It can be disappointing when an employee gives notice—especially when he or she is an asset to your company. But chances are someone in your company is planning to leave sometime soon. One third of U.S. workers hope to change jobs in the next six months, according to a study by the HR research firm WorkplaceTrends.com. That’s a lot of job ads to write.
While you may not know for sure who will leave, there are some telltale signs that an employee is looking for a new job, says Lynne Sarikas, workplace expert and director of the MBA Career Center at D’Amore McKim School of Business at Northeastern University.
"Often a manager will see clues that an employee is getting ready to leave based on their behavior," she says. "Other clues can be more subtle, but if you know your employees well you are likely to pick up on these."
1. Impromptu Time-Off Requests
While time-off requests are not always a red-flag, sudden requests to be out of the office for half or full days could mean the employee is interviewing, says Timothy Tolan, CEO and managing partner of The Tolan Group, an executive search firm.
"Repeated requests across a condensed period of time is usually a telling sign that something is up," he says.
Personal or vacation days might not provide added information, but pay attention to employees who suddenly call in sick, adds Sarikas. "If they were full of vim and vigor the day before and the day after, you can’t help but wonder if they were interviewing," she says.
2. A Change In Attitude
If an employee starts complaining about the company or the workload, or if conversations hush when you walk nearby, this could be a sign that he or she is starting to disengage. "While not a guarantee the someone is already actively looking, these types of behavior changes could at least be the start of growing frustration that could lead to making a change," says Sarikas.
Disengagement also includes a change in participation in meetings, such as staying quiet when they normally like to participate in or lead discussions, adds Tolan. "Silence in this case could spell trouble," he says.
3. An Increase In LinkedIn Activity
Another indication that someone is looking for a new job could be a boost in his or her LinkedIn activity. Tolan says managers should always connect with their team on LinkedIn. "It’s just a good practice, and early in their career new recruits will thinks it’s pretty cool that their boss sends them a LinkedIn request," he says.
Later, if you suddenly see changes to their profile, like joining a lot of new groups or a recent increase in connections, something could be going on. "You can adjust the settings in your profile to anonymous when checking in on your troops," he says. "They will have no idea [you’re looking]."
4. Loss In Productivity And Motivation
If the employee’s quality of work takes a nose-dive, or if they normally work until 6 p.m. and are suddenly out the door at 5 p.m., you could be on the verge of losing an employee, says Tolan.
"As they know they are leaving—and especially after they’ve already accepted another position-–you will probably see a drop in productivity or in the quality of their work," he says.
Once an employee is disengaged, it’s important to try to do damage control, and all it might take is checking in, says Katina Sawyer, professor of psychology and graduate programs in human resources development at Villanova University.
"Simply asking, ‘How are things going today?’ and ‘What can I do to help you achieve your goals?’ can make employees feel valued and empowered," she says. "Without keeping a pulse on employee engagement, managers will be unable to predict who will leave and who will stay."
Find out what motivates your employee, such as autonomy, challenge or development, suggests Sawyer. "Trying to work with them to build more of these elements into the job can help to reengage an employee who is thinking of leaving," she says.
Give positive feedback to the employee on things they’re doing well and involve them in team activities, adds James Craft, professor of business administration at University of Pittsburgh. "This can provide greater identification with the work context, social support, and a network of relationships," he says.
A good encounter may be all it takes to get an employee to change their mind and stay. "If they have been successful up to this point, it is likely worth the time to attempt to retain them and all the knowledge they have of your organization," says Sarikas.