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What not to do when you're serving out your notice period at work

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
A young employee sleeps in the office hiding with posits in the eyes
Photo: Getty Images

You’ve been having some problems with your boss and after some consideration, you’ve decided to quit your job. You carefully craft a polite resignation letter and feel a huge sense of relief when you hand it in.

The only problem is, you’ve still got another three months to go before your last day.

A notice period is the amount of notice an employee has to give their employer before resigning and it can be anything from one week to several months. It’s also the amount of notice an employer needs to give an employee before the termination of their contract.

It can be a challenge to work through a notice period, particularly if you are more than ready to leave or are resigning on difficult terms. For example, because of bad management.

When you know you’re on the home stretch, it can be tempting to work the bare minimum, take your foot off the gas or even finally stand up to the manager who has been giving you a hard time for years. After all, you’ve got nothing to lose.

Or do you?

“During a notice period, there is a risk that the employee in question may start to display poor behaviour that their employer has not seen before,” says Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.

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“For example, they may put little effort into their daily duties because they feel it no longer matters, meaning essential tasks do not get done on time or to the required standard. Alternatively, they could even actively break company rules, ignore managerial instruction and cause unrest with their colleagues.”

It’s important to remember that throughout a notice period, you’re still technically employed by the company, though. “Arguably, it is even more critical that an employee maintains the same standards of behaviour during this time to get outstanding projects done and to facilitate a handover period,” Palmer says.

“It does not matter that they are already on their way out of the door; employers still reserve the right to discipline and even dismiss employees for acts of misconduct during their notice period, something that could prove to be damaging for their ongoing career.”

Be on your best behaviour

Bad behaviour during this time could also reflect badly on you in a new job. Especially as your notice period is probably the last impression your employer has of you to base any future references on.

“If an employee is disciplined or dismissed, companies can seek to highlight this to a new employer through the referencing process. Contrary to popular belief, providing a negative reference is not unlawful as long as the employer can demonstrate that its substance is true, accurate and fair,” Palmer explains.

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“An employee who has had a conditional offer subject to satisfactory references could potentially see the new company reconsidering if it does want to take them on as a result of this. At the very least, this information is something that the new employer is likely to remember going forward.”

And if your new job doesn’t work out as planned, you may end up having to return to your old position - who may not want you back if you behaved poorly. It can be tempting to burn bridges, but exiting gracefully and leaving the door open may benefit you in the long-term.

“Employers must remind employees who are on their notice period, of the conduct that is expected of them while at work and the consequences if they fail to follow this. As an extension, treatment of this individual should not change throughout the notice period,” Palmer adds.

“Losing employees can be difficult for a company, especially when they have invested time and money in an individual's development. Still, employers should always take care to avoid relaxing company rules or treating employees more harshly, as a result. Such an action could serve to encourage further poor behaviour and, potentially, lead to a discrimination claim.”