Employee Turnover: 5 Signs an Employee Is Quitting

Your most valuable employees are valuable to other workplaces, too. How can you tell which employees are on the verge of quitting?



Caution! Your most valuable employees are valuable to other workplaces, too. So how can you tell which employees are likely to turnover quit? Says Tim Gardner, associate professor at Utah State University’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, look for signs in the following behaviors.

Signs an Employee Will Quit

  • Input and innovation stalls

    Watch for disengagement in meeting discussions and a drop in innovation and suggestions.

  • Decrease in productivity and commitment

    Is the employee reluctant to commit or possibly “phoning it in?” This could indicate they’re shopping around.

  • Building a social wall

    Formerly boisterous employees who become more reserved and quiet or even avoid social interactions with management might be a red flag.

  • No growth? No problem

    Complacency about advancement, training or development programs can signal a lack of interest in staying with the current organization long-term.

  • "Whatever" attitude

    A change resulting in less concern about work quality or the feedback they receive can be a sign that an employee has checked out.

Gardner’s research found that the biggest sign of departure was disengagement from the company – something that smart businesses can help prevent with the right retention strategies (see below).

“People having a lot of ‘doctor’s appointments,’ showing up to work in a suit, or leaving a resume on the printer were the kind of signs that dropped off the list [of behaviors],” notes Gardner of his research findings. “You might think that someone who starts showing up to work late, failing to return phone calls and e-mails, and taking lots of sick days might be about to leave, but those weren’t unique behaviors that applied only to the quitters.”

When do employees leave?

A Harvard Business Review looked for clues to departure based on calendar events to determine if there were other factors that could precede an increase in job-hunting activity:

  • Work anniversary of joining the company – 6% increase
  • Work anniversary of starting current role – 9% increase
  • Milestone birthdays (ex: 40 or 50) – 12% increase
  • Attendance at social gatherings – 16% increase

Personal factors like these, says Colin Thompson, VP of Human Resources at Stratus HR, can often be linked back to whether or not the employee feels like they’re valued and making sufficient career progress. “While employees often state in exit interviews that they left because they wanted a better opportunity or a bigger paycheck, these may also be code for ‘I wanted more challenges.’ That’s when the question becomes, ‘What did the company do to help increase employee satisfaction in both the work and the workplace?’”

How small companies can improve employee retention

Keeping valuable employees satisfied doesn’t mean handing everyone a VP title and a corner office. In fact, there are a number of ways small businesses can tackle the problem of employee turnover head-on without eating through a lot of disposable cash. Thompson advises the following:

Build loyalty

Recognition programs go a long way, but so does valuing an employee’s input. “You want employees to know they’re contributing, so empower them to take ownership in a project and solicit feedback,” he says. “They see the business from a different angle than the executive team does, which gives insight into what could be improved. When employee advice is valued, it builds a sense of value and job security. And both of those go a long way toward keeping an employee around.”

Stay competitive

If basic needs aren’t accessible for employees, there’s a good chance they’ll start looking elsewhere. “Benefits are the second-most important driver in job satisfaction, coming in just behind job security,” writes Mike Simonds in Bloomberg Business, citing research that shows “a direct connection between how well employees understand such benefits as health, disability, and life insurance and whether they feel valued and engaged at work.” For small employers, however, competitive benefits can seem like an insurmountable hurdle. But, says John Farnsworth, Stratus HR CEO, there are ways around this. “Team up with a PEO – a Professional Employer Organization – like Stratus HR. You’ll be able to tap into benefits that would seem out of reach for most smaller businesses. Some of our smallest clients have just a handful of employees. Even though their pockets aren’t deep, those clients can offer the exact same benefits at the same prices that our largest clients with hundreds of employees do.”

Develop a retention strategy

Retaining employees isn’t a one-time shot. Organizations should have a long-term strategy to keep employee satisfaction high. For smaller companies and startups, the best approach is to partner with an experienced firm to help develop retention plans. Says Farnsworth, “A lot of companies we work with initially considered retention as an afterthought. Their first inclination is that they’ll need to throw money at employees, but that’s not necessarily long-term thinking or even needed.”

To build programs that work, Stratus’s Human Resources Consultants consider factors unique to the client – the client’s growth plan, industry outlook, recruiting trends and even personalities and wants of each generation in the workplace. “No two workplaces are the same. That’s why a custom retention strategy is so important,” says Colin Thompson.

Is a company ever too small to think about retention? No, says Thompson – and that surprises some business owners at first. “Even if a company only has 15 employees, we encourage them to create a retention strategy. Sometimes they push back – and then we explain why it’s so cost effective and important to the company’s overall health to retain those employees, and to its bottom line, and they get it. Then we work with our client to create a plan that they can afford and that keeps their most valuable employees in place for a long time.”

Contact Stratus HR today for a free evaluation to learn how our outsourced HR/PEO services can work for your company.

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