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Honouring commitments – right to the very end (a story about notice periods)

What does it really mean to honour a commitment in the workplace?  Everyone starts their employment relationship with high hopes and great expectations, but I’ve found that honour and integrity are the most important part of this relationship and are tested more at the end than at the beginning.

At the start, no one thinks about how it will end.  No one really looks at the employment contract and accepts it as a legally binding agreement that is designed to protect both employer and employee.  It sets out the terms of the employment – at the beginning and at the end.  One of these clauses contains the “notice period” – the agreed length of time an employee must work between announcing their resignation and leaving the company.  

But a notice period is more than just a contractual clause and time on a calendar; it can come to reflect a person’s integrity and represent the mutual respect between employer and employee.

An incident that still stings to this day involved an employee who chose to cut short his notice period. His final words to me, “I withdraw my labour,” were jarring, out of place in a business environment where we valued a respectful and orderly transition.

This wasn’t an everyday occurrence. Usually, notice periods were smooth affairs, handled with professionalism. But this? It was a sharp deviation, a clear sign that not everyone shared the same values. I was faced with a tough choice: pursue legal action or let it go and move on. I chose the latter, but it wasn’t an easy decision. The integrity I’d worked hard to instil in my company felt disregarded, and that was difficult to accept.

In the aftermath, I took a step back to reflect on our processes. How could we make the importance of a notice period clearer? How could we ensure that it was understood not as a mere obligation but as part of an unwritten contract of trust? I realised that clarity from the outset was key. Setting the right expectations wasn’t just a manager’s duty; it was a cornerstone of a healthy workplace culture.

Despite the initial bitterness, this experience became a defining moment for me. It underscored the idea that the true measure of a contract isn’t the signature at the bottom but the commitment to see it through. It’s about ending the professional relationship on a positive note, ensuring that the last act on the job is as honourable as the first.

I learned a crucial lesson: in the business world, our actions echo long after we’ve moved on. The values we exhibit, particularly in times of change or challenge, are our lasting legacy. This is why I decided to spend time with each new hire to discuss the meaning behind their commitment, including the notice period. It wasn’t just a company policy; it was an important introduction to one of our core values: integrity.

That incident, though unwelcome at the time, reinforced my conviction that leadership is about exemplifying the values we espouse, even — perhaps especially — when others fall short. The quality of our work, the strength of our word, these are the currencies of true business success.

In conclusion, notice periods are more than a formality; they’re a testament to a person’s character. As leaders, as colleagues, as people, we should strive to be as good as our word, making sure that when we say we will do something, we follow through. It’s this simple, clear principle that builds trust, respect, and ultimately, a business worth being part of.

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