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7 signs that your employee might be planning to quit (and how to win them back)

signs your employee might quitOur last two blogs have covered how to end the employment relationship when it’s a definite case of ‘it’s not me… it’s you’.

But what happens when it’s one of your star team members that wants to break up with your business?

How will you know? And what can you do to stop them walking out the door?


The 7 employee ‘exit signs’ you won’t want to miss

We mentor our business coaching clients to be on the lookout for these seven changes in employee behaviour – they may indicate that your employee has one foot out the door.


Sign #1: A change in appearance
  1. You notice that your team member seems to have suddenly invested in a range of fancy new clothes, a great haircut and is generally looking more ‘polished’ than usual
  2. your employee appears to have slept in their every-day-is-casual-Friday clothes and… is that mustard from yesterday’s sandwich in their hair?

Decoded:  If you notice scenario ‘a)’, then it could be that the ‘dental appointment’ they have later is really with a new potential employer. On the other hand, if your employee has stopped dressing to impress, it could be a sign that they’ve mentally checked out (and it’s just a matter of time before the rest of them leaves the building too).


Sign #2: A change in attendance

Is your normally committed team member suddenly showing up later and leaving work earlier? Do you find yourself approving a stack of leave forms for sick days, time off for appointments and holidays? Have they developed a habit of taking extra-long lunches?

Decoded: Sure, they might be interviewing, but it may be that they’re just not ‘feeling it’ in their job anymore and are avoiding it as much as possible.


Sign #3: A change in performance

Has your ‘employee of the month’ suddenly become the ‘least likely to succeed’? Is your normally dependable ‘do-er’ suddenly missing deadlines and doing the bare minimum?

Decoded: Behaviour is communication, so if a team member isn’t performing to their usual standard, you can be sure something’s up. It’s possible that they’re bored, feeling under-appreciated or have come to resent something in their working life. Time to investigate!


Sign #4: A change in attitude

Is your normally friendly team member suddenly hard to get along with? Do they seem more problems focused or (to be blunt) a little whiny? Are you starting to get getting negative feedback and direct complaints from customers?

Decoded: Your team member might be stuck looking at work through a negative lens. Listen to their rants and complaints and look for clues behind their dissatisfaction. Are their comments directed at any part of the business in particular?

NB: This one needs to be managed quickly, because when it comes to company culture, open discontent can become contagious.


Sign #5: A change in volume

Has your employee suddenly gone silent? Do they sit through whole meetings without contributing any ideas? Have they stopped being as responsive to calls and emails? Have they stopped socialising with the rest of the team?

Decoded: This could be an indicator that your team member is no longer as invested in the success of your business. It could be that their focus has shifted away from advancing your agenda, and onto moving their own plans forward.  


Sign #6: They are networking more actively

Has your team member started putting their hand up to attend conferences or industry networking events? Are you noticing that they are suddenly very ‘present’ on LinkedIn?

Decoded: It could be that your employee is growing their network in order to widen their job search. LinkedIn activity should really tip you off -it’s no longer just a place to post your CV and hope for the best. The business networking site is really taking off as a primary source of new employment opportunities. If they are commenting on people’s posts and their number of ‘new connections’ is soaring, they may have plans to make use of those new ‘business buddies’.


Sign #7: Your spidey-senses are tingling

Sometimes you can’t put your finger on just one thing, but you just get a feeling that someone is a little ‘off’.

Decoded: You should always listen to your gut instincts – even if you’re off-base thinking that they’re about to quit, they may be going through something else that requires your support. Starting a conversation might help you uncover whatever is making your alarm bells ring.


Decoding the signs is just the first step

So, you’ve worked out that your employee may be a walking resignation letter time-bomb? Well, that’s only half the battle.

If, after some reflection, you’re sure your business is better off with them in it, then you’ll need an emergency retention strategy.


Why do they leave? Why do they stay?

According to employment experts at SEEK, there are three main reasons why employee’s abandon ship:

  • problems with working conditions or environment
  • lack of stability due to organisational changes or restructure
  • issues with management or leadership

They also identified the top three factors (that employers can influence) that improve employee retention:

  1. salary/compensation
  2. flexible hours
  3. working conditions/environment

Consider your business from an employee’s perspective. Can you identify any areas where you could improve? Reflect on these insights as you prepare to talk with your team member about what’s happening for them in their working life.


Three questions to help you formulate your emergency retention strategy

Schedule some time to meet with your employee. You’re on a recon mission to find out three things.

  1. Are they, in fact, thinking of leaving? You’ll first need to confirm that this is what’s behind their unusual behaviour. You’ll get the best results if you just ask them about the behaviours or changes you have noticed in a non-judgemental way. Be prepared that it may turn out that there is something else going on for them, such as problems in their personal lives.


  1. If they are thinking of quitting, what are their reasons? Try to just let your employee talk without defending yourself against their assertions. They’re more likely to address your question if they feel like you really want to know the answers.


  1. What can you do to change their mind? This is where the gold lies in your mining mission. You could be about to hear some useful insights about your business from the employee perspective that you had no idea about. You don’t have to take everything on board but keep an open mind and really consider their suggestions for improvement.


If you’ve been fortunate enough to get some answers to these questions, thank your employee for being open and honest and let them know that you’ll take their views and ideas into consideration.

You can now decide how to use this knowledge to formulate a plan to reel them back in. The strategy you use to accomplish this will depend on the employee and their individual reasons for wanting to leave, but (to boil it all down to its simplest form) your plan should centre around re-engagement. All the research shows that a truly engaged employee stays put.


Tips for keeping employees engaged and in your business

To avoid these employee relationship emergencies, think about how you can build retention strategies into the day-to-day of your business.

Here are our top tips:

  1. Make sure that there are opportunities for employees to develop and be challenged by their role. This will re-invigorate their interest and keep them from getting ‘stale’.
  2. Working conditions and environment are mostly within your control – could you offer a more attractive salary package or increased flexibility? Could you work on improving your team culture?
  3. While organisational change and restructure is unavoidable, be sure to keep an open line of communication with your team about these changes. There’s nothing like uncertainty to make people look for more stable employment opportunities
  4. Seek to continuously improve leadership within the business. Allowing employees an appropriate amount of freedom to innovate and have impact often comes down to ‘leading’ rather than simply ‘managing’.
  5. Build a mechanism for gathering employee satisfaction feedback into your processes. It should never be assumed that your team are happy with the status quo.


Just before you go…

It’s a bit of a blow to the ego when you find out that a valued employee wants to leave your business. But the silver lining comes in the opportunity to view your business from your team’s perspective. Through open and honest employee communication and feedback, you can gain invaluable insights that will help you build a business that is also a great place to work.

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