Is the Notion of Two Weeks’ Notice Obsolete? One Company Has An Alternative

When employees quit, two weeks of notice is rarely enough time for an employer to fill their position. Are there alternatives? One company has an option.
employee attrition

The traditional model of employees providing two weeks’ notice to quit doesn’t work in the modern talent economy. The latest average reading of time-to-fill new positions was 42 days, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2016 “Human Capital Benchmarking Report.” Furthermore, it cost employers an average of $4,129 per hire to replace the previous employee, the report said.

Why does such an inefficient norm persist?

“Two weeks’ notice is just kind of an artifact,” said Mary Beth Wynn, senior vice president of people at Jellyvision, an employee communication software company based in Chicago.

Instead, Jellyvision uses what it calls a “graceful leaving” policy to help both the organization prepare for open positions, as well as departing employees to have a support system for their desire to move on. When an employee begins to job hunt, considers applying to school, thinks about moving, etc., the company’s policy allows them to set up a conversation with their manager about the idea and to explore potential next steps. Managers can then provide contacts for networking and accommodate interview times — all while the employee does their work as usual.

This is opposed to practices at other companies, where employers shut the employee out of the company altogether after notice of leave. “We want our attitude to be ‘of course we care about you and what’s best for your career, and we want to be supportive of that,’ ” Wynn said. The same policy applies to when Jellyvision managers consider letting an employee go.

This policy also allows managers to better understand what the employee wants from the job, and the two can potentially make that change internally. For example, if an employee considers leaving for a managerial role, they could explore that opportunity within Jellyvision, thus retaining the worker.

Other experts agree with Jellyvision’s graceful leave approach, including Brian Kropp, HR practice leader at CEB, a research and advisory company based in Arlington, Virginia. When an employee says they’re leaving, management can announce it and share how much notice they received. “Through your language, through your communication, you can set a new norm as to how much time employees can give when they’re leaving,” he said.

Another tool could be a bonus for staying longer, he said. Mandating a policy, though, won’t work. “Using hard accountability in terms of changing policies or rules very rarely — if ever — works. It has to be a soft accountability, carrot sort of approach,” Kropp said.

To avoid turnover as much as possible, companies could also use technology, said Rick Hackett, professor and Canada research chair in organizational behavior and human performance at DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “Data analytics is now being applied by most capable and progressive organizations as a means to keep a ‘real-time pulse’ of employee sentiments, allowing quick interventions to ward off turnover, especially of star employees,” he said.

Turnover rates at Jellyvision are in the teens at their highest, Wynn said; it was 9 percent last year. The company even sees former employees returning after formally leaving for new jobs. Three people came back last year after a brief time at jobs elsewhere, Wynn said.

Under this policy, Wynn said she doesn’t worry when one of her roughly 340 employees decides to leave. “Maybe people shouldn’t be so worried about people leaving. If you become known as a company from which people go on to do other great things, that in and of itself can be great for your culture,” she said.

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The graceful leaving policy at Jellyvision has been less about a formal program and more about creating a culture. It started with the company’s founder, Harry Gottlieb, who was focused on culture from the start of the organization, Wynn said. For other companies to use this, “you just need to create a culture of respect, and you need to demonstrate it,” Wynn said. It’s important to show that culture by publicly sharing stories of employees leaving so that others can trust that management is serious about making graceful leaving successful.

In the end, though, turnover is inevitable, and having open conversations can be beneficial, said Victoria Medvec, professor of management and organizations and the co-founder and executive director of the Kellogg School of Management’s Center for Executive Women at  Northwestern University.

“Knowing early and creating a willingness for employees to tell you early about their interest in going elsewhere is very helpful,” she said. This allows for advanced notice for the employer to start a succession planning process.

However, sometimes this can backfire on the employee, Medvec said. If an employee shares that they’re job-hunting, it could negatively impact managerial perceptions of the worker and their commitment to the job. If their job hunt then falls flat, they’re in a role where the manager thinks negatively of them.

“For all the reasons that it might be a danger for the employee to be giving that information early, it’s kind of helpful for the employer’s perspective to get that information early,” Medvec said.

Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email editor@talenteconomy.io.