Itchy feet: Ten signs that an employee is about to leave

When is an employee about to leave

It’s a tricky situation. As an employer, you hope that your best employees will stay forever. But, realistically, if you’re not promoting them, then it might not be long before they decide to go. Of course, many people are contented in their work, without any prospect of promotion. But, for others, a lack of advancement will certainly have them on the move.

And no doubt you’d like to know when someone might be leaving. However hard people try to hide it, it’s almost impossible not to give off signals that they’re leaving. Here are a few signs to look out for.

1. Odd days off
If you notice that employees are taking more sick days, or days off, than usual, it’s often a sign that they are going for interviews. More sophisticated, or more ethical employees, may arrange for interviews before or after work.

2. Sudden knowledge of another company or competitor
If you find that one of your team members has an interesting fact about a competitor or industry, you can bet that this knowledge has come from research for a potential job or the interview itself. Alarm bells should be ringing!

3. Dressing unusually smartly
Many offices these days encourage casual clothes. So, a colleague who is dressing unusually smartly, may be off for an interview.

4. More relaxed
At stressful times in the office, when important deals need to be done, you may notice that particular colleagues are rather too relaxed. This is perhaps because they have plans to leave, so they won’t need to worry about a big deal falling through.

5. No long-term planning
Colleagues who are on the point of leaving certainly aren’t interested in making long-term plans or even in having conversations about what’s long-term.

6. Shorter days
Anyone who is thinking of leaving is probably not as worried about impressing the boss with long hours. Watch out for colleagues who, uncharacteristically, start to come in later and leave earlier.

7. No volunteering
Employees who were once keen volunteers may certainly not be once they know that they have a new job. After all, there’s no need to impress anymore.

8. Reduced interest in corporate gossip
Some of your team members may always be keen to hear the news on the grapevine, whether it’s about buying a competitor, moving to new offices or the release date for a new product. If a previously attentive colleague suddenly loses interest, s/he may be on the move.

9. Tidier desk
For most people, there seems to be a need to leave one’s affairs in order. So, when employees start emptying drawers of rubbish or removing irrelevant documents from files, you can be sure that they are making things good before they go.

10. No fight on contentious issues
You may have recently discussed a rather contentious issue. Everyone in the office would have something to say, but if you notice that some colleagues are unusually quiet, then they are probably on their way, and know that such an issue, even a contentious one, won’t actually affect them.

You may expect that any leaving colleagues would work with pace and commitment right up to their last day. In many cases, you would be right to do so. However, there’s always a handful of employees who leave behind tell-tale signs that they’re on the move. If they are the sort of people to do this, you’ll probably notice straight away, and, perhaps more importantly, you may decide that you don’t want people like that to stay anyway.

And what if you don’t want a colleague to leave? Well, now would be the time to act! Consider the following strategies if you’re keen to keep employees who might leave:

  • Review their current positions and invite them in for a conversation about potential promotion.
  • Identify specifically what drives them and consider how you can fulfil their ambitions, whether by offering more opportunities, more money or perhaps even by offering flexible working.

There will always be colleagues who aren’t satisfied, who won’t agree with your vision and who want to move elsewhere. However, for the most part, giving people the right incentives can be the make or break, it’s just finding those incentives that can be the problem for many leaders. But, it’s worth doing. After all, as recognised by Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox, employees are “your greatest asset” and you want to “attract and retain the best”.

If you don’t have a retention plan, perhaps it’s time to get one. Take a detailed look at your employees today – especially those with itchy feet!


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About the author

Heather Foley is a consultant at ETS has been a partner to some of the world’s most respected companies since 1989, delivering specialist consultancy and leading edge technology in the following areas: employee research and engagement, leadership development, 360° feedback, performance management, and talent and succession planning. ETS takes a bespoke approach to every project to ensure that all clients get their ideal survey solution. ETS doesn’t have templates and nothing is off-the-shelf. Every programme created is specific to the client, ensuring real value is delivered. More blog posts by Heather Foley ››
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