Employee set to bolt? Read the signs

Dissatisfied employeeManagers often build relationships and ongoing communications with employees via one-on-one and team meetings, status updates and periodic performance reviews as a means to gauge how an employee spends his or her workday, and assess whether primary job duties align with the employee’s skillset, interests and longer-term career goals.

While these tactics help managers support and guide employees, all rely on employee feedback and self-reports. Given that recent research by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) indicates just 38% of employees in the United States are very satisfied with their job, there’s a good chance your employees may be unhappy at work—despite what they share verbally.

Yet, managers who pay attention to employee behavior could have an opportunity to intervene and address job frustration, before employees disengage to the point that they’re ready to hand in their notice.

Here are some common signs that could indicate an employee’s next big career step could be out the door.

They’re in the midst of a personal milestone. When best-practice insight and technology company CEB (now Gartner) studied the timing around when people quit their jobs, they found that key milestones in an employee’s personal life, like a 40th birthday, or a 10-year class reunion, are stronger predictors of potential job search activity than work events that involve peer-to-peer comparison, like performance review season, or a five-year work anniversary.

Those “over the hill” balloons in the employee’s cube don’t always mean she’ll want to make a career change, but managers who recognize the impact such life events can have on an employee’s future career goals can proactively make a point to stay in contact with the employee, and potentially, redefine what the employee wants to accomplish in the next phase of her career.

They’re less likely to go the extra mile. Research at Utah State University revealed that the stereotypical signs often associated with employee dissatisfaction—like leaving the office every day at 5 p.m., taking more vacation, or calling in sick frequently—aren’t necessarily correlated to job dissatisfaction.

The research also revealed that employees do exhibit plenty of signs of disengagement before departing a job, many of which can go unnoticed unless managers make a point to look for them. According to the researchers, signals an employee is about to quit include:

  • An unwillingness to volunteer. If an employee who typically volunteers to participate in committees to support the annual company picnic stops raising her hand to help, it could be a sign that she intends to leave.
  • Lack of interest in company networking. An employee who stops showing interest in deepening his connections and relationships with others in the company may be considering a job move.
  • No feedback or ideas in meetings. There’s not always value in vocalizing one’s opinion in a meeting, but an employee who stops sharing feedback or ideas when the group is asked to contribute could be nonverbally indicating disinterest in company initiatives.

Interactions with others in the department decrease. Managers should take note in changes to employee behavior anytime team dynamics shift, whether due to changes in roles, responsibilities, or structure. Millennials in particular place high value on feeling appreciated at work, both from management and peers; one TINYPulse survey revealed that employees who felt recognized by peers were 11% less likely to leave a job.

If a team member who had close relationships with others in the group has moved to a new role outside of the company or has moved to a separate department, their departure may be a catalyst for others to lose motivation in their current roles, and potentially, seek out new opportunities.

Researchers believe that having a close professional friend not only makes work more fun, it creates a deeper sense of social pressure to not let the friend down. In turn, work buddies tend to result in greater productivity, and improved outputs, for all involved.