Giving more than two weeks notice when quitting a job?
August 13, 2011 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Should I give my supervisor several months notice like he asked?

My supervisor has asked me to let him know if I start to look for a new job. Well, I am looking for a new job, but I don't want to tell him. He asked me nicely to give him several months notice if I plan to leave, but there is no guarantee that even though I am looking for a job, that I will get a job.

I like and respect my supervisor, but my workplace has become toxic over the past year. He is relatively new and I have been there for many years. I have a lot of institutional knowledge that no one else has and that my supervisor has not had time to learn.

Both of our jobs are extremely busy and there is very little time for me to teach him how to do my job. My workplace has the habit of taking months to replace someone who leaves. If I leave, he will be stuck with an enormous amount of work that no one person could handle.

He has been good to me and shielded me from a lot of the insanity of upper management. I want to do right by him.

On the other hand, I need to look out for myself. My instincts and friends in HR tell me not to let him know I am looking for a new job. My supervisor specifically told me that he would be very upset if I only gave two weeks notice.

I have an interview this coming week, for a position that the company wants filled immediately. In this economy, I'm not confident I will land this job or any other jobs in the near future.

If I tell my supervisor I am looking for a new job, it will result in him giving me fewer projects. I need the experience of new projects though to boost my resume.

In short, what would you do? I feel like my supervisor is asking too much and I need to look out for myself. When I put myself in his shoes, I would be extremely unhappy if I left without giving notice. I feel like I'm stuck.
posted by parakeetdog to Work & Money (37 answers total)
Is this supervisor ever going to be a reference? Don't burn any bridge!
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:44 AM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is the company policy and/or what does your contract say?
posted by tomswift at 11:44 AM on August 13, 2011

How much notice have they given people who've been laid off? That's exactly how much notice you owe them.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:46 AM on August 13, 2011 [25 favorites]

He's asking you to take a big risk for almost no return. Unless he has already guaranteed in writing that you get to keep your job until you find and accept another, I would not be inclined to take that risk no matter how nice a guy he is.

In other words, I would not be inclined to take that risk.
posted by jon1270 at 11:50 AM on August 13, 2011 [38 favorites]

This is all ridiculous. The simple logistics of what goes on in a change of jobs make that idea of "giving notice" as "looking for a job" impossible. That you are "looking for a job" is not something you would ever, EVER inform a current workplace (except in very rare conditions, as a tactic). When you have had a firm, on-paper job offer, that is when you can inform your superior. And if you want to be extra nice, tell your new employer that it'll take a month to extricate yourself from your current place of employment. Unless that screws up the deal, in which case, not your problem.

You currently have nothing to "give notice" about, with no planned date of departure.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 11:50 AM on August 13, 2011 [12 favorites]

Two weeks notice is pretty standard unless you have a seriously large project that needs to be handed off. However, you looking for other work on your own time is none of his business. Don't discuss it with him. He can't reasonably expect anyone to tell their boss that they are looking for work elsewhere without risking their own job. It's absolutely silly on his part to have that expectation.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:50 AM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

It isn't appropriate for your boss to ask you to give more than the legally required notice.

Do the interview. If it goes well and you're offered the job, tell your boss and say "how much time, at the maximum, do you need me to stay around?" If he says that he needs you more than 2 weeks, contact new job and say "old job needs me in the transition period for 4 weeks. Can you guys wait until September 23rd for my first day?"

It is easier to push the new company for your start date than it is to figure out a flexible leave date.
posted by k8t at 11:51 AM on August 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

Your supervisor is going to have to join the real world. You should ALWAYS be looking for a better job, which is accepted business practice and your supervisor needs to accept this. No discussions are necessary. Since you've already had this conversation and he's stated his position very clearly, I would just disregard his request as being unreasonable. If and when you do land a better job, and he gives you those sad puppy eyes as if you've betrayed him, you can always tell him that you weren't actually looking, but the new employer contacted you through a reference or something.
posted by raisingsand at 11:52 AM on August 13, 2011 [7 favorites]

You supervisor is asking too much. I'm a big fan of leaving "well" and not burning bridges, but I also don't give notice until I have a signed offer in hand. What I would do in your situation is sit down with him and say "Look, the fact that my institutional knowledge is unique and undocumented is a business liability. I really think we need to make getting it documented/shared a priority - what do you think about me spending X hours a week putting together some training materials?"

I've done this in the past even before I've started actually looking, and it's really worth it for the business and my own personal sanity. Even if you can knock together a series of emails - for me they've looked like this:

- Here are the list of emergency contacts in other departments and a brief explanation of what kind of emergency they handle

- Here's a list of my daily/weekly/monthly/yearly responsibilities. (Everyone in a corporate environment should make this anyway - it makes review time much less painful)

- Here's a map of where resources I use live on the internet/intranet/office bookshelf/etc

If you can get into how-to docs for stuff that's even better, but it's well worth it to take a few hours spread out over a few weeks to at least put together the above (modified as necessary for your actual job.) It will ease some of the pain when you leave (or get hit by a bus, or get summoned to your heretofore-unknown hereditary throne, or whatever) and make both you and your boss feel a little more secure.

But yeah, there is no earthly reason to tell him you're "looking." You should always be looking anyway, in this economy.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:53 AM on August 13, 2011 [10 favorites]

As soon as you tell him you are looking for a job, he will be looking for your replacement. In this job market, which do you think will happen faster -- you finding a job, or him finding a worker? I would disregard his request.
posted by Houstonian at 11:58 AM on August 13, 2011 [8 favorites]

I have learned not to acquiesce to the requests of "nice" coworkers who are "protecting" me that I disregard standard procedure.

Your HR procedures should stipulate the amount of notice required. When you get an offer in hand, give that much notice or, if strictly necessary (i.e. you have an exploding offer for a post that must be filled right away) try to negotiate - with HR - for a shorter notice period.
posted by tel3path at 12:06 PM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Only give your 2 weeks notice after you have already secured anther position. Unless your company/supervisor is willing to reciprocate in writing that they will be obliged to give you several months notice of your firing as well (pretty unlikely) do not give such long notice. As others have stated, the most likely scenario is that your replacement will be found before you have found another job and then you will be let go - without a job and without being eligible for unemployment which mean you will be screwed. The fact that your supervisor even asked for such a thing means that he does not have your interests at heart nor does he respect you.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 12:14 PM on August 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

I work in HR in a place where we can't get rid of you for saying you want to find another job (union and civil service rules,) and I say don't do it unless you're in exactly the same kind of place. Even here, "several months" is kind of unheard of. I know one person gave us just about two months, and she was retiring after many years and no one would be able to go a day without someone in her job. And I still think she mostly did it because she's a saint.

And yeah, this was inappropriate for the supervisor to ask for, unless it came with a written guarantee of employment (almost impossibly unlikely) and a plan for how he was going to successfully use this to get you a lot more money or a much better work situation. Then it'd just be kind of crazy, and not outright manipulative, and given the power dynamics involved, you would be under absolutely no moral or ethical obligation to comply.
posted by SMPA at 12:35 PM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

The white lie for this situation is that you "weren't really looking for a job at all, but this fantastic opportunity came up unexpectedly." Followed by blahblahblah, very excited about Opportunity X, but want to make sure I do right by you in documenting responsibilities for new hire, training a replacement, etc. I've had this conversation with my current boss shortly after I was hired, oddly enough. Upshot: awesome supervisors and awesome employees alike wish that we could provide more notice, but given how the system operates, it's just not feasible. In rare cases where you 100% trust your boss and 100% know you will be leaving regardless within a certain timeframe (say, a planned move across the country), you could hint at the fact that you were looking around.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:36 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

The official company policy asks for two weeks notice. I'm not inclined to give more notice. My supervisor has treated me well, but the general environment is toxic and I don't feel like I owe anything to the company.

Thanks for all the advice so far. I feel a lot better about keeping my job hunting plans to myself.
posted by parakeetdog at 12:37 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everyone else is spot on. I'll reiterate what they're saying, and just try to phrase it differently :)

Having irreplaceable workers is just bad business. If one employee has so much knowledge, skills, etc, that if one day he were run over by a bus the company would be up a creek, that's the *company's* problem, not any individual's.

Since you like and respect this guy, and don't want him to suffer too much, there are things you can do, like others have mentioned - make a distant start date part of your negotiations with future employers is the easiest thing. Hiring skilled people is *hard*. If you're the kind of person who gets into the position of being irreplaceable, it means your the kind of valuable candidate that prospective employers would make concessions to. Make a 4-week-out start date part of the deal.

There's also things you can do now, while you search, like trying to document the things that only you know, so when you're in a position to pull the trigger, you can say "I know you'd asked for more time, and I am sorry I can't give you more than (3? 4? 2?) weeks' notice, but here's this document I put together to try to make the transition easier."

Good luck.
posted by colin_l at 12:47 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Both of our jobs are extremely busy and there is very little time for me to teach him how to do my job.

Then what would he do with the extra notice if you did tell him? A manager shouldn't be so dependent on one person that it would cause huge problems were they to leave. This happens all the time at companies. No one wants to make time for cross training. But like others have said, that's not your problem.

And logistically, telling him you're looking isn't the same as giving him the few months notice he's asked for. Because you don't know when you'll find a new job. It could be next week or in a year. I agree that it's all around a bad idea. I wonder how much your manager has thought this through?
posted by daikon at 1:06 PM on August 13, 2011

There is a difference between actively looking and having an offer in hand. It isn't clear from your description which one your supervisor means. And the HR policy you quoted clearly refers to actual exit date (offer in hand). I've been on both sides of this discussion. I've had bosses where I could confide that I was actively looking and others where I couldn't. I've got two employees right now in my group that are flight risks. Here is my perspective as a "boss". If someone tells me they are "actively looking", then:

- I wouldn't feel the need to act on the information (e.g. notify anyone else at my company)
- I would mention it if it came up. In my current org, we do keep track of things like who is a flight risk as part of succession planning, so eventually the HR director would know.
- I wouldn't reduce their workload -- too many variables where the intention to leave doesn't happen or is delayed. One of my current flight risk employees has been a flight risk for about 9 months now and hasn't found a new position.
- I might give them more responsibility or a raise if I thought there was a serious chance they would stay
- I wouldn't give them more responsibilities if I thought unhappiness was too high or the gap between the position and the job they might land was too great (e.g. if I know we are paying well under market for skill set xyz)

I would assert this is a pretty typical reaction. As you can see, it wouldn't change very much about what I was doing and wouldn't necessarily "help me" to know this a couple of months in advance. If someone told me they had an offer in hand, I would have a totally different reaction:

- Let HR know. Possibly my boss as well if a key position.
- start planning for a backfill
- offloading responsibilities
- knowledge transfer (find someone or someones to sit down with you and start understanding and documenting the unique parts of your job, work in progress, etc.)
- possibly try to negotiate for more than two weeks

I have also been on both sides of the "more than two weeks to exit". The times where it worked out were if the departing employee was full time on a specific project and a major project milestone was in the window. But mostly I saw extra weeks squandered because most (all?) organizations aren't good at doing this sort of knowledge transfer. So they end up having you just keep doing your job for that much longer; the extra time just turns into organizational procrastination.

Bottom line advice: if the environment is toxic, I wouldn't tell your supervisor about your intent to leave. It won't help him, and it could harm you. If you had an offer in hand (in writing!), I would consider trying to give them an extra week (three instead of two), but understand that even two weeks notice will likely be wasted; giving them an extra week is more about helping your conscience and not burning bridges. A couple of posters suggested putting together some kind of desk book with all of the stuff your company should know if you get hit by a bus. That is always a good idea and may help you feel like you aren't leaving your supervisor in a bind. Good luck on finding a new position.
posted by kovacs at 1:25 PM on August 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

It isn't appropriate for your boss to ask you to give more than the legally required notice.

Not quite, but it needs to be reciprocal. I have an extremely long notice period (2 months), but that is laid down in my contract and applies to my employer as well. Not only that, but in return for accepting it I negotiated all sorts of golden handshake provisions into my written employment contract.

I don't think it's ok for you boss to ask this of you without a reciprocal consideration, especially in the United States where most places have "at will" employment.
posted by atrazine at 1:28 PM on August 13, 2011

Employers lay off staff with no notice. Employees should look out for their own best interests, which is your (correct) instinct. If you want to be good to your boss, clean your desk area well, document processes that you are the knowledge-holder on, and do whatever else you can to make it easy for your successor. Do a really good job, as you probably would anyway, as that's the most your employer can truly ask. Nobody gives notice of looking for a job.
posted by theora55 at 1:46 PM on August 13, 2011

When you give notice, you might offer to agree to ease the transition as a consultant for several months after leaving.

In other words, you give two weeks notice, but offer to let them pay you to keep doing some parts of your old job until they find your replacement. This will make things easier for him and serve as a peace offering which will hopefully keep him as a viable reference for you. (and gets you a little extra cash as a bonus.)
posted by oddman at 2:01 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can also be gracious when you do give your two weeks notice: "I know you'd asked if I could give you more notice, and it was certainly my intention to do so, but in this instance it just wasn't possible. I hope you understand, and I look forward to doing everything I can in this two week period to ensure a smooth transition."
posted by judith at 2:37 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your supervisor always should be good to you, and always should shield you from the insanity of upper management. It makes me sad that the state of management in business culture has devolved so much that a manager simply doing what a manager should do these days is considered "going above and beyond". The only thing you should give your supervisor in return for him doing his job well is you doing your own job well.

If you feel that your work wouldn't be represented in the best light as a reference unless you jeopardize your own livelihood by telling your manager that you're looking elsewhere for other work without an offer in hand, then your supervisor actually isn't being good to you at all. You shouldn't feel bad about not sticking your neck out for him in this regard. Don't even question yourself. Keep on looking for better work, consider said search a part of your own personal quest to improve your own life -- that is none of your supervisor's business -- and if you land a better job, give the courtesy of as much notice as you can get away with (2 weeks is completely standard and generous).

When you do give notice, definitely frame it the way that judith suggests above. Finish your projects up as best as you can, document and be kind and gracious, and not checked out, and don't look back or feel bad for a nanosecond.

Unfortunately, you can't make your boss be more mature or reasonable. All you can do is what's best for yourself and manage your own behavior. There's no guarantee that your boss won't be angry or rude to you for not doing as he's asked, if and when the time comes, but your boss's request is unreasonable. All you can do is respond to it the way you should any unreasonable request or expectation. "I'm sorry, but what you've asked for isn't/wasn't possible. I'm sure you understand."
posted by pazazygeek at 3:08 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

How much notice have they given people who've been laid off? That's exactly how much notice you owe them.

And truth of the matter being, you do NOT need a recommendation from him. This should be obvious to people answering as you are looking for a job without him knowing ANYTHING about it.

2 weeks is courtesy. You need not even do that...but in your situation, I would recommend it since you have a good relationship.

Also, I would claim "an opportunity just came up, I would have told you in advance if I knew about it"...that kinda bs. He'll understand.

Also, tell him you'll help by making a job description, posting ads, whatever he wants to find your replacement.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:02 PM on August 13, 2011

One notable bs thing from employers is that they want notice from you but will lay you off and tell you to clean out your desk.

I try to give a month if possible and it usually has been. Usually new jobs understand and it reflects well on you.
posted by sully75 at 4:22 PM on August 13, 2011

Unless you have a contract, not just an agreement, all employment is "at will", meaning that you can quit at any time, legally, just as you can be fired at any time, legally - no reason required on either side.

Whether or not you're facing a moral dilemma with your timing is another story, but without a contract between you and your employer, you won't have a legal problem giving zero notice regardless of what the company policy is. Policies and agreements are not contracts.
posted by bfu at 4:28 PM on August 13, 2011

Sorry, I should have specified "in the US" about the "at will" concept in my previous post. :-)
posted by bfu at 4:30 PM on August 13, 2011

Great advice already. Just to add, my sister has been a supervisor for eons and she once said anyone who gives more than 6 weeks notice is an idiot (her words, not mine). Another person I met recently said that he and his wife gave a longer than usual notice at their old job and it was a big mistake as the organization just procrastinated about hiring their replacements rather than taking advantage of getting new people in ASAP (I think the idea was for them to be around long enough to train their replacements). That said in cases where I've gotten a signed job offer letter and the start date was set for a particular date that was more than 2 weeks hence, I've let my current employee know, even if it wasn't for another 4 weeks or so.

However since you do have a lot of institutional knowledge, I would second restless_nomad's ideas about documenting it. You could couch it as something like "hey, I could walk out the door tomorrow and get hit by a bus" rather than alluding to the fact that you are looking for another job.
posted by kaybdc at 4:33 PM on August 13, 2011

Hell no, don't tell them a thing until you have a secured path out. Me previously:
I worked for more than seven years at a very proper "we wear suits because we are serious people" consulting company, a very large firm, and I was coming off of solid reviews and a raise. Monday morning I gave two weeks of notice in person to my boss, and he asked for a day to see about a counteroffer. At the close of business Tuesday I got word back that they can't make a realistic counteroffer, sorry to lose you, blah blah blah. Wednesday, nothing new. Thursday, my immediate boss tells me that my two-up boss has declared that the next day, Friday, will be the last day I will be employed or paid.

So, after seven years, I give two weeks notice of my departure date, and the firm gave me one day of notice.

Given that, my advice to the mom-to-be (congrats!) is to keep your mouth shut! The stakes are too high to leave it to any presumption of goodwill.
The asker chose to take a different path than what I recommended, with this outcome:
Followup: my wife decided to be upfront and tell the truth. She wanted to do right by the company and give them the extra time to find and train her replacement.

The response: the minute she leaves the office on her last day before the baby she will be uninsured. No leave, no benefits.

We are so thankful that her loss of benefits qualifies as a "life event" and I can get her on my insurance.

So, telling the truth did not payoff, in this instance :-(
So it goes.
posted by NortonDC at 7:19 PM on August 13, 2011 [7 favorites]

I once gave three weeks' notice so I'd be there for an important third-party certification and, the very next day, my supervisor (and friend) walked over to me just before lunch and told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to quit and leave immediately as I was going to be fired at the end of the day.

I wanted out of that toxic wasteland immediately and was trying to do them a favor. They shot themselves in the foot out of pure spite. My point is, when you give notice, the gloves come off.
posted by codswallop at 8:12 PM on August 13, 2011

Your supervisor has told you that you are extremely valuable. Time to use your superior negotiating position to improve your title, compensation and benefits. Remember it is a business.
posted by humanfont at 8:30 PM on August 13, 2011

I strongly agree that more than two weeks notice is a waste of time for everyone. Every boss is alarmed by the small amount of time to deal with a departing employee, but in my experience there is no job that requires more than a few hours of download to transfer the relevant information. Also, you are just a sitting duck during those two weeks and all you do is clean up and talk to people about where you are going. It's kind of depressing, and I've often wished I could just leave immediately.

Honestly, many employers make you leave immediately after giving notice (especially if you are going to a competitor). Always be ready to leave the instant you give notice - have all personal items at home or in your car, have all files you need and personal emails, etc at home. You could have 20 minutes to clean out your desk with a security guard and HR standing over you. Don't count on those two weeks of pay.

The last time I left a job I actually gave two weeks and spent a week of that time on vacation. It was more than fine. I spent several hours listing my outstanding projects and transferred all of my relevant files to a shared drive and my former boss still called me a few times in the following weeks looking for things (presumably didn't want to actually look at the documentation I left). I think the nicest thing you can do is remain available after you start your new job for questions like that from your old boss - that is really more than enough. This was a senior level job with a fair amount of responsibility, so I don't think there are many jobs that require several weeks of download before you leave.
posted by rainydayfilms at 8:56 PM on August 13, 2011

I have learned not to acquiesce to the requests of "nice" coworkers who are "protecting" me that I disregard standard procedure.

This is good advice to remember at the next job (and the ones after that). If somebody is offering to "do you a favor" and let you go around the rules, do not accept unless any potential fallout will land on them at least as much as it will on you. And even then, consider whether it's worth it.
posted by Lexica at 10:10 PM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I once gave three weeks' notice so I'd be there for an important third-party certification and, the very next day, my supervisor (and friend) walked over to me just before lunch and told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to quit and leave immediately as I was going to be fired at the end of the day.

In that case, let them fire you and file for unemployment. "Quit or you'll be fired" is never a courtesy to you, it is a way for them to dodge paying unemployment.

I would never give extra notice, but that's mostly because my employer is one of those who let you go that same day. But you CAN give notice without giving notice- start documenting your own procedures and whatnot, and submitting them to your supervisor. If they don't get the hint, at least they will be prepared.
posted by gjc at 7:48 AM on August 14, 2011

In that case, let them fire you and file for unemployment. "Quit or you'll be fired" is never a courtesy to you, it is a way for them to dodge paying unemployment.

I didn't need unemployment and I'm sure they would've couched the firing in a way that would've made me ineligible (I don't really know how it works, have never been on it). They were just horrible people.
posted by codswallop at 9:53 AM on August 14, 2011

How much notice have they given people who've been laid off? That's exactly how much notice you owe them.

What horrid advice. My employer gives twelve weeks' notice to employees who are to be laid off (with the idea, although not the requirement, that they can try to find another opening within the company). I would hate to think this means I'm morally obligated to give them twelve weeks' notice before I quit.

As to the original question, several months' notice is absurd. I'd be inclined to stretch the traditional two weeks' notice a few additional weeks for a boss I liked, but not to several months. In any case, don't give notice until you have received and accepted a firm offer from your new employer.

I have a lot of institutional knowledge that no one else has.... If I leave, he will be stuck with an enormous amount of work that no one person could handle.

Succession planning is part and parcel of a healthy business. If your employer has failed to do this, that's their problem, not yours.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:17 PM on August 14, 2011

I would not tell your supervisor/company when you start looking for a new job. I would tell your supervisor/company when you have definite employment somewhere else.
posted by dgeiser13 at 10:30 AM on August 15, 2011

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