How to maintain performance when a person is expected to work full notice period
As an employer we want the employee to stay working and contributing to the last possible day of their notice period – to get the most out of the “asset” before they leave. As an employee, we have made our decision to leave and we want to go as quickly as possible, working as little of our notice period!
This is a challenge that faces every employee and employer more often that we would like to admit to. In business this is one time, where if we stick to the letter of the contract or policy, we will be doing immeasurable damage to our business and its reputation.
“An employee has handed in his resignation letter. His position requires three months notice period. It means his employment will terminate on 31 November. But since his resignation letter was accepted his performance dropped dramatically.
The question is – if we wanted to let him go earlier would we have to pay his notice in full?”
Why have notice periods?
To answer the question posed in the title of this piece we need to understand the purpose of the notice period. The prime reason for having a notice period is to protect the firm when a person wants to leave. In the UK this can be one week, a month or often three months for key and management roles. The more difficult to replace the individual, the longer the notice period, i.e providing the employer with a greater opportunity of finding a replacement before the current post holder leaves. The up side for the employee is of course if the company no-longer needs you, they have to pay the notice period too. This provides you with some time to find a replacement role (not easy in the current climate I know).
Some organisations have long notice periods for reasons of holding company and commercially confidential information – I’ll deal with them later.
Should all staff work full notice period?
This is an interesting one. If we want to minimise the disruption to our organisation, then the sooner the person leaves the better. No matter how professional the individual, here we are talking about the psychological effects on a human – not a machine. We need to look at the psychological decisions the individual has made and the impact this will have on their on going performance.
Personally I think it is mad to have a person work their full notice – it does nothing for managers and worse the fact that the individuals is having to justify to themselves that they have made the right decision means they will have changed attitude to the firm (its perfectly human) and this will have a negative impact.
The psychological change during notice periods
To a greater or lesser extent, any person that is performing satisfactorily or well in a role is engaged with the job and organisation. When (for whatever reason) a person opts to leave, their psychological association with that job and employer have to change. Often the individual will need to create enough psychological (or emotional) momentum to:
- Justify that the current role/ company is not for them
- That the new job is the right decision
- That other offers rejected were rejected for the right reasons
- That the new role will be better for them
(see the research by By Dr. John Sullivan, Head and Professor of Human Resource Management College of Business, San Francisco State University Why People Leave a Job for a Better Job c. 1998)
This means putting effort into proving each of these assumptions is correct. To do this the individual will often take themselves through a Kubler Ross style attitude and emotional change.
In actually taking action to find a new role suggests that some change/ action or reaction has already occurred, so many people will look to justify that leaving the role is the right thing to do. To achieve that the human brain will be looking for things that go wrong or don’t work. They will be talking with colleagues about these factors and often use the factors in the discussions to involve third parties to help them persuade themselves that they have made the right decision. This has the knock-on effect of potentially creating unrest in those around them. Many people will not even be doing much of this consciously – it is often an unconscious action.
The one thing the organisation can do to help both the individual and most importantly to protect remaining staff and the organisation is to create an exit plan. This is not “working as normal” and can never be. The goal must be to tie up loose ends, and prepare for handover (to whomever), in as shortest time as possible. If the notice period is managed like a project – with performance beginning-middle-end stages and measures, you may well get the best out of the individual concerned.
The dangers of people working full notice periods
Above I have outlined some of the behaviour changes that may occur in individuals that have “psychologically left the building”, here is a real, yet extreme example of the risks involved on letting someone work when they want to leave:
“We have a member of staff who is working his notice period. His job will be redundant on Friday.
Video evidence would suggest that he committed gross misconduct over the weekend (this is still being collated to be absolutely sure). He works in a petrol station which should have been closed on Easter Monday but he opened the premises and appears to have taken cash for fuel.”
And social media is making this more interesting:
“One of our employees commented on the other’s FaceBook status (she had written she has got a new job) that if she had told us of her resignation and she said no she will be telling us on Monday. In response, the other replied its terrible at work, its getting worse and that she cannot wait to go on maternity leave and get out of this place. Employee replied, one down more to go!”
If someone puts something negative on Twitter or FaceBook, apart from dismissing them for gross misconduct, at this time (they are leaving and working notice) there is little in practice that we can do. So the best strategy is to minimise the material they can complain about. Net-Rep (internet reputation) is becoming increasingly important.
Logic is often not part of the process. We are dealing with an individual that will create (real or imaginary) reasons why it was the right reason to leave a company. In the development of strong reasons to leave, some people will feel that the organisation has treated them badly (again real or imagined) and a percentage will want compensation from the organisation for that “wrong”. In this case cash – in others it may be petty theft (stationary etc) or just as small as taking time to do their own thing. i.e. not working and giving the organisation more than “they deserve”.
Should organisations pay full notice period?
Yes you will need to pay notice – but agree a handover plan and get them out. It is the cost of doing business. If you expect to get a productive work full notice period, then you are kidding yourself. It just wont happen.
Roles with company and commercially confidential information
This is a different situation. In this situation we need the person out of the organisation as fast as possible – and for them not to start with the new organisation for as long as possible. In effect making much of the knowledge the individual has irrelevant.
As colleague David Boyd (a fellow member of the CIPD) said:
“…you can hardly expect someone working their notice to do so with the utmost vigour and enthusiasm but you have a right to expect ‘reasonable’ performance, so if they start coming in an hour late and taking 3 hour lunch breaks and/or doing next to nothing whilst at ‘work’ then it’s up to you/his manager to do just that and to invoke the normal disciplinary process if needs be. But if the employment is going to end anyhow, this might be considered a total waste of everyone’s time.”
Counter-offer to a resigning employee
Counter-offers fall under the same category although many may not see it this way. When an employee has not only been active looking for another employer, been through two or more interviews and accepted an offer – they are psychologically ready to go. It’s NOT about the money (unless of course they asked for a raise & you previously declined it!), its about a breakdown in relations or lost opportunity somewhere. In which case you had your chance, and you failed to engage enough.
Psychologically they have “left the building” if you make an offer that “keeps them” all you have done is bought a few more months – they will leave… eventually – they have already made the decision – hence handing their notice in! Let them go and learn from it. Why were they not on your talent plan who else have you missed? is the talent plan static and not personally engaging with these people?
RapidBI’s top tips on staff working full notice periods:
What does this mean in practice?
- Recognise – that a notice period will not be “work as usual” for either party
- Action – Start the recruitment for the replacement the day the resignation letter is received
- Policy – Use any contract as a guide and not a straight jacket – as an employer forget the money and focus on overall and long term performance
- Involve – Agree a handover plan – and avoid adding to the list every few days!
- Dissolve – Let the person “go” on full pay as early as possible (with the employee having the options of handing the car/ laptop etc back on last “due” day of “employment”
- Be realistic – If making people redundant – pay full notice and let them go as soon as they have closed any immediate work – if they are truly redundant – you don’t need them!
- Immunise your org – Avoid as an employer being “petty” about any aspects (time, money, assets etc) – the sooner they are out and away the better for everyone – employee, manager, employees remaining , HR and the organisation as a whole.
Should your employees work full notice period – simple answer no. ensure they do the min amount of work for an effective handover and get them out!
Page reviewed & updated May 2015, reviewed June 2018