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Twelve Months Notice (cdixon.org)
37 points by frederickcook on Mar 10, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 26 comments

What? No! What?

I've worked in startups my entire adult life and, please take my word for this, there is nothing magical about startup bosses that change the dynamic between employer and employee, and there are no special obligations startup employees shoulder.

If you give 12 months notice, you should prepare to be marginalized in your last year at the company. If you give 2 weeks notice, you should not expect to be blackballed in the industry. If someone gives you a bad reference for giving "only" 2 weeks notice, you should urge your friends never to work for that person again; if a prospective employer makes a stink about that kind of reference, you should avoid working for that employer.

Tech startup employers are fond of a "third-prize-is-you're-fired", "reward for just OK is a severance package" mentality. They don't feel like they owe you a year's advance notice about their plans. Stay professional, but don't bend over backwards for an employer unless you have a specific, personal reason for doing so. "That's how it works in startups" is not a valid reason.

And please, please remember: it is a seller's market for talent.

If you give 12 months notice, you should prepare to be marginalized in your last year at the company.

I gave 12 months notice when working for a startup before leaving for graduate school, and I wasn't "marginalized" at all. Giving my employer plenty of notice gave us time to talk about whether I really wanted to go to grad school (I did); to find a replacement (which I helped with); and to transition projects to other people. It also helped my employer plan: if you have a small technical team and a major contributor leaves, most startups would like more than two weeks to find a good replacement.

Any startup that "marginalizes" an employee who gives extra notice would be petty and small-minded: the employee is doing you a favor. Besides, by marginalizing you, they'd just be wasting the time you have remaining at the company.

If you love your current employer and want to do them a favor, give them lots of notice. I'm not saying you're a crazy person for doing that. I'm saying it's a poor rule of thumb. You are not obligated to give huge amounts of notice to your employer.

I'm an employer. I've had people give me 2 weeks of notice at extremely inopportune times. I am good for a solid recommendation for all of them. You don't dick around with people's careers.

Consider also the flip side of this issue. If you give me 2 months notice, and I need someone for a solid 4 months to execute a project, I may have to start recruiting now to fill that slot in time. We can talk all we want about the sacred bonds of trust between startup founder and startup employee, but none of that competes with the requirement to keep feeding and providing health care for the families of everyone else who works at the company.

No one (certainly not the original article) has suggested that employees should be "obligated to give huge amounts of notice" to their employers. Dixon's point is just that the legalistic, "by the books" approach that is orthodox at a big faceless corporation isn't always the best strategy in a startup.

I'm an employer. I've had people give me 2 weeks of notice at extremely inopportune times.

Right; I certainly wouldn't expect a bad recommendation if I did that. On the other hand, if I recognized that only giving two weeks notice would be inconvenient for my employer, and if it wouldn't be problematic for me, I think giving more notice is just a decent and honest thing to do.

For this reason, if you are an employee working at a startup where the managers are honest, inclusive and fair, you should disregard everything you’ve learned about proper behavior from people outside of the startup world.

For example, let’s suppose you are a two years out of college and have a job at a startup. You like your job but decide you want to go to graduate school. The big company legalistic types will tell you to secretly send in your applications, and, if you get accepted and decide to attend, give your boss two weeks notice.

What you should instead do is talk to your boss as soon as you are seriously considering graduate school.

This is bad advice. You should disregard it.

He states in the article that giving your boss advanced notice is based on the relationship you have with him/her.

ITA: "(Now don’t get me wrong: if you work for bosses who have a legalistic, transactional mindset, by all means give two weeks notice. I gave 4 months notice once to a boss with that mindset and was duly punished for it. But hopefully if you are at a startup you work with people who have the startup, relationship-centric mindset.)"

Even as a lawyer, I would heartily concur that relationships based on trust and cooperation are far better than those based solely on legalistic concerns.

That said, I think the author underestimates the risk of opportunistic behavior by those involved in startups. Even years ago, when I started practicing, I vividly remember the refrain: "My buddies and I started this thing and everything was going well . . . but then it became really valuable . . . and then . . ." You fill in the blank but it was always some variation of "I would never believe he would have done that to me" as the "buddy" stuck some knife in or grabbed some disproportionate share of the reward from the once cooperative effort. The most frequent situation involved a dominant founder, who legally controlled everything, taking opportunistic advantage of co-founders who had trusted in his integrity and ultimately found it to be wanting. There were many other variations, however, and these can take any forms made possible by human ingenuity.

It is important to strike a balance. Normally, nothing good will come out of bad relationships, even if they are documented to the hilt with big, fat contracts. On the other hand, blind trust in a business setting, or even relying on your instincts to judge the character of others while believing them invariably to want to do good, is normally not wise. Trust but document. Just don't overdo it in a way that kills the spirit of cooperation.

Having been there and done that, I totally disagree with the original poster. Once there's money on the table, bad behavior follows soon after.

I don't think that's inevitable ... just very likely.

It's a time at which you're going to find out for certain what someone's character is.

Having worked for (and left) a couple of startups, I'd be reluctant to follow his advice. Most entrepreneurs think of their companies as something between a beloved child and a religion. For some, quitting is like you declared their kid is an ugly git. It's better just to sever the relationship quickly before it has time to sour.

I agree 100%. Whatever the reason, once you make that declaration, you've made it clear that something else in your life is more important than "the company" Most employers don't take that well, and startup founders even less.

Having watched fellow startup employees be let go and told to clear out by the end of the day, I don't believe they (or you, or I) have any duty to give more than the culturally accepted 2-weeks notice.

What I've never understood is the double-standard. Why is it culturally acceptable for the employer to give same-day notice, but the employee should give 2 weeks?

I always advise to give the amount of notice (or severance) the employer would give. If the departure is prompted by a recent layoff, there's not even need to speculate.

In Australia, you might leave the office the day you give notice, but you'll still get paid for the minimum notice period even if the company doesn't want you showing up to work.

I think the lesson is that not every startup is the same. Some will follow the template the author outlined and some will be different. As a rule, I'd say that you know the startup you're working for well enough to know which side you should tend towards.

I agree in principle, but you have to take into consideration the fact that most of the risk in these decisions lies with the employee. Misjudge, and it will be a very unpleasant few months.

As a rule of thumb, I would avoid giving more than required notice when quitting because you're unhappy with the job. There's no way to explain it that won't eventually create a poisonous atmosphere. If it's something less emotionally loaded, like moving to accompany a spouse or to go back to school, then a couple of months notice could be seen as a noble gesture. Any longer and there's no realistic benefit for the employer, but plenty of risk for the employee.

I don't think what Chris Dixon highlights here is exclusive to the startup world, but it's pretty close. A friend once gave 2 month's notice, then extended it to three after the boss begged him to stay, but as soon as he left he was a persona non grata, still dissed behind his back.

There are some other industries (big time consulting, for example) where transience is expected and encouraged, and it's a fair question to ask about that type of commitment up front. Particularly if you're up front about your intentions or expectations during the hiring process, people will be more willing to be understanding when you want to move on, and those recommendations, suggestions and connections can come in handy.

I don't necessarily know if everyone can give those expectations during the hiring process. Personally, I'm going to leave a company as soon as I see a good reason to do so. In other words, I can't give a potential future boss a clear picture of how long I will work there because I don't know myself.

In other words, this advice might work out if you're the kind of person who will think "I want to work for this job for about x months/years and then move on to something else". But not everyone thinks that way.

Regardless, +1 for being clear about your intentions up front. You can't go wrong that way (for most jobs).

I absolutely agree with that, Jason. But I think rather then saying "I want to be with this company x years," possibly say "At some point, I want to move from x to a management position" or "I want to get a graduate degree in 3 to 4 years." This kind of transparency can encourage incentives to keep you around: Partial or complete tuition reimbursement if you take night classes, for example.

Again, not always feasible if you don't know what you want yet or if you're in the wrong environment, but a good strategy when it works </tautology>

Having worked on agreements of trust I have had both good and bad experiences. I had one client whom I had developed a beautiful blog for that was actually starting to get half decent advertising revenue and traffic. Having known the person for a few months outside of the professional relationship, I agreed to work for considerably less than I would have normally. The person had the experience necessary to sell the product, but none of the technical know-how or understanding. They could barely understand how to use technology. They also wanted to consume a huge amount of my time, and at times unnecessarily. After doing some initial brainstorming and kind of getting a feel for the project we decided on terms. Some cash weekly + equity. After delivering a beautiful site and working with the guy to get posts and adverts processed, I was supposed to have started to receive additional payments due to revenue coming in. This wasn't happening. I attempted to explain that I couldn't continue without getting the payments promised and knew that there was no legitimate reason payment couldn't be made. There was almost zero overhead. After a few days of trying to stand my ground, I informed him that I would no longer be willing to work on the project. He tried to convince me to continue to train a replacement without pay. I laughed and explained that I wouldn't help him find someone else to cheat, and that no amount of money could at this point get me to continue working for him. The moral of the story that I took out of this is simple, the relationship works well when partners recognize the importance of fairness and understand the importance of each other and their worth. I think that a huge factor in these relationships is finding someone to work with that doesn't have an over inflated ego. On the converse, legal agreements are drafted for one reason: to protect oneself and remain within the law, and they are intrinsically selfish. Legal agreements that are intended to provide protection and establish terms fairly generally will only be a few pages and can be interpreted by anyone capable of analytical thinking.

This difference in thought process is often described as "cooperative" vs. "adversarial". I like the "relationship" vs. "transactional" analogy as well.

I always start out with a cooperative approach, and fall back to adversarial only when the other party makes it necessary. Over time, you learn to recognize certain personality types and can predict which category a boss or business partner falls into.

My cautionary advice would be this: In a game of rock-paper-scissors, the transactional/adversarial personality almost always "wins" because the cooperative personality will accept a less advantageous position in order to avoid conflict. It's wise to recognize which personality type you are.

If you're cooperative by nature, write out on paper or at least have decided what your minimum acceptable position will be _prior_ to bringing up the subject or entering negotiation. And realize when you're being pushed past that point.

Just another comment - I see no indication that hunch is going to give it's employees 12 months notice before letting them go.

Especially relevant, as I'll be moving to Kansas City in July and have yet to start the process. Now that I'm only 4 months away, I'll probably tell my employer (a medium sized startup of 25ish employees) and get to applying!

+1 for not classifying 25ish as "small."

I counter this with another question: how many startup bosses/founders transparently discuss with their employees how much money they've left in the bank and how much longer they can actually meet payroll. Usually they tell you this like maybe a month before but there are always signs if you look for them :)

I ended up giving four months notice before going to grad school in 2001. Company was too disorganized to really make use of it, but they appreciated the gesture.

I think that this is advisable when you're making a dramatic change, such as going to graduate school, where the nature of that change is such that your departure can't be taken to reflect on the company that you're leaving. If it's April, and you accept an offer to attend graduate school in September, it's probably best to let your boss know as soon as you've made the decision.

If you are moving to another company, then it's touchier because it raises questions about why you want to work at Y instead of X, and I think the 2 weeks' notice and generic exit interview are the better approach. There's nothing you gain by saying the reason you'd rather work at Y.

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