Assessing Employees Ready to Leave: Here Are 2 Questions You Need to Ask

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Jun 28, 2011

All over the news and blogs last week were reports about the latest Mercer What’s Working survey. Shock and alarm were expressed at statistics such as 32 percent of workers are seriously considering leaving their jobs, and 21 percent are not looking to leave, but are completely disengaged.

TLNT and The Wall Street Journal brought some sanity back to the discussion, reporting also that while this may be true, only 1.4 percent of employees have voluntarily left their jobs since April.

Taken together, I tend to believe that 21 percent figure of disengaged employees is actually higher. Combine that with those who want to leave, but can’t for whatever reason. As I’ve written before, that not insignificant percentage of employees are distracted by thoughts, daydreams or plans to leave your organization. They are not fully focused on the task at hand, nor fully engaged in helping you achieve your strategic objectives.

How much would you do looking for a new job?

Asking “Would you leave your current job if you could?” is the wrong question.

Perhaps a better question would be: If currently employed, how much effort would you be willing to expend in looking for a new job?

  • None. I’m happy here.
  • Maybe 20 percent effort – If a friend recommended a promising position to me, I’d go for the interview.
  • Perhaps 40 percent effort – I’d poke around the job boards at home and on the weekend, maybe send in a few resumes.
  • At least 60 percent effort – I’d spend every spare second looking for a new job.
  • Easily 80 percent – I have to get out of here and will do whatever it takes.

What could we learn from that question? Three important takeaways:

  1. Level of employee engagement on the job right now;
  2. Level of employee distraction from the task at hand; and,
  3. Just how broken the company culture has become.

What we can learn from this

Perhaps the best question would be to ask employees – Rank the following in order of importance to you:

  • Learning opportunities – I want to constantly be learning or doing something new.
  • Growth opportunities – I want to be able to move up in my career.
  • Meaningful work – I want to know that I’m contributing to something greater.
  • Frequent recognition and feedback – I want to know when I’m doing well and when I need to improve.
  • A good relationship with my manager – I want to be confident and unafraid at work.
  • Compensation and benefits – I need to know that I’m paid fairly for my work.

What could HR pros learn from this question? Again, three important takeaways:

  1. In aggregate, where the organization may need to invest more budget.
  2. On an individual basis, what would be most engaging for the employee.
  3. An understanding of where the organization may not be able to meet an employee’s needs, paving the way for more effective talent management and honest conversations.

How would you answer the above two questions? What other questions do you think would get to the heart of employee dissatisfaction and disengagement more effectively?

This originally appeared on Derek Irvine’s Recognize This! blog.

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