Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
If all goes well, I'll get offers from two companies I'm really excited about joining in the next week. Currently, I'm a low-level manager in a large, multinational corporation. My current boss knows about my job search. We have a level of trust such that I told him about my search two months back. My intent in telling him was that he'd have the chance to lay the groundwork for a replacement. Because of company policy, though, replacement hires aren't approved until there is a vacancy to be filled. In other words, my boss can't take direct action to replace me until I have resigned. I've told my boss I'll give him as much notice as possible. I've said that ideally, I'd like that to be three weeks, but in practice I might only be able to give two.
My current job has taken everything I've been able to give, and I've got nothing left in the tank. I want to take at least a week off, ideally two, in between jobs to unplug and recharge before I start my next job. Both potential new jobs are open to a start date three to four weeks from offer. My current boss told me last week that he expects and needs me to give him four weeks working notice before I leave. I don't want to leave him in the lurch, but I just don't think I can give that kind of notice. I do understand his situation--even though he knows I've been looking, he hasn't been able to do anything concrete to replace me.
When I started at this company, I really wanted to give four weeks notice to my previous employer, but was pressured to join within two weeks of offer. Others in similar roles at my current employer have left with two weeks notice and it hasn't been a big deal. As far as I know, I'm the only person who's given a heads up about intent to leave.
My fear is I might react out of guilt or sympathy and squeeze myself out of the time I really want to regroup and recharge. How can I do right by my current employer in terms of notice, and do right what's right for myself and my next employer by taking some time off in between? Also, am I maybe out of touch? Is it unreasonable for a supervisor in a very large company to only give two weeks official notice?
There are some jobs where the norm is to give more than two weeks notice, but it doesn't sound like that's the case at your organization, given what you've said about what people in similar positions have done. Furthermore, when that is the norm, employers generally don't pressure new employees to scrimp on notice to the organizations they're leaving--which they did to you. So I'm working from the premise that your boss's pressure here is just about what he wants, and not about the professional standard in your field or your organization.
And of course your manager wants more notice. All managers want more notice. We'd take six months of notice if we could get it. (And sometimes we can get it, if we create the right conditions for it. I used to routinely get months of notice from people, because I'd made sure they knew it was safe to do that, that it would be appreciated, and that they wouldn't be pushed out early as a result.)
But the reality is, (a) you've actually given your boss plenty of notice, by telling him about your search two months ago--he just can't act on it, owing to company rules that aren't your fault, and (b) despite those company rules, there's nothing to stop him from doing some recruiting right now on his own. He may not have the official opening yet, but there's no reason that he can't be reaching out to prospective strong candidates and starting to cultivate them, so he has a pipeline of good people ready when the company officially opens the job. Frankly, good managers do that all the time anyway, so that they're not caught off-guard and starting from scratch when an opening does arise.
Also, in environments where people do give more notice, it's generally not "I'll be leaving in six months, on May 15" (unless they're leaving for school or a move, as opposed to a new job). It's typically more general--exactly like what you did. It's a heads-up that someone is beginning to prepare to move on, and that is the type of notice that people are talking about when they talk about long notice periods. The specific date often doesn't get worked out until the very end of the period (for exactly the reason you're facing: New employers generally set start dates for a few weeks out, not months out).
In any case, all of this means that you should give the notice that you can give, and as long as it's at least two weeks, you shouldn't feel guilty or let yourself be pressured into giving more. You gave your boss a heads-up when you were starting to look, and it's not your fault that the organization ties his hands until you actually have a leaving date.
Give your notice, apologize that your new starting date means that you can't give more (not because you owe an apology, but because it's polite), leave things in as good shape as you can, with plentiful documentation (something that you can start working on now, if you haven't already), and then move on with a clear conscience. Good luck!
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