Here are five reasons you shouldn't quit without notice, plus two times when it might be allowable.
1. It will harm your reputation. Rightly or wrongly, two weeks notice when you're resigning is considered the professional convention, and anything less than that is considered unprofessional. (In some industries, longer notice is expected.) If you break this convention, you'll establish a reputation as unreliable and unprofessional. And even if you don't care about burning a bridge with this particular employer, people have a way of popping up at other companies you might want to work for in the future. Imagine that you're applying for a dream job, and one of the decision-makers was someone who worked for you when you quit without notice. It's highly likely to kill your chances.
2. It will harm you in future reference checks. No matter how good your work was, reference checkers will always hear that you left without notice and will assume you may do the same thing to them. That will trump any positive work that you did in that job and can be a deal breaker for many reference checkers.
3. Quitting just to "show them" won't show them anything. People sometimes feel that they'll prove something to their employer by quitting, especially by making the statement of simply walking off the job. But this is rarely satisfying, because while your employer might be surprised at first, they'll quickly get over it. People quit jobs all the time, and your employer won't be terribly harmed by it. And meanwhile, you'll be left jobless just to make a point.
4. You'll hurt your standing with your co-workers too. You might think that you're only punishing your manager by leaving without notice, but in fact it's often your co-workers who will pay the price. Not only will they have to pick up your slack but they'll generally be the ones who have to figure out how to do your job without the transition period that they'd have if you'd worked out your notice period.
5. You might lose money. Many companies have policies stating that you must give a certain amount of notice to receive accrued vacation pay or other benefits. If you quit without notice, you'll leave that money on the table.
There are, however, a couple of exceptions to the never-quit-without-notice rule:
1. When your boss will tell you to leave on the spot. If your employer has a history of telling people to leave the same day that they give notice, then it's not unreasonable to wait to resign until you're ready for it to be your last day. This is why smart managers will create an atmosphere where good employees are welcome to work out their notice periods … since that ensures that employees will continue to give them that notice.
2. When staying would put your health in danger or cause you to violate the law. No job is worth risking your health or freedom. If you're being required to do something unsafe or illegal, it's reasonable to leave immediately, with an explanation of why.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.