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The “Two Weeks Notice” Rule Is Dead

bad bossI recently coached a millennial through a job change, and one of our learnings was that the obligatory two weeks notice tradition is dead. I no longer believe that a such a standard exists. The time, place and manner of quitting one’s job depends entirely on the context and the circumstances.

The young man I was coaching had been working in a midwest marketing company for a little over a year. The company promised him a bonus for meeting or exceeding certain metrics, which it then failed to pay when earned (it did pay later, upon being reminded). The baby boomer leadership group was incredibly self-centered— they made it clear that they were far more concerned about their own millennial children’s success outside the company than the success of the people working for them. Power politics, ham-handed employment policies and palace intrigue fueled a top-heavy, bureaucratic and authoritarian structure. Bosses chastised subordinates in front of clients during meetings, to the embarrassment of everyone present. The concept of career development was nonexistent.

Managers attended secret meetings to decide who would get the axe, after which employees would huddle in fear wondering who it would be. Morale tanked. My coaching client spent the better part of his tenure fruitlessly asking for the “leaders” to make good use of his considerable skill set, which they consistently failed to do. His in-depth knowledge and advanced technical ability would have provided considerable value for many accounts, but management largely misused and wasted his time and talent. He was bored beyond belief. To his ongoing amazement, one of the leaders actually made employees perform a dance for their colleagues if they were late to work (most HR departments would not consider this a sound business practice).

He finally reached a point where he had literally nothing to do. He was fully caught up on all current account correspondence, had prepared a tiny spreadsheet of potential follow-up calls for someone else to handle in his absence, and set out to find another job. The job search took almost no time at all, he landed a great job at a profitable and growing startup for a immediate 25% increase in pay and great benefits (including stock options) where he could use all of his considerable skills and more.

How to break the news to his current employer?

His immediate boss was traveling, so the day after my client landed his new job he called his boss in the morning on her mobile and broke the news. He said that after a short meeting to transition any remaining work he’d like to conclude his services—there would be literally no reason to stay longer. Since the company’s poor morale was an open secret, his boss expressed understanding and asked to meet with my client to discuss transitioning his work the next day. The immediate boss then let the other bosses in the office know about my client’s decision. Their reaction was shock and surprise, but since they were busy that day they had no time to discuss anything—but did give my client specific instructions not to tell anyone else he was leaving (fear of triggering a stampede out the door, perhaps?). My client sat in his office for the next four hours with absolutely nothing to do, watching the clock tick down to 5PM (kind of like Jack Nicholson’s character Warren Schmidt watching the clock tick down to retirement in the opening to 2002’s About Schmidt).

The next day my client came into work to meet with his immediate boss and everyone who would be taking over any remaining work. This process, which could have been completed in one hour with minimal planning, somehow dragged on into the afternoon (my client did get lunch and bathroom breaks!). When all meetings were concluded, and my client was about to walk out the door for the last time, he received an e-mail from the CEO asking him to make himself available the following week for some additional meetings “because our clients expect us to have a solid plan going forward” (guilt, guilt, guilt), and generously assured my client that his coming in the next week would not interfere with the CEO’s busy schedule (and the schedules of other leaders, which were, apparently, far more important than my client!).

Because my client had already wasted the entire previous day and had just spent the current day taking four times longer than necessary to wrap up the transition, I advised him to politely inform the CEO via his work e-mail (which he would never check again) that the transition was complete and that this was his final day and he would not be coming in the following week, period.

Learnings:

1.    Yes, it’s still important to be a professional. Politeness, grace under pressure, class and generosity in helping with a smooth transition are still important, in the context of the situation. I believe my client displayed those qualities, and more, while unceremoniously ditching the two weeks notice rule.

2.    If an employee literally has nothing to do, you have zero leverage with them as an employer, so stop being presumptuous. Just stop. Accept reality. If you want to survive as an organization, you might want to think through why you have people on the payroll who are thoroughly bored because you’re not engaging their talents.

3.    It’s not just about you and your schedule and your priorities. Get over your own ego and show some generosity. Share and mentor. Employee loyalty is strongly correlated with customer loyalty. Get a clue. All stakeholders count. Especially the ones giving a large part of their lives to your organization.

4.    If the Millennial generation and Gen-Z don’t receive work with meaning and purpose, they will leave. Quickly. And not look back.

5.    Don’t break a promise, ever.

6.    The traditions and customs of boomer-centric workplaces are disappearing, including the two-weeks-notice rule. Get used to it and adjust accordingly. The sooner the better.

7.    The industrial age notion of a career ladder where a few people scramble to the top where they then get to hang out and dictate to the subordinates below is dying. Organizations can’t afford to not engage everyone’s heart and mind to bring out their best. If an organization can’t figure out this simple reality, its competitors will.

In the workplace of the future, where the convergence of technologies like the blockchain, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, nanotechnology, robotics, 4D printing and others may well render traditional employment structures obsolete, clinging to a boomer model of authoritarian workplace relationships is unproductive and harmful.

Time for bureaucratic workplaces to either get a clue or get off the stage and make room for the next generation.

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