Giving Notice: What It Should Tell You When Workers Don’t Give Any

A few weeks ago, a man on LinkedIn questioned “Why burn bridges?” He was objecting to the behavior of a past employee, a young woman, who’d quit without notice.

I’ve been following the conversation intently ever since. As one commenter put it, “Quitting a job with no notice is certainly an interesting and controversial topic.”

My view of the issue is pretty simplistic, I’ll admit.

It’s “at-will employment,” folks! What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander, right? And I’ve quit a job, or two, without notice. I won’t criticize someone else for doing the same.

But others take a decidedly less charitable view, and to be frank, a few comments have stuck in my craw. For all the “job bolters” out there, it’s time for me to come out and step up.

Take these jobs and …

I was working as an editorial assistant in an engineering firm that repaired Navy ships. My job was helping the editors put together the contract bids. It was my first position out of college.

Things started well. I worked with a woman named Donna, who was a real sweetheart. Very competent, patient, and funny.

Then Donna went on maternity leave, and my fate fell to Laura (not her real name). Oh Lord. The engineers, Navy veterans and just good people, complained regularly about how nasty she was.

And she was nasty. Once, I questioned a directive and she told me to “Eat sh*t,” as God (and a roomful of former co-workers) is my witness.

After three months of being subjected to this madness (it got so bad that I cried on the way home every day for weeks) and after complaining to the woman who’d hired me and being told in response that Laura “just needs to feel appreciated,” I started looking for another job.

And a month later, when I got another job offer, I took it.

I did not give notice. Instead, the day I received the offer I called the payroll administrator of the firm and told her I’d quit and would not be returning. Ever.

Send me my last paycheck, please. “No problem,” she replied.

When a regime change changes things

And that, as they say, was that. (Oh yeah, I did receive a letter from the company three weeks later informing me that I’d need to contact them immediately, or they’d assume I’d abandoned my job. Ya think?)

The second time I quit without notice, I was a bit older but no more tolerant of BS. This time, a regime change had left me on the outs, and I was told to conform to my new boss’ way of thinking — or else.

Well heck, that’s reasonable enough, and I can respect authority. Except my new boss was a lazy, know-nothing liar, and I couldn’t quite get on board with that. Still, I’d soon be going on maternity leave, so why make a fuss?

And two weeks later, as planned, I went on leave. Three months later, I returned — for three days.

Apparently, my boss got it into his head to break me (and I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t have another explanation) and on my third day back from leave, and without warning, he gave me a performance review.

Yes, only three days back. And remember, we’d worked together for all of two weeks before my maternity leave. Reviews for all his other direct reports were overdue. But for some reason, he wanted to review me.

What did he write in the review? He wrote how well things had gone while I’d been on leave. He wrote that he hoped I’d be able to perform as well as the temp (who’d called me every damn day for instructions, mind you. “Jamie, I think you can figure a way to do this.” “Oh no, Crystal, I want to do it the way you’d do it.” Seriously.)

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I read as much of the “review” as I could stomach, and then I quit on the spot. See ya later, alligator. Life is too short for this crap. (He was fired a few months after I quit, by the way.)

Fair is fair, folks

As an HR professional, I’ve had angry managers come to me hoping I can find some company-sanctioned way to penalize the employee who hasn’t given enough notice.

Can we take away accrued but unused vacation? What about a bad reference? Oh, short notice is so inconvenient! So unprofessional! So indicative of  bad character!

Perhaps. But treating an employee like crap is also unprofessional (to say the least), and I won’t even touch that part about character. Employees don’t find their boss’ bad behavior terribly convenient, either.

Ah, Utopia!

In an ideal world, employees would give plenty of notice before moving on, and employers would never give an employee a reason to do anything less.

But it’s not an ideal world, and I won’t bemoan the state of affairs. Sometimes employers determine that it’s within their best interests to fire people without notice, and some-times employees determine that it’s within their best interests to quit without notice. End of story.

One of the commenters on that LinkedIn discussion wrote, “I am hoping one thing for the employee: that she learns to not do it again.”

Well, without having any idea why the employee did what she did, I think that’s a bit much.

Not a fan of the long goodbye

To me, a bad working relationship is like any other bad relationship. It needs to end — and the sooner, the better.

If someone in an abusive relationship decides to leave, does she owe her abuser one more chance to slap her face before she hightails it? I don’t think so.

The truth is that I haven’t always behaved my best at work, but I don’t regret leaving these two jobs or the way I left them.

Forget that. I am not a martyr. As an at will employee, I don’t owe an employer my time and talent. And the employer doesn’t owe me.

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.

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