Steven Slater was having a bad day. The JetBlue flight attendant had just been struck by a piece of falling luggage and was then cursed out by a passenger. Right then, he decided to seek other employment, and announced his decision, with a string of his personal complaints, over the plane’s intercom. He then activated the emergency evacuation chute and slid to the ground – a beverage cart beer in hand – before jogging to his car in a nearby lot and leaving the airport and his career.
Slater’s resignation at New York’s Kennedy Airport in 2010 ranks as one of the wildest, wackiest of all time. Spectacular, too, and inappropriate – especially considering that he was later arrested for, among other charges, recklessly dropping the evacuation chute without checking that no one was underneath. No one was, and the caper produced no injuries except to Slater’s job prospects.
That’s not always the case. Russ Hovendick, founder of national executive recruitment agency Client Staffing Solutions in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, describes the experience of a client who had an employee leave work one day never to return – while in possession of keys to every lock on a sizable property. “They had to go around and change all the keys to the whole facility,” Hovendick said.
New employees seem particularly susceptible to oddball departures. Dallas public relations company president Amy Power still stews about a woman she hired after a lengthy interview process in 2013 and, as is the policy at Power Public Relations, treated to an office-wide lunch and gift on her first day.
After lunch, another employee reported to Power that all went well and the new hire had returned to the office to retrieve a laptop. The next call was from the new worker announcing her resignation. “I couldn’t believe my ears,” Power says. She had to believe her eyes, though, and that was the last time they saw that recruit, or the time, attention and energy invested in her recruitment.
Sudden departures also happen with longer-term employees. New York marketing firm owner Richard Laermer says he’d had an assistant at RLM PR in New York City for more than a year and assumed she was accustomed to his quirk of tossing onto an office couch objects he wanted to take home. One day, however, Laermer launched a book that apparently passed through her personal no-fly zone. “The lady thought I threw it at her!” he recalls. “I was shocked. She began to cry and ran out the door. I never heard from her again.”
As Laermer’s experience suggests, a resignation’s reason may be as weird as the method. A 2012 survey of businesses by Menlo Park, California, temporary staffing service OfficeTeam identified a plethora of puzzling explanations for resignations, ranging from unappealing décor – “A person quit because he hated the carpet.” – to what might be called a conflict with a personal bucket list – “A staff member quit to climb Mount Everest.”
No matter how crazy a resignation or its reason, business owners should try to manage exits properly, says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. “It’s important for supervisors to work with departing employees to tie up any loose ends,” he says. “An exit interview should be conducted to gain more insight into why an individual is quitting and to identify areas in which the organization can improve.”
While that’s no doubt good advice, implementing it may prove impossible, unless a business is prepared to conduct an exit interview at, say, the bottom of an aircraft evacuation slide. But there is at least almost always opportunity to find a bright side. As Power says of her short-tenured hire, “I think we dodged a bullet on that one. That’s somebody else’s problem now.”