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I've seen some other questions with good answers regarding long notice periods, but here's a specific situation I'm wondering about. Where I live notice periods can get quite long for both being laid off or resigning. It is based on the time worked for the employer, type of employment and salary, but it can run up to 13 weeks. Now, the common wisdom says not to resign until you've signed a contract with a new employer. The issue then is that the potential new employer may not wish to wait 13 weeks until their new position can be filled in. If you go to your current employer to negotiate a shorter notice period, they'll know you wish to resign before you've signed with a new one. If you sign with the new one to start on a date before the full notice period would run out you could get in trouble with the current employer. What is the best approach here?

One consideration I've made is that if a new employer wouldn't wish to wait 13 weeks to get a valuable asset on board who might work there for many years, it already reflects badly on them anyway. It might mean they're understaffed and in a rush to bring in more resources, or have a high turnover, or don't value long-term career development. But in some cases, like with startups, it's quite understandable.

Possible approaches:

  • If the new employer is willing to sign with the max notice period, do so and then negotiate with the current one for a potential shorter one. Not all employers might want to do so.
  • Ignore employers who wouldn't want to wait it out. But this decreases your pool.
  • Make sure you would be offered the job if you can start sooner, then negotiate with your current employer. Very risky because you don't have anything in writing yet and if you can't shorten your notice, you might be left with no new job and your current employer knowing you plan to leave.
  • Take the dive and resign, then look for a job. Again risky, but less so if there's many opportunities and lots of demand for your work. Also, in my country this gives you a right to two half days (or one full day) off per week for the purpose of finding a new job. An additional risk is your employer decides your notice is shortened, and I'm not sure if you can then enforce it from your side.
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    What country is this? In quite a few countries in west Europe, a 3 month notice is common and almost all companies are aware of this when they hire someone who's currently working. – Xander Mar 6 '19 at 9:37
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    @Xander Belgium. I do suppose with the notice period being common (and established nationally) new employers tend to take it into account. – G_H Mar 6 '19 at 9:58
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    @G_H Belgian employees who like me were affected by the change to notice periods a few years ago faced a six month notice period, so as Xander mentions employers around these parts are used to this. You may want to update your question to make it clear what specific issue you want to focus on here. Identify a core question and perhaps try to reduce the length. – Lilienthal Mar 6 '19 at 10:09
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It's true; 3 months is not uncommon for a senior position. Just be open and honest about it with both your potential new employer and the recruiter.

You should definitely have a signed contract in place before resigning. They'll wait for you.

In some cases, they may have an urgency to hire sooner, and that can be expressed by buying you out of your notice period (not usually all; just e.g. the last 6 weeks). Discuss how this works with the recruiter, but under no circumstances agree to front the money for this.

You may find there is actually no problem, and that on the day you resign, your employer has you escorted from the building, and pays you in lieu of notice or puts you on home leave (common in banks and defence companies). Be sure to read your existing contract carefully.

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  • This hints at one possibility I hadn't actually listed... That it doesn't really tend to be as big a problem in practice as I'm believing it would be. Thanks for the insight. I'm working the same job I started in 10 years ago so have no experience with changing employers. – G_H Mar 6 '19 at 9:27
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The rule that you don’t give notice before the new contract is signed is absolute. Otherwise you have the risk that the new company changes their mind and you are without a job, unacceptable.

Every company in Belgium knows that 13 weeks notice is normal, so a decent company will not try to force you to give notice earlier. If they try to, that’s a HUGE red flag.

They can say: “We sign a contract for you to start in 13 weeks, or at any earlier time” and then you can ask the old employer for shorter notice which they might accept or not.

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As with most EU countries, a 13 week notice for senior members of staff is quite common. I checked online specifically for Belgium and since you've worked for this company for 10 years, a 13 week notice period is required. You should double check this with your contract and any resources available on your intranet.

As you probably realized judging from your comment to Justin's reply, an employer is prepared to wait those 13 weeks before you start with them.

I would go ahead and communicate this with your new employer and check your new contract, it should reflect a starting date after those 13 weeks. Don't give any indication to your old employer that you're looking for a new job unless you're prepared to be let go.

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  • Good advice but I doubt that a Belgian employer would act like that - just firing some one like that is not the same as it Is in the USA – Neuromancer Jun 4 '20 at 22:20
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Having been in a similar position twice now, I very much understand the conflict here.

At a push, it's the new employer's impatience that is the issue here. It is 100% valid for you as an employee to want to only move from one solid stepping stone to the next, instead of leaping in the hopes that the new employer will catch you.

However, there are ways to help ease this transition. Having been put in a difficult position like this recently, I proposed to the new employer that if they give me a signed contract with a starting date no later than 14 weeks from signing1, that I would then feel protected in talking to my old employer about shortening my notice period.

This shows to the new employer that you are willing to meet them halfway as much as you are able to, without having to compromise on your own financial security.

So far, that suggestion has been met with positivity and I think it's a good way to work something out while protecting yourself from any drawbacks in how you resign from the old employer.


1 I picked 14 weeks to have 1 extra week of padding you can spend on discussions with your old employer, because it might take a day or two to get your employer to give you a response. If they outright reject to shorten your notice, and you then send in your resignation anyway, according to Belgian law the notice period only starts on the next Monday (which means you "lost" the first week of the 13 week period).

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I was in a similar situation once: it wasn't hard to negotiate a shorter notice period with my current employer.

Look at it from their perspective: what do they have to gain from forcing someone to work for them who doesn't want to be there any more? What level of quality, commitment and engagement would you expect?

Obviously this depends on the cast of characters and the situation, but most reasonable employers will have no problem with that as long as there is a well structured exit plan that covers knowledge hand off, successor training, finishing critical projects, etc. Most employers would actually prefer this: It's more effective to wind things down over a 3-6 week period instead of having a sitting duck for 3 months.

The very long notice periods are there primarily to protect employees, not because employers want it this way.

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  • "The very long notice periods are there primarily to protect employees, not because employers want it this way." - that hardly makes sense, since the employer could be bound by the 3 months when they give notice, but the employee could be bound by a much shorter period when he gives notice. Although notice periods have advantages for employees, especially at lower levels, at high levels they exist primarily to protect employers from poaching, excessive churn, loss of trade secrets, and to give them ample time to react to and resolve exoduses caused by policy mistakes. – Steve Jun 2 '20 at 13:28
  • "what do they have to gain from forcing someone to work for them who doesn't want to be there any more?" You've seemingly not worked at understaffed places, or in a work environment where there is an unhealthy amount of dependency on a select set of staff. Or, even simpler, in an environment where the cost of learning for a new starter is high and you need a significant amount of time for a new hire to be hired and trained. – Flater yesterday
  • "What level of quality, commitment and engagement would you expect?" And similarly, plenty of workplaces have little care for quality or genuine engagement. – Flater yesterday

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