How hiring managers can navigate the employment notice period

You think you've done all the hard work. The role profile has been written, the search has been conducted, the CVs have been sifted, the interviews have taken place, the personality profiling has been done, the screening is complete, and the start date has been arranged.

Your new employee is set to join in three months’ time. Now all you have to do is wait, right? Wrong…

For you, the hiring manager, the notice period can be beset with pitfalls and bear traps.

Being aware of what these are, and having a strategy to avoid them, can mean the difference between hiring the best person and having to start the lengthy recruitment process all over again. The route to success lies in gaining a better appreciation, as the notice period unwinds, of both the candidate and the outgoing employer’s perspective.

The candidate's perspective of the notice period

Once you have handed in your notice it’s inevitable that things will change. Motivation falls away, deadlines become fewer and less urgent. You start to slow down. You stop going the extra mile. Any added-value activities you have been involved in - committees, forums, cross-departmental initiatives – look less appealing.

In effect, you have started the process of disengaging yourself psychologically from your outgoing employer. While this is normal, it goes against your natural character of being fully committed and engaged at work. It can be a difficult process to manage, especially if your notice period runs into multiple months.

It is not made any easier by what happens above, below and around you. Soon you are no longer invited to important strategy meetings, to offsite reviews or key project meetings.

Managers and the notice period

If you manage a team, the relationship you have with your direct reports suddenly loses its edge. What can often be a parental relationship becomes complicated by feelings of guilt.

It all seems very odd. You’ve stopped feeling indispensable. People are talking about you as if you’ve already left. The initial feelings of excitement, of anticipation, have dispersed and you’re now feeling sad at the prospect of leaving.

It’s easy to underestimate the emotions involved when moving from one employer to another, even if you've viewed your outgoing employer as being unappreciative of your hard work over the years. As an aside, there have been attempts in recent years to apply to the corporate world the psychological phenomenon of hostages identify with their captors.

Corporate Stockholm Syndrome

Known as 'Corporate Stockholm Syndrome', it is argued that despite long hours, poor working conditions and low rates of pay, employees develop a similar response to the company they work for. They become grateful - even advocates - for the environment in which they work.

But even if you aren't suffering from Corporate Stockholm Syndrome, the chances are that over the last few years you have spent more time with your colleagues than you have with anyone else. Some colleagues have become good friends. Breaking up is proving hard to do.

The outgoing employer’s perspective of the notice period.

It's quite common – and understandable – for the outgoing employer to use the notice period as an opportunity to persuade your new hire to stay.

Indeed, if you think you've recruited the best person for the role then this last-ditch intervention should be expected.

Although your prospective new employee might have signed a contract with you, it's important to realise that this isn't legally binding until the day they actually start in the role. Ethically binding, perhaps. But not legally.

So do be mindful that your colleague-in-waiting could be subjected to a long and sustained charm offensive. An increase in salary may be promised. A potential promotion might be used to entice them to stay. Such offers can be hard to ignore when pressure to accept can be felt on a near-daily basis. They are, after all, a captive audience.

Your response

As a hiring manager, how do you tackle these twin challenges of candidate vulnerability and outgoing employer resistance?

As long as it’s conducted outside of the candidate's existing, contracted hours, you should work hard to maintain and increase contact. Developing a relationship is essential in successfully navigating the notice period.

But contact should be meaningful: ask them to come in and meet the team, extend an invite for a drink or dinner after work, ask for a contribution to a new business plan, meet to discuss any resources they may require in their new role, supply relevant reading material so they can hit the ground running.

Above all else, you need to view the candidate's act of handing in his or her notice as the first part of the last stage – not the end – of the entire recruitment process. This crucial final phase is where you, the hiring manager, can take up the slack created by the declining engagement between the candidate and the outgoing organisation.

Left to their own devices – and devoid of regular, engaging contact with their prospective new employer – the candidate may begin to doubt and even reconsider their earlier decision.

The notice period provides you with the ideal opportunity to cement this new relationship. Take full advantage. If you don’t, it could prove costly.

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