One reader writes:

I run a small department at a government agency. One of my direct subordinates, who was having some problems with other employees (mistakes on both sides, to be honest), just sent me a letter of intent to look for another job. The letter itself was more than strange. It listed all of his contributions to the program (which are significant!) And, if we wanted him to stay, demanded a position that does not exist and that cannot be created at a much higher level without commitment, a much higher salary than the state-allowed salary band and a fancy title that doesn’t exist in our system.

The letter then asked me if I would like him to work until December or until spring. The problem? He has an annual contract until June, and it is completely unclear whether a letter of intent to apply for other positions actually constitutes a resignation or, if he does not get another position by January, we are obliged to continue to employ him until January June. (Note: the likelihood that he will find another job that suits his needs by January is slim.)

Now his demands are so absurd that not only do I not feel like fulfilling them, but I even find it impossible to do so, even if I wanted to. I call the contract partner for our agency to find out whether a declaration of intent to apply for other positions represents a withdrawal from his contract or not. If he won’t be here in January then I need to start the hiring process NOW. If it is him, I don’t want to hire anyone for this period or have any work for him.

Have you ever heard of someone making a letter of intent to start looking for a job? Is it a resignation? Does it mean something? The letter was obviously written in a state of extreme annoyance, but I expect he will try to return it once his blood has cooled. FWIW, I met him in a common room today and he avoided interacting with me.


People don’t give letters of intent to their employers to announce that they want to start looking for a job. You … just start looking for a job.

This is not a thing!

My guess is that either:

1. He hopes you will respond by begging him to stay, which is what most people want when they post a dramatic intent to flounce … but he is unaware of the fact that he has a contract until June.

2. He really has no idea about workplace standards and thinks he should notify you if he is officially looking for another job …? Maybe it is related to the contract in some way, the way he thinks that the formality of the contract requires such formality when he thinks about breaking it? I do not know.

I’m skeptical that he seemed to have a strong understanding of workplace standards up to this point, so I suspect you’ve seen other things of him that let you figure out if it’s more like number 1 or #. 2.

Whether it is a withdrawal depends on whether you are pursuing practical or legal purposes. For practical reasons, and if there wasn’t a contract, I would treat it as a resignation – he asks if you want to leave him by December or in the spring, so I would decide which one you want (advice: December if not earlier) and leave You know him. As in, “Then we plan December, and we set December 12th as your last day.” Or, if you think that because of his work or behavior it would be harmful to stay here this long, you could say, “Let’s actually plan to have you done by (insert earlier date).”

But there is a contract, so you have to stick to what the contract says in terms of termination on both sides and so on. You can certainly get it out of the contract sooner (and that sounds like you should), but having a binding contract will determine, at least to some extent, how you can act on it.

All in all … if this guy’s job has been good so far, and you would actually prefer him to stay – and if and that is not characteristic of his behavior so far – another approach is to just ask him what is going on is. Call him in for a meeting and ask what’s going on. Explain that you cannot meet the requirements in the letter and ask what he would like to do about it. Talk to him enough to get a feel for what this is about. Was there an incident that drove him over the edge in the strange I am writing to notify you that I am thinking of leaving the territory? Immediately after sending the letter, did he feel humiliated and wish he could take it back? Did he send these letters on all of his previous jobs when he was ready to leave? If the letter doesn’t seem entirely typical of him, it’s probably worth a chat to find out what’s going on before you do something else.

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