Alex Ferguson’s leaving speech on Sunday is widely reckoned to have hit the right note, but it did include one glaring falsehood. It wasn’t any of the individuals he thanked or the stern advice he gave the players, it was when he began by saying he had “absolutely no script” in mind. Yeah, right, Sir Alex, pull the other one. Everyone knows that every employee in every new job, starts internally drafting their leaving speech around six months in, when they first get looked over for a promotion, or when their special yoghurt gets lifted from the office fridge one time too many – whichever happens first.
This fantasy leaving speech is a blend of charming self-deprecation (“Single-handedly responsible for the upturn in quarterly profits? Who, me?”), digs at despised colleagues, and lines lifted from Braveheart. It is hewn from unappreciated talent, honed over years of frustrated ambition and tweaked to encompass each new grievance as it occurs. It’s a shame these masterworks are so rarely aired in full.
That’s why those people who do deliver unexpurgated versions quickly become folk heroes. You’ll remember JetBlue airline attendant Steven Slater. He’s the one who tendered a sweary resignation to passengers over the plane’s Tannoy, before grabbing two beers, activating the emergency inflatable slide and gliding away to freedom. Last week, radio DJ Paula White did similar, though apparently she drank her congratulatory beer before the speech instead of after. Listeners to her final show on BBC Radio Stoke – which White had presented for six years – reported that she was slurring her words. “Some people will say, ‘Oh, thank goodness she’s gone’,” she said at one point. “Other people will go, ‘How will I get the dog to sleep?’ because I know that people play this show out for their dogs.”
It’s not just that most people are too cowardly to do a Paula, it’s that they’re too sensible. They value things like paying the rent and feeding their children too much. Sadly, it’s impossible to script real life so that your boss has all the dud lines, while your own are greeted by a spontaneous standing ovation. Not only that, but even if you do pull it off, the price of that fleeting glimpse of freedom is usually your future employment prospects.
The disheartening epilogue to Steven Slater’s tale for instance, was lifted not from a Hollywood movie, but from a particularly dull health & safety manual. He was eventually charged with criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing. For this reason, I urge the independently wealthy to add flouncing dramatically from job to job to their charitable pastimes. The spectacle would offer an invaluable morale boost for those who can’t afford to do the same.
Anyone who still has a job in 2013 is lucky – and luckier still if they’re allowed to forget this good fortune for even a fleeting second. The resulting economic pressure on workers will mean fewer resignations overall, but it may also mean that those who do voluntarily leave work will have been truly pushed to their limit. So perhaps the sight of a colleague moonwalking backwards towards the office exit while flipping a double “V” is due to become more common, after all. Nobody said burning your bridges was wise, but oh, it gives a lovely light!