my boss wants two years notice before I resign

A reader writes:

Recently, my boss told me to let him know 2 years ahead of time when I plan to leave the company. I was startled when he told me to give him a 2-year notice, and automatically agreed. You can imagine my regret at my response.

How should I approach this? I have been here less than a year, and people usually stay for more than 8 years. It’s a small nonprofit and there is relatively little turnover. I know of an employee at the company who has given a 2-year notice, and many people here give 1-month notices rather than the standard 2-week notice.

I plan to stay at this company for at least 2 more years, but after that, I do not know the when, only that it is likely to be between 1-3 years. Should I tell my boss now that a 2-year notice is not a reasonable time frame and to not expect that from me, or should I just wait and then give as much notice as possible once I know my future plans?

Either way, he will be unhappy with me. With the first, it might make working with him uncomfortable, and with the second, he may be angry since I had agreed to let him know.

This is utterly bizarre. Two years? Anything more than a few months is generally pretty unreasonable. Two years is … well, it’s insane. Even governors don’t give that much notice when they resign. The Pope didn’t give that much notice when he stepped down.

I suppose if you want to be transparent with him, you could go back to him and say, “I thought about what you asked me, and I don’t think I could reasonably promise to tell you two years before I’m ready to move on. I can certainly try to give you as much notice as possible, and I’d like to stay here for a good long while, but I don’t feel comfortable committing to a two-year notice period.”

But I don’t even think you need to do that. What he’s asking is so unreasonable that he really has forfeited the right to expect you stick to it. And he shouldn’t even have asked, because plenty of people wouldn’t have felt comfortable telling him “no way,” which means that he put you in an uncomfortable position by even asking the question.

(I should note that it would be different if he said something to you like, “What would it take to get you to commit to the next two years?” That’s more of a conversation, and it’s very different from “tell me two years before you’re going to leave.”)

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