At various times in my HR career colleagues have approached me to ask: “What can the company do if I don’t give my full notice when I leave?”. If you’re considering leaving your job, this is completely the wrong question to be asking. To me, this question sounds like: “I’ve decided to get out of here. How can I leave as quickly as possible?”
If you’re thinking about how to resign from your job, firstly you need to be clear with yourself about your reasons for leaving. Having done that you need to deny the urge to blurt these out to your unwitting co-workers. Instead, decide how you are going to communicate those reasons that are most constructive to your current employer: firstly your manager, then your immediate colleagues, and finally to the company at large before your final day.
Handing in your notice is undoubtedly an awkward and painful experience. But it doesn’t have to feel like you are finally giving up the charade of loving to work somewhere you don’t. You don’t need to let the mask drop that much, but be honest about your reasons for moving on: you don’t see yourself working there for X more years, you need to progress financially, you don’t see any development where you are, you want greater flexibility.
If your employer offers you an exit interview, take the opportunity and be honest and constructive in your feedback. It never ceases to amaze me how managers can often not see problems that are right in front of them or managers who are unwilling to really confront the reasons why staff are leaving. Often it is rationalised as ‘they didn’t fit’, ‘they are clearly not one of us’, ‘they didn’t have what it takes’, rather than ‘there is no development opportunity for them here’, ‘I never really found out what they were looking for from this job’, ‘I have no idea what would have made them stay’. My last manager thanked me for my exit interview; she said it was different seeing the issues I’d experienced written down in an interview report. I was astonished she hadn’t been aware of the issues I was facing, but she quite simply had a totally different perspective on the matter.
And this is important: your manager in all likelihood will not have seen your resignation coming. So even if you’ve been feeling at your wits’ end for a long period and you couldn’t be more jubilant to move on, you should treat your last employer with respect. Or at least remember that they will be writing you references in future. Speaking as someone who was once called ‘Judas’ by a previous manager upon handing in my notice and then having to work out the best part of 3 months’ notice, you want to find a way to move on with minimal guilt. And try whatever you can to make the job a better experience for your replacement.
Incidentally, the answer to the first question is: the company can’t really do a lot to you, except feel completely disappointed to see you so eager to leave. It will also leave big questions over your integrity and your colleagues may feel ‘ditched’ by your sudden departure. My colleague who is a lawyer describes the employment relationship as a ‘marriage’. I really wouldn’t go that far, but it is a relationship nevertheless, and you need to find a way to leave well. Negotiate your notice period down if your new employer is adamant they want you to start as soon as possible, but whatever commitment you make to either party, be sure to see that through. And leave for better things with your head held high.