Top 5 This Week

Related Posts

Remote workers are trapped in a quitting nightmare

​“It was all very lame and anticlimactic.” London-based software engineering consultant Ruth* is describing her final day at her former company earlier this month. She had no leaving drinks, not even virtual ones, and sent a goodbye leaving email before setting her last Out of Office. “It left a bitter taste because I'd killed myself working for them, but at the same time it made me feel like I’d made the right decision. But no closure, not like you usually get.” Instead, a year and a half of her career ended with her wandering aimlessly around Oxford Street, window-shopping.

James* says his final day in a public policy role last May felt like sneaking out of a boring party. “You slip away and don’t tell anyone,” he says. “The very last thing I did was to send an email to my boss, raising some concerns about the HR process. I never got a reply.” When a courier came to collect his work laptop, he left his flat in South London and ran for the hills. Since the start of the pandemic, he says had been stuck working from his kitchen counter in a one-bedroom apartment, where he is still working part-time in his new role. “I closed my laptop at 5pm, and at 5:05pm I was in the car driving out of London for four weeks,” he says. “The way I was feeling about my house was really negative.”

Both are among the thousands of remote workers of the Great Resignation, who have quit in recent months and found their last day of work to be less celebration and more a scarring and depressing experience. Workers who quit their jobs told WIRED that their years-long career stints at companies ended with their colleagues sending them emojis before they were blocked from internal messaging systems, or simply realised their time was up by their email and chat functions shutting down. Others described crying at their desks and hiding out in the privacy of their office sheds. All of them have one thing in common: they say that working remotely has ruined any chance of feeling closure about leaving their jobs. And with one in four people considering quitting their job in the wake of the pandemic, experts believe that there is a real risk that bad remote working exits will become mainstream.

When Sandra* was nearing the end of her last day working for a tech company in California, she hoped that her colleagues would surprise her with a going-away Zoom call. Instead, she says that just after 5pm, her computer screen simply went blank. Sandra says that the office clique dynamics that were there before the pandemic were “magnified a hundredfold by remote-only”. “It made it very evident when you weren’t one of the people with the social weight to have credibility. And those two things should not be linked in a tech company,” she argues. “The sad leaving didn’t give me closure but it gave me the anger I needed to put the nails in the coffin myself.”

Those bad social dynamics indicate a wider cultural issue at play within companies that adopted remote working but didn’t bother to adapt their exit process, says Anthony Klotz, associate professor of management at Mays Business School, Texas A&M University. In fact, companies are overlooking the offboarding process as an opportunity to improve their organisation's culture, he argues. “A number of things can happen when a coworker leaves unceremoniously. It’s traumatic for the remaining employees, they just had their friend and coworker ripped away from them.” Klotz says employees wondering what made a colleague decide to leave and whether this person knows something they don’t can lead to further staff turnover. And if a colleague leaves and no one says anything about their departure, other employees may think that the company doesn’t care about its workers at all.

If companies do not make an effort to mark the transition, or speak to the departing employees’ closest colleagues, they risk “all sorts of dysfunction”, he says. Those that are leaving are experiencing a solitary side-effect of remote working. That same stress and burnout from the period working from home during the pandemic, caused by the boundaries blurring between their professional and personal lives, is at play here too. “It also blurs the boundaries that happen with job transitions,” Klotz says. “Offboarding and onboarding are two separate processes that should be separated by a period in the middle where the employee digests and closes one chapter, and then gets psychologically prepared to open the next.”

Most PopularSecurityHackers Found a Way to Open Any of 3 Million Hotel Keycard Locks in Seconds

Andy Greenberg

Backchannel8 Google Employees Invented Modern AI. Here’s the Inside Story

Steven Levy

ScienceThe Keys to a Long Life Are Sleep and a Better Diet—and Money

Matt Reynolds

GearThe Omega x Swatch Snoopy MoonSwatch Has Landed

Jeremy White

It doesn’t help that many people have already been experiencing burnout and loneliness for some time while working at home. Matthew*, a Liverpool-based writer who quit his job in June, marked his last day at work from his home office alone with his two dogs. “My wife had a shift at the hospital that day. I remember feeling so depressed and numb, and just spending my lunch break curled up on the bed with my dogs, totally motionless.” He argues that the pandemic has forced people to replace meaningful human interactions with virtual ones, “and it’s just painfully obvious they can’t compare”. “There’s no hugs. No going to the bar for a round. No sharing gossip over a cigarette. It’s just not the same,” Matthew says. “But the feeling of sadness felt way more drawn-out than it otherwise would have been, and way more intense.”

Worse still, the widespread rise of remote working has put people in an unusual position: when they end their old jobs, they are starting their new ones sitting in the exact same spot at home.

Paul* had no leaving party. He says the strangest part of ending his three-year stint as a communications consultant in London was when he sent his old laptop back to his previous company, then received the exact same make and model of laptop in the post from his new employer a few days later. On his first day, he switched it on at home, “basically logging on to a new Zoom link,” he says. “That was my new job. Same chair, same desk. Quite odd.”

Being in the same working environment in his next job was a bit disorienting for the first few weeks, Paul says. “It felt like there was no ‘clean break’ from old job to new job, which I do think makes settling into a new place more difficult. I felt like I couldn’t completely switch off from my old job and my old clients because in my brain there wasn’t a proper ‘farewell moment’.”

Those that are moving into new jobs from this type of situation are at risk, argues Jo Owen, author of Smart Work. “One of the reasons you succeeded in your last job is because you had built up networks of trust and influence, which enabled you to make things happen through people,” he says. “Those informal networks in a firm are your lifeblood of success. So when you go to a new firm, suddenly, all those networks, trust and influence disappear. You’ve got to start building and you're not going to build them from behind a laptop.”

*Names have been shortened to protect identities

More great stories from WIRED🌡️ Sign-up to WIRED’s climate briefing: Get Chasing ZeroWe finally know the true toll of all those bad SlacksA strange Covid-19 origin theory is gaining tractionHow to lose that lockdown weight the right waySupercharge your chats with these WhatsApp tricksThe draconian rise of internet shutdownsA radical plan to treat Covid’s mental health falloutThe 100 hottest startups in Europe in 2021🔊 Subscribe to the WIRED Podcast. New episodes every Friday

This article was originally published by WIRED UK

Popular Articles