When you exit your job, will it be with a clear conscience and with your integrity intact after organising a smooth handover, or will you just steal the stationery?
One thing Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Umist, really hates is people who use their leaving speech as a chance to settle old scores.
"I have heard so many people say really nasty things," he said. "It seems like it is being done in a humourous way, but everybody knows what is really meant and it makes you look like a much smaller person."
Behave like this when leaving your job and it will be everybody's lasting impression of you. Tempting though it may be to let things slip when you have a new job to go to, remember your professional reputation is at stake.
Like many industries, IT is close-knit and the same faces pop up time and time again. Unprofessional behaviour can cause problems later on. "One thing you should never do if you are staying in the industry is alienate people," said Cooper. "What goes around comes around."
It is not just your professional reputation that can be affected - your personal reputation can suffer as well. People hire and recommend people they like and you never know when you may need the help of a former colleague. You also do not know whose desk your CV may land on. Should it be the person from development you slagged off so memorably and publicly, your chances of an interview are less than slim.
While most employers do not expect outgoing employees to be as committed as those who are staying on, they still expect certain standards of behaviour. "I do not expect people to slog their guts out the way I do if they are leaving the company, but I do expect them to work reasonably hard," said David Tecke, IT manager at chartered accountants Lubbock Fine.
This means putting in decent hours and not going for lunch at midday and returning to the office at 3.30pm reeking of alcohol. Finish any outstanding work and ensure everything is in order for your successor. And when you are in the office, leave the stationery cupboard and IT equipment alone. "I remember a bloke who left and nicked the graphics card when he went," said Tecke. "It is a very expensive bit of kit."
Mike Young, human resources director of the UK, Ireland and the Nordic regions at communications network provider Avaya, said people usually want to leave on good terms. "My experience is that most people do not come into work and lord it over others," he said. "By and large, individuals do not like to go under a cloud or have their contribution criticised. Because you tend to move within the same industry and reputation is important, people do finish their tasks."
Should you have any issues with colleagues, managers or the organisation itself, Young recommends saving any comments for the exit interview. "We run them to find out the real reason people are leaving," he said. "But do not be confrontational."
If you are not leaving of your own accord, the temptation to misbehave is even greater. When companies decide to outsource their IT departments it can have serious repercussions on morale and professionalism.
Cooper said that in this scenario, IT people need to concentrate on their next career move, rather than getting even. "If you are going to be outsourced there is no point trying to fight it. Outsourcing is astronomical in IT now, so you have to think about what you are going to do with your skills and talents, rather than getting angry."
But sometimes people simply do not care what others think and see the last few days as a time for exacting revenge. "I have seen people settle old scores," said Andy Levicki, IT manager at Saab. "At one company I used to work for, I remember one person completing a lot of subscriptions for pornographic websites and giving the e-mail address of somebody he did not like.
"He had to go to the e-mail administrator and ask to change his e-mail address in the end. Another guy started leaving little time bombs on the computer network. He was the e-mail administrator and he set a program to run a month or so after he left. He programmed it so that the systems would reboot at a certain time and the program took effect when they rebooted. We could not get it going again for about a day. He had a big argument with someone before he left and that might be why he did it."
IT professionals are in a powerful situation. They have critical, company-wide tools in their hands with the potential to wreak havoc. "You can deliberately compromise a system and the change will not necessarily be noticed immediately," said Levicki. "Fortunately, it is not very common, but it does sometimes happen when people are really riled."
If you do cause serious damage to a company's ability to perform, and your previous employer can trace it to you, they could hold you liable.
Even if you do get off scot-free, people will not be impressed. Pranks like this are rarely funny for those left behind who deal with the aftermath and what you think was only a harmless jape could cause a huge amount of problems for former colleagues.
This is partly why some employers grant "gardening leave" to outgoing staff. Gardening leave is when you work your notice and continue drawing your salary, but do not have to go into work. Employers are most likely to grant gardening leave to IT professionals who are party to sensitive company information or are moving to a competitor. If this is your lucky lot, there is nothing to worry about - kick back, enjoy what is basically a paid holiday, and put any grievances about your former company behind you.
What not to do
- Settle old scores with colleagues
- Deliberately compromise the company's IT systems
- Badmouth the company or colleagues
- Tell your boss you think he/she is incompetent
- Steal office equipment
- Pull lots of sickies
- Take three-hour lunches down the pub when everyone else is slogging their guts out.
This was first published in June 2003