Here’s How to Tell That Your Talent Is About to Quit

Feb 24, 2014
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Quit Job keyboardEmployees who are serious about changing jobs give off cues that, if you know what to look for, can give you time to act before it’s too late.

These are not the kinds of tell-tale signals every manager recognizes.

“You might think that someone who starts showing up to work late, failing to return phone calls and emails, and taking lots of sick days might be about to leave, but those weren’t unique behaviors that applied only to the quitters,” says Tim Gardner, a Utah State University associate professor at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. Unlike a worker who starts taking days off in the middle of the week, or who prowls job boards, or inadvertently leaves a resume in the copier, the signs of a serious job seeker are more subtle.

He and his research partners, Huntsman professor Steve Hanks and Chad H. Van Iddekinge, of Florida State University, set out to identify the clues that soon-to-depart workers give weeks or months in advance of actually resigning.

Starting from a list of almost 1,000 cues compiled by surveying employers, the team eventually came up with 18 “disengagement” behaviors that start showing up a month or two before the employee gives notice.

The research will be published in the near future, so the full list and the details are being kept under wraps, but Gardner shared some of the general indicators, a few of which are the kinds of things managers and HR know all too well.

Paul McDonald, senior executive director of global staffing firm Robert Half International, says, “Employers tell us they often see five signs that someone is getting ready to quit.” These are: 1) An increase in absences; 2) Lack of enthusiasm for the work; 3) An increase in errors; 4) Reduced interaction with the boss; 5) and, More formal attire at work.

Only two of these made Gardner’s list. “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,” he said, offering this sampler of the “early indicators” of a worker preparing to quit:

  • They offered fewer constructive contributions in meetings.
  • They were more reluctant to commit to long-term projects.
  • They become more reserved and quiet.
  • They became less interested in advancing in the organization.
  • They were less interested in pleasing their boss than before.
  • They avoided social interactions with their boss and other members of management.
  • They suggested fewer new ideas or innovative approaches.
  • They began doing the minimum amount of work needed and no longer went beyond the call of duty.
  • They were less interested in participating in training and development programs.
  • Their work productivity went down.

Gardner said if employees were demonstrating at least six of these behaviors, his statistical formula could predict with 80 percent accuracy that they were about to leave the organization.

“It appears that a person’s attitude can create behaviors that are hard to disguise,” explains Gardner. “As the grass starts to look greener on the other side of the fence to you, chances are that others will soon notice that you’ve lost your focus.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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