Recruitment Guide

How to stop your notice period becoming a problem

Written By
Andy Bristow

Along with salary, an employee’s notice period can be one of the major sticking points in any recruitment process. It’s common for us to advise candidates on how to negotiate their notice period, but given it can be the difference between taking the next step in your career and staying stuck in a job you’re no longer enjoying, it’s something that any candidate should be prepared for.

Of course, there are times when a notice period doesn’t pose too much of a problem – this is usually when a candidate has a good working relationship with their current employer, or their new employer is happy to wait. However, when a candidate’s notice period looks like it could be a roadblock to their career progression, knowing how to work around it is crucial. Here are a few essential tips on how to avoid a notice period headache.

Contractual obligations

The first thing to understand is that, from a statutory perspective, you are obliged to give a week’s notice if you’ve worked at a business for more than 12 months. Any further notice is a contractual matter between yourself and your employer. This means there is always scope to negotiate an earlier leaving date, and in these situations it is always better to seek a compromise than confrontation.

In some cases, however, confrontation is almost inevitable. I know of someone who was compelled to work a 12-week notice period but not given any meaningful work during that time. In fact, this fairly senior member of staff was asked to carry out tasks such as emptying the bins. In this instance, and others where compromise seems impossible, it may be that a more assertive stance is required. But before you reach that point, it’s worth considering the risks involved in choosing not to honour your notice period.

Firstly, it would represent a breach of your employment contract, and unless you can demonstrate that your employer was similarly in breach of contract, they may seek compensation if it’s possible to demonstrate a material loss as a result of you leaving earlier than agreed. For example, there may have been a drop in profitability that was directly related to your absence or the cost of hiring a temporary replacement. You should also consider the possibility of damaging the relationship with your former employer, and the implications this may have in the future – for example, it could affect your chances of getting a positive reference for your next role.

In practice, it’s highly unlikely that your ex-employer would take court action to recover costs, making engaging in reaching an agreed leaving date the best option by far for both candidate and employer.

Be firm but fair

In an ideal world, you won’t need to resort to aggressive tactics when it comes to negotiating your notice period, and one of the best ways to avoid this is to be totally upfront with your employer. Tell them you’ve enjoyed your time working with them but that your focus is ultimately on your new job – you’d like to discuss getting your notice period down, and how you can help in the time you have left. You’re not saying you’re not going to do your job; you’re just saying you don’t want it. It’s quite a powerful thing to say, but if your current employer knows your commitment is with your new employer, it may convince them to let you leave earlier. After all, why would they want to keep somebody who isn’t committed?

Think about holiday

Unused annual leave is very useful when you need to negotiate a shorter notice period. If you’ve got ten days’ holiday in the bank when you hand in your notice, your month’s notice effectively becomes two weeks. This is the sort of scenario where I have advised candidates to get quite firm with their employer.

Let’s say, for example, a candidate is on a month’s notice and their new employer wants them to start in two weeks. In the candidate’s eyes, there’s no great reason why they couldn’t be released, but their employer says they’ve got to stick around. The employee then says, “Okay, I’ll take the last two weeks as holiday,” and the employer refuses it because they feel like they’d still be paying for them. That’s in spite of the fact they’ll owe them the accrued holiday pay in their last pay packet.

In normal circumstances, that holiday would be granted. It’s only when it’s refused – almost for the sake of making life difficult – that I’ve had to advise candidates to go back to the employer and say, “I will be leaving on this date.” You’ve almost backed them into a corner then, but ideally you’d like to think you can negotiate.

Reassure potential employers

Your notice period can be problematic when you’re trying to get out early, but it can also be a problem before you’ve even been interviewed. Some employers, for instance, won’t interview somebody knowing they have a three-month notice period. Should you declare your notice period in such cases? The answer is yes – if you are asked directly about it – but you should also be prepared to say, “I feel like I can negotiate this down; I have holiday in the bank, I have a good relationship with my current employer.” Basically, you need to make sure that door isn’t closed before you’ve even had a chance to open it.