how do I resign gracefully when my boss wants more notice?

by Ask a Manager on December 28, 2012

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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 supervisor (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 2 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 3 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, ideally two off in between jobs to unplug and recharge before I start my next job. Both potential new jobs are open to a start date 3 to 4 weeks from offer. My current boss told me last week that he expects and needs me to give him 4 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 4 weeks notice to my previous employer, but was pressured to join within 2 weeks of offer. Others in similar roles at my current employer have left with 2 weeks notice and it hasn’t been a big deal. So far as I know, I’m the only person who’s given a heads up about intent to leave.

If I’m able to get 4 weeks lead time with a new employer, I really want to give 2 weeks notice and take the other 2 off. If I can only get 3 weeks lead time, I feel like I need to take one of them for me, and give the other 2 in notice. I can really only see me giving two weeks notice either way. 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.

Can you offer any gracious ways that I can do right by current employer in terms of notice, and do right by myself and my next employer by taking some time off in between? Also, am I maybe out 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, based on 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, due 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!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Wilton Businessman December 28, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I agree, you came to him two months ago and expressed that you were on the way out. He had plenty of time to start cross-training people and getting the pipeline warmed up. Two weeks are all that is needed IMHO.

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Not So NewReader December 28, 2012 at 2:56 pm

You could point out that you each have circumstances that you cannot control.
He has the inability to hire unless there is a vacancy.
You are cannot not push your start date ahead.

This stuff happens- two clashing goals.

He sounds like an okay boss- I think if you show him this perspective he will eventually chalk it up to one of those things that no one can fix. Say only things that are the truth- from what you have written here it sounds like you really regret this and wish it was different. Tell him so.

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Jamie December 28, 2012 at 3:04 pm

If it’s inconvenient enough for the company to accept only two weeks then they can revisit their own policies of not hiring until there is a vacancy.

That’s not your problem – you should give two weeks and enjoy the time off between jobs guilt free.

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Wilton Businessman December 28, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Love the new avatar! Kind of like the child of Hello Kitty and Kiss!

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Lisa December 28, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Hello Kitty Kiss Fan = awesome!

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Camellia December 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Also, if at all possible, don’t explain that you want/need time to yourself between jobs and don’t give them your start date. It is none of their business and if you do, he will try to guilt you into giving him that extra week or two or else make you feel miserable for not doing so.

As Alison said, give your two week notice and then enjoy, relax, and recharge before you start your next job. You deserve it!

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Ellie H. December 28, 2012 at 3:19 pm

I agree – I just came down to the comments to advise not revealing the new start date to avoid having to get into this.

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AnotherAlison December 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Had you not been generous enough to give your boss a 2-month early heads up, your boss would not have been able to request that you give extra notice beyond 2 weeks. Give two weeks firmly and be done with it!

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Liquid Paper December 28, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Agree with everyone here. Especially heed Camellia’s point above.

Let me emphasize a bit, though. Speaking from very recent experience, absolutely do not short yourself on time off between jobs.

After 1.5 years of working for the biggest jerk in the history of big jerks, I landed a new, and awesome, job with a great company in Oct. Unfortunately, I allowed them to pressure me into a start date that did not allow any time off between jobs. HUGE MISTAKE. My stress level, already at an all-time high from the old job, pretty much went through the roof my first 6 weeks on the new job. Anxiety and insomnia pretty much took over and I’m sure I appeared very distracted, unconfident, and lacking in social skills. None of these terms would normally describe me, but I’m sure this is how I appeared to my new coworkers when I first started. Fortunately, I’ve got my head above water now and am starting to swim, so I think all will be OK, but boy, did I get off on the wrong foot at this job.

Sounds like your situation may not have been as extreme as mine, but still, if it was serious enough for you to seek advice from AAM, I strongly suggest you speak up for yourself and do not get railroaded into taking less time than you need. As others have suggested, the real problem is with HR and their overly rigid rules about the hiring process.

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Anon for now December 28, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Another thing to have in your back pocket; this serves a variety of needs: “I have another commitment.” If he asks you your start date, you tell him & he pushes to keep you longer, “thank you for the compliment, but I have another commitment.” He does not need to know that the commitment is to yourself. You can always remind him that you gave him a heads-up two months ago, & them tell him your plan for wrapping things up. See what he suggests, too, but be sure to get priorities identified. Don’t agree to a longer list of thing than you can accomplish in the two weeks.
Congratulations on the new job, and on being clear about taking care of yourself.

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EM December 28, 2012 at 11:18 pm

Time off between jobs is hugely important! Especially if the job you’re leaving was stressful. I regretted not taking a week off between jobs, and my old boss unexpectedly did me a favor; he accepted my resignation about 3 days after I had tendered it. (I think it took him that long to notify corporate. Ha)

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Construction HR December 29, 2012 at 8:00 am

Might have taken him that long to read it if it didn’t contain any pictures.

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anon attorney December 29, 2012 at 4:25 pm

I resigned from my position in November (giving more notice than my contract required) and agreed an end date that will allow me a week’s holiday before I start my new job. I haven’t told them my start date for my new job, and I’m not planning to. I think it’s important to leave work in a good state so the next person can hit the ground running, but the only person who really cares about my energy and stress levels at the end of the day is me, and I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with arranging things so that my needs are met, too. If your boss has a problem, maybe he can use this as leverage to change the recruitment policy. Look after yourself, if nothing else do it for your new coworkers.

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Been there done that January 5, 2013 at 9:21 am

Agree with previous advice, but no apology needed. Assuming you are not in a senior level position or your supervisor is willing to give you a bonus for staying longer, it is standard practice to give the company two weeks notice effective from the date you hand in your resignation letter. In the resignation thank your supervisor, be pleasant but no apologies are necessary!

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johncasac February 6, 2013 at 7:51 am

I jus told my boss (and owner of the company) that I will need to do an internship in the fall for my Masters program (8 month from now) and if possible would like to work 4) 10 hour days or go part time to have one weekday available. He said absolutely not gave me an ultimatum of school or work, and if I choose school I would have to leave in the fall. After a couple more meetings, I told him I choose school and understand he can’t have me work partime, that it doesn’t fit the position. However now he is saying I have someone for your spot you have two months to leave. Do I have a leg to stand on as far as unemployment is concerned. I am not resigning till the fall, in my eyes he is letting me go. How do you see it?

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Jamie February 6, 2013 at 7:56 am

I think all states vary – but in Illinois you’d get UI if you otherwise qualified.

In this state if you resign with notice and they ask you to leave before your end date you can still get UI for the time between when you were asked to leave and the last you’d have worked if allowed to serve out your notice.

However, people who resign with something else lined up generally don’t bother since it’s more hassle than it’s worth. Also this does not apply if they pay out your notice. I.e. if I gave two weeks and they said to get out now – but I was paid for the next two weeks then I can’t get UI. That’s how a lot of employers prefer to handle it because it’s cleaner and doesn’t raise UI rates.

However you’re talking about months so they probably won’t pay you out.

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