In this post, Jon weighs up the pros and cons of notice periods (especially those that are a little on the longer side), and the effect that they can have on both sides: for both for the employee and the employer...
Here in the UK, we have statutory notice periods that tend to vary on average from one to twelve weeks, depending on length of service. In the IT industry, it’s usual for companies to opt for a standard one month notice laid out in employment contracts (normally only after a successful probation period). This arrangement benefits employees because it gives them the time to find a new position if they’re let go, and it benefits the employer because it gives them time for knowledge transfer and starting the process of hiring if the employee resigns.
There have always instances of longer notice periods too, like three or six months for senior management or for pivotal roles that will likely be hard or costly to replace, such as a company director or head of a department. But more recently, however, there seems to have been a significant increase in longer notice periods, most commonly three months, being introduced for non-management roles.
I’ve tried to weigh up the pros and cons for longer notice periods, but it’s proven a little complicated to do. There are a few things that are mutually beneficial, however there are some that benefit one party, while disadvantaging the other.
Let’s start with an easy one.
Replacement takes time
The most obvious benefit to an employee is that they have ample time to find a replacement for the outgoing employee. Not having to rush or make big compromises while filling a vacancy is a big luxury for an employer.
In the same vein, employees get a degree of job security from a longer notice period. In the event of being let go, three months is a good amount of time to find alternative employment.
When an employee leaves, they take a lot of information with them, especially if they’ve been there for a long time. We testers tend to hold a tonne of domain knowledge and aren’t always that great at writing it down anywhere. A long notice period can provide enough time to get all the key information written up and documented somewhere or passed on through training to other people.
Motivation, or lack thereof
At the point where you decide to load up to a job site or apply for a job elsewhere, chances are that you’re already lacking in motivation to some extent. Even less so after potentially several job interviews plus the nerves of waiting to find out if you got the job or not.
So what happens once you’ve actually handed in your notice? Your motivation, and therefore productivity takes a nosedive. Some would argue that this is unprofessional but let’s be honest here – it’s human nature. The stakes for the individual are so low at that point that it’s extraordinarily difficult to stay focused and put a good shift in every day.
You end up with an employee bored and demotivated and likely fantasising about their next role more than completing tasks in the current one. This is not only financially wasteful, because you’re paying someone for three months who are working at a steadily decreasing level of productivity, but it’s also damaging to morale in the wider team. It’s difficult to work with someone who cares less and less each day and it can bring the whole team down.
This situation is easily manageable over one month, but three months is a stupid amount of time to keep someone around that doesn’t want to be there.
The age of impatience
In a world where people get mad if a website can’t deliver a product into their hands within 24 hours, can we really expect potential new employers to wait as much as three whole months for someone to start a new job? It’s a really long time when you need a job doing.
It can be easy to assume that people will gladly wait between two and three months for the right applicant but often, it’s just not the case. If you’ve got the choice between two similar applicants, that notice period quickly becomes the deciding factor.
It would also be naive to believe that this arrangement doesn’t factor into why you were given a three month notice period in the first place. Companies know that they are making it harder for you to leave by including such a long notice period. They also know that they are, in some circumstances, forcing an employee to stay in a role they wish to leave.
Discretion goes both ways
On occasion, common sense does prevail in this profession. A great example is where companies are willing to look at situations on a case-by-case basis and negotiate notice periods, but unfortunately this kind of conversation can only really happen once you have a job offer in your hand. If your company has a history of being fair then at least when applying for the role you can say something along the lines of “The official notice period is three months, however my current employer is historically willing to negotiate.” This caveat can make a massive difference when you’re being considered for a role.
The downside to this is that all it takes is one petty manager/director to derail what would otherwise be a fair and balanced negotiation and enforce the notice period with little to no business justification. It can sometimes be the case that someone will either want to punish the individual for leaving, or they just want to flex their managerial muscles a bit in order to polish their own ego.
At the end of the day, it’s always going to depend on what the person in each position wants out of a notice period. For some it’s a worthwhile trade-off as it gives job security over later options. For others, a long notice period may feel too restricting in the long run.
Whatever your priorities are though, you should always do your research and think long and hard before signing on the dotted line. Talk to both existing and past employees if you can, alternatively check Glassdoor for reviews.
It’s very easy to get caught up in a job offer and not think about these things, but when you eventually go to leave a company it could well be the difference between getting the job you want and being stuck in a job you don’t.