Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Two Weeks Notice

Do you really have to give two week's notice before you quit a job?  And why is this considered "traditional"?  Turns out, it is a tradition started by, and for the benefit of, employers.

Years ago, I worked at a hydraulics supplier, assembling hose fittings and shipping boxes of parts - and delivering finished hose fittings to quarries, shops, and factories.  It was OK work, but at $4.25 an hour, just barely enough to live on.  I applied for and got a job as a contract employee for Carrier at the princely sum of $8 an hour.  I thought I was rich!  And in a way, I was - $16,000 a year wasn't a bad wage in 1981, and indeed, until recently, some unfortunate folks were making that little at retail jobs.

So I told my boss, on a Thursday, that I was leaving.  "You have to give me two weeks notice!" he said, "I need time to find someone to replace you!"  So I told the folks at Carrier I would start a week from next Thursday.  But my old boss said, "You have to give me two full weeks notice!  You can't leave until the Monday after that!"   I grumbled but said OK, and the folks at Carrier weren't happy - they needed help now and might have gone and hired someone else in my stead.

Turns out, that's what my old boss was hoping for.  The next week, I looked in the paper and there was no job posting.  I waited a few days and then I asked my boss when he was going to "start looking" for my replacement.  "Oh," he said, "I don't know.  Maybe a few weeks after you left!"

That did it.  He screwed around with me just to mess with my head and hope that the job offer from Carrier would evaporate as a result of his "two weeks notice" nonsense.  So I grabbed my coffee cup and toothbrush and walked out.  I spend the next week-and-a-half at my parents' house, water-skiing.  And Carrier was happy to have me come in early.

Recently, there has been something called "the great resignation" going on.  People are quitting their jobs in record numbers - not just hourly employees or fast-food workers, but middle- and upper-management as well.  Many people are retiring - either early or at retirement age.  The age pyramid, which I have written about before, is started to show its distorted shape. The next generation isn't as large as the previous one, or more precisely, isn't larger the way they traditionally are.  As a result, we have a labor shortage.

There are other causes - people are quitting to get better-paying jobs.  Employers are offering more money to new hires - sometimes more than to existing employees.  So the existing employees quit and go over to another company.   There is also the increase in abusive behavior by some anti-maskers and Karens of the world.  Would you want to be a flight attendant right now?  With all the bullshit going on?  People are being abusive to fast-food workers, like the lady who threw hot soup in a cashier's face, even after the cashier offered to replace the soup or give a refund (the only two things she could do, really).

So people are quitting their jobs and surprise, surprise, managers and bosses are asking for "two weeks notice!"   And often it is the same old gag - by holding an employee hostage, they hope the new employer will hire someone else in the interim.

Do you have to give two weeks notice?  Some employers, like my old boss, try to imply that this is the law or something, or a tradition.  Some will imply that they will not give a good recommendation if you don't give two weeks notice - but likely those bosses aren't going to give recommendations anyway - and besides, few companies allow bosses to give recommendations, good or bad, for fear of being sued.

In general employment law, in the USA anyway, I am not aware of any State that legally requires you to give two weeks notice before quitting.  In fact, I doubt such a law would be Constitutional.  We did abolish slavery a long time ago.   If you are working under a contract, however, it might be a different deal.  They can't make you work (again, slavery) but if you violate the terms of the contract, you could be liable for damages.  But contracts like that are usually only applicable to people in the upper echelons - movie stars and whatnot - the sort that have non-compete clauses.  Although, I am hearing noises that some employers are using "labor contracts" with low-wage employees.  Whether those are enforceable or not is a good question.

Many States, particularly Red States, have "at will" employment, or as they used to say at Carrier, "I came here looking a job, I'll leave the same way!"

Should you give notice before quitting?  In general, I would say it depends on the job, the nature of the job, and why you are leaving.  Obviously, if your boss pisses you off and you say, "I quit!" then giving notice is sort of dumb.  Even in other situations, I am not sure the two most awkward weeks of your life are really worthwhile.  Unless your old employer is decent, really appreciates your hard work, and wishes you well in your new job, odds are, it is going to be very, very strained.

My gut reaction is the same I had back in 1980 when I left the hydraulics place.  It is nice to be courteous to your old employer, but when they squander that two weeks you gave them, just to be spiteful, then, well, fuck them.

Recently, I have read online about people being "anti-work" and many of them tell stories of quitting their jobs, where bosses imply they legally have to give two weeks notice.  Some just walk out - no one really cares whether you gave two weeks notice in a retail job.  Others stay on for the two weeks, only to be given the worst shifts possible - doing overnights on holidays, for example.  There are many ways an employer can abuse this.

In other situations, particularly professional jobs, giving notice allows you to tie up loose ends on projects before you leave.  For example, at the Patent Office, there were cases in the pipeline that I had to finish, as well as the reassignment of my existing docket to other Examiners.  The same is true at the first law firm I worked at - I gave them notice so I could wind down my docket.  That was a bit more awkward, as the firm was in the process of dividing in half, and there were a lot of bad feelings flying around. I left in part because I didn't want to be part of that.

Other places, less so.  The big odious firm I briefly worked at had a security guard escort me off the premises, when they found out I was leaving. They were trying to be all Silicon Valley "high tech" and whatnot (doing IPOs and VC funding) and I guess that is how it is done out there - you leave and it is like the Mafia - "your're dead to me!"

But since then, I have been self-employed, and my boss is a total ass.  I did give him well over a years' notice when I quit that job.  And it is OK to say you quit, and OK to give up on a job or a career when it stops bringing you joy.

I wrote before about a friend of mine whose parents forced him to go to music school.  He wanted to be a pilot, but his parents thought that was beneath their stature in life.  Hmm.... Sounds like the same situation Trump's brother had!  Anyway, he spend a boatload of money going to music school, only to realize there were few jobs in the field, most paid very little, and there were 100 qualified applicants for every opening - 20 of whom were extremely well qualified.  He was not one of them.

So he paid his way through Embry-Riddle and became a commercial pilot.  Fast-forward 30 years and he realizes that the fun is no longer there. He also realizes that mandatory retirement age is fast approaching, and he has two years of combined vacation and sick leave coming to him.  So he retires.  And that's OK.  It is the same reason I retired - I was done having fun and it seemed more like stress than the fun it was in the early days, so it is time to move on.  And we were both fortunate to be in a position to do so.

I suspect that the same is true of a lot of people who are in this "great resignation" thing - at least the older ones.

We went through this labor shortage nonsense a couple of decades ago.  I recall quite vividly how hard it was to hire anyone at any wage, back in the late 1990's and early 2000's.  We had a recession right after that happened.  I think the two are connected.  In any business, the last hired is the most expensive and least productive, in many cases.  You hire extra people to get more work done and serve more customers, and you realize that while you are making a profit on the first guy you hired, the last guy is barely breaking even, if not operating at a loss.

That happened to me, so I closed my office and went back to solo practice.  Turns out the "first hire" (me) was the most profitable employee.  Each additional employee I hired was decreasingly profitable until the last one was a loss.  And meanwhile, I had to spend more time managing employees, which meant the output of my most profitable employee (me) decreased.  It was like an algorithm!  And I suspect that many companies see this same effect in a tight labor market.  The guy who has to be bribed with a lot of cash to get him to come to work, is the least effective worker.

There is an old saying in the employment game, that if you offer more money to an employee to get them to stay on (and get them to turn down another job) the chances are, they will leave in six months anyway.  It turns out that the reasons they were leaving were not just about money.  They either wanted career growth, were bored with the work, were bored with the coworkers, or just found the work environment unpleasant.  It is an interesting phenomenon, but I've seen it happen a few times, firsthand.  Something to think about before you offer an employee more money to stay on.

Much of this "anti-work" nonsense is coming from union organizers, of course.  And there is nothing wrong with that, only that, over time, as unions become more powerful, they will do odious things.  But given today's circumstances, it would take the unions a few decades to devolve into the corrupt mess that was the Teamsters back in the day, or the UAW even fairly recently.

Union leaders realize, over time, that they are selling a product called "labor peace" and that employers are willing to pay cash - under the table - for that product.  So they push through a contract that employees might not like, and take cash under the table as a bribe.  I mean, act shocked - that folks affiliated with organized crime would, well, commit crimes.

It seems, however, that the time for labor organizing is coming - we have gone too long with stagnant wages and "the gig economy" - the latter of which was just a bold power-grab to take crappy, minimum-wage manual labor jobs, like driving a cab, delivering a pizza, or working in a warehouse, and then skimming a big piece off the top and handing it to some Silicon Valley company, by calling it "tech" - when it is not tech, just 19th Century Robber Baronism.

People are fed up, and I can't say as I blame them.  You have to set up the system so that people can actually win if they work at it.  That was the system I worked at, when I was a 20-something.  Even at my minimum-wage job,  I could afford an apartment, food on the table, a few beers, and even a little weed.  All that seems to have changed, at least in many urban districts.

That being said, if you are going to quit your job, line up another one first.  And if your boss asks for two weeks notice, well, I am not sure I would give it to him!