By now, you’ve probably heard of the Great Resignation, which marks the 47 million U.S. workers who have left their jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Prompted largely by low wages and few advancement opportunities, many workers began quitting on the spot while others stuck to the age-old tradition of giving two-weeks notice.
Two-weeks notice is a courtesy announcement to your employer that you’re leaving your role. This two-week span—also known as the notice period—is designed to give your employer time to find a replacement for your role. But, the expectation is that you will use that time to complete unfinished work and make it easier for the company to pass that work along to someone else.
Read more: How to Give Two-Weeks Notice
How does the two-weeks notice period work?
The notice period begins once you notify your employer that you’re leaving. “In my experience, the employee providing the notice informs the manager or supervisor that they've accepted an offer from another employer,” says Theresa Brevard, an HR generalist for a municipal government agency. “It is from that day they provide the notice that the notice period starts.”
What happens after you give your notice depends largely on your specific employer. Brevard—who has been working in a generalist capacity for 10 years—says some employers expect you to serve the full two weeks while other employers may be more flexible. “I've seen it where the employer wants you to serve your full notice or where they don’t care if you take leave during your notice. I’ve seen where some employers request that the departing employee provide some kind of document to show where to find things, who to contact in their absence, or any tasks that were left undone.” This is especially true in a recovering job market, where employers are often scrambling to replace large numbers of employees and, as a result, rely on some kind of paper trail regarding your work, how you went about it, and how someone else can do it.
Does your employer have to accept your two-weeks notice?
Technically, your employer does not have to accept your two-weeks notice. Instead, employers can:
terminate your employment immediately;
provide a counteroffer to get you to stay at the company;
ask for a notice period that is longer than two weeks.
Since you cannot be sure how your employer will respond to your notice, you should be prepared for each of these scenarios. In Brevard’s professional experience working in local government, the two-week notice period has been flexible, varying based on the organization’s specific needs at that time. “Culture plays a role in that as well,” she says, pointing out a key factor in how your resignation is received. Your company’s unique culture will largely define what you’re required to do during the notice period, whether your employer accepts it, and what the remaining two weeks will look like for you at the company.
Brevard says some employers “care about wanting to make a smooth transition to your successor,” meaning they will do what is necessary to help you pass your job duties along to someone else. However, your employer’s initial response to your notice will tell you a lot about how they plan to make the transition and what role you are expected to play in it. Your employer may want you to be hands-on in the process by gaining your advice on what to look for when hiring someone new or even by having you train your replacement. In other cases, your employer may ask that you finalize any pending work while they handle the rest.
Responses will vary, but remember that you are not doing anything wrong by leaving your role. Even if your departure creates more work for your team, vacating the role is a natural part of every job, and you do not need to stick around solely to accommodate anyone else. The only thing you are responsible for is maintaining a sense of professionalism through your notice period.
6 tips for maintaining professionalism during a two-weeks notice period
When you first join a company, all eyes are on you—the same is true for when you leave a company. Although giving two-weeks notice is not required, it shows that you’re being professional and courteous.
Similarly, making a bad impression during your notice period can have negative consequences. Some people get a little too comfortable once they put their notice in, thinking that since they are exiting the company, there will be no repercussions for bad behavior. This isn’t always true. It’s important to maintain a positive attitude and stay professional through your last day of work. After all, you may want to hold on to key relationships you’ve made at the company or work for them again in the future. Behaving poorly during your notice period or not giving notice at all can result in you gaining a “no rehire” status, meaning you cannot return to work for the company later on.
“Some employers will record or document whether you served a two-week notice to determine if you can work for that company again, but it’s not legally required,” Brevard says. “It’s a courtesy and some employers can make it a policy that if you don’t serve your notice, you will be ineligible for rehire.” According to First Quarter Finance, a “no rehire” status can last “indefinitely”—it depends on the company.
It’s important to note that, in some situations, giving two-weeks notice is not feasible. If you’ve experienced any type of abuse, harassment, unfair treatment, or feel unsafe at work, are having your pay withheld illegally, or have another unique situation that warrants leaving immediately, two-weeks notice is off the table. If this is not the case and you do decide to give notice, take note of these simple yet effective ways to keep it professional during your notice period:
1. Review your contract or employee handbook.
Check for any guidance your employer has provided about resignations. To make your exit as smooth as possible (and protect yourself), follow that guidance to the letter.
2. Tell your supervisor first.
If you’ve got work friends you trust and enjoy talking to, you may be tempted to tell them you’re moving on. If at all possible, tell the person you report to first. In most workplaces, word travels quickly and you don’t want your supervisor to hear your big news from someone else.
3. Put it in writing.
Notifying your supervisor of your resignation in an email is a good practice. Include the date you’re sending the message as well as the specific date of your last day. Thank them for the opportunity to work with them and send the letter within one day of speaking with them about your resignation.
4. Don’t waiver on the date.
Pick a date that will serve as your last day of work before you resign. Tell your supervisor what that date is, include it in your resignation letter, then stick to it. Even if you enjoy your job or will miss the people you work with, don’t hang around after your notice period or change the date after you’ve shared it. Make a clean break and stick with the date you’ve chosen.
5. Stay positive.
If you’re like most people, putting in your two-weeks notice will make you feel liberated! It’s exciting to drop the “baggage” of your old position and start anew. But that freedom comes with the responsibility of staying positive about your exit. “Don’t bad-mouth the company to coworkers now that you’re leaving,'' Brevard says. You might be tempted to gossip about how your resignation went or what you’ve heard about your replacement, but that can turn sour quickly.
6.Do what you can to help your employer move on (within reason).
Find a balance between helping the company and helping yourself. “Go ahead and do the work that you can,” Brevard says. “But, don’t feel like you need to do more than you can. Don’t overwhelm yourself but get an idea of what the priorities are from your management or who you can support. Make a plan to complete as much of that as possible. Leave some kind of documentation behind to let them know where you left off. Keep positive energy, stay away from gossip or negative talk about the company, and try to tackle any priorities within the time period you have left.”
Managing expectations during your two-weeks notice period
In most cases, giving your two-weeks notice should be pretty uneventful. However, your notice period is not likely to be a “normal” two weeks. According to Brevard, there could even be some “tension or awkwardness around the office,” which could include:
coworkers icing you out of important discussion;
people making snide comments about you leaving the company;
your manager setting unrealistic goals for you to meet before you leave.
None of these things are helpful in making a smooth transition, especially since the notice period is so short. “Two-weeks notice isn’t enough time,” she says. “I know it’s optional, but it’s not enough time to do what you need to do.” Given this, you should be ready to tell the people you report to whether you can realistically meet the demands they’ve set. Here’s an example of what you can say in person or via email:
“Thank you for sending the list of tasks you’d like me to complete. While I plan to do everything I can to make this transition as smooth as possible, I do not believe I will have the time I need to complete all of the tasks. Each task requires a great deal of time and coordination that will likely take longer than two weeks. Would it be possible to bring someone in from another team who wants some experience in this area to assist? I’d like to explore ways we can realistically get this done without putting too much strain on any one person.”
How employers can make the notice period easier
A lot of the pressure to make sure the notice period goes well seems to fall on the employee, but the employer can play a major role in this as well. Whether you’re an employer seeking to improve the resignation process for your team or you’re an employee who wants to pass along some useful feedback to your company, consider a few pointers to help make employee departures better for everyone involved.
“Don’t make the notice period uncomfortable or weird,” Brevard says. “Be positive about the person’s next step. Just support them.” Authentic support starts with congratulating the departing employee on the next step in their journey, asking them directly what they need to make the notice period easier, and keeping any disparaging remarks or jokes to yourself. “If they’re putting in the effort to leave things better for the next person, say ‘thank you’. Express gratitude for any kind of work they do to help you through that transition. Know that, as an employer, you’re not entitled to get that from anybody.”
Brevard recommends employers maintain good relationships with their employees throughout their time there, which can aid in seamless resignations. “If the employee has had a good experience, it’s mutually beneficial because they won’t mind helping out and they want the team to rebound from their departure.” Further, making a genuine connection with your employees, ensuring they feel heard, and demonstrating an interest in their career development can help motivate employees to be as helpful as they can before they move on.
Ultimately, the notice period doesn't have to be stressful. As an employer, you should make that process as easy as possible. As the departing employee, you should aim to get as much done as you can to make your exit easier. And, in the midst of tying up all those loose ends, don’t forget to celebrate! Whether you’re headed to a new job, preparing to relocate, or still trying to figure out what your next step is going to be, bask in closing one chapter to start a new one.
About our source
Theresa Brevard is an HR Generalist with 10 years of experience managing benefits, employee relations, recruitment, onboarding/offboarding, and other key HR functions. She has worked in multiple industries for public, private, and nonprofit organizations. Her favorite part of working as an HR Generalist is the variety of tasks and projects that she can be working on at any given time.