how much notice should you give when you resign?

You’re preparing to leave your job, and it looks like you’ll get a job offer any day now. When should you let your current employer know that you’re going to leave, and how much notice should you give when you do?

You want to proceed carefully here. While it’s an exciting time, there’s potential for doing real harm if you misstep. There are two cardinal rules that govern when and how to tell your employer that you’re resigning.

Cardinal Rule No. 1: Never Give Notice Until You Have Accepted a Formal Job Offer

Too many people give notice when they’re “pretty sure” that an offer is coming their way, or when they’ve only received an informal offer. This can be a huge mistake, because offers fall through all the time. No matter how promising things look with a prospective employer, things can and do change. The company might have a hiring freeze, or a new manager might come in and cancel the position, or the company might hire an internal candidate at the last minute. And if that happens and you’ve already told your current boss that you’re leaving, she’s under no obligation to let you rescind that notice. Your current company may have already started moving forward with plans for filling your position, and you won’t necessarily get it back.

What’s more, not only should you never, ever count on an job offer until you actually have it, preferably in writing, but you shouldn’t count on it until you’ve accepted it too. That’s because it’s possible that you won’t be able to come to terms with the company on pay or benefits or start date, and your negotiations could fall apart. So you want to make sure not just that you have an offer, but that you’ve formally accepted that offer. Only then should you give notice at your current employer.

(The exception to this is if you have an excellent relationship with a boss who you know will take the news well and not push you out earlier than you’re ready to leave. If you’re lucky enough to be in that situation, you can feel safer giving your boss a heads up that you’re thinking about leaving.)

Cardinal Rule No. 2: The Amount of Notice You Give

Most people know that professional convention requires them to give at least two weeks notice, but many people wonder about giving more. If circumstances allow you to give your company a more generous notice period, should you?

The answer depends 100 percent on how your manager and your company operate. How have they handled other employees who resign? Are people shown the door immediately? Pushed out earlier than they would have otherwise planned to leave? If so, it’s safest to assume that the same may happen to you and give two weeks and nothing more. But if your employer has a track record of accommodating long notice periods, has been grateful to employees who provide long notice, and has generally shown that employees can feel safe being candid about their plans to leave, take your cues from that.

Of course, both of these rules would be unnecessary if employers handled departing employees differently. It’s actually in employers’ best interest to make it safe for employees to give longer notice periods, but too few of them do. As a result, employees need to make sure they protect themselves.

I originally published this article at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 45 comments… read them below }

  1. Rob Bird*

    It can also depend on what area of the company you work in. I gave two week notice at my last position, and stayed the entire two weeks. However in another department, their policy is if you give notice, you are gone that instant.

    1. ExceptionToTheRule*

      Our company policy depends on your department and where you’re going. If you’re going to one of our direct competitors, be prepared for giving notice to be the last thing you do before you pack up your desk.

      We had someone be quite surprised by that a couple of months ago, so quietly ask around to people you trust if you don’t know the policy.

      1. Hannah*

        How do they know if someone is moving to a direct competitor?

        Do they attempt to force the person to reveal where they are going?

        1. A Disillusioned Employee*

          In one place where I worked in the past, they ask you directly. If you chose not to answer, this was your last day.

        2. ExceptionToTheRule*

          My industry has a very small job pool in each city and many people volunteer it. Their resignation letter contains something to the effect of: “I’m resigning to accept a position as a Peanut Butter Teapot Quality Control Analyst with Peanut Butter Teapots Inc.”

          And, if you don’t volunteer it, they’ll ask.

        3. K*

          Do people really not say where they’re going when they give notice? This would be unheard of where I am (granted, we also never ask anyone to give out less than their given notice) and would be seen as completely bizarre, not because we need to make sure they’re not going to a competitor but because it’s just not what you do. It would be like refusing to say where you were going on vacation. Or taking time off to move houses and refusing to say what neighborhood the new place was in.

          1. AdAgencyChick*

            I have always said where I was going, but I’ve definitely worked with people who have refused to tell, usually at higher levels. I suspect they don’t tell because they hope they can later recruit over a bunch of employees without the ex-employer getting wise to who’s violating their non-solicit agreement. But honestly, I don’t see how that can work, given how much people talk in my industry.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            My ex-boss told me, but asked me not to tell our bosses. She knew if she / we did, they would call her up and make her miserable over there. So I just played dumb.

          3. Jazzy Red*

            I used to work for an older guy who had some very odd behavior. We suspected that he’d had a couple of small strokes. One of the guys was leaving to go to another company and wouldn’t tell anyone where he was going because he was afraid the boss would call them and say all kinds of off-the-wall crazy things, and screw it up for him.

            Sometimes there are very good reasons to not tell where you’re going.

            And I don’t have to tell anyone where I go on vacation. The people I work with are nice (and I’m nice to them), but they’re co-workers, not family, and I don’t owe them anything about my personal life.

  2. Frances*

    Also make sure you confirm what your company policy is as far as “required” notice. The position I am about to leave requires 4 weeks notice if you want to get credit for your unused vacation time (which I did since I have almost three weeks left). And it was only because we’ve had someone else leave at my level in the last year that I knew it was that long.

    1. PEBCAK*

      A few states mandate that they pay out your vacation, though. If you are lucky enough to be in one of those states, no policy can supersede that.

      1. Grace*

        I am in California and the law is that vacation time = pay when an employee leaves the company. The waiting time penalties ($) are ferocious when employers get this wrong.

  3. Em*

    So, I ran into an interesting situation around this, and would love to hear other people’s take.

    A former coworker had received a verbal job offer from a new employer. They only had specific days of the month that they brought new people on, and wanted her to come on at the next date, which was about two weeks out. It was either that, or waiting another month for the next opportunity. She chose to give our employer notice prior to getting the written offer to allow for almost the full two weeks between notice and her last day.

    The thing that was problematic on my end was that she didn’t want anyone else in the office to know that she was leaving until she had that written offer, just in case something fell through. The work we do involves scheduling work out about a month in advance, and given that we were only a two-person team, her leaving significantly impacted our schedule. It put me in a tricky place, because without explaining that my coworker was leaving, it was hard to explain why we were scheduling future work the way we were.

    Was her request that no one be told that she was on her way out reasonable?

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Completely agree. If I were her, I would have told the hiring company that I cannot give notice until I have a formal, written offer, even if that did mean delaying my start date by a month.

        If an employee resigned and asked me to keep things quiet just in case it didn’t work out, I’d tell her that we’d be making the announcement when it’s best for the company, not when it’s best for her. Why should the company try to hold the job in case a new offer falls through, for someone who has just stated that she doesn’t want to work there any more?

    1. BCW*

      I don’t think its unreasonable as her co-worker to keep this secret or the manager really. It just depends on your relationship with her. I work on a 2 person team. Just because someone tells the boss their plans, doesn’t mean they want everyone else to know those plans immediately. Now I’m not saying the request is unreasonable, but as with any request, the boss has the right to say no for her own reasons.

  4. Mike C.*

    Just a reminder that if you’re leaving a toxic environment, there’s always the option of leaving right after receiving and confirming the new position.

    It’s rare that it comes down to that, but I’ve been in the situation before and leaving that day was the best decision I’ve ever made.

    1. Sara C*

      Thank you for this comment! I’ve been wondering how unprofessional it is to collect my belongings, say “I quit” then exit my current toxic environment. After years of 1% raises, being told there’s not possibility of promotion, being offered absolutely no training/development…I don’t really have the fortitude to sit here for two weeks after giving notice. And quite honestly, I don’t think my company deserves those two weeks, either.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Well, wait — that stuff isn’t an abusive environment that would warrant leaving without notice. It might warrant leaving, yes, but not burning the bridge and harming your own reputation. I think Mike is talking more about abusive workplaces.

  5. K*

    I’m lucky that my employer treats people who give advance notice very well. What are people’s thoughts on whether to take a short break between positions (assuming financially viable)? How reasonable is it to ask of the new employer? I’m mid-career and about to accept an offer on the other coast. I’d love to give 4 weeks notice to current employer and take 4 weeks off (to sell house & move & not be crazed about it). Is a start date 2 months out unreasonable to negotiate in this scenario?

      1. K*

        Thanks – they want someone “sooner rather than later”, but if they needed someone immediately then they shouldn’t have offered it to someone who needed to move! I don’t know what amount of time people view as being reasonable to physically pack up and move across country but to me that’s 6 weeks minimum (they aren’t providing full relocation benefits and if they were willing to pay movers, ship my car, etc I could see a faster move being more reasonable).

        1. Sydney*

          I think that’s very reasonable for a cross-country move. If you were only moving a couple hours away, I could see that being too long, but certainly wouldn’t be unreasonable to ask.

          That said, if you have to cut down your 8 weeks to say 6 weeks, I’d suggest taking 1 week off your notice period to current employer and 1 week off of moving time instead of the full 2 weeks off your moving time. That is a pretty difficult move, especially with minimal relocation benefits.

        2. T*

          Definitely ask – if you’re footing your relocation costs, etc., I wouldn’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for some time to take care of that before you start at new job.

        3. BCW*

          I agree with you that 6 weeks is reasonable, but then at the same time, I can see your new employer saying you shouldn’t need to give your current employer 4 weeks notice.

          1. K*

            True on the questioning whether current employer needs the 4 weeks. The two companies work together and I’ve been at my current employer for many years. Given that, it’s in the best interest of new company to not burn bridges with my current employer. Which is why I think 3-4 weeks notice should be acceptable to new employer.

  6. odinbearded*

    I work for a very small company in the construction/transportation industry. I gave notice when I started my job search a few months ago, and it’s worked out well (I know that my experience is probably outside the norm).

    I spent two months training my replacement after which I transitioned to another position. What really worked in my favor is that I discussed my plans with my boss as we were headed into our annual slow season. The reasons that I’m leaving the company (chronic understaffing, insanely long hours, lack of long-term vision) have made my transition good for them. I’m still employed, but I have a lot more freedom to interview and search. And by making sure the company is ready for my exit, I’ve ensured that I get a good reference. Since this is my only job since my college internships several years ago, it’s kind of important.

  7. SevenSixOne*

    Before you give your notice, get all your personal belongings in one place and delete/back up anything on your work computer. Some companies will show you the door as soon as you give your notice, regardless of how long you said you’d stay.

    1. StuffAndThings*

      I’ve seen this in action. It’s not pretty. And it makes me wonder if employers then in turn deserve two weeks’ notice if their employees are leaving, considering the company’s lack of loyalty or whatever you want to call it.

      1. fposte*

        Those companies don’t, anyway. But it’s still better to treat an organization with consideration if it’s one that doesn’t seem likely to take advantage.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      Yeah, I’ve done that, too. I’d taken all my personal stuff from inside my desk home already, and removed everything personal from my computer. Currently, I only have personal things at work that don’t mean that much to me, so I could leave them if I had to.

      When some of my co-workers were laid off last year, it took one person more than 2 hours to pack up her cubicle. She had tons of stuff from home. It was emotionally grueling for everyone.

  8. Erik*

    Before I gave my notice at my last job, over the course of a week I cleaned out my personal effects, coworker contact information and backed up any personal files on my computer.

    I knew that my boss would be okay with be resigning, but his boss was a real jerk and I could’ve easily been sent packing immediately. It never happened, but you always prepare to be escorted out immediately.

    Even if the place you work at is a dump and toxic, give two weeks anyway – at least they can’t say that you left without notice. If they decide to be jerks, just mentioned that you gave them notice to finish up projects you’re working on, and if they continue with their bad behavior you’re out the door.

  9. Greg*

    Agree (and posted in an earlier thread) that, with rare exceptions, two weeks is almost always sufficient. Do less if the environment is totally toxic, more if you really want to help a coworker or accrue more vacation or whatever. But don’t fool yourself into thinking your company “needs” more notice, or you “owe it to them”. You don’t owe them anything more than two weeks and an orderly transition.

    Also agree that you should be prepared for the possibility that you’ll be escorted out, even if you think it’s unlikely. However, you should also make sure you don’t tip your hand by secreting out every tchotchke on your desk. “Hey, Bob, what happened to all those pictures of your family? And where’s your fish tank?” “Hmm, I’m not sure.”

    Besides, your bigger worry is electronic files, not physical ones. Chances are, even the most vengeful employer will give you a couple minutes to pack up your personal effects (or at least pack them in a box and send them to you). Also, if something has really high sentimental value to you, it probably shouldn’t be in your office in the first place. But a company that’s escorting you out might also disable your network access immediately, which could prevent you from accessing even personal files. So take care of that stuff beforehand.

  10. Blue Dog*

    Rule Number 3 – Never ever ever ever accept a counter offer from your present employer.

    1. Greg*

      +1. And employers shouldn’t offer one, either. I’m curious: Has anyone ever heard of an employee who gave notice, then accepted a counter-offer, and then happily stayed at the company for a lengthy period. I feel like even when people accept them, the relationship is broken and they invariably end up leaving within a few months.

  11. a non*

    I wasn’t sent packing when I gave 2 weeks notice. I was told by my boss I should have given him at least 4 weeks notice.

    I was a receptionist with some other duties (that I hadn’t been trained for but got when there were lay offs).

    I left to move out of the area not to another job. But my boss acted like I had made the biggest mistake ever giving two weeks notice leaving them. Oddly enough when I went to the job they were eager for me to start before the 2 weeks notice I had given to my prior job.

    1. Greg*

      Argh. This is exactly why people should stick to the 2-week rule whenever possible. I seriously doubt that company needed more than two weeks — they just wanted to squeeze as much out of you as possible, and use guilt to achieve that goal. Even worse, some employees internalize that guilt and feel like the mere fact of their departure is an act of betrayal. Good for you for sticking to your guns.

  12. Greg*

    Here’s one more reason why you should only give two weeks notice:

    In a nutshell: Employee gave four weeks notice, but after a week the company told her they only needed her for one more week. Since she had already set her start date with the new company, she’s potentially out two weeks of wages.

    To repeat: You’re not indispensable, and you don’t owe them anything more than two weeks and a professional exit.

  13. Raf*

    Hello, I recently began a new job. Two months in, my pay was cut and I was put on commission only due to the company loosing money. I have just found a new job. Should I still give 2 weeks notice? I am a recruiter and right now I am not currently working any projects. My day consists of making cold calls to try and get business. I feel if I stay for two weeks I will be doing nothing but working for free. Any advice is much appreciated.

  14. jack*

    I would appreciate advice on how much notice is required to resign from a job, i gave my letter in on 27th December and have been told my last working day is 31st january …They are splitting hairs and causing me grief over handover but they never i formed me until 17th January which I believed was my last day as tbey never confirmed with me despite several e mails.
    Would it be 27th jan or 31st jan ?

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