What to do if you suspect an employee is planning to leave
Engagement 4 minute read

What to do if you suspect an employee is planning to leave

Megan Orr | May 17, 2022

Are you worried that an employee is planning to leave your organization? Learn how to spot an employee who’s ready to quit and what you can do to maybe stop them.

In a recent Ask a Manager post on Inc.com, Alison Green coached a manager who accidentally found out—from a mutual colleague, not the employee themselves—that the employee is job hunting. Concerned about finding a replacement, the manager wanted to know if they should inquire with the employee about their plans. 

Alison writes, “In general, you should assume that any of your employees might be job searching and might move on. It's a normal thing to happen, and you will deal with it if/when it does, just as you would have if you'd never heard this”. 

SHRM recommends that organizations invest in both short and long-term retention solutions. They write that long term, “large scale interventions to improve departmental or firm-level commitment, job satisfaction, and job engagement” are important, but they can take “time to design and implement”. Instead, SHRM recommends focusing on specific employees who are high performing and have shown signs that they may be planning to move on. They explain that “thinking in terms of the turnover risk of specific employees allows you to invest your time and resources into those employees who create the most value and are actually at risk of leaving”. 

Employers can always look for signs that an employee is planning to leave to help them figure out ways to get them to reconsider. 

Research by SHRM and The Harvard Business Review found that there are a number of behavioural changes that employers can observe in the 12 months prior to an employee resigning. These behaviours are known as “pre-quitting behaviours” and are based on the “evolutionary psychologists David Buss and Todd Shackelford showing that romantic partners give off cues that indicate whether they are committing infidelity”. 

Through a variety of surveys and research, the team at SHRM narrowed down the list to 13 of the most common pre-quitting behaviours. Here they are:

  1. Their work productivity has decreased.
  2. They have acted less like a team player.
  3. They have been doing the minimum amount of work more frequently.
  4. They have been less interested in pleasing their manager.
  5. They have been less willing to commit to long-term timelines.
  6. They have exhibited a negative change in attitude.
  7. They have exhibited less effort and work motivation.
  8. They have exhibited less focus on job related matters.
  9. They have expressed dissatisfaction with their current job more frequently.
  10. They have expressed dissatisfaction with their supervisor more frequently.
  11. They leave work early more frequently.
  12. They have lost enthusiasm for the mission of the organization.
  13. They have shown less interest in working with customers.

These pre-quitting behaviours predict if an employee is planning to leave quite accurately, with employees that were rated by their managers an average score of 4.2 or higher out of 5 having “an expected probability of turnover two times the typical employee”. 

Ask yourself why the employee is planning to leave and what you can do about it—or if you can do anything at all.  

There can be many reasons why an employee is planning to leave. Some of the common ones include: 

  • They aren’t being paid enough/can get paid more at another organization. 
  • They’re leaving for an organization that offers better benefits. This is actually quite common, with research showing that 77% of Canadian employees would leave a job for a similar paying role, but better benefits. 
  • They feel your organization doesn’t offer enough training or room for advancement. 
  • They’re moving on from a toxic workplace where there’s a lack of accountability, micromanaging, and other demotivating aspects.

Of course, any of the reasons an employee may be planning to leave your organization can be addressed by offering salary increases, better benefits, employee growth opportunities, and a commitment to remedy any toxic workplace traits. 

A good place to start preventing employees from leaving is by conducting stay interviews, where you discuss with employees what they like and dislike about their work and workplace, and how you can continue to keep them engaged and happy. 

However, the solution isn’t always cut and dry—and your organization might not have the resources to implement certain retention plans. There are many instances where employees simply are ready to move on, whether that’s because they want a change or have outgrown their role within your organization. In these cases, if an employee is planning to leave, figuring out ways to make them stay will only delay the inevitable.

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