Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Turnabout May Be Fair Play

I had a really interesting exchange with a candidate that has left me perplexed.  The more I think about it, the stranger it is.

Here is the back story.  I placed a gentleman in a fairly senior director position.  He was scheduled to start his new job mid-month.  His new company’s insurance would kick in on the first day of the month after he started.  I asked him when he was going to resign so I could counsel him on how to do it gracefully and tactfully and in such a way that they did not make him a counter-offer.

His response blew me away.

He planned to resign on the Wednesday or Thursday of the week before his start, effectively giving his company only two or three days notice.  I asked him why he did not want to give them two weeks notice.  Since he was offered and accepted the job during the previous month, he told me that he wanted to wait until the new month before resigning.  That way his insurance from the old company would be in effect all month and his new insurance would kick in the following month with no loss in coverage.

He told me that he liked his current job but the opportunity he had taken was better on many grounds.  I told him that only giving his existing company a couple of days notice was unfair.  While there is no law that says two weeks notice is mandatory, it is customary, a policy in many employment manuals (although they are customarily given out only after people are employed) and it is also common courtesy, especially since he liked his current job.

He went on to explain his reasoning.  He commented that the offer letters of all companies now say that he is an “employee at will”, which, in his interpretation, means that he can be terminated at any time, for any reason and not necessarily be given any notice. That termination may or may not include severance, which companies, for the most part, do not guarantee.   He therefore felt that the company where he currently worked had now become, an “employer at will,” meaning that he could leave at any time, for any reason and not give notice.  He said, “Turnabout is fair play.”

I questioned him at length.  His logic was inescapable.  He explained that he had witnessed many companies terminate employees and ask them to leave the building immediately.  He felt this was devastating, demoralizing and unfair.  He also explained that many employees sometimes resign with two weeks notice and are then immediately terminated and asked to leave with no pay for the two weeks.  He went on to say that he felt most companies design their benefits to protect the company rather than the employee – stock options and employer contributions to retirement plans that vest over very long periods of time, thereby insuring that the company will probably not have to make the full contribution; no guarantee of severance is given, nor is guarantee of notice of termination; commissions on new business generally are not paid immediately, thereby leaving the issue open as to whether they will be paid if the employee leaves. And, of course, health insurance is paid only one month at a time.

His words left me breathless.  I am wondering if this is the beginning of a trend.  Employees have become jaded.  Companies have shown very little loyalty, even to long-term employees.  Perhaps, in his past, this candidate had been burned by a former employer – as many people have.  And now it is payback time.

Ironically, after this happened, I had a candidate who gave two weeks notice and was terminated with no further pay the next day. In the above case, the employee did the right thing, ultimately giving his current employer proper notice.He is a good guy and will be a fine employee.

One of the reasons why people give two weeks’ notice is because they want to preserve their references and leave on positive terms.  But the truth is, lawyers counsel companies not to give references.  And since references come from individuals, rather than the human resources departments, maybe the employee’s logic is that being nice to the company doesn’t really matter. Could this be the start of a trend?  Is this the result of years of employees feeling that their companies really have no particular loyalty to them?

I would like to know what people think.

Food for considerable thought.


  1. Hi Paul,
    As you said, his logic can be justified, but I am of the opinion two wrongs do not make a right.

    When an employee is terminated in a day, most agencies will do so with a severance package of at least a minimum of several weeks.

    If an AOR client decides to move to another agency there is generally a hand over period, before their exit.

    Anger and frustration is not a good way to manage ones network. I would say, leave a company the way you would want a company to leave you.

    Best Regards,

  2. Paul,

    This is a most alarming discussion with few good or easy answers. Happily neither our company or a single departing employee has ever joined this deplorable trend.

    Livingston Miller
    Seiter & Miller Advertising
    New York, NY

  3. I worked for a company for 20+ years and never had a less than glowing review. When it was sold and new management took over, I was given 30 minutes to pack up my office, offered 4 weeks severance and told my health coverage would cease at the end of the month.

    When employers stop upholding their end of the social contract, it is only logical for employees to do the same. Corporations have all the power. Employees don't have to volunteer to be their financial victims.

  4. Hi Paul.
    I certainly hope this is not a trend and that this is just the action of someone who has become overly jaded. I was taught long ago to always try and "leave as gracefully as you entered". At times this has been difficult. However, our world is a small world and it's never advisable to burn a bridge. It's always best to take the high road--after all, we are an industry of optimists and dreamers for "what can be" (positively).
    Best, Jeff McClelland

  5. Your point of view has raised major questions about how critical the concept of "good faith" is in an industry that is nurtured by relationships and people willing to share thought.
    The individuals I know in this biz are people of integrity. Corporate financial pressures and govt regulation, however, tend to undermine the principles of good faith that energize and support the critical part of the biz--ideas, perspective, relationships and fairness.
    As a recruiter, I get strange responses when I acknowledge that the HR and legals may need to have a signed contract--but I am happy to do business on a handshake.
    I sincerely doubt that departing employees feel the need to protect the relationships with the employer as the references and loyalties will be, not from the "employer," but colleagues "under the radar."
    Am the first to support and press for the gracious exit. But the realities have been set by the agencies' legal departments. Candidates need to call it as they see it.

  6. In a moment of weakness, I posted the above comment as anonymous. But as the issue of "good faith" appears to be such a huge issue, how can I not sign?

  7. As someone recently seriously burned on this issue, I have to disagree: after 3.5 years with my agency going above and beyond the call in most respects, new management came in, told me it was vital I stay and convinced me in "good faith" to drop any potential looking I had started because of the uncertainty of the situation. Two months later I was kicked out to cut costs, with not one penny's severance and one month's benefits. Good faith? Where? I couldn't agree more with Paul's candidate: this industry is out to use what it can from you and dump you without compunction when it suits it. I say cover your tuchus, and get it in writing. And in blood.

  8. Just because you CAN do something doesn't mean that you SHOULD. He should give proper notice and help ensure a smooth transition. While he might feel he's "sticking it to the man" he's really leaving a mess for his colleagues to clean up. These are colleagues he may very well cross paths with again and he shouldn't screw them over.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

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