13 subtle signs your employee is thinking of leaving

At a time where resignation letters are handed in like the evening newspaper, what can you do to retain talent?

We live in a fickle world.

There was a time, not so long ago, that people got jobs for life. They joined a company at an early age and stayed. As loyal as your auntie’s pet Labrador. But things have changed.  Career paths are no longer as simple. Loyalty to an employer is a foolhardy game. Most industries are populated with job hoppers.

Which is great for workers! New and fresh challenges, new teams and new brands are around many a corner.

But for an employer, this is a constant headache. Finding and keeping talent, is something which concerns most of London’s business leaders.

So how can you tell if one of your employees is getting ready to hot foot it to pastures new? Here are our 13 subtle signs to watch for:

1. Short-terms actions and short-term talk

“You may find that an employee stops talking about the long-term and disengages from planning discussions or anything to do with the future,” says Barney Ely, director at Hays, the leading recruiting expert. You can guess why.

2. Customers give feedback that the level of service has diminished

“This could be internal or external customers noticing that they are no longer getting the care or attention they are accustomed to,” says Ely.

3. Disengaging socially with the business and not going on nights out after work

When someone thinks they might leave, making an effort to socialise with workmates could lose importance.

4. Stop volunteering for things

Offering to help with tasks outside their remit will no longer serve a purpose for someone who is planning to leave the company.

5. Don’t care attitude

“Someone that was once very passionate about their job and often enjoy heated discussions about decisions may simply stop arguing their point and become subservient,” warns Ely.

6. Productivity could decrease or they could start missing deadlines

Less activity in terms of work load and not preparing for meetings properly are signs that someone might be distancing themselves from their role.

7. Excessive complaining

You might notice that someone is getting annoyed about things that they would usually not be bothered by.

8. Hearing through other people that they are discontent with things

This kind of complaining might be not as public but complaints made in private might be picked up on and mentioned.

9. Take more sick days

If you suddenly notice that someone who might not usually take too many sick days is taking quite a few sporadic days it might be a sign they are looking for another job.

10. Half days/whole days off

When someone is going to interviews they are quite likely to take a number of half or full days off. Instead of talking openly about what they might be up to in their holiday time they are likely to say very little.

11. Dress differently

“Someone who is looking to leave might suddenly start dressing differently. This could go both ways, they could be dressing smarter to go on interviews or they might simply care less about their appearance at work and stop paying attention to detail,” says Ely.

12. Daytime habit might change

Is someone taking longer lunchtimes or taking their break at different times? This could be a sign that they are going to see a recruiter or going on interviews.

13. A confidant might let it slip

“It is very rare in an organisation that someone doesn’t have a friend with whom they share their news. This person who is in-the-know might accidentally let something slip about their friend’s future plans,” says Ely.

So what can you do? 

Most companies have a review structure whereby line managers get face-time with their employees to discuss any issues they have and how their performance is progressing. These are important to get clarity on what people are thinking.

If these reviews do not offer more information, it might be an idea to schedule a chat.

“You need to make a decision about whether you want to address it. A simple ‘I’ve noticed your attitude has changed, would you like to talk about it?’ can help you to meet the issues head-on,” advises Ely.

It can often be the case that the reasons for somebody proactively seeking another job is an emotional reaction.

“Catalysts can sometimes be illogical and can be talked through. Issues can be ironed out but often if they are left unresolved people might seek greener grass,” says Ely.

A change in circumstances could also be a catalyst of a move, changes in family life can be managed by offering flexible working as an option. Ernst & Young introduced a maternity coaching system to ensure that the options are transparent for both the expectant parent and their line-managers.

“Maternity coaching isn’t about informing staff about our corporate policies,” said Liz Bingham, partner sponsor of the programme at Ernst & Young.

“It’s about giving our people the confidence to have conversations about their working arrangements, keeping them informed whilst on leave and helping them transition and reintegrate back into the workplace.”

Sometimes the desire to leave a job can all be down to perception. There’s no denying that the economic climate isn’t all rosy. Employers need to be aware that people are sensitive to insecurity at work and might start to fear for their job if they hear bad news about the company.

“People at board level deal with speculation all of the time and don’t think too much of it but others might take news to mean the business is in trouble. Don’t underestimate people’s reactions to the unknown,” says Ely.

Of course, persuasion won’t always stop someone from leaving if their mind is made up. Of course no-one is happy to see valuable employees leave but there are ways you can prepare for losing top talent.

“I think it’s always useful to plan for people leaving, “says Ely. “You can always start interviewing before you have a vacancy. I like to interview one person a month as it gives me sight of the market.”

It is also wise to have a succession plan if someone does leave.

“You should try and always have two people meeting with the same clients in case one leaves. This way it isn’t a disaster for relationships if someone moves on.”

Kevin Young, Managing Director EMEA Skillsoft agrees:

“By maintaining a strong talent management programme, businesses will in turn encourage an environment of continuous learning which ensures that the company has a consistent pipeline of talent.

“It is therefore imperative that every business has a succession plan in place, so through training, any role can be replaced with minimum disturbance.”

Readers' comments (4)

  • It's all about communication as far as I'm concerned. If you have a healthy relationship with your employees you shouldn't have to second guess their plans.

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  • I found this article extremely timely and useful, in challenging times it is especially key to remember staff morale

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  • Excellent tips!

    I'll definitely be more attentive to my staff now.

    At the risk of sounding sinister, they'll never escape...

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  • Volunteering for things is a great indicator - also one of employees who you probably don't want anyway.

    Great staff are eager to accept new challenge. If they aren't hungry, then it's a sign they won't', and shouldn't last.

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