Feel Guilty About Quitting Your Job? Why Too Much Notice Might Be a Bad Idea

On Season 5, Episode 8 of Mad Men, Megan, Don Draper's second wife, tells Don that she wants to leave Sterling Cooper Draper Price to go back to her real passion -- acting. She offers to give formal notice and even train her replacement. Don responds coolly telling her that she can leave at once and that there is no need for her to train her replacement. Her last day will be tomorrow.

Judging by Don's tone, one can't help but think that there is a bit of resentment and hostility in his quick decision -- that he's secretly disappointed that he and his wife don't share the same thrill from landing an ad campaign for, say, beans.

But Don has a point. If an employee is already distracted by her dreams -- which have nothing to do with the job she does for you -- is it really beneficial to have her around two to four additional weeks? Maybe you should let her fly away. As in Megan's case, the company existed long before she got there and it will continues to exist after she leaves. So why do so many people feel so guilty about leaving their job, and never feel like they are giving enough at the end -- even if they've devoted years to the company, gave one month's notice and have thoroughly trained their replacement?

In other words: Is there such a thing as giving too much notice at a job?

The answer is yes -- and I'm the sucker who gave it!

When I decided to leave my last job in 2009, I began to think about the terms on which I should depart. So I looked to, of all places, the White House for guidance. The way I figured it, George W. Bush probably met with Barack Obama only once or twice to show him a few files and how to sleep at his desk without anyone noticing, right? So I decided that my exit should surpass a presidential one. I gave one month's notice, with the option of freelancing afterwards, if everything wasn't in place. Most people told me my offer was unnecessary and excessive, but I really had no other choice. Or so I thought.

According to the experts, the appropriate number of weeks' notice depends on many variables, such as whether you have a contract that states the amount of weeks you're supposed to give, whether it's a busy time of year for the company a few other less obvious factors. Of course, if you have another job that you're starting right away, it your exit date could depend on when your new company needs you as well. Bottom line? Yes, you should always leave your job with dignity; but, no, you don't have to give six months in order to do that.

So let's say you're leaving your job and decide to give a generous one month's notice. Here's what may happen. (Full disclosure: I am basing this premonition on my diary entries from my last month of my last job, when I gave four weeks' notice):

Week 1: Everyone circles around you like a gaggle of geese upon hearing the news. You suddenly realize that the people who you thought hated you are actually going to miss you more than they miss their dead uncle. One person even bakes you a cake with quail eggs and leaves it in a basket on your desk chair. And that person works on a different floor and at a different company. Towards the end of the first week, you and your about-to-be-former co-workers have bonded so deeply that you audition to play in Family Feud: The Workplace Edition.

Week 2: You come in that Monday to discover a list left on your desk by your boss that includes all the things you must not forget to do before leaving. It's a scroll, really, and it's so long that it hangs out the window and touches down on Broadway and 34th Street. And you work in Staten Island.

Week 3: You start coming into work with an extra bounce in your step and the taste of freedom on your tongue -- even as your co-workers slowly begin to turn on you. You catch on to this after receiving your fourth piece of hate mail, written in cut-out letters from a magazine. You also notice a few of your colleagues logging into your Facebook account and posting Satanic verse on your page. By Thursday night, the guy in the next cubicle has begun burning a voodoo doll of your body on The High Line.

Week 4: There is still no replacement for you on premises, nor can you find any job posting on any career website that sounds even remotely like your job. You ask your boss if he's planning to hire somebody and he immediately has a nervous breakdown at your feet. "How can you leave us?" followed by "Please don't go!" followed by "WE NEED MORE TIME! YOU DIDN'T GIVE ENOUGH NOTICE! EVERYONE KNOWS IT TAKES 20 WEEKS TO FIND SOMEONE!"

More time? I gave you a month! How much more time do you need?

Lesson Learned: Give two weeks' notice unless your contract states otherwise, change your name and ask the stranger with the quail eggs for a reference. And if you see smoke coming from The High Line, you know it's probably time to pack up.

And, by the way, do your best to make sure your co-workers don't feel like you threw them under the bus on the way out the door. You may need a reference down the road -- and you never know when you'll want a refresher course in Voodoo.

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