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Think Your Employee Is About to Quit? How to Handle It

Nicole Fallon

One of your employees has been acting strange lately. He or she has been taking a lot of time off for doctor's appointments and sick days. The employee may have asked to shift his or her work schedule without an explanation. Perhaps the person's productivity has been on a downward spiral in recent weeks, or he or she has seemed particularly withdrawn from the team.

Whether you've heard rumors from other staff members or you simply have a gut feeling, the writing is on the wall: This person is probably going to quit.

Disengagement: The biggest sign of a quitter

Many career and HR experts agree that the above-named behaviors are among the most common signs that an employee might be looking for a job elsewhere. But overall, the biggest indicator that someone is planning an exit is a consistent drop-off in engagement at work.

In a 2014 study, Tim Gardner, an associate professor at Utah State University's Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, identified 10 behavioral changes that occur in a disengaged employee. These behaviors emerge about one to two months before the worker officially resigns, Gardner found.

  • Offering fewer constructive contributions in meetings
  • Being reluctant to commit to long-term projects
  • Acting more reserved and quiet
  • Being less interested in advancing in the organization
  • Showing less interest in pleasing the boss than before
  • Avoiding social interactions with the boss and other members of management
  • Suggesting fewer new ideas or innovative approaches
  • Doing the minimum amount of work needed and no longer going beyond the call of duty
  • Participating less in training and development programs
  • Demonstrating a drop in work productivity  

Employees who exhibit six or more of these behaviors are most likely about to leave the organization, according to Gardner's statistical formula. [See Related Story: What to Do When Your Best Employee Quits]

Asher Weinberger, CEO and founder of menswear company Twillory, noted that managers should be on the lookout for sudden withdrawal from office social activity in particular.

"Even if the quality and commitment to their tasks is maintained, once a person knows they are leaving, they no longer feel at home in their environment," Weinberger said.

Karen Hsu, vice president of marketing at business gamification company Badgeville, agreed, adding that an across-the-board drop in an employee's collaboration, interactions and enthusiasm could indicate that the person is looking elsewhere.

"There's less output," Hsu told Business News Daily. "Even in meetings, [the person has] less energy and excitement."

Should you intervene?

Depending on how vital the employee is to your organization, the thought of losing him or her might be overwhelming and upsetting, and your first instinct may be to confront the person about it. But you don't want to outright accuse someone of job hunting or planning to leave: If it turns out to be untrue, it will only hurt your relationship with the employee.

However, there are ways to subtly assess the person's plans and possibly even address whatever issues are making him or her look elsewhere in the first place. Hsu said if you suspect an employee is going to quit, try to open a dialogue focused on the employee and determine if there's something going on in his or her life that's contributing to the disengagement.

"Usually, there's some core issue the employee is dealing with," she said. "Address the employee, [and ask] what's going on. If it's personal, be understanding, but if it has to do with the company, talk about it."

Hsu said there are two main fixable reasons that may lead employees to consider leaving: They feel isolated for some reason, or they don't see a clear career path. The former often happens with remote employees, or those who frequently work independently.

"[If they] don't have day-to-day interactions in the office, it can lead to feeling that they don't belong in the organization," Hsu said.

You can bring the employee back into the "tribe" by providing more frequent feedback and checking in with them often.

"When they do something [well], come by and tell them they did a great job," Hsu said. "Even if they're remote, a manager can still do this digitally. It makes the employee feel good, like they're part of something."

If the employee expresses concerns about his or her career path, Hsu advised taking the opportunity to discuss the person's long-term goals and what the company can do to help him or her reach them.

"Repeatedly check in on a periodic basis," Hsu said. "Go back [and ask,] 'Are you getting what you think you should be getting out of this role?' As long as people feel like they're making progress, they'll feel like they're reaching their goals."

Despite your best efforts, the employee in question may ultimately end up submitting his or her resignation. If this does happen, be prepared and follow Business News Daily's guide to a smooth staffing transition.

Additional reporting by Chad Brooks.

Image Credit: anselmus/Shutterstock
Nicole Fallon
business.com Member
Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.