I have found a better opportunity, and I suspect the possibility that my boss may request I do not return for various reasons. This leads me to be tempted to get my desk all packed up and ready to go. On the other hand, such premature packing will tip at least my coworkers off to the fact that I will be gone in the near future, and I would rather be the person to deliver this news myself.

Is there a standard protocol for this? Being rushed to clean out my desk under the watchful eye of my boss would be the icing on the already awkward having-my-two-weeks-declined cake. At the same time, I feel that having my boss learn I'm leaving from someone other than me would burn bridges pretty fast.

TL:DR - Should a desk cleaning occur before or after two weeks notice in the US?

  • 55
    If cleaning your desk is raising suspicions, it may be a sign that you need to clean your desk a bit more often. :)
    – DA.
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 5:30
  • 24
    Don't forget to clean your PC. Make sure you tell your web browser to forget all passwords to any personal accounts you may use from work. Same with any personal files. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 6:38
  • 8
    You should probably specify where you are located (I guess the US). In my corner of the world, a 3 month notice period is common, and the employer can not deny you the right to come to work in this period. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 8:49
  • @VidarS.Ramdal three months! wow. I'm in a similar situation and negotiated down to 5 weeks notice (the standard here is 4, really, boss wanted me to hang around for 6)
    – michel-slm
    Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 2:58
  • 1
    the standard at your company is 4 weeks? Two weeks is fairly traditional in the US, and considering many/most jobs are "at-will employment" where you can be fired with zero notice, even two weeks shows a bit of loyalty. There's no legal requirement, it's a favor to the employer. Commented Jan 8, 2015 at 20:16

4 Answers 4


Short answer: Both

Before Notice

Once you know you'll be putting in your notice quietly remove any personal property that you value from your desk. (Family photos, gadgets, etc.) Stuff that you can't easily replace. If there are several such items you should only take one or two at a time, it's just easier to come up with a reason that way. You should also do this when it's less likely to get noticed. (end of day after many people have left, lunch while others are out, first thing in the morning before most people have showed up, etc) Do not remove anything that is replaceable yet. (You do this incase the employer doesn't take your resignation well so you've protected your things, and make it easier to just leave if things get hostile)

After Notice

Once your notice is served then tidy everything up and pack your things. If the boss just boots you out the door you won't lose anything major and you can walk away with little to worry about. If you don't get boot early, then you have plenty of time to clear out your things peacefully.

Keep valuables at home

Avoid taking anything of real value to you to work. Simply put, other people aren't as careful with your things as you are, and should that item be particularly enticing, some people might decide to take your things. Assume anything you bring to work could potentially be broken or stolen. If losing that item isn't something your comfortable with leave it at home.

  • 5
    Also you should do this at times when it's less likely to be noticed. Grabbing one or two things as you walk out the door will be far less obvious than putting those items aside while your coworkers are having a discussion next to your desk. Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 21:43
  • 3
    Being that this is the start of a new year, you can use the excuse that you are resolved to live a less cluttered professional life this year.
    – shoover
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 21:58
  • 47
    Maybe this is the normal way in some work cultures, I don't know. But in my worldview, if in a company there is a need to "quietly remove any personal property that you value" before notice, it's the company which is terribly unprofessional. I expect any personal items of mine to be safe on my desk any day I'm employed there, even after giving notice. I wouldn't keep there the family silver of course, but even for high-value items (like my 170 Euro mechanical-key keyboard), I wouldn't expect the risk of something happening to go up after notice.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Jan 5, 2015 at 23:09
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    @rumtscho I agree with you in that it is the company that is terribly unprofessional. However, you're gonna have a tough time fighting an unprofessional company in such a situation (and I'm sure they do exist, like a lot of other non-ideal things in our wonderful world). In such a case, it's a lot more pragmatic to protect your valuables just in case you're potentially dealing with an unprofessional environment.
    – Shamtam
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 1:22
  • 11
    You should never leave anything you value in someone else's building, even your employer's. If you want pictures, great. Scan the originals and make duplicates at Kinko's or Walgreen's or wherever. Nothing of sentimental value should be left at the office. Keep what you value at home and keep work separate. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 4:34

If you think that you'll get escorted out of the building, it would be safe to assume that the bridges have been burned already, so just take your stuff home.

If anyone asks just say "This is mine and I need it home"

I don't think your boss learning of you leaving from a rumor is ideal, but it's not that big of a deal. If he says something tell him "You are the first person I've told, I can't stop people from gossiping and spreading rumors."

  • 6
    sadly some companies escorting people out at termination is actual policy in some companies. Good terms or terrible terms once your notice is in the manager walks you immediately to the nearest door while HR gets your things. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 15:04
  • 2
    It's been my experience that even in those cases you can go to your desk and collect your things. You'll just have to deal with someone standing over your shoulder watching you pack up your stuff.
    – Chris E
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 15:21
  • 5
    @ChristopherEstep I've worked in "high security" environments where even leaving on good terms, as soon as notice was given (by either employee or employer), you were escorted out of the building, and were prohibited form returning to your desk, even with an escort, even for a few seconds. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 17:03
  • 3
    We do this. You are escorted out of the building and your security badge is deactivated immediately when you give notice. You are then paid for the two weeks, while not required to work. This is for security purposes. It's not about burning bridges.
    – Jasmine
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 18:18
  • 2
    @kapep Generally someone from security and/or HR will box up any non-company effects and deliver it to the person. If it's an agreeable separation, I've seen it as a "wait in the lobby, someone will be down with your stuff in a few minutes" thing, otherwise, it gets delivered to the ex-employee's address of record. As a tangent, the someone-could-sue threat is really overblown, in general. What's an employee gonna do? Sue for the value of their personal effects? So what? I have 18 bucks in my pocket, I'm sure the company does too. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 21:12

At the same time, I feel that having my boss learn I'm leaving from someone other than me would burn bridges pretty fast.

This is precisely why it's best to clean out your desk AFTER giving notice. You don't want to do anything to tip your hand before you've accepted an offer elsewhere and given notice to your boss.

When you give notice, your employer will likely do one of three things:

  1. Allow you to work for two weeks. In this case, you should have plenty of time to pack up over the last couple days of your tenure.

  2. Escort you to your desk, have you pack up and leave immediately.

  3. Escort you out of the building, and have someone from HR send along your possessions later.

Things you can do if you are worried about losing your things in the latter two cases:

  • Organize your desk, and discreetly make a list of your possessions and where they are located on/in your desk. The list will reduce the risk of losing/leaving behind possessions, and the cleaning/organizing will reduce the risk of your coworkers/employer becoming privy to your plans. Bring a copy of the list home.

  • If you have one or two possessions that are important to you. You should discreetly take those items home over a couple of days prior to giving notice.

  • 5
    Along with the list, taking a few photos could help. Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 4:41
  • 1
    @MonicaCellio this is also an excellent idea should you have anything of value that you're willing to take legal action to get if necessary. Or in the event there was a fire, flood, etc that destroys the building you need this sort of information to be able to make an insurance claim. (Though I discourage you bringing things to the office that would warrant such action.) Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 15:21

Whenever I've left a job I do the following:

Night Before
Clear out personal stuff that I can't carry in one hand. I don't typically bring a lot of stuff to work anyway but I usually have a plethora of coffee cups and random small things. So those go home. I do this to make the walk out easier.

Morning I'm giving notice
I arrive a little earlier than normal in order to organize the things necessary to ensure a good hand off of what I've been working on. Basically even if you are walked out you want to leave a good impression to those that will pick up after you.

30 minutes before giving notice
- Erase my browsing history
- Make sure there are no personal documents on my computer
- Organize my email box, making sure I remove anything not company related. I know, we shouldn't use company email but somehow most of us still do for random things.
- Trash whatever needs to be trashed. Random bits of scratch paper etc.
- Leave a document on my desk with any passwords that they are likely to ask for
- Print a copy of my resignation letter.

Give notice
I'll walk into my bosses office with the resignation letter, closing the door behind me. The resignation letter is typically very short, one or two sentences saying that I'm resigning effective immediately and my last day will be X. I do NOT document the reasons for leaving. I'll hand that letter to my boss and tell them I'm moving on.

At this point the boss will likely ask why. Unless it's something serious, keep all the "real" reasons to yourself. There's no need to get into a long discussion if you've really made your mind up.

The boss could do anything from ask if a raise would change your mind on up to just walking you out. Make sure you know the answer to a potential raise before you actually sit down with the boss. (hint: it's generally best not to accept offers at this stage).

Bear in mind that, in the US at least, I'm fairly certain that if you are walked out they still have to pay out the 2 weeks. If it comes to that, call your state's employment agency to verify.

  • Leave a document on my desk with any passwords that they are likely to ask for. If you need to leave any passwords then something is wrong. And if you do please do not put it in a public space.
    – Hennes
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 22:11
  • "Bear in mind that, in the US at least, I'm fairly certain that if you are walked out they still have to pay out the 2 weeks. If it comes to that, call your state's employment agency to verify." -Yes, call your LRB to verify, but do not plan on having the money unless you have already done this. Many states are at-will, meaning they can fire you at any time for any reason that isn't discriminatory or otherwise illegal. Firing someone for quitting is generally not prohibited.
    – Kevin
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 2:58
  • +1 for hint: it's generally best not to accept offers at this stage If you've made up your mind to go, then go. Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 12:29

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