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Two Weeks Notice is Bullshit

I’m 55 minutes into my weekly 1:1 with my VP of Engineering, and he hands me an envelope with my name on it. It’s not my birthday, and this doesn’t feel like a birthday card. I open the envelope and find a one-paragraph resignation letter giving me two weeks notice. I recruited this guy to NYC. I found his apartment. I had dinner with him and his wife once a month. And there it is, two weeks and he’s gone. I say, “Two weeks, are you joking?”

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen an employee resign like this. I’ve noticed a phenomenon that I call “the resignation duel,” in which the employee senses an issue and wants to be the first one to draw their weapon.

From that point eight years ago, I (and Conductor) have come a long way. I have discovered a better way for employees and employers to align and not screw each other over; a way that results in a better outcome for both the employee and the employer — and I’ve now had the chance to see it in action many times. It’s incredible.

Two weeks notice can lead to a resignation duel

People-First Culture Goes Both Ways

At Conductor, we believe our culture is as much defined by how we let people go as anything else. Before termination is even on the table, we first let people know there is an issue and how to recover from it.

If that doesn’t work out, we often either give people time to look for a new job or give them a notice period and a severance. At the very minimum, it’s four weeks’ worth, and many more weeks after we first appraise them of the issue. We do the right thing by our people — even when it doesn’t work out. (I wrote a whole post on that here).

Creating a people-first culture is not just about how employers engage with their employees — it’s a mutual thing. If your employer has done you well and you want to leave in the best way possible, you have options, and it should not be a race to start your new job on time (there is long-term negative impact to leaving too quickly).

In some roles, it’s not a big deal if you leave in two weeks. For instance, if you are in sales, two weeks is more than enough. But if you are managing large teams, managing accounts, involved in projects or leading a group — it takes time to handle communication, transition plans, provide notice, etc. Two weeks can often leave your employer in a costly lurch.Two weeks notice can leave your employer in a lurch.

There’s a Better Way Than Two Weeks Notice

There’s a better way to resign, and I’ve experienced it many times. Here is the idea:

  • When you are unhappy with how things are going, let your manager know. This gives them a chance to make things better and often could result in a better outcome for you. Usually, you are worth more to your current employer than to anyone else, so it’s a good place to start.
  • If you are close to landing a new job, let your manager know and ask them how much time they will need.
  • When you accept your new position, let your new employer know that you are excited to begin, but need time to transition. Of course they will pressure you to start, but you have to finish what you started before taking on something new.

Give your employer a chance to make it better

What’s the right amount of time? It could be two weeks. It could be three or could be eight. The point is that you treat your company as well as they have treated you. If you communicate and be open, magical things will happen.

What I have found in my career is that there is no greater example of one’s character and true intention than how they leave their job. Do they provide proper notice? Do they work hard until the last day? Do they give it their all? Do they check out? Do they gossip with others?

When I think of the ‘great ones’ I’ve encountered so far in my life, employees that are not with me anymore, they consistently left like champions. And when I get calls for references for them, that’s the first thing I say.

You Are Worth Waiting For

If you’re worried about losing a new job because you asked for more time, it’s a false worry. It is a ‘war on talent’ and very difficult to find great people. If you receive an offer, that means you are great and they want you… and they will wait. There’s no factory churning out picture-perfect candidates. And there is only one you. They are hiring you with the promise of years of tenure, investment, and contribution — a short-term delay isn’t going to change things.

Moreover, as an employer, you can only deeply respect someone who says, “I’m so excited to start — however, I have a commitment here to do what’s right and I just need a few weeks to make this work for them. They have been good to me.” Any employer who does not respect and embrace this way of doing business is not one you ever want to work for. I have hired many people who couldn’t start for weeks, or even 3 months. If you are playing the long game in business, you wait for good people.

As I write this post, we have an employee for whom I am actively serving as a reference while he seeks a brand new job. And I’m simultaneously rallying my leadership to find a new role for him, so that we can keep him here. It’s wild. He communicated with us and knows we care and support him. We get a chance to bid. He gets our support. The equilibrium will be maximized for him.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Finish what you started before taking on something new.

Do you disagree with me? Share your story in the comments section, or connect with me on LinkedIn. You can read more of my writing here.

18 Responses to Two Weeks Notice is Bullshit

  1. Dennis Yu says:

    Seth– so well-written! Thank you.

    “Two weeks” is too often a thinly veiled polite gesture, where little transition is done, as little effort is often made to solve the problem that got them there.

    Not blaming either the employer or employee where someone is not getting what they want, feel mistreated, or need to leave for another reason.

    When a company has a strong culture, it doesn’t mean people will never leave, but that if they do, it will be done after open discussion, attempts to fix the problem, and on good terms.

    We had a client attempt to poach one of our folks in an underhanded way– and it was a blessing in disguise, since it told us we needed to work on culture. We needed better communication to resolve problems earlier, instead of letting them build up until they feel forced to give their two weeks notice.

    • Seth Besmertnik says:

      Thanks for sharing this. Great stuff.

      • Lea says:

        So you only responded to the positive feedback and not to one single one of the constructive criticism. It would have been interesting to read your feedback on the other comments

  2. Assaf Karmon says:

    Great Post, you guys have a unique culture that serves as model for me ever since I left. Happy Holidays!

  3. Warren Whitlock says:

    I’ve not had a job in decades, and decided to work without employee several years ago, so there may be some grand change I’ve not noticed.. but in my experience, any period of time won’t do much to fix things that aren’t working out.

    When did meals together contractually obligate someone to go beyond what is put in writing?

    I’ve had employees that I begged to stay on a bit more. I’ve offered money and whatever else to keep them. It works, if there’s an unfilled need on the part of the employee.

    But so many have left before they ever give notice. They may be physically there, but they mentally moved on. And millennia of treating people like they could get fired at any time does not leave us with a culture where employees are going to confide in us, regardless of our own company culture.

    Regardless of this. The REAL issue is that you are expecting something more than what the employment agreement calls for. If you really want someone to act like the work is more than the next paycheck, man up and hire people with better defined contracts. (by the way, this is why I don’t have employees. I hire work on contract, define payments and penalties based on performance)

    And ALWAYS have a backup plan. No matter what you have defined, regardless of culture, some people will let you down.

  4. Steven Pope says:

    Saying you’ll give bad employees 4 weeks it not an incentive to your good employees to NOT give 2 weeks notice. You ought to be telling any employee who gives 4 weeks notice you’ll give them a month of extra pay. Just because you’re slow to fire doesn’t mean your good employees leaving in a hurry should be punished.

  5. Paul Giordano says:

    Agree that it begins with a culture like you’ve defined. But, you also have to counter the history of “at will” employment. You should check out the CEO of Nextjump’s idea of lifetime employment. That’s a really great culture that makes employees dedicated.

  6. loadnabox says:

    Most employers are not so slow to fire.

    Most employers use the “improvement process” to just railroad someone they don’t like out the door

    Frankly, even in your article about how most employers handle terminations I find inaccurate about how most companies handle it in the world of IT.

    * Almost no one gives severance anymore for terminations unless you’re C level
    * I can’t think of a single company that gives an employee two weeks when terminated

    * I’ve often seen people fired with little or no warning

    In today’s corporate culture, people are disposable. I applaud you for working to change that, but I don’t see it becoming a reality any time soon

  7. Kip Edwardson says:

    Disagree…somewhat. I don’t know ANYBODY that is going to tell their manager they are seeking employment elsewhere. Too much at risk, and is the same reason statistics show that “counter offers” often never work out. Now, I do agree that every effort should be made to communicate what isn’t working….pay, work-life balance, rewarding work, promotions, etc. But sometimes, someone else comes along with an offer and well, it happens. As a hiring manager, you can’t take it personally. There are way too many case studies where it’s the other way around and “sorry, but your position has been eliminated. It’s not performance related and not personal.” It goes both ways.

  8. Christopher Whelan says:

    Two weeks is a respectful courtesy.

  9. DL says:

    If the ceo is doing their job, which includes talent management, continuous pipelining and succession planning, then two weeks notice is much less of a problem. When you’re in a time crunch and top talent is critical, hire a good recruiter.

  10. Admiral Nissan says:

    Two weeks is just fine. I was “laid off” along with others due to “reorganization issues.” with two weeks severance. We were invited to come back as contractors for same compensation (minus any benefits). I had to take it due to financial issues, but lucked out on a job with a competitor within a month. Fortunately, as a “per-diem” contractor, I didn’t have to give any notice at all. That’s the way it goes.

  11. Tim says:

    You apprise someone of an issue, not appraise.

  12. IAD says:

    I don’t think anything written is based on reality. On soon as you tell your boss you are looking, you are either close to being let go or you are mentally labeled as someone who is leaving. There is no way back from either of these. The risk is WAY TOO HIGH for the employee. This isn’t personal and you don’t owe your boss or a company anything. There is no loyalty anymoreon either side. This is reality. The fairy tale above is from a manager’s perspective who now must find a new employee….this is life.

  13. Lalala Poopoo says:

    I will never give two weeks notice. My life, my choice. If im ready to leave im fucking leaving. We are people, not slaves you fuck

  14. mestubb a says:

    this is tough and somewhat of a double-edged sword. I have been upfront about looking for a new position within my company, but have not been successful until just recently. I have my degree, years of experience, but there are so many more that have advanced degrees that get the jobs I interviewed for.

    I have found a new job that I would love to do. I got the offer and my start date was just under three weeks. My boss inferred that I was ‘management’ and I really should be giving him four weeks. I am not treated like management, but the underlying reason is a huge project starts in two weeks and I spearheaded this the previous two years.

    I have asked my new HR if they could push my start date out and they seemed receptive of it, but i have not heard back.

    I also have a chance for a job within my current company, in a new location. My boss said he would take care of my start date if I got this job. Not sure that is fair, it all seems too political. I just want to work and be happy. But I want a good work reputation too.

  15. Jason Tesdal says:

    I’ve tried this method, due to the time with my employer and respect I have for my peers, this started a chain of promises that were never intended to be fulfilled.
    I understand and respect your stance Seth: the employer may not know you’re unhappy or actively looking. But I have never known anyone who has resigned or quit that the company didnt know there was some termoil with that employee: mid year reviews, merit reviews, etc. Employees also know who is “towing the line” and who is not.
    If a company is dependent on an employee to the extent that it needs to provide the company 8 weeks, than that company should ensure the employees they are dependent on are not put into a position of looking for other employment.

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