my boss wants two years notice before I resign

A reader writes:

Recently, my boss told me to let him know 2 years ahead of time when I plan to leave the company. I was startled when he told me to give him a 2-year notice, and automatically agreed. You can imagine my regret at my response.

How should I approach this? I have been here less than a year, and people usually stay for more than 8 years. It’s a small nonprofit and there is relatively little turnover. I know of an employee at the company who has given a 2-year notice, and many people here give 1-month notices rather than the standard 2-week notice.

I plan to stay at this company for at least 2 more years, but after that, I do not know the when, only that it is likely to be between 1-3 years. Should I tell my boss now that a 2-year notice is not a reasonable time frame and to not expect that from me, or should I just wait and then give as much notice as possible once I know my future plans?

Either way, he will be unhappy with me. With the first, it might make working with him uncomfortable, and with the second, he may be angry since I had agreed to let him know.

This is utterly bizarre. Two years? Anything more than a few months is generally pretty unreasonable. Two years is … well, it’s insane. Even governors don’t give that much notice when they resign. The Pope didn’t give that much notice when he stepped down.

I suppose if you want to be transparent with him, you could go back to him and say, “I thought about what you asked me, and I don’t think I could reasonably promise to tell you two years before I’m ready to move on. I can certainly try to give you as much notice as possible, and I’d like to stay here for a good long while, but I don’t feel comfortable committing to a two-year notice period.”

But I don’t even think you need to do that. What he’s asking is so unreasonable that he really has forfeited the right to expect you stick to it. And he shouldn’t even have asked, because plenty of people wouldn’t have felt comfortable telling him “no way,” which means that he put you in an uncomfortable position by even asking the question.

(I should note that it would be different if he said something to you like, “What would it take to get you to commit to the next two years?” That’s more of a conversation, and it’s very different from “tell me two years before you’re going to leave.”)

{ 109 comments… read them below }

    1. Katie

      I mean, seriously – if the Holy Father can give 2 weeks, so can I. I work in a Church where it is more customary to give very advance notice, but two years? The world could end before then!

      1. TL

        Maybe I was secretly cloned by a government official and really, you’re me.

        Tell me, do you have strange disconnects in your memory or a weird bump on the inside of your lower eyelid?

  1. Ann O'Nemity

    I have to assume that the OP’s boss was thinking more along the lines of long term planning (e.g. committing to the next two years) than the actual official notice.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.

      I agree. I think it’s pretty clear he doesn’t expect people to say “My last day will be November 21, 2015.”

      More like, if you think you’re not interested in being with the company long term, tell him roughly when you think you’re going to leave.

      Granted, expecting people to know 2 years in advance is a lot. But if we’re being honest, if someone asked me if I was planning to be in my current job two years from now, I’d have an answer. Of course things change and stuff comes up. But I think this is more of an inartfully phrased request than a legitimate crazy thing.

  2. Kevin

    I feel like scheduling something for next week is far away sometimes.

    When I started in my position at a university they scheduled a tour of campus three months out and asked if it fit in my schedule. It was very difficult for my response to not be sarcastic.

  3. Malissa

    Two years is a bit much. But I did basically give over a year’s notice at my last job. The day I got accepted into Grad school I had a conversation with my boss about the implications of that decision.
    I knew and he figured that going back to school meant I was going to over qualify myself for my current position. And having no where to go that meant that eventually I would leave.
    We made an exit plan. I started writing procedures down for my job. I started cross-training. I also got his full backing as a reference. When the time came for me to leave, the process was smooth.

    1. LabRatnomore

      Yep, the only times I have heard of long notices are for going back to school or retiring. Even then the longest one I have ever heard of was a little over a year when an individual retired from a hard to replace senior level position.

      1. SimonTheGrey

        My MIL is going to give 1-year notice before retiring, but only because she is in a very upper-level position and will need to phase someone else in to take over for her.

      2. Melissa

        Sometimes in academia professors do long-term notices because it takes a year to replace them, but because of the vagaries of the academic market that often doesn’t happen.

    2. Cat

      I was going to ask if this is a position most people leave to go to grad school. If what he wants to know is that you’re taking the LSATs/GREs/MCATs/whatever in the spring and applying in the fall for the fall after that, that doesn’t seem insane IF he treats employees who tell him they’re going through those steps well for the remainder of their tenure.

      1. Cat

        (And by way of clarification, I work at a law firm that hires paralegals who are usually straight out of college and thinking about law school. They informally keep us apprised of their application plans and timelines and we expect their tenure to be time limited. Of course, plenty do leave for other reasons on other timelines and that’s fine too.)

    3. themmases

      Yep, my coworker gave over 2 years’ notice at our job, sort of, because she started a post-bac pre-med program in the evenings. She needed to come in and leave a bit earlier to make room for that, so it wasn’t an option to just not tell. And, well, those programs have a known duration and result that does not involve the employee staying on and doing med school at night. We work in a hospital, so everyone has been supportive and they are not posting her job until she’s accepted.

      I’m applying to grad schools right now, and I initially thought I should do the same thing: tell my boss right now that I’m even applying. Hiring here takes forever, and there is really no one with the time or knowledge to fulfill some of my area’s obligations unless at least one person is hired to overlap with us. It took one of my references to convince me that that situation was special and I really, really don’t need to do that.

    4. AnonHR

      You know, this is kind of the situation I was envisioning. The boss could very well be asking about general long term planning like this instead of two year notice. It’s more of a “keep me posted when your 5 year plan includes moving on to a new job/school and we will work to manage a good exit.”

    1. SM

      I agree. The boss might have a very dry sense of humor and the OP might not have picked up on it. I say ignore the issue and proceed as normal. Why give it credence?

  4. Jamie

    I didn’t give myself two years notice before I got married (either time). Or had babies. Or moved.

    I not a very fly by the seat of your pants kind of girl and even I can’t commit to anything 2 years hence outside of my immediate family.

    Is he willing to out in writing that you won’t lose your position without 2 years notice? If not seems a little one sided.

  5. Zillah

    Is it possible he was being sarcastic or joking? It’s still not really okay or professional, but at least it’s better than two years (!) notice.

    1. Anonymous

      Why is it not ok? I could easily see it as an expression of “I really value your work, and I hope you’ll stick around for at least a couple more years”,

      1. The Editor

        Sure, but there’s a big difference between what you wrote and what he said. I have an employee who I have flat out told that if she feels like it’s time to move on to come and talk to me so that we can figure out if there is anything internal she’d like to do. She’s an amazing employee who deserves that respect. That’s a lot different than, “I need two years notice.”

      2. Zillah

        Because even if it is a joke, this person was a new hire. It can be great to have a boss with a sense of humor, but I think it’s really unfair to spring that on a new employee who has no way of knowing that it’s a joke.

        I also think that there’s a huge difference between “I want two years (!) notice” and “I value you and hope you stick around for a couple years.”

  6. Elle D

    If the OP’s boss was being serious, this is insane.

    I love my job and have no plans to leave, but who knows what could happen in my life in the next 2 years that might cause me to resign.

  7. Yup

    Dude. Unless (a) you have an employment contract, which you probably don’t, or (b) it’s a situation like Malissa described above, or (c) or you were the CEO/Executive Director of the organization, I can’t imagine giving more than a few months at most major maximum outer limit. Unless there’s some key element I’m missing, this is an unreasonable request that you aren’t obligated to meet.

    I often assess the reasonableness of workplace demands by flipping the asker/askee roles. Is this boss willing to commit to giving you two years notice before layoffs etc? No? Then he probably doesn’t get to ask the same from you.

    1. Lisa

      My mom’s hospital is requiring nurses to sign a 3 year contract and you must buy out the hospital if you want to break it. Like a lease.

      1. Ruffingit

        I have no issue with that because it’s not that uncommon to offer term contracts in certain jobs and because going into the job you know what the deal is. You’re being asked to commit to a time period of working somewhere, which is very different than being asked to give two years notice before leaving a job. For most people, if they are asked to commit to three years somewhere, then they set up their life to do that (moving closer to job, planning their families such that they don’t have a baby during that time or whatever). But, being asked to commit to a long period of time before you plan on leaving a job is just weird because you can’t know what is going to happen in two years that might change things. You can’t plan for it the way you can plan when you know for sure you’ll be in a job for 3+ years or more.

      2. Marmite

        Term contracts are common in certain jobs. Probably the one most people think of is acting (committing to a certain number of series of a TV show or a set run of a play). I have a couple of friends who work in government who have term contracts that prohibit them leaving before the end of specific projects.

    1. Liz in a library

      Me too. Has he done anything else to suggest he doesn’t understand work norms? If not, I’d go with joke.

  8. Rebecca

    Sounds like a good way of getting laid off or fired in short order. Honestly, none of us can predict the future that far in advance!

  9. John

    I would have deflected with food for thought wrapped in humor, such as, “[Mister Boss], if you value my work as I much as I hope, I imagine you’ll make it so that no other employees can turn my head for decades to come…”

  10. Diet Coke Addict

    When I was job-hunting for my current position I was taken aback when I interview for a front desk/dispensary position at an optician’s office. They said they were looking for someone long-term, which I took to mean a career secretary/receptionist, which is fine, and they explained how difficult it was to find people who wanted to stay long-term. Fine, I thought. Then they explained they were looking for someone to stay FIFTEEN TO TWENTY YEARS. For $13 an hour. The ad had been up for months and now I understood why.

      1. Lisa

        This job is perfect for someone that wants stability and wants to retire from a place like this. Those people still exist, but this company prob isn’t conveying the upsides to this job.

        1. jmkenrick

          Well, that’s still a ridiculous commitment to ask someone to make; no one can possibly know going into a situation that nothing in their circumstances will change in 15 years.

          The fact that these people are asking that show that they’re not really grounding their expectations in reality.

          Plus, at least where I live in CA, $13 an hour would mean for a pretty lousy retirement fund. Can’t speak for everywhere.

    1. periwinkle

      Some people would be content with that arrangement; they’re seeking a stable income and benefits, and aren’t concerned with challenges or advancement. When I worked at a hospital, I dealt with medical secretaries who had been doing the same job for a decade or longer. A medical records tech had been there for nearly 30 years, earning about what that optician’s office offered. She was happy to stay in her secure groove, and I bet she’s still there.

    2. Jen in RO

      I once interviewed with the owner of a company. He told me that he expected the new hire to stay with the company for more than 5 years, preferably 10. I am not a job hopper and I stayed in my last job for close to 4 years, but I could not commit to such a long-term thing based only on an interview. Due to this and other “red flags”, I declined to continue the recruitment process. (Not actual red flags, just things I didn’t like, such as no flexibility in hours.)

      6 months later, a friend of mine is now working with the person I would have replaced at this job. Looks like I dodged a bullet – the owner was a control freak and micromanager and the general atmosphere was very unpleasant. I credit Alison with teaching me that, if your economic situation permits, you shouldn’t just take the first job you are offered! I held out and I am in a great job :)

      1. StillLAH

        It’s always the micromanagers who are looking for lifetime employees. My micromanaging Old Boss was upset that I gave 3 months’ notice and had created some scenario in her brain that I’d be there for the long haul.

  11. Beth

    I’d forget the conversation and move on if you don’t have an employment agreement that requires you do give two years notice. Is your state an at-will state?

  12. Mena

    Ignore this foolishness. He may be long gone when you decide it is time to move on. And really, your career planning is not his business. When the time comes, give 2-4 weeks notice and move along.

  13. HR Manager

    Maybe the manager got mixed up and said 2 years when he meant 2 months or 2 weeks. Worth checking on.

  14. HR Comicsans

    “What he’s asking is so unreasonable that he really has forfeited the right to expect you stick to it”

    Exactly! x 100

  15. Rindle

    That is crazypants. If he was being serious and the OP doesn’t address it now, s/he risks losing him as a reference if s/he gives 2 weeks’ (or months’!) notice. For that reason alone, I’d revisit it now. OTOH, it may be impossible to get a good reference from someone who asks for two years’ notice with a straight face. Gack.

    1. Anon

      But if someone calls him and he says “she only gave a month’s notice, and she promised to give 2 years!” the person is going to discount him right away.

      “it may be impossible to get a good reference from someone who asks for two years’ notice with a straight face. ”
      This.

  16. William

    The only thing necessary in this situation would have been a response of O.K. and when you are ready to leave giving the standard notice.

  17. Lillie Lane

    So when you find a new job, and they ask you about your start dye, are you supposed to tell them, “Oh, about 2 years from now!”????

    1. ThursdaysGeek

      Well, a job hunt takes a long time, so if you tell the boss when you first start looking, and then it takes 4 months to find a job you really like; and then they take 2 months to do the first interview, 2nd interview, pause for holidays, and check references; add another 2 weeks for the salary negotiations; then I think you’ll only need to ask for a bit less than a year and half before you can start the new job. Make sure you consider inflation during that time when doing the salary negotiation, and what can go wrong?

  18. Anon

    I just wonder if there was somehow confusion. At my job, I was asked when first hired to stay for at least 2 years. But it’s all informal. I could theoretically give 2 weeks notice at any time.

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      1. Ruffingit

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  20. Michelle K

    I can’t help but wonder if the manager was joking, and employee just didn’t get the joke. My manager has told me in jest that, “I can’t even leave.” Maybe it was a awkward way of giving a compliment about the employee’s work.

  21. Chriama

    Ignore it. You know you want to be there now so focus on doing the best you can while you’re there. Also, scope out your boss to see how much he values candidacy. It could be that you have frank conversations about the potential for growth in your current role and at some point you’ll both realize there isn’t much left and you can give him an unofficial 2 year notice. Overall though, that’s a ridiculous request and as long as you stay for 2 years from when you were hired I don’t think you have any obligations.

  22. Diane

    Maybe it was a ham-fisted approach to long-term succession planning?

    I met former executive director of a nonprofit who told her board she wanted to leave in two years. She’d led them for over a decade. They worked with her to conduct a national search, hire a deputy ED, provide long-term mentoring and transition planning, and then hand the reins to him. She maintained a great relationship with the organization while she moved on to another NPO. So maybe the OP’s boss was trying to adapt something that, done well, can work for executives, but is unrealistic for most of us.

  23. Lily in NYC

    Easy solution: just tell him you thought he said two weeks. Who cares if he gets upset – 2 years is crazy talk.

  24. Marmite

    Wow, and I thought the three months my friend had to work as her notice period was bad!

    Seriously, though, she struggled to find another job because many employers weren’t willing to wait three months for her to be available to start a new role. Two years is crazy talk!

  25. CEMgr

    I was once told that I couldn’t be considered for a certain minor promotion unless I committed to stay in the role for FIVE YEARS.

    At a STARTUP!

    The manager in question left the company about 6 months later and became a VP of Special Projects and Safety at a technology firm. The startup crumbled about 2 years after the commitment conversation.

  26. Feed The Ducks

    That’s a little nuts. I do think it’s great, though, when an employer and employee can be really transparent. We’ve had a few folks at my company say, “I think I’m ready to move on. I’m going to start looking.” And then our company also has time to start looking for a replacement instead of the two week notice/mad scramble to transition and find a new hire ZOMGNOW.

  27. Anonymous

    Start looking for another job. When you have an acceptable job offer in hand, give two *weeks* of notice.

  28. DeDo

    When you agreed, did you sign something? If not, I would write a short letter that states your intensions for staying at the job and will provide him with notice should those intensions change. In other words, if in a year you decide to look for another job, go to College, whatever…communicate and keep him informed. I have had several employees that had a goal to achieve. they were up front with me, and I was up front with them. I knew that I would lose them eventually, but they worked hard, learned, and left. They kept me posted and when they told me they were leaving (with two month’s notice) I wished them well, and was proud of them.

  29. Amber

    Given the fact that she didn’t immediately say no and laugh means that she’s relatively inexperienced. I think that anyone with a reasonable amount of experience would have known that that isn’t normal. This leads me to believe that she may have also misinterpreted what he said. I highly doubt he meant to give him 2 years notice. Any normal person would have questioned this, gotten clarification, or asked if he meant 2 weeks.

  30. Anonymous

    There’s a more important bit of career (and life) advice than the specifics of how long you should give notice: how to deal with questions that catch you off guard.

    In the future, the OP should get out of the habit of just agreeing to requests that surprise him/her. If you’re surprised by something and don’t have a good reason to act a certain way, develop the habit of buying time until you can think things through. Saying “Let me think about it” should be a more common reflex than “OK.”

  31. anonn

    I’d go back to the boss and have a conversation with him along the lines of “From your comment about requiring a lot of notice the other day I get the idea you are worried about transitioning my important role if and when I leave here. Can we discuss your concerns and make suitable arrangements so that, in that unlikely event*, there is as little disruption as possible?”

    * You are buttering him up… and you don’t want him to think you will walk tomorrow.

    That way he can go into more depth about why he is worried or clarify if he misspoke. If he is genuinely worried then you can suggest cross training, “desk manual” writing, documentation about important contacts, getting contacts used to deal with another person occasionally as well etc. Or just find out if he is actually just expecting something completely unworkable from you.

    It also gives that opportunity for him to backtrack if that was a joke or say something like “I was frustrated that day because (reason), I was just kinda joking”. For example he might have had someone quit and take knowledge with them that the company didn’t realise they’d “lost” until they suddenly needed it and was trying to deal with it.

  32. Anonymous

    I think I would focus – cheerfully – more on the employment contract option. Meaning you have a conversation with your boss about whether you should be having the employment contract drafted or whether the company has a form they prefer to use in these cases. A requirement for two years notice should come with a commitment for at least two years severance (with benefits) from the company if the firm decides to let you go. Unless he’s the owner, he probably doesn’t have the authority to make this commitment on the company’s behalf.

    Or you could check in with HR and ask the same question – I know what the reaction would be from my HR representative if one of my direct reports came in with questions about the two year commitment contract.

    All this is presuming that you would be willing to do this if the contract terms were acceptable, of course.

  33. LD

    Even if I loved my job and my boss, if any of my managers had ever said that to me I think would have responded something like, “Hahahahahahahaha! That’s hilarious! And flattering. Thanks! But of course you’re joking.”

  34. sean

    for now just stay mum. when the time comes that you’ve found a better opportunity and decided to move on, give him a standard 2 weeks notice. what’s he going to do, put a gun to your head and force you against your will to stay on for 2 years after giving notice? for all you know, he may have moved on himself before that time comes, so it may never even become a problem.

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