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The risks of two weeks' notice
Even the best employment relationships can sour.
I have left jobs at least half a dozen times in my life, probably more. Jobs ranged from a cafe where I worked as a waitress in high school to roles that were integral to a company.
As is customary in the United States, I gave two weeks’ notice each time. On two occasions, I offered to stay longer to help with the transition, out of loyalty to the company. I have never quit on the spot in a fit of anger (though I’m sure like many people, I’d definitely thought about it). But my loyalty to the company would always supersede any feelings I had in the moment, and I’d hang on.
My departures were measured and calculated; I genuinely wanted to leave things “tidy” on the way out. Wrap up my relationships with customers and colleagues and give the experience a sense of finality.
Yet, even with my intentions of leaving on good terms, I’ve twice been kicked in the teeth. Both times by bosses who were in some way insulted by my departure and determined to make things awkward on the way out.
You don’t know how an employer will react
You can have all the professionalism in the world and a relationship can immediately sour when you give two weeks’ notice. It’s worse when it’s unexpected: you had a good relationship with the company, but the minute you give notice you turn into Public Enemy #1.
Companies should recognize that very, very few employer-employee relationships are forever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in September 2022 that wage and salary workers had been with their employers for an average of 4.1 years. And good employees can leave, even if they enjoy their job, simply because they got a better offer for a better salary, better growth opportunities, etc. With the ever-increasing power of LinkedIn, people who are active or with large networks may even be sought out.
I was chatting with a friend recently about the employee’s risks when giving two weeks’ notice. My friend (who has spent most of her career in the public sector) said that she’d have a hard time not giving notice because it was her reputation at stake if she gave no notice.
I replied that professionalism goes both ways and many companies don’t think twice about immediately cutting off an employee that gives notice. They want to save money or think that the employee will cause problems in the past two weeks. Or are just angry that the employee opted to leave, especially if there was no obvious sign that the employee was unhappy.
Put yourself first
Many people probably don’t want to “burn the bridge” by giving less than two weeks’ notice. And my response to that would be “Then be prepared that your employer could cut you off and you have no income for two weeks.”
Having seen it happen to people I care about, even from companies that claim to be “people-first,” there’s absolutely zero chance that I would put professional courtesy ahead of my family’s financial interests (if I were still with an employer).
The company will always put itself first and that’s often the driver behind cutting off an employee who has given notice. Employees should do the same. (And, as a reminder, companies generally don’t give notice when laying people off.)
If you want to give the courtesy notice, you could try to protect yourself with a little white lie to your new employer. “Hey, I plan to give two weeks’ notice to my current employer, but the employer has a history of cutting off employees sooner rather than riding out the full two weeks. If that happens to me, would you be interested in moving up my start date?” Hopefully, your new employer would understand that some companies are assholes and agree to be flexible with your start date.
We need to reframe two weeks’ notice as a courtesy rather than customary. And some employers definitely don’t deserve such courtesy.
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