Why did my employee resign without notice?
It can be a nightmare for an employer when, out of the blue, an employee tells you they are leaving. As your mind whirrs round, wondering how you can recruit a replacement and get them trained before the employee’s 4 weeks’ notice is up, they then go on to announce that they are leaving immediately, today.
It seems to be an increasing trend in some industries, and in some parts of the country.
And many employers don’t even get the courtesy of a letter or conversation – employees just don’t turn up for work one day, and when the employer investigates they discover the person has started work for someone else.
Of course if you have a well drafted contract you may have a clause allowing you to clawback costs if someone leaves without working their notice. You could, potentially, sue them for breach of contract and the costs you have incurred as a result of them not working their notice.
But starting legal action when you are unexpectedly short-staffed probably isn’t your top priority. Realistically, it will probably cost you more to pursue the case than you can hope to recoup - and litigation is unlikely to change the employee’s decision.
So why is this happening? And what can an employer do about it?
What makes an employee resign without working their notice?
It's pretty rare for a highly engaged, motivated employee, with an interesting job, good prospects and a supportive manager and team to quit without working their notice. People who feel well treated, reasonably well paid and with plenty of opportunities to develop their skills and build on their experience just don't quit overnight.
And yet look for a moment – honestly – at the type of work and conditions on offer to employees across huge swathes of the UK economy.
Working life in the UK is pretty awful for many people.
The effects of years of low wages, and no pay increases following the financial crash in 2008 haunt workplaces just as they seem to influence our politics. Even today, wage increases are minimal and have barely caught up with pre-crash levels. A 0.4% increase in real terms in 2018, and a predicted 0.8% real terms increase predicted for 2019 – worth a measly £20 per month to an average-paid employee.
How motivated would you be by that?
Add in the long hours (often unpaid) that are required in many roles to get ever-increasing workloads done, and a "that's the job you signed up for" attitude if workers complain, and you start to see why maybe, just maybe, some employees don’t feel a great deal of love for their jobs or their employers any more.
And work is very insecure now for many people. If employers aren’t trying to change working hours and work patterns to squeeze more productivity from fewer employees, then they are restructuring and changing roles, closing down services or teams and opening new ones which existing employees aren’t trained or qualified to work in. Redundancy is an ever-present threat in many, many businesses.
All these decisions are made to fit “the needs of the business”, but there’s rarely much thought about the needs of employees.
What might seem pretty straightforward to an employer – such as changing a shift pattern by a couple of hours, or introducing a new shift, may have a devastating impact on a family whose childcare arrangements involve a quick handover as one parent comes home and the other parent leaves for work. Or single parent families where new working patterns don’t match nursery opening hours or school transport arrangements.
And what a drama some employers can make when an employee asks for a bit of flexibility back. A change to their working hours so they can care for an elderly relative or save some money on childcare costs can feel like asking for the moon in some organisations.
Do they want a job or don’t they?
And then there are the zero hours contracts, where the worker doesn’t know from one day to the next, how much work they will be given or what they will be paid this week. Not daring to turn down work because that will mean they aren’t offered any more, or turning up expecting a full day’s work and being sent home after an hour because business wasn’t as busy as expected.
Would you feel loyal, motivated and engaged?
Well, if they don’t like it they could look for another job.
Exactly. And many do.
We are always in such a hurry these days. Business moves quickly. We’re very busy – particularly if we have a vacancy to fill – so we try to recruit quickly too. We want the candidate in for interview this week. So we ring, email or text an appointment for a couple of days’ time.
Now just stop and think for a minute – if someone in your business asked YOU for holiday in 2 days’ time, what would you say? In a lot of businesses the answer would be “No. You need to give more notice. It says so in your contract.”
So what does your employee do? You’ve told them they could look for another job if they don’t like the way you work, but you’ve also told them they can’t have the time off to interview for one.
They'll probably call in sick - you didn’t really leave them much choice.
And if they are offered the job, chances are the recruiter is desperate for them to start immediately. If the applicant can’t start on Monday they might offer the job to someone else who can.
And now your employee has a dilemma.
Resign without notice and get a shiny new job, or give notice but risk the new employer not waiting for you and giving the job to someone else?
To keep the best employees, it's time to rethink how we work
There are, of course, other reasons why employees quit without notice.
They hate their jobs. They can’t stand another day working for their manager. They don’t get on with their colleagues. They have personal issues at home. They may have mental health issues. They may be a square peg in a round hole.
But in many, many cases there is a direct link between the way employees are treated and their decisions to resign without notice.
I don’t think any employer has deliberately set out to create this situation. We got here by accident. But everyone suffers.
Think back to that highly motivated and engaged employee at the start of this blog. How close is work in your organisation to this ideal?
Because being a better employer, offering better quality work, paying a fair rate for the job, managing people well so they are focused, motivated and supported, communicating with them regularly, treating them with respect, planning ahead, training them for the future and operating a give and take approach to flexibility, is the best and most reliable way to stop employees resigning without working their notice.
And those things are all absolutely within every employer’s control.
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