to be looked upon very favorably for the next job.

“Oh, so what!” you can almost hear Marina Shifrin snort. Last year the now 26-year-old Chicago native was working in Taiwan, making videos for a big media company. But long hours, the sacrifice of her social life and a boss who valued the number of “web views” over product content and quality, had finally bubbled over. One morning she let herself into the office early, set up a camera and proceeded to dance atop desks, across the floor, inside the restroom and elevator — all around the office — to the Kanye West song, “Gone.”

Subtitles on the video clarified for management precisely how she felt about the job. The video ended with Shifrin shutting off the lights and disappearing into the elevator. Big superimposed letters — “I’m Gone” — were synced to the soundtrack on the video (watch the video below).

Shifrin returned home to a spate of television interviews, including one on “The Queen Latifah Show” in which Queen Latifah herself offered an incredulous Shifrin a job during the on-air interview. To date, Shifrin’s YouTube video has garnered some 18.5 million views.

Those less tech savvy, however, might appreciate the old fashioned bile of Joe Sale. Four years ago, the marketing consultant had a job in the St. Petersburg, Florida, office of LivingSocial, a coupon-deal company headquartered in Washington, D.C. Aggrieved that corporate continued to raise his quotas and cut his commissions, Sale began to sour on the job. True to his let’s-get-the-maximum-attention marketing roots, Sale tossed all of his business cards, promotional items and marketing materials into a white trash bag and sent them to corporate,  along with this note: “Treat your sales force like trash and see how bad your company starts to stink.” Said a LivingSocial spokesman at the time of the incident, “We don’t talk trash about our former employees, but we think this was an isolated issue.”

The response from Shifrin’s employer wasn’t quite so genteel. Her former boss gathered a coalition of the office willing, and the gleeful employees danced around the workplace in a remarkably funny parody of the original video, culminating in big block letters proclaiming, “We’re Hiring.” Of course, the parody went up on YouTube.

In another oft-viewed YouTube video, a young woman named “Jenny” quits her job via a series of whiteboard messages to her “boss,” Spencer. Among the dyspeptic tidbits: Spencer has a horrible temper; Spencer has bad breath; Spencer is a hypocrite; Spencer spends 20 hours a week playing Farmville on company time; being Spencer’s assistant was a “special hell.” Though later exposed as a hoax, “Jenny” did inspire a spate of actual whiteboard resignations that, of course, found their way to YouTube for all to see, enjoy, applaud, or rebuke.

Whiteboard resignations, for the most part, are short and to the point: “I Quit.” Exclamation points and multiple underlines optional. The soon-to-be former staff member simply holds the whiteboard above his or her head and smiles, smirks or makes that just-sucked-a-lemon face. Some employees, though, feel they owe their superiors a slightly more nuanced explanation.

  • “My co-workers shower … annually.”
  • “I found my boss’s sex tape.”
  • “I want to spend more time with my cats.”
  • “This cubicle smells like feet.”
  • “I’m sick of drinking the Kool-Aid … especially Your Kool-Aid.”
  • “My Boss Thinks Twitter is an S.T.D.”
  • “There’s no Starbucks for miles.”
  • “No Hot Chicks.”

But for some disgruntled employees, the whiteboard is a canvas far too small, particularly if they have access to a ladder and the employer’s streetside marquee.

  • At a Wendy’s, the boss couldn’t miss this heartfelt resignation echoing the company’s own advertising tag line: “Greg, I Quit. Now That’s Better!” 
  • Another employee’s resignation also contained a helpful suggestion: “My Boss Can Change His Own Damn Sign. I Quit!”
  • At a local supermarket, the sentiment on the marquee minced no words: “This Place Blows. I Quit.” 
  • Not really a marquee resignation, but true to the “marquee spirit,” a teacher projected this surrender on a movie screen at the front of his classroom: “Mr. Lear is giving up. I’VE HAD ENOUGH … if you want to complete the course, you will have to teach yourselves. You need to get to Lenin’s death in 1924. Good Luck (you’ll need it).”

And then there’s cake. More precisely, quitting by cake: the four-letter cake; the nice cake, the weapons-grade cake.

The four-letter cake:

  • Lovely white sheet cake festooned with pink and green flowers that could easily be an 8-year-old’s birthday cake, except for the “F… You! I Quit!” or “Jacob’s 2-week notice” in luscious pink frosting along the bottom.
  • Big red frosting letters proclaiming “F… Dominos” on a tasty-looking round layer cake.
  • Frosting photograph of aggrieved employee smiling a demonic grin with middle finger defiantly extended and a thought balloon putting it bluntly: “Later, B—-!”

The nice cake

  • Fresh-faced young woman standing proudly over a large sheet cake decorated with the words “I Quit. Love, Mel.” Cute frosting smiley face in the corner.
  • Two large side-by-side boxes of cupcakes, each one frosted with a single word of the message: “Please take these cupcakes as an official letter of my resignation effective Sunday May 24, 2009. I have highly enjoyed my time here and wish you all the best of luck in the future. Sincerely, Amy.”
quitting cake

(Photo from Grubstreet; read the article here.)

The weapons-grade cake

  • On his last day of work at a Friendly’s restaurant, an employee heaved a five-pound caramel Heath Bar crunch ice-cream cake at his boss, which resulted in assault charges, jail and a thousand-dollar bail bill.

Needless to say, few employment specialists recommend leaving a job with much more panache than that neatly typed resignation letter — let alone a seven-piece brass marching band.

Then 23-year-old Joey DeFrancesco decided to kill two birds with one injudicious stone three years ago: quit his miserable job at the Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel, a Marriot franchise, and drum up, literally, a little publicity for the brass band in which he played trumpet. During his three years at the hotel — he worked in room service when he left — DeFrancesco had been troubled by poor working conditions, punishing hours and a lack of respect by management for employees. Heeding that little voice, DeFrancesco snuck his very loud, very big brass marching band into the hotel and had them strike up a rousing Serbian folk song as he tossed a resignation letter at his flummoxed boss. No fool, however, DeFrancesco had already lined up a replacement job before he so brassily quit (watch video below; warning: contains expletives).

The risk, caution employment specialists, even for younger workers who are comfortable with publicly sharing much of their personal lives, is one simple fact: Those online videos don’t go away. And employers, it can’t be said enough, are rarely eager to hire potential troublemakers.

The irony, though, is that these days the warning cuts both ways. Those videos don’t go away for troublesome employers, either. With more than 4.6 million views to date,  DeFrancesco’s three-year-old brass band resignation is still going strong on YouTube. And here’s the twist: A current banner across the top of the video reads: “Workers are now calling for you to boycott this hotel until working conditions improve.”

Seven months ago, DeFrancesco posted this comment to the video: “Not everyone has the privilege to have a fallback and be able to quit like I did. It’s much braver and much more meaningful to fight to make your job better for you and your co-workers than to simply leave and find a different awful job.”

Everyone — employers and employees alike: welcome to the new abnormal.