Quitting a job is the final act that severs the relationship between you and your employer. When things turn sour, it’s the act of defiance that tells an employer, “You don’t control me.”
When HuffPost asked for stories of the breaking points that drove readers to quit their jobs, many answered the call. A few themes emerged: People left jobs over toxic bosses, co-workers, and workplace environments, plus the mental and physical toll of this toxicity. They also left jobs they loved over low salaries and the discovery that a co-worker earned more than they did. A few even left over physical endangerment.
A thread of frustration ran through them all. Years after the events occurred, in many cases, these workers could recall their breaking point and the emotions associated with it in detail. Sound familiar?
“It felt like an out of body experience: Did I just say that?”
The following stories have been edited and condensed for clarity, and to remove information that could potentially identify the sources, including names.
1. ‘When the floor plan is open, my job is closed.’
I quit three jobs as soon as they announced they were switching to an open floor plan. Open floor plans are miserable for technical people and jobs that need to focus. I cannot focus and be productive with people talking and laughing and telling stories. Headphones don’t work. Then there is the sickness factor. All the people with kids cause me to get sick every year. I am convinced this misguided practice is only implemented by management that does not trust or care about their employees (or has control issues) … either way, not good. When the floor plan is open, my job is closed.
2. ‘I was tired of the tears, knots in my stomach and dread.’
It was a toxic environment in every sense of the word. I was dealing with chemical fumes in a poorly ventilated warehouse [and] the owner had an anger problem and didn’t trust his managers to do their jobs.
I was tired of the tears, knots in my stomach and dread going to work every morning. So, one day I prayed to my angels for guidance. The largest, most vibrant double rainbow I had ever seen formed across the sky. People were stopping in the street to take pictures. To me, rainbows always meant hope and new beginnings. I had my sign.
The next day I went into work. The owner was in full rage mode; my head was starting to pound and my stomach was tensing up. A strong thunderstorm started, with flashes of light and loud crashes of thunder, occasionally overriding the owner’s constant tirade. A particularly loud blast of thunder made me bolt straight out of my seat. I stood up and loudly stated, “I can’t take it anymore ― I quit!” It felt like an out of body experience: Did I just say that? I ran full-throttle through a long warehouse, through four doors, through the gate and to my car in the pouring rain. I was shaking as I turned on my car and peeled out of the parking lot. I never quit a job in my life ― and with such flair! But it was the best decision I’d ever made. I learned my value that day and choose to be in a work environment that emanates peace, calm and respect!
3. ‘Each week, they lied to me about relief coming.’
I did so well working for a restaurant chain that they sent me from my home store to help rebuild a store that was 130 miles [away]. The director of operations told me it was to be two to three weeks until a replacement manager was to come take over for me and I could return to my home store. But each week, they lied to me about relief coming. It was one excuse after another. I was asked just before leaving that store to go to another that was 45 minutes from my house. I expressed hesitation, but the ops directors told me it was optional and I could return to my home store at any time.
I told the ops director I wanted to return to my home store after two months, and was told I no longer had a place at my home store. I attempted to reach out to corporate to express my concerns; the person at corporate just forwarded my email to said ops director, and as a result I received an email warning me that going to corporate would “put a stigma on me” and would “affect my ability to grow with the company.”
One day I could not get staff to do what they needed to do to take care of our guests. It was that point where I felt I was not where I wanted to be. Working 12 hours a day. Commuting. Having an operation that didn’t work together to achieve a common goal. And the overall disinterest from corporate to live up to their commitment to my home store. I had to leave. I love my work but I feel like I was being used.
“My friend showed himself to be a completely different person in power.”
4. Their response on Sept. 11 made me quit.
On Sept. 11th, 2001, I had a work shift at a retail store from 3-11 p.m. I was ready to work, but being a retail store, they push credit applications. They actually told me that due to the lack of customers, I needed to get more credit card applications per customer. I couldn’t imagine how a company couldn’t understand that sales or credit on this day would take a hit and that it was OK. They pushed it anyway, within a few minutes of me being on register, my manager reiterated what the credit goals were.
When I said that this was an emotional and horrible day for us, her response was, “Well, the people that are still shopping don’t care about what happened.”
She walked away and I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote out my two-week notice. Five minutes later, I walked into her office and slammed it on her desk in tears. I had never seen such callousness in a business, but have come to learn it is there every day.
5. ‘I’m simply not compatible with abusive bosses or co-workers.’
I abruptly quit without giving notice. The first red flag was when the company required participation in really uncomfortable social activities during work hours. These included: boozing during lunch (I don’t drink, and they wanted to know if I was an alcoholic), games of “Cards Against Humanity” (I have C-PTSD from severe childhood trauma so this is pretty much the worst game I could possibly play), and dressing up for Halloween where a co-worker brought a gun as part of his costume (I never asked if it was fake, but it did look heavy and I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it was real).
The second red flag was the treatment of an older male co-worker. The boss had a relative at the company who would Photoshop this co-worker in mildly homoerotic images and share them companywide. The victim seemed to find it funny, but it’s very possible he was just trying to make the best of an ugly situation. Then, one day, the boss had this male co-worker in the conference room and I just heard this insane screaming laced with profanities, directed at my co-worker. Everyone could hear it. I knew there was nothing my co-worker could have possibly done to warrant such abuse. It was sickening.
The final red flag came when I was offered a promotion to a manager position. Part of me fantasized about staying on and slowly changing this toxic work environment from within. I really liked some of my co-workers. I also liked the work a lot, and I was good at it. But I happened to see the salaries of the people (all men) who would be working under me. The offer worked out to about $5 lower per hour than the lowest-paid male worker who would be under my supervision. When I brought this up with the boss, he said he wasn’t sure it was possible to give me more money. It was Friday. I went home and thought about it. On Monday, I didn’t go in to work. I just sent in an email saying I quit.
I learned an important lesson: I’m simply not compatible with abusive bosses or co-workers. Some people are able to bite their tongues, bury their heads in the sand, and get on with it. To me, that’s a privilege I can’t afford. There’s too much at stake for me with regards to my mental health.
6. They asked me to work without proper safety precautions.
The foreman asked me to change a motor starter on a plating tank agitator. The tank had several agitators, all wired into the same electrical disconnect. Electrical code requires a separate disconnect for each motor. I was about to turn off the disconnect when the foreman told me I would have to work it “hot” because they would lose the entire batch in the tank if the agitators were turned off.
So, I asked him for a pair of voltage rated rubber gloves, and he told me they didn’t have any. The motor starters were adjacent to the tank, and there were puddles of water on the floor. I made up my mind on the spot to quit, but I wanted to show him I was just as crazy as he was, so I changed the starter “hot” without turning off the power. Then I picked up my tools, told him I quit, and walked out.
Looking back with 40 years’ experience, I realize how crazy and stupid I was back then. Today, I would have stood my ground, and refused to do something as dangerous as work on a live 480-volt circuit.
7. ‘I still can’t believe how much he changed after he moved from co-worker to boss.’
I quit my job as a public defender back in 2012. My boss sat across from me at his desk. He leaned back in his chair and laughed at me as he tucked his hands behind his head and stuck his elbows out to the sides. “The reason I don’t have to consider your promotion is because I’ve got you. You love your clients too much to quit this job. You’re a true believer and you only want to be a public defender. So I’ve got you.” He used those really shitty air quotes and rolled his eyes when he said “true believer,” and that enraged me.
I sat there with a weird smile on my face, but in my head I screamed “I QUIT. RIGHT. NOW.” Then I went right back to my office and started to plan out how to open my own criminal defense firm.
Before he was my boss, he was my co-worker for a couple years. I had always been vocal about my love of the job, but hadn’t pushed hard for my old boss to move me up the pay scale. Once my new boss took over, I was so excited to have a friend at the top who could get my promotion finished. Within a month of him taking over, my friend showed himself to be a completely different person in power. Co-workers were quitting without notice and office morale was abysmal. I will never regret quitting, but his toxic management pushed me to quit the only job I’ve ever truly loved. He’s since been fired for a ton of other terrible tyrannical behavior, but I still can’t believe how much he changed after he moved from co-worker to boss.
8. ‘I spent more time covering my ass and documenting everything than actually doing real work.’
My boss was a bully asswipe jerk and I was his designated chew toy! I actually was one of the people that interviewed and hired the guy as a co-worker. Years later he was promoted to supervisor. I had been with the [department] for 16 years when I finally gave up. I had four file boxes full of documentation of various incidents of harassment and inappropriate behavior. I had an attorney ready to take my case. After filing several grievances to try and stop the bullying/harassment without any change taking place I knew for my health and for my family and for my quality of life it was time to bail. Once I saved up what I hoped was enough money to get me to retirement I resigned my position. I just could not deal with the daily harassment anymore.
“His response was, ‘What gun?’”
The boss was eventually reassigned or “took” another job where he did not supervise anyone; it was assumed all my grievances forced management to move him to the new job, but who knows! The new boss was a great guy, but the higher-ups had not supported me through all the attacks and I did not trust them anymore or want to work for them anymore. It got to the point where I spent more time covering my ass and documenting everything than actually doing real work.
9. ‘The moment my manager said, “What gun?” I knew I was quitting.’
The most unique breaking point in quitting a job was a manager putting my life in danger. I was a bartender and cook at a nice bar. One evening after closing my manager was pulling the till, his back to the bar. Tucked into the small of his back was a revolver. I asked him what kind of gun he was packing and why.
His response was, “What gun?” I responded, “The gun tucked into your pants.” His return response: “What gun?” My response: “I quit.” Manager: “Why?” Me: “Because if there is a gun on the premises, every employee here should know where it is at all times, and be comfortable with that. Preferably, it should be locked in a safe. [You] brandishing a weapon that you deny even exists puts everyone in here in danger. A simple robbery could [happen] very easily, and because of your cavalier attitude, most probably would become a fatal shootout. If you think otherwise, you’re an idiot. I’m not going to get killed over someone else’s chump change. Send me my last check, I’m out of here.”
I’ve never been more crystal clear about quitting a job in my life, or come to the decision so quickly. The moment my manager said, “What gun?” I knew I was quitting. I have no fear of guns, I’ve owned them since I was 17. I respect them and their lethal capabilities. I am afraid of macho dimwits with power issues ― i.e. that manager ― carrying them. I had no idea if he had training, or if it was even legal. It didn’t matter, his lack of respect for the weapon and his employees was the last straw.
10. ′Never mind tenure, I thought, I want joy.′
I had been an academic for 25 years, and in late 2018, I realized that my deep love for my discipline was being more than outstripped by a very difficult department chair and an equally difficult (though very different) dean. The chair was narcissistic, unhappy, and mean. She didn’t want to be chair [and] manifested her dislike of the position by complaining constantly about every faculty member in the department. We were all, suddenly, bad people. Submitting a grant proposal? You were causing her work and trouble. Want to apply for a new hire to improve the teaching in your specific subfield? You were creating difficult negotiations for her, taking away from her home life, and creating trouble when there was none with your stupid “vision.” God forbid that you might host an international conference featuring some of the best people in your field of study ― and that’s what I did.
I realized things were not going to get better: My chair would be chair for another three years, which would stall my research and stifle my teaching; my dean would be dean for what seemed like perpetuity, which would mostly just make me seethe; [there was a death in my family], and I just resolutely and certainly knew that I wanted my life to be joyful and engaging, rather than oppressive and a constant struggle. Never mind tenure, I thought, I want joy.
“Am I bothered because the new employee may have asked for more, or that I am willing to accept so little?”
11. A new couch was worth more to them than the value I was bringing.
It was the second time that I asked for a small raise, and they said there was nothing they could do for me ― despite the fact we had new expensive furniture from Crate & Barrel ordered to the office every couple of days.
It was crushing to hear because I had waited half a year to ask again, and during that time, I started doing three times the work and took on tasks like coding, design and event logistics on top of my marketing job. People would always praise me on what a valuable asset I was, but it just didn’t add up by the way they compensated me. I knew I had to go when it felt like a new couch was worth more than the value I was bringing to the company.
For so long, I questioned my self-worth and it drove me to the point that I felt incompetent, especially when everyone else was making six figures and I was barely making half that. At first, I thought it was because of my lack of skills. But when I upskilled and got really good at my job, I realized that maybe the fault wasn’t mine. I knew that I had to cut all the ties and go somewhere that would reflect my own worth.
12. I saw what they were paying a colleague.
I’m learning how to enter a new employee into the payroll system, which also requires entering the hourly rate. I sit down beside the accounting manager so I can see her computer screen. Before we begin, she says, “I just want to warn you. When you set up a new employee, you may see financial information that bothers you.” I don’t think anything of it. Then, I look back at the computer screen and see the huge disparity between what the new employee makes and what I make!
I suddenly feel as if all oxygen is leaving my body. I take a deep breath, secretly gather my composure and mentally calculate a $27 difference in our hourly wage. For the remainder of my shift, I am mentally worthless. I simply cannot concentrate on work, nor do I want to! Who would have authorized this? How is this fair? I come in early, stay late, work on many weekends and do my absolute best to honor my work so I can sleep well at night. I work from a place of integrity and service, and the accounting manager notices and appreciates it. It’s not all about money, but then again, it is about the money. Am I bothered because the new employee may have asked for more, or that I am willing to accept so little? The [organization] is not responsible for taking care of me. But how does it decide for whom it will be a financial advocate? I am perplexed as to how the value of what each employee contributes is determined. I can’t help wonder why I accept so little for myself, why I try to keep myself small by not going for what I really want.
I found myself feeling like the biggest hypocrite when I would gloriously tell my children things like, “You can do anything you want to do. Just get a good education, work hard and everything will be fine. All you have to do is believe in yourself.” I wasn’t even taking my own advice!
One week later I submit my letter of resignation to the accounting department.