Signs An Employee is Leaving: How to Improve Employee Retention

Date: July 30, 2020
employee retention

You have a high performing team and standout staff, then BOOM, your top employee quits, seemingly out of nowhere. Employee retention and keeping high performers is a common struggle for all companies, no matter how large or small. Recognizing the signs that an employee is thinking about leaving can help.

The worst part about losing a-players is that they are the employees that you want to keep!

Noticing the signs before someone quits can save you thousands of dollars.

In fact, according to Glassdoor, the average company in the US spends about $4,000 to hire a new employee, taking up to 52 days to fill a position.

That's the cost for a new position. To fill an existing position is much higher. 

The indirect costs of staff turnover is where it adds up. Direct employee replacement costs can reach as high as 50-60% of the annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Some reports go as far to say it can cost 150% of an employees annual salary.

Indirect costs include:

  • Lower productivity of the staff member leaving
  • Overworked team members 
  • Lost knowledge 
  • Onboarding and training costs
  • Interview costs (and the productivity lost by interviewees)
  • External recruitment costs
  • Business errors

With all these costs, it can take up to six months before a company breaks even on its investment of a new hire. (Source: Investopedia)

Quite often it is worth giving a key player the $5,000 raise they’re asking for, and more importantly, deserving of. 

Knowing all of this, just like how poker players have their ‘tells’, employees have signs that they are thinking about quitting.

Here are our list of common, and less common, signs that your A-player might be leaving, helping you with employee retention strategies.

Common Signs That an Employee is Thinking About Leaving

  • Change in performance. This could include no longer meeting deadlines, or only doing the minimum amount of work required, either way a change in performance is one of the most common signs that someone might jump ship.
  • Lack of communication. It’s important to note; don’t mistake being an introvert for lack of communication. Some people are quiet and like to get the job done without telling everyone about it, while others peacock around with their daily actions. Lack of communication can be a sign that an employee is closed off to their colleagues. That’s what you want to look out for. This may even present itself by participating less in meetings.
  • Not committing to long term projects. When you’re thinking about leaving, you don’t want to commit to a project in the future, as subconsciously you know you won’t be there to complete it.
  • Increased absence. Whether it’s using up accumulated sick days, or having a lot of unexplained medical appointments (a common excuse to attend interviews), this is another extremely common sign that something is iffy.
  • Takes more personal phone calls. Most jobs that you apply for require a phone call to ask a few questions and book in an interview. If someone suddenly starts taking more personal calls, changing jobs could be the main culprit. 
  • Recently overlooked for a promotion or pay rise. This often results in a disgruntled staff member as they didn’t receive what they feel they deserved. When an employee is disgruntled they are often driven to look for another job.
  • Friction with colleagues or managers. You spend at least a third of your day at work with colleagues. When you have friction with your colleagues or managers, it makes those 8 hours a day extremely long and unpleasant. Because of this, many people with conflict in the office will look for a more pleasant place to work.
  • Expressed negativity about their work, manager or current situation. Similar to the above, unhappy people want to find themselves in a happier workplace environment. When a colleague starts expressing negativity in the office, it’s a sign that can’t be overlooked.
  • Leaving early or coming in late. These people either have terrible time management, or are disengaged and don’t care about punctuality. Especially if someone used to be punctual and it changes, chances are they’re looking for another job.

Other indicators that an employee is planning to quit

  • Wanting to up-skill, attend conferences or training seminars. Most people who are planning to change jobs will strengthen their skillset where possible, especially if they can get the expenses covered. It’s important to be cautious around this point as some key players are genuinely trying to be better at their current job.
  • Work friends leave. Going back to point #7, when a close colleague leaves it is common for the rest of their workplace friendship circle to leave too.
  • Wearing dressier clothes, or more professional outfits. A sudden change in image can mean that 1) they’re trying harder, or 2) they have a job interview that they’ve dressed up for. Hopefully it is situation 1 for your business.
  • Putting in less effort with their appearance. When appearance starts to decline, it can demonstrate that they are becoming disengaged or not caring about work as much. Unmotivated staff can linger, while motivated staff in this situation will start looking for something to drive them more, i.e. another job.
  • Frequency in other jobs. You can generally gauge how long a staff member will stay by looking at their resume and how long they’ve stayed in previous positions. If they usually change jobs after two years, they might get the ‘two-year itch’ with you too.
  • More active on LinkedIn. If someone starts jazzing up their LinkedIn profile and start to become a lot more active, it generally means they’re getting their profile ready to be inspected by recruiters.
  • Major event. Getting married, divorced, buying a house or becoming a parent can often result in a total life change, including a new job. It might be for simple reasons such as needing more money to be able to finance their recent life event.

In a current global situation like COVID-19, there may be personal or extenuating circumstances that can result in the above signs. Always give the benefit of the doubt. 

If your team members are showing these signs, it is recommended to have a chat to your employee to rule out personal reasons first. If they avoid the questions or seem disinterested, trust your gut with the conversation as they might be wanting to leave.

To help you reduce employee turnover, here are some easy methods to prevent staff from leaving.

  • Give regular pay rises, and don’t wait until staff ask for them. When your manager tells you, “You’ve been doing a great job, we’d love to give you a $5,000 raise”, it makes you feel appreciated and less likely to leave.
  • Being recognized for your hard work. There’s nothing more frustrating than working hard and it not being noticed or not receiving a ‘thank you’ for your efforts. Employee recognition is often overlooked but it can be vital in keeping top performing staff.

For more information about why our brains require recognition and how frequently it’s required, check out our blog ‘The Psychology of Recognition’. 

  • Rewards to feel appreciated. Similar to being recognized, being rewarded for your hard work goes a long way. A pay raise is great, but don’t underestimate the power of a  $50 gift card, or even better if you can personalize it. Bucketlist offers a corporate rewards program that has thousands of pre-set rewards for staff to choose.
  • Improve communication methods. Communication is key for any business. There are a million resources available, including our great webinar covering topics such as ‘how to build a high performance culture’. Spoiler: communication plays a vital role.
  • Employee engagement surveys and pulse surveys. Conducting frequent surveys (quarterly or bi-annually works well) which are anonymous will help you understand how employees are feeling and outcomes to work towards. 
  • Weekly 1:1 between managers and direct reports. It’s best to have weekly meetings which are structured, such as the Goal, Set and Review (GSR) format. The meeting us structured in the following format:

Part 1: Review tasks from last week
Go through what was, and wasn't achieved. This gives you both the opportunity to overcome any obstacles.

Part 2: Goals to achieve this week.
Create a list of tasks to achieve this week (these will be reviewed next week whether they were completed or not).

Part 3. Go through a list of questions. Here are some of our favorites:
- What is going well in your role? Any wins (big or small) this week?
- What challenges are you facing? Where are you stuck?
- Is there anything the business can do to make you more successful?
- What is the morale around you?
- On a scale of 1-10, how happy are you? Why?
- What is the best thing that happened to you this week, either at work or outside it?
- What were some great contributions made by other team members?
- How can I be a better leader to you?

Part 4: General discussion
Is there anything else you’d like to discuss.

We hope this list will help you see the signs that a valued team member is thinking about leaving. Once you notice the signs you can take action to retain them. Or, you can implement some of the techniques to avoid staff turnover to begin with.

To find out more about how the Bucketlist employee rewards and recognition app can help your business, contact us for a free demo. We’d love to help you improve your company’s employee recognition program and improve staff retention!

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