Quitting a job has two phases. First, you have to decide whether it’s the right move for you, and then you have to plan how to tell your soon-to-be-former employer.
Typically, at least two weeks’ notice is a common courtesy workers are expected to give in the United States, unless there are different standards dictated by an employment contract. During this time, resigning employees usually wrap up or hand over projects in a transition period before departure.
But to be clear, two weeks is a courtesy, not a law. Most employees in America are in “at will” relationships with their employers. This means the employer can fire them at any time for any reason (except an illegal one), but it also means employees are free to leave for better opportunities at any time.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, during which many employees are burnt out, do you still need to work for two weeks once you quit?
Here’s what career experts say.
“Nobody owes anybody anything. Two weeks is a courtesy… but by no means is it a legal requirement.”
– Danny Speros
Two weeks is still the standard, but you can make a case for less
Danny Speros, vice president of people at the software company Zenefits, said it’s respectful of employees to offer two weeks of notice, although it should not be an expectation ― particularly with all the extenuating life circumstances the pandemic is causing.
“Nobody owes anybody anything. Two weeks is a courtesy,” Speros said. “It gives a company time to transition, it gives you an opportunity as an employee to maintain good working relationships. But by no means is it a legal requirement, or even something that necessarily should be expected. It’s a good way to end things when it’s time to end things.”
He noted that sometimes giving more than two weeks of notice is appropriate, depending on the seniority of your role or projects that may be in progress.
But if you are aiming for less than two weeks, be upfront with your boss about what you want to accomplish in your remaining days so that you can leave once you are done. Your employer will perceive you as engaged, and you’ll be able to hasten your exit. Speros said he has facilitated these types of plans with departing employees during the past year, and it’s been a “win for everybody.”
“It’s best to speak with your manager in person before submitting a written resignation note,” Speros said. “That way you can say something along the lines of: ‘I want to help make the transition smooth. I believe we can accomplish that in two weeks or less. Should we set up some time to talk through a plan?’”
There are all kinds of extenuating life or new job circumstances that may require a quicker exit than two weeks. If you are giving less than the standard notice, Speros recommends making it clear to the colleagues with whom you want to maintain a relationship why this time frame was important to you, “so it doesn’t come across that you don’t care.”
Sometimes it’s necessary to quit without a two-week notice
Two weeks is respectful to an employer, but respect goes both ways. Quitting without any notice can be acceptable and even necessary when even one more day on the job would be a problem for your well-being and safety.
“Your health and wellness is worth more than not burning a bridge or connection with an employer that actively hurts you, puts you down and does not give realistic, manageable work expectations,” said Nadia De Ala, founder of Real You Leadership, a group coaching program for women of color.
De Ala has seen professionals leave without the standard two-week notice “because they have experienced too much bullying, bias and microaggressions in their jobs.“
Your well-being especially does not need to be sacrificed for a job you are quitting. Feminist career strategist Cynthia Pong said there should be leeway given for less notice during this pandemic mental health crisis.
“I do think that if someone’s mental health is really suffering ― we are still in a pandemic, after all, and most folks’ mental health has suffered over the past 16 months or so ― two weeks’ notice may not be possible and hopefully everyone can accommodate a shorter notice period,” Pong said.
Pong recommends considering a cost-benefit analysis of what a shorter notice would do to your relationship with your employer, and whether it’s worth it. Keep in mind that when a worker quits without notice, the rest of their team is often forced to pick up the slack, and these same colleagues may remember how that felt if you ask for a future favor.
“People talk, people move around within industries, so you never know who you may need to call on in the future for a reference, to put a good word in, etc.,” Pong said. “At the same time, there are also occasions in which that’s simply not realistic or worth the effort ― i.e., the relationships have been toxic or strained beyond the point of salvaging.”