Advice: How to Give Notice Without Getting Burned

Josh Vaisman, MAPPCP (PgD), Flourish Veterinary Consulting, Boulder, Colorado

ArticleLast Updated September 20224 min read
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Dear Second Opinion,

I have decided to quit my current general practitioner job. I have already accepted an offer from another veterinary practice that I feel is a much better fit for me, but I’m anxious about my departure after witnessing how my current employer handled (well, mishandled, in my opinion) the resignation of another associate earlier this year.

The practice where I am currently employed is a small, privately owned clinic in a suburban area. Although the practice where I have accepted a new position is technically outside the range of my non-compete clause, it is, in all practicality, a competitor. In addition to the non-compete, my current contract stipulates that I must give 3 months’ notice, which I am willing to do. Here’s the problem: when the last veterinary associate gave his notice, he was told to pack up his things immediately. Even worse, the clinic owners were less than truthful with clients about the circumstances surrounding his resignation, implying that he abandoned his patients–which was not the case. 

I fear the exact same thing is going to happen to me. My new employer is not in a situation that would allow me to start early and I cannot afford to be without a paycheck for 3 months. I also worry about my reputation in the community. I’m considering breaking my contract and not giving the full 3-month notice, but that still doesn’t help my relationship to clients when I do resign. 

Is there any way to avoid burning this bridge while also avoiding getting burned myself?

—Afraid of Getting Burned

Dear Afraid,

I can sense your apprehension! It’s completely understandable that this decision is weighing on you. Your financial and professional stability are on the line. You hope to do right by your clients and patients, and even your soon-to-be former employer. With so many seemingly competing hopes, it’s hard to know what’s the best course of action. Add to this the experience of watching a former associate submit notice only to be immediately sent packing, and it’s no wonder you are feeling stuck and unsure.

The truth is you can’t control your current employer’s response. They may turn around and “burn” you like they did the last associate. But there are things you can control. I’d focus my attention there. 

What is most important to you in this transition? Is it your current employer’s response? The message your clients hear? Your financial stability? Although it may feel like they are all most important, try to identify which concern is causing the most unrest.

Next, write down all the aspects of that concern you have some amount of control over. (For example, while you can’t control how your employer responds to your resignation, you can control how you present it to them.) As you list out the elements you can control, write a sentence or two describing what you can do to put that control to good use. For instance, if you list “writing a resignation letter,” consider: What message do I want to convey? How can I share that message productively? Who can help me craft or review the letter? How will I present the resignation letter? You’re creating an action list for yourself.

Finally, imagine what might happen once you take these actions. For instance, you may decide to share your concerns with your current employer (eg, “I’m respecting my contract in giving you notice. I ask that you do the same in allowing me to close out my 3 months here.”). How might they respond? Try to anticipate at least 2-3 possible responses and write out how you will respond to each. One possible response might be anger. Your employer may look upset and mutter a snide comment toward you. If they do, what’s a productive response from you? Write that down so you’re prepared. Then, consider at least 1 or 2 other ways your employer could respond (eg, shutting down, relief, surprise, genuine concern, curiosity). You’re creating a response plan for yourself to help you be more prepared for the conversation.

With your list of elements within your control and response considerations, you now have a tangible plan.

My friend, you’re in a hard spot. I feel for you. I also know you’ve got this. You’re a veterinarian. You’ve endured difficult things in the past. This means you already have the skills and tools of resilience, along with the above action and response plan. I wish you well.

— Josh Vaisman, MAPPCP, CCFP