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Article 7 min read

When giving two weeks’ notice is complicated

By Sara Lighthall

Last updated March 21, 2022

Last fall, I starred in my own real-life rendition of Horrible Bosses. My horrible boss specialized in phone calls and texts around the clock, closely monitoring my personal life, routinely telling me I was incompetent—you get the picture. She would bully me and then follow-up with a shiny cash bonus. It was a vicious cycle and I needed out.

My parents taught me that giving two weeks’ notice is the standard when leaving a job, and I had all intentions of riding out the pain for ten days in order to leave amicably. While my job was a nightmare, I felt compelled to leave it in an honorable manner.

My plan came together beautifully—I would put in my notice the Friday before a long weekend, so both sides would have time to cool off before I returned to work on Tuesday. Turns out, my plan wasn’t as flawless as I thought. Wednesday rolled around, and so did a stream of character insults from my boss.

I cried. I quit. I had no regrets.

Why are millennials quitting on the spot?

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, I’m not alone in my choice to quit in the heat of the moment. Now, more than ever, my Millennial peers are quitting without giving notice.

If giving two weeks’ notice is standard, why are so many people forgoing this courtesy?

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The answer may derive from who we are as a generation. When one thinks about the Millennial generation, the words that immediately come to mind are “lazy,” “selfish,” and “entitled”—the “Me Me Me Generation.” It could be that we are focused on climbing the corporate ladder, and do not realize the others we are negatively impacting along the way. However, I know many hard-working Millennials who care about their professional reputation as well as their peers, and would never give less than two weeks’ notice.

Maybe it’s that we just can’t sit still—in their Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace report, PwC found that the majority of employed Millennials are either actively looking for a new job or would be open to an offer if the opportunity should present itself. As a result, Millennials are jumping ship, changing jobs upwards of four times every five years.

If somebody wants to move on to a new career, to continue to challenge themselves professionally, they should absolutely do just that. However, any career change should pay due respect to the current position and to the job investment already made.

Any career change should pay due respect to the current position and to the job investment already made

Why we shouldn’t make a habit of pulling the plug

Most obviously, walking in one morning and saying, “by the way, this is my last day,” will not yield you a positive reference from your current manager. In addition to burning bridges with your higher-ups, your abrupt exit may also create bad blood between you and your coworkers (think about your work wife). You may think of your professional sphere as expansive, but reputations are hard to make and easy to destroy, so knowing how your actions are perceived by others will help keep your professional network strong.

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And then there’s money. If you’re leaving your old job for a pay increase, money is obviously a factor in your decision-making. That being said, don’t get yourself in legal trouble or leave all of your assets on the table by hastily exiting before two weeks’ time. You could forfeit unused vacation time, unvested equity, signing bonuses, and other earned benefits. By providing advanced notification, you allow yourself time to have all of your bases covered; you have time to ensure that you have: another job lined up, the funds to cover your rent, and insurance coverage should you break your arm skiing, or something like that.

Alright, maybe it’s okay. But only very rarely.

Now if I’m saying that you shouldn’t quit without notice, why did I do it? If you’re in an extreme situation like I was, by all means, get out. Your health, safety, and vitality come first, but there are only a few situations in which these are threatened.

1. Your employer is compromising your mental and/or physical health.
If you are in a situation like I was, and your boss is being psychologically abusive and your misery is permeating all other aspects of your life, it’s time to make an immediate change. There is a difference, though, between being in a hostile or abusive work environment and being in a work environment that you just don’t love. Most times, a simple conversation with your manager can drastically improve your work experience. So, before you make a major decision in the heat of the moment, ask yourself whether or not your health is being compromised.

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2. Your relationships are deteriorating.
Personal relationships are a necessary escape from work. When I was working for my horrible boss, early mornings, late nights, and constant phone calls took away from the time I enjoyed spending with friends. On the rare occasion that we were able to connect face-to-face, my complaints consumed the conversation. Eventually, my friends didn’t want to hear my vocational woes anymore, and I don’t blame them. If your stress from the office is permeating sacred time with those you care about, a change may be in order.

3. You are being pressured into participating in illegal activity.
This should go without saying, but if your employer is using their power to pressure you into doing something against the law, never comply. Once again, talk to your manager—they might not realize the absurdity of their requests, and a quick conversation may be the “ah-ha” moment they need. If the illegal activity continues, leaving the organization and reporting the activity is probably your best option. No need to worry about burning bridges or getting a poor recommendation—your prior employer will soon be too preoccupied in prison to think about your hasty exit.

4. Your employer is going to fire you if you give notice.
The good ole’ “I quit,” followed by a “No, you’re fired.” This is a gray area. As an “at-will” employee you can be fired at any time, for any reason (except for discrimination against one of the protected classes), and with that comes the freedom to quit at any time (which does not mean you should). If you know that your employer is one of the few to fire employees the moment they quit, perhaps consider lining something else up that has a flexible (earlier) start date. Write a dated letter or email and deliver it to your HR department right as you deliver the news to your boss. This way, it can be formally documented that you left on your terms instead of being fired.

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The feel-good exit for everyone

When it comes down to it, giving notice is a courtesy, but the courtesy can go both ways. While it may seem like giving two weeks’ notice mostly benefits management, staying on your team an extra fourteen days has a multitude of hidden perks for you as well. By sticking around a little while, you give yourself time to tie-up loose ends, finish projects, and say your goodbyes. Your intention to leave in an honorable manner will not be lost on your next employer, who may appreciate a similar courtesy from their employees. Good feelings multiply.

Moreover, producing outstanding work your last few days on the job will leave lasting impressions, on both your manager and your peers. This can mean a job offer down the line from the team member who ends up being the CEO at your dream company.

This [leaving on good terms] can mean a job offer down the line from the team member who ends up being the CEO at your dream company.

It’s a judgment call

At the end of the day, whether or not you give two weeks’ notice is a judgment call. Think about your professional reputation along with your short-term and long-term goals, and also consider your interpersonal relationships and the connections that have gotten you where you are today. Bridges, like reputations, take time to build but can get burned pretty damn fast. Light your fires carefully.

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