5 More Ways to Tell If an Employee Is Looking to Leave

Second of two parts

As I noted yesterday (in 5 Ways to Identify an Employee Who Is Ready to Quit), employee turnover is always an important issue, but most managers are unaware of the fact that overall, turnover rates went up 45 percent last year.

I’m predicting that they will go up at least 50 percent this year, so individual managers should be aware of the precursors or warning signs that can indicate that an employee is considering looking for a job so they can act before it’s too late.

If you approach the problem systematically, you can successfully identify which individual employees are likely to quit with an accuracy rate of over 80 percent.

Yesterday, I listed the Top 5 ways to tell if an employee may be getting ready to leave. Here are five more:

6. Someone close to them leaves the team

Having a manager, a close colleague, or even a close friend leave the team can provide a powerful impetus for an employee to leave.

In many cases the exiting employee may actively encourage them to follow as a referral (as many as three to five employees will follow an influential employee).

But the thought of not being able to work alongside a great friend, having to work under a new manager, or having to train a new hire may be enough to drive them into considering a new job.

7. A career-damaging event occurs

For most employees, simply having a weak manager or an uninteresting job isn’t by itself enough to cause them to look for a new job. Instead, an additional catalyst or negative event (aka, career trauma) is needed that the employee considers serious enough so that it actually damages their future career.

These negative events might include having a major project canceled, a project proposal rejected, major layoffs or a re-organization, being rejected for a promotion, being assigned a new manager, or a major resource reduction or staff cut in their job area.

8. Recognize when an employee’s career stage is ending

Most individuals go through predictable stages or steps as they progress through their career.

Many employees change jobs when they reach the end of a stage or phase of their career. Those career stages often include entry-level, becoming a journeyman/ professional, becoming a team lead, promotion to a higher level and eventually complacency and preparing for retirement.

So if their manager pays attention to and plots those career stages, they can in most cases predict approximately when an employee is likely to enter job search mode.

Important outside-of-work life events can also cause an employee to move into their next career stage. The life events that can trigger job search include marriages and divorces, new births, children reaching school age, the last child finishing school, deaths, health issues, a large amount of their company stock vesting, an extremely negative performance review, and certain landmark ages (turning 30, 40, 50, or 60).

There is no precise formula here, but if a manager pays close attention to where an employee is in their career cycle and to their major life events, they can get an indication of when an employee is likely to begin looking.

9. Identify employees who are “overdue” 

One of the key frustrations for employees are when they perceive that they are unjustly overdue for something important.

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It’s partially an equity issue, in which they see others unfairly getting things before them. But it is also an internal desire to keep moving, growing, and learning, as well getting new tools, opportunities, and challenges.

When they feel “overdue,” they become frustrated and begin looking for a new opportunity. Common overdue factors include too long a period since their last pay raise, promotion, training opportunity, a chance to lead, but also (especially among techies) upgrades in their tools, equipment, computers, and mobile phones.

10. Recognize when a top performer feels underused

Top performers and innovative employees are unique in that they will begin considering a new job simply if they feel “underused.”

Almost all top performers want to be continually challenged, as well as to make a major contribution. As a result, managers need to be aware that once a top employee feels that their skills are either eroding or that their talents are being underused, they will likely begin considering leaving (Google research indicates that the feeling of being underused is their No. 1 reason). Y

ou can find out if an employee feels underused by simply asking them or by talking to their close coworkers. Of all turnover issues, this is the easiest one to solve because the employee simply wants to do more challenging work.

Some additional identification approaches

Although they didn’t make it in the top 10 list, here are some other effective approaches to consider.

  • Identify the office “gossip” (aka, super-knower) who seems to know everything going on in the office and ask them to informally let you know when they suspect that a key employee is looking.
  • Their best friend at work and your own firm’s recruiters are also likely to know who is actively looking.
  • Managers should also realize that there is a high probability that employees who have recently increased their visibility by writing blogs, doing YouTube instructional videos, or by suddenly speaking at conferences are doing it to attract recruiters.
  • Frequent absences and especially those that are for only half of a day and on Fridays should be noted as possible indicators that someone is interview.
  • And finally be aware that the No. 1 cause for employee turnover is often a bad manager, so be aware that you may be the most impactful reason why your employees leave.

Final Thoughts

I’ve never seen a manager’s job description where it specifically outlined their responsibility for identifying key employees who are likely to quit. As a result, I have found that nearly 95 percent of managers simply make no formal attempt to periodically sit down and systematically identify key team members that are likely to leave.

As turnover rates increase and as the economy continues to improve, managers need to realize that top employees not only have the choice of going to a competitive firm but they now have expanded opportunities to create a startup (known as the garage factor).

Failing to be proactive has high costs because once an employee announces that they are leaving, it’s extremely difficult and expensive to get them to change their mind.

I’ve tried to outline the simplest and easiest to implement approaches in this list, so that all that is required is for an individual manager to set aside the needed time.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

 

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