Burning bridges can go both ways, but generally it’s the employee who is cautioned to bite his or her tongue when they want to tell the boss exactly what they think on their way out the door.
But a recently resurfaced letter written in 1865 by a former slave to his old master basically telling him “thanks but no thanks” to his offer to come back and work for him has been all over the Internet lately and gives solace to those who would also love to slam the door in that situation.
Jourdan Anderson, the slave of Colonel P.H. Anderson in Big Spring, Tenn., was living in Dayton, Ohio, as a freed man when the colonel floated the idea of taking him back to continue working on his farm. Jourdan Anderson’s response is priceless as he plays the “living-well-is-the-best-revenge” card and tells him that, “I am doing tolerably well here.” He’s earning $25 a month “with victuals and clothing” and his wife, Mandy, also a former slave, is referred to by folks as Mrs. Anderson. Their children are excelling in school, he wrote, and asks if there have been “any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood.”
Bringing up the subject of a salary, he said he would like a little good faith action on the old master’s part and wanted “to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you.” Basing that amount on what he and his wife were now making Jourdan Anderson also wanted “interest for the time our wages have been kept back.”
The letter seems well thought out and somehow I picture the colonel not getting all the hidden meanings — certainly it’s not as straight forward as “take this job offer and shove it.” I get the feeling the ex-slave was having a good laugh as he wrote, especially with the last line. “Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.”
Come back and work for you again? Are you kidding me?
The past several years of a bad economy and a push to shrink government clearly has given management the upper hand. I’m sure most bosses lose sleep over having to sever ties with their employees, but have they been keeping the matches in their pockets and away from that bridge for the day when they may need these people? Would you return to a place that escorted you from the H.R. office to the parking lot without first giving you a chance to grab the photo of your kids from your desk? Or how about a place that didn’t value longevity and loyalty, not when they can hire two people for your salary?
A friend needing a job who recently was contemplating an offer from her old company quickly remembered how she had been marginalized and taken for granted there even as she accepted more and more assignments without additional money. It reminded her of a bad boyfriend coming back around and promising to treat her better. She turned down the offer, although maybe not as cleverly as Jourdan Anderson.
—Nancy Luse writes from Frederick, Md.