8 red flags that an employee is itching to leave

When a once-promising staffer starts lagging in key areas, that’s a signal for you to rev up engagement. Consider these sirens and flashing lights that a worker is ready to jump ship.

Your employee retention efforts can make or break your business.

In the short term, the cost of losing an employee is significant—costing anywhere from 100 to 300 percent of their salary. In the long run, high turnover can weaken succession pipelines, resulting in fewer high-potential leaders who can step into a new position and perform well.

These eight warning signs can signal when an employee is becoming disengaged and ready to seek other opportunities:

1. Decline in performance. When a productive, efficient, punctual employee starts slipping, something is wrong. In most cases, it stems from a decline in engagement. The employee could be frustrated and dissatisfied.

2. Waning participation in meetings. Perhaps someone who used to provide valuable insights and observations has become quiet or distracted. Their behavior might not be negative, but the lack of engagement can hurt team performance, especially if they previously played a prominent role in strategy discussion or brainstorming.

3. Less interest in personal development. A committed employee seeks opportunities for advancement: stretch assignments, training materials, relationships with mentors, and learning as much as possible. When that interest wanes, it might be that they no longer see the benefit of widening their skills. Perhaps they were passed over for a promotion or don’t see the long-term opportunities they once did. The employee either is resigned to stagnating or is actively looking for position elsewhere. Both are bad news.

4. More frequent complaints. If an employee freely voices negative opinions about the job or workplace—trying to help solve the problem—they’re probably already looking for a better situation.

5. Whether due to frustration or guilt, an employee who is planning on quitting will often stop associating with fellow team members and other co-workers. Putting emotional distance between themselves and others makes it easier for them to depart when the time comes. This is an especially troubling sign if the employee was previously very social. In these cases, they’re probably seeking to avoid unpleasant conversations about their decision to move on.

6. Avoidance of long-term projects. Although an employee’s day-to-day performance might not decline when they consider quitting, they may show a marked drop in commitment to long-term goals. Handing off these projects or actively taking steps to avoid getting involved in more strategic initiatives suggests they don’t plan to be around long enough to see them through.

7. Frequent absences. If absences are rarely explained and accompanied by other changes in demeanor or appearance, the employee may be attending job interviews or making contacts with recruiters. On the other hand, if their absences come and go without explanation and they show less care for their personal appearance when they do show up for work, their disengagement could be such that they’re ready to walk out the door at a moment’s notice.

8. Poor communication and accessibility. Employees who fail to provide or seek out valuable information necessary for team success usually aren’t planning to stick around. When they do communicate, they may leave things out or forget to ask about important details, which makes it more difficult for their teammates to do their jobs. They might also be difficult to contact, which can become a serious problem for virtual teams.

By identifying the above early warning signs, supervisors can act quickly to address problem areas and reduce turnover. In most cases, finding ways to reengage frustrated employees and provide meaningful development opportunities can go a long way toward improving retention.

Collecting feedback can identify the root causes driving dissatisfaction. A radical rethinking of assessment and development processes may be necessary as well. In many cases, employees aren’t aware of the learning resources and career opportunities available within an organization. Coaching and mentorship programs can cultivate engagement among high-potential employees.

Rick Lepsinger is president of OnPoint Consulting. A version of this post first appeared on the OnPoint Consulting blog.


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