Learning & Development, Recruiting

Navigating Delayed Start Dates: Balancing Employee Needs and Organizational Priorities

When a job applicant makes it through the application and interview process and ultimately accepts a job offer from a new employer, there’s plenty of excitement on both sides of the equation. The culmination of this process represents a new beginning for both employer and employee. But, in most cases, that employee is also reaching the end of something too—their previous position.

While employers are typically eager for a new hire to start as soon as possible—there’s an open position that needs filling, after all—few would expect a new hire to change ships immediately. In fact, doing so would probably be a bit of a red flag, as discussed below. Two weeks has become the industry norm for employee notice, but what if, for one reason or another, a new hire requests a later start date?

That’s the question we posed to employers and industry experts for this feature.

Reasons New Hires May Ask to Delay Start

There are plenty of reasons a new hire might request more than two weeks before starting a new gig.

Holding Out for Bonuses or Long-Term Incentive Payouts

Many companies structure bonuses to pay out around the end of the calendar year, and often companies will only pay out a bonus if an employee has worked for the full year of the bonus period. This means employees switching between jobs mid-year can lose out on the bonus from both their previous and new employer.

Depending on the timing of their bonuses or other periodic benefits, like long-term-incentive pay, an employee may wish to stick around a bit longer in order to secure that final bonus with their current employer.

“This is common and recruiters should ask about bonus payout timing upfront to avoid it coming up at the point of offering someone a job,” advises Shayna Royal, Director of Talent Acquisition at Paycor. “To avoid this being an issue, candidates should ask what the target start date is in the first interview and address any timing concerns then,” she says. “If you apply for a job, you know the situation you’ll be in so it’s on you to discuss it and set the expectations of your timeline. In some cases, the company will be fine waiting and in others, they won’t. Companies may offer to offset missing the bonus by paying a sign-on bonus if they want you to start sooner.”

Taking Personal Time

Two weeks is the industry norm for giving notice to a previous employer, but maybe employees want to take some time for themselves between ending their current job and jumping right in to a new one.

“I applaud people who want to take time off between jobs,” says Ann Walsh, SPHR, founder of ThriveHR, Inc. “It gives them time to unwind, decompress, and not have any work responsibilities within the break. It is a rare opportunity and I hope they seize this opportunity.”

While employers appreciate the value of taking some personal time, there are still some boundaries to consider.

“As long as the period of time is discussed up front, most companies will be OK with a reasonable amount of time as they’d rather wait one week longer and hire the right person,” says Royal. “It can depend, though, on the urgency that the company has to get someone started. There are many downstream impacts such as training timelines and new hire cohorts that may cause a company to press you to start sooner.”

Finishing a Project with the Previous Employer

While many departing employees can’t wait to turn their back on a previous employer, others feel a sense of professional or personal obligation to complete a key project or make sure their successor is in good shape before heading for the door.

“There are instances when seeing a project through to the end or staying through a busy season may be important to the new hire, or even considered necessary to avoid burning bridges,” says Royal. “The new hire should talk about this upfront when they begin the interview process so the company isn’t surprised by the information weeks later. There’s no set rule for how long is too long, but at a certain point, the new hire’s loyalty has to shift to the new company or they may begin to question the new hire’s intent to actually start.”

Flexibility on the Two-Week Standard?

While two weeks has become the industry standard for an employee providing notice to their current employer, not everyone’s situation is the same, and it’s important to weigh what may be necessary to secure a top candidate against the timing needs of the organization.

For example, not every company asks for two weeks’ notice. Some employees may not have left their employer voluntarily and could have been the victim of downsizing or termination for some other reason.

“There is no one-size fits all time period for employees to start,” says Alida Miranda-Wolff, a diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging practitioner and founder and CEO of Ethos, a DEIB and employee advocacy firm. “I recommend that the hiring manager evaluate how much time they have to get someone up-and-running and trained first. For some, that may be two weeks, but for others it could be three days or one month. Ask yourself: what needs to be in place so I can provide the best onboarding experience possible?”

If the employer and new hire aren’t on the same page when it comes to start date, there’s often room for compromise, says Lisa Barrow, CEO of Kada Recruiting. “It is possible for employees to overlap positions, possibly coming in later in the day to their new employer to complete paperwork and onboarding tasks,” she adds. They can also do research on clients, projects, online trainings, etc. while still wrapping up their old position if necessary.

How Long Is Too Long?

While flexibility is important, there is still a limit, and the experts we consulted suggested moving beyond a month starts to get into tricky territory when it comes to pushing out a start date.

“More than six weeks is too long,” says Walsh. “I believe one month’s notice with a maximum of two weeks off between each job. If they are not giving notice, I would be concerned—the past predicts the future. If they can do that to them, they can do it to us. If the company walks them out, that is a different story.”

It’s also important for candidates to be upfront about when they’d be able to start early on in the hiring process. “I would not recommend asking for longer than four weeks unless you made it very clear upfront that you’d need longer,” says Royal.

Finally, candidates should be aware that the job isn’t officially theirs until they’ve signed an employment agreement, and even then, most jobs are employment-at-will positions.

“Candidates need to realize that there could be another candidate for consideration, so a super long notice period may sway the company to go with someone else, particularly if they feel blind-sided late in the game,” cautions Barrow.

Clearly, while a two-week notice is considered standard, various factors may lead new hires to request more time before starting a new role. Employers should consider the candidate’s reasons, such as awaiting bonuses, taking personal time, or completing projects, and balance these with organizational needs. Flexibility can be key to securing top talent, but clear communication and reasonable limits are essential to ensure a smooth transition for both parties.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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