You should always give two weeks notice before walking away from a job. This is the canned advice all new entries to the workforce are told. Upon being hired they may even have this advice reinforced. Often times it may be in the context of how you are working in an “At-Will” employment state. The coded message being even though I can fire you whenever you should still give us two weeks notice.
Giving two weeks notice is good practice. There have only been one or two times where I was treated so poorly I didn’t feel the need to do so. In fact, I felt the need to make sure my departure caused pain. However, I can tell you that burning bridges is NOT a good idea. One never knows when an economic downturn might come along and turn your arrogance into desperation.
Mostly I write about my experiences as a long time developer. I have mostly just been a worker and not a manager of any kind. Being a worker has been a choice for me. Before I was 34, I had risen to the position of General Manager at a small medical software company. It was an eye-opening experience for me to say the least.
Once I rose to the position of GM, I learned about how juvenile ADULTS can be. It was shocking the types of things I was forced to referee. Managing people turned out to be a lot harder than I had understood. I found it especially difficult because I was not actually at the top of the pyramid. I was #2 behind the owner.
I felt I spent way too much of my time soothing injured pride any time the owner was feeling chatty. The owner could do incredible damage to morale through a simple word or look. It was frustrating for sure and I accepted it as part of the job. The sad thing was though often the workers I tried to protect still disliked me.
Much of what I did was behind the scenes. Nobody could know, because it might damage the owner’s ego. He would often get credit for decisions I forced upon him. Of course, I could never publicly reveal this fact as it would damage my relationship with ownership. This game is one reason why I went back to being a day to day coder after this position. I vowed to never manage again unless it was my OWN company.
Being the GM, the #2, was a trying position to hold down. It was my job to hire and fire people, not the owner’s job. He wanted to be insulated from that dirty business unless it was to hire a pretty girl to be his secretary. Though it was my job to hire and fire people, I did not ALWAYS get a vote on when and why.
One thing I discovered firing people was the ones who most deserved it, the ones who regularly called in sick or took two-hour lunches were the ones most SURPRISED when the ax fell. The workers who I had to let go due to budgetary constraints were the most understanding. These were the most painful for me, especially if I felt the owner was squeezing the dollar a little too tightly.
During a particularly rocky revenue stream hiccup, I was faced with laying off people who had been doing good work. Unfortunately, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time despite being diligent and hard workers. Money was so tight, the owner only wanted to pay out whatever vacation they had on the books and provide NO severance.
He was adamant about this. Usually, I backed down, because it was HIS money after all. In this case, though I dug in my heels. I refused to be the one to wield the ax if this was the deal being offered. We went back and forth in a heated conversation. One particular point I made seemed to cause him to pause and turn the tide.
Now I must admit, the man’s aversion to confrontation and lack of testicular fortitude may have also changed his mind, because if I did not do the dirty work, who would? I know he did not want to, but I also know rich people can always find someone to do the deed for dollars. Therefore I prefer to hang my hat on one point of my argument which seemed to hit home. He relented and accepted the fact he was going to be paying two-week severance to the people being laid-off.
What was the point I made which stopped the money train in its tracks? I brought up how insistent we were that people give us two-week notice before they moved on to the next job. Running a software company means we had plenty of arcane workflows and custom implementations, so getting people up to speed as productive employees was not easy. I always hammered the point home during the interview that a fortnight’s notice was an expectation.
When it came to the owner cutting some of these very same people, I brought up this fact. I brought up how important it was for us to have employees act in a professional manner and give us two-week notice. We cannot expect this from employees and then not reciprocate.
Of course, I did not use the word “reciprocate”, because that would have been too big a word, but I did talk about professionalism running both ways. I told him there could be a cost to cutting people loose without severance. We would get a reputation in a relatively small job market for not being “professional”. Once the economy improved, we might have problems luring workers back with such a reputation.
“Giving two weeks notice as a professional expectation cuts BOTH ways!”, I stated firmly…as if it was as clear as the law of gravity.
I won the argument. I was able to sit down across people and give them two weeks notice that they no longer had any income. None of them knew I had fought so hard for this. How could they? Some of them still have negative feelings toward me for those firings, I imagine. I will never know, but I DO KNOW I was able to look in the mirror afterward.
It seems I am about to witness the largest unemployment rate in my life. This economic dislocation will take some time to work through the economy. Companies can and will be laying people off and already are in great numbers. What was once a job-seekers market is no more.
I offer this story during this time of great upheaval for workers, managers, and owners to consider. Workers remember that most likely the person whose job is to fire you has NO power and is simply trying to save their own job. Also, they may have fought for the severance package you now look at with disdain. Managers remember this will not be the only job you ever have and doing wrong and unprofessional things for money may not hurt your career, but it could make it difficult to look in the mirror. In light of that maybe pushing back a little is required.
Finally, I am speaking to business owners across the country. I remind you how much pain it causes when someone just up and quits. I remind you how much you insist on PROFESSIONAL BEHAVIOR and two weeks notice. I remind you that the professionalism represented by “Two Weeks Notice” cuts both ways.