Photography by Dicko Chan

Is Giving Two Weeks’ Notice as Useless and Outdated as the Fax Machine?

Quitting doesn’t have to mean burning bridges

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all of your work-related woes.

At my last job, I gave my notice — three weeks even, in order to help make the transition as seamless as possible — but just a couple of days later I was walked out of the building by the head of HR and accused of attempting to poach employees. Which I’m over — sort of.

It got me wondering, though: Is giving two weeks’ notice in anybody’s best interest? For instance, at my new gig, we had someone who barely showed up for those two weeks — one of the most unprofessional things I’ve witnessed. Was there ever a point to them, and have they outlived their usefulness?

The two-week notice concept is traditional and isn’t required by law (though you might have an employment agreement that requires a notification period). Even your HR manual, which may recommend or require a two-week notice of termination, is toothless — all bark, no bite. By law, you must be paid through your last day worked, but if you’re walked out the door after you give notice, you might or might not get paid through your notice period — that’s solely up to the company.

That said, it’s in your best interest to give notice if you can. First, it’s likely that your departure will cause some people to have to double up on work until you’re replaced. If you walk out the door without transferring your knowledge, contacts, etc., you’re screwing over your colleagues. And these are the people who will provide a reference for you nowadays, not the company, which will only confirm hire and term date, salary and job title. Second, when you give notice, the company may counter-offer. That puts you in the driver’s seat with either your current employer or your new employer. Third, in today’s virtual world, you may be able to negotiate additional off-hours employment with your old employer (i.e., extra money) while transitioning to your new job, if that’s something you want.

I don’t see a tsunami of change in the future, either, because everyone’s parents, career center and boss tell them giving two weeks’ notice is what’s expected. Current literature and HR policies reinforce it, too. Now, on the flip side, being escorted from the premises and having your access to everything shut down as soon as you give your notice is starting to happen with dizzying speed. Mostly because company proprietary data is so transportable these days — easily downloadable on a portable hard drive or simple to email to a personal account. Though it mainly happens when your new position is within the same competitive space. So keep that in mind when you’re timing your exit.

How do you instill self-awareness in your team, especially when many of them seem anything but?

It’s astonishing to have to say this, but most people need a reason to be introspective. When you look in the mirror and see your shortcomings and strengths hopes and dreams, wants and needs, it can be a combination of exhilarating and depressing. Either way, it’s tough to know where to begin and how to take action.

But here’s the good news: The workplace is exactly where you can have people take those tiny steps (or giant leaps) toward reflection because there’s payback involved. The WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”) push at work is different from your parents or your partner nagging you about your lack of ambition, rudeness or slovenly habits. Discussions about “What do you want to do?” and “Have you thought about what it takes to do that?” help focus team members on jobs, careers, money, social responsibility and work/life balance. (BTW, these conversations can be had among co-workers just as easily as between manager and subordinate.)

So how do you have such conversations? If you’re a manager, here are three basic rules:

  • Rule #1: Never, ever attempt them at performance-review time because no one gives a shit about anything other than, “Am I getting more money?” (We’ll hold off on discussions about the whole performance-assessment process for another column.)
  • Rule #2: Your role is more Yoda, less Michael Scott. Listen and engage. It’s not about the next promotion at the company; it’s about helping your employee explore his or her soft skills and behaviors that will lead to the success s/he envisions, whatever that is.
  • Rule #3: Be authentic in your conversation. The purpose is helping your employee reflect on where they want to go and what it takes to get there — no hidden agenda.

One final thought: Don’t be surprised if the team members remain clueless after your grand efforts at mentoring. Keep at it: If you don’t get discouraged, they won’t, either.

Admittedly, this might be too Get-Off-My-Lawn-y, but in your first column you mentioned the new rules around overtime pay in white-collar professions. I get why that’s a good thing, but I also think it kills a fundamental aspect of working your way up — toiling for nothing in the early days to show everyone around you how badly you wanted it (whatever it was — a promotion, more money, etc.).

Am I just being a Republican shithead, or is there merit to the idea that working hard for low pay in the early stages of your career is a rite of passage that earns you the respect of your peers and management?

The simple answer: You’re not only being a Republican shit-head, you’re also being elitist. I assume that using the phrase “toiling for nothing” is your way of describing unpaid internships. I hope you realize that people who graduate with student debt and who worked two or three jobs just to make it through school don’t have the luxury of taking one of these unpaid internships. They need real money to live and pay their debts — student loans, car payments and credit cards.

Funny thing is, many of the professions that tend to require unpaid internships are selling a networking myth in careers with more takers than buyers — work for free and you’ll meet the people who can help you climb the ladder. Journalism, politics, sports management and fashion are some of the biggest abusers in the “who-you-know” world. Look around: You don’t see unpaid internships in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math-Related) jobs.

So you’re in fantasyland if you believe that low pay or no pay is a rite of passage that earns you the respect of your peers and management. You earn respect by learning, working hard, not slacking and being a responsible team member, not from how little money you make while doing those things. Think about apprenticeships as the seminal example of learning by doing. Other than a brief introduction to the selected trade (electrician, HVAC, etc.), qualified apprentices are paid as they learn. And unlike the many bogus “assignments” that unpaid interns find themselves doing (coffee, anyone?), apprentices actually work.

Australia follows this line of thinking by having “junior pay” for employees younger than 21. And maybe that’s something to consider in the U.S. to encourage youth employment. But if you believe that no pay or low pay makes you more desirable to employers, remember that companies get what they pay for — and so will you.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at terry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.