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Is two weeks’ notice enough?

Recently, I was part of a robust discussion on an employment-related Facebook group debating the appropriate length of notice to provide when resigning from a job. The original poster wanted to give three or four weeks of notice.

I’m pretty firmly in the “two weeks is plenty” camp here. In most cases. Let me explain.

For purposes of this discussion, we are talking about an employee in good standing, working for a private employer who is resigning from a job to take another job, or for other completely typical reasons. Perhaps they’re relocating, or going back to school, or leaving work for some well-considered personal reason. This employee is not bound by a contract – they are an employee at-will. They are not an independent contractor and they are not working through a third-party agency (such as a temp agency).

At-will employment means the employer can terminate your employment at any time for any reason that’s legal. (You can’t term for a discriminatory reason, or in retaliation.) At-will employment also gives employees the right to end their employment at any time for any reason.

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In other words, it is entirely legal to just quit one day and walk on out the door. However, it’s customary to provide some period of notice. 

This arrangement is governed by social contract, not law. In exchange for giving notice, your employer might agree to pay out your unused vacation time and provide a positive reference. And truly, *most* employers realize that it’s kind of crappy to just up and terminate an employee without some prior notice.

(Unless the employee’s job is being eliminated and the employer offers severance pay. A topic for another day.)

So, if you aren’t bound by law, why bother to give notice? Advance notice gives the employer time to plan for how to cover the work you did (whether by hiring or reallocating), and it gives you time to prepare your transition to your successor. And, you want a good reference, right? Plus, you’re a conscientious worker. You want to leave things in good shape for your successor.

Can you do that in two weeks? You sure can. That’s ten whole workdays, and it’s generally plenty of time.

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You might not have side-by-side time with your replacement, but you can tie up loose ends, notify vendors and clients, write down helpful information, organize your files, clean off your C drive, and toss all those ketchup packets and plastic cutlery that have been languishing in your desk drawer. (I see you.)

The twist in the Facebook discussion was whether one should give MORE than two weeks notice – three or even four weeks. This is where I suggest that it’s rarely necessary.

Check your employee handbook – there’s probably a policy in there that talks about giving notice. Most policies will request two weeks minimum, more for an executive or higher-level employee. Note that if the policy says that two weeks of notice is REQUIRED – it isn’t, by law, but your employer might have some policy to penalize those who don’t. You might not get your accrued vacation payout, for example. They cannot deny you final wages through your last day worked because that’s illegal.

How do I give notice?

Ideally, you’ll first speak with your immediate supervisor to give your verbal resignation. Please, have this first conversation in person if possible. Don’t email or text. Phone if you must. This conversation gives you a chance to negotiate your last day of work and start talking about transition plans.

You’ll follow up the conversation with a resignation letter. I’m of the belief that short and sweet is sufficient – no need to write an academy award-style list of thank-yous and odes. All that’s really needed is confirmation that you’re voluntarily leaving and your intended last day of employment. This post on The Balance Careers provides good guidance on how to manage a proper resignation.

Be sure you understand what the company’s policy terms are during the notice period. You may be asked to not take any paid time off during this time. You’ll have to return company property and materials, so if you have anything at home left from pandemic telework, bring it to the office.

What if my employer requests more than two weeks?

Your employer might ask you to stay longer than two weeks. In some cases, this might make sense. But not for most of us. While it’s nice to be flexible, just remember that this request is primarily to the employer’s benefit. You’ve probably lined up a new job that you’re excited about. It’s perfectly permissible to say that you’ll do your best to make sure there’s a solid transition plan in place by your last day, but that your departure date is set. They’ll be OK – I promise.

What if they walk me out on the day I give notice?

It’s also possible that your employer might decide that the day you give notice is the day you leave, even if you offer to stay on for two weeks. I’ve seen this happen in sales and IT, or when the employer deems that the departing employee might be a “poison pill” whose behavior during their notice period might have a negative impact the morale of those who remain. If you are aware that this is a thing that happens at your company, prepare ahead of time so you aren’t surprised. One hopes the employer would offer to pay the employee for the two week notice period, but with at-will employment, there’s no guarantee.

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Should you give more than two weeks of notice?

Look- you don’t have to be a hero. If you walked out today, they would figure out some way to keep going. I’ve been the incoming HR consultant after someone has been fired and walked out, and companies do find ways to maintain operations amid sudden disruption.

But you are used to going above and beyond, and you want to be rewarded and appreciated for doing so even during your final days with the company. Laudable! However, what’s likely to happen is that you’ll keep on doing your regular job for the first couple of weeks, and then you’ll spend a frantic final week preparing for the transition.

She says, with the Voice of Experience.

Oh, you say, but I want to be remembered there as someone who always did more than the minimum. That’s great! If you consistently did that in your job, that’s what they’ll remember about you. No need to delay your departure to lock in your legacy.

Next, you counter, but I want to be sure they give me a good reference. I assure you that nobody is trying to verify whether you gave more than two weeks notice. So put that out of your mind.

Bottom Line: Two weeks’ notice is expected, customary, and acceptable. Absent compelling reasons that suggest otherwise, you can feel comfortable that two weeks is plenty of notice.

There’s lots more to say on this topic, but I’ll leave it here for now. Do you have questions about resigning from your job? Contact me and let’s chat.

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All about COBRA (health insurance continuation when your job ends)

What happens to my benefits when I leave my job – questions to ask before you resign

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