The disgruntled former employee and “The Oz Complex” of online bullying.
One thing in everyone’s employment is certain: It will end. Everyone will leave their jobs eventually. They move. They find a better opportunity. They choose a different career. They retire. In the worst case scenario they get fired. They may be employed 3 months or 20 years, but eventually the employment WILL end.
HOW you end with a company matters. It defines your reputation in the small community of the field you choose and yes, your reputation matters. Yet, in the digital age of online reviews and anonymous platforms, people get the “Oz Complex” — they try and use their anonymous power to engage in online bullying, with no regard for how this reflects on their personal reputation.
Why do people engage in the “Oz complex” when they are leaving a job?
- They have to justify the end to themselves. It takes a high level of professional maturity to simply say “I respect what you do, though this job isn’t the right fit for me”. It’s fine to say that without judgment and slander and bringing down morale. It is a combination of guilt, embarrassment and insecurity that leads people to have to explain to others why they didn’t stay with a company that they spoke so highly of in the beginning of their employment.
- Villainizing is fun. It’s fun to talk about how much the boss sucks and how incompetent they are. It is fun to recount all of the mistakes and tough moments and try to distort the memory of the bigger context. It is fun to try to cut the person down that you felt had power over you. It is fun to find others that build consensus around your story as it validates your feelings that “I am right…It’s them, not me”. When “fun” is paired with low impulse control, people say things they would never say face to face — they become an online bully.
- The Hero Complex. When people get mad, they justify poor choices under the guise of “helping to warn others” as they think that everyone is just like them. They then go on to list the 30 reasons they hated their job without realizing that those may be the exact same reasons why others LOVE their job. We have had multiple people state in interviews “I read a review where someone said you guys are intense. I’m looking for a passionate group of people which is why I want to work for you.”
- It is easy to forget the good. Remember that awesome experience you gained? The happy hours you attended together? The baby showers you hosted for each other? The bonus checks and the pay increases? The pats on the back and the promotions and the opportunities you had? It wasn’t all bad, you are just choosing to focus on the negative.
- It’s hard to say “I’m wrong”. You know the interview question “Why did you leave your previous position?” Well, I’ve never heard an employee recount their professional experience and previous terminations with “I messed up and here is what I would have done better”. Never. The story always centers around how the employer didn’t understand them and how they were unfairly treated. It’s hard to say you messed up.
- Being the Oz feels powerful. It feels powerful to be an anonymous person behind the curtain, saying whatever you want with no accountability to publicly stand behind what they say. You can lie and distort reality when you think it can’t be traced back. Oz is just a scared and insecure man behind a big online curtain of smoke and mirrors. Everyone else knows it too.
Why should you think twice before choosing to engage in the Oz Complex? Remember this:
- You aren’t anonymous. Everyone in the company knows who wrote that review and that reputation will follow you. All of your former coworkers are now mad at you as they know what you said isn’t true. They are happy in their jobs and they know that you just distorted reality. You now have an army of people in your field that will not speak highly of your professional integrity. Your online bullying doesn’t hurt the employer. It only hurts you.
- Employers talk too. Disgruntled employees tend to band together and reinforce to each other all the reasons that the company is “unreasonable”. Remember that employers talk too. Business owners serve on boards together and get drinks together and go to conferences together where we spend hours and days together. We are all engaged in networking groups and work with the Chamber of Commerce. We are friends and we talk. We look out for each other. When we hear a problem employee is trying to get a job at one of our friend’s businesses, you better believe we warn each other.
- You made a choice — take some accountability. You chose to work for a company that was growing 300% every year and then you complain you “worked too hard”. You chose to work for a company that provides 24/7 services and then you complain that you get phone calls on the weekend. It’s like signing up to run a marathon and then complaining on mile 22 that you are running too much. If you don’t want to put the work in to run a marathon, then don’t sign up.
- The employer isn’t out to get you. I promise. They are just trying to turn a profit. I know that for me personally, every decision I make is what I think is in the best interest of the company. It isn’t in an attempt to make employees mad or hurt someone’s feelings or get someone to quit. I am in the position of making the decisions to stay in business and keep people employed. You will understand someday when you are the boss.
- Employers have the right to determine the kind of business they want to run and how they want to run it. You don’t have to agree with how they choose to run their business. If you don’t agree, you can and should simply leave. You don’t have to be dramatic and mean and spiteful. That is a choice you don’t have to make. Be better than that because ultimately it reflects on you, not them.
- The employer knows you will leave eventually. They have accepted this reality and prepared for it. You don’t need to have a firework show on your way out. It is ok to say “I’m moving on” and for the employer to say “Good for you, let me write you a reference”.
- You already look bad — Now you are making it worse. Everyone knows that people who engage in anonymous online bullying are the bottom 10% of the employees. They are the people who were on the verge of being fired before they quit or they were straight terminated and now they are mad. The unemployed are the only people with time to do something like that. Happy employees are busy working.
- Employers do their own research. I encourage all employers to call out the employee by name that is doing the online bullying. Employers do their own online investigation/review of you before they hire you and if they see you have a pattern of badmouthing previous employers, you won’t be hired. Instead, you should tell the company your feedback directly and professionally. I bet you would say it differently if you were face-to-face — and I bet you will be more respected because of it.
- It is a small world. You WILL circle back around to people in your professional career. You will serve on boards and committees with them. You will see each other at conferences. You will share social groups. You may end up working side by side in a new company. This happens more frequently than you realize, so you may want to think twice when you think I’ll never see them again. You will, so it may be in your best interest to choose not to be Oz. It makes for awkward and embarrassing moments. Choose to take the curtain down and stand behind what you say. You will go farther in your professional career because of it.
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