This is how to know if an employee is thinking of quitting

“People often talk about being overworked, but they’re more likely leave if their work isn’t challenging.”

This is how to know if an employee is thinking of quitting
[Images: benjaminec/iStock; nortonrsx/iStock]

If an employee at IBM is thinking of quitting, their manager likely knows. The company recently announced it’s developed an AI program that can predict with 95% accuracy employees who are flight risks, providing steps for managers to reengage them. In an interview with CNBC, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty didn’t disclose “the secret sauce,” but she said their “predictive attrition program” has saved IBM nearly $300 million in retention costs.


Talent retention is top of mind for many companies, and getting advance warning that an employee is thinking of leaving would be valuable. While you may not have the power of IBM’s Watson in your back pocket, there are other signs you can—and should—look for.

Declining loyalty

“Declining loyalty is a key indicator,” says Kasper Hulthin, cofounder of Peakon, a provider of employee engagement software. “What’s interesting is that the indicators show up nine months before the employee leaves.”

The Peakon platform routinely surveys employees, and Hulthin says one of the most telling questions is, “How likely are you to recommend your company as a place to work?” Another: “If you were offered the same job at another organization, how likely would you be to take it?”

An employee who wouldn’t recommend their current employer to a friend or who is open to outside offers isn’t loyal and might consider quitting.

Unchallenging work

Another indicator that someone might look for other opportunities is if they’re not being challenged by their current work or have no clear path for career or personal growth, says Hulthin.

“People often talk about being overworked, but they’re more likely leave if their work is unchallenging,” says Hulthin. “This shows up when they answer questions about how challenging they find their work. It’s a much bigger sign that someone will leave rather than if they feel overworked.”



Another way to predict when an employee is going to leave is by measuring their engagement with a company’s platforms, says Martin Migoya, CEO and cofounder of Globant, a software provider that measures organizational fitness by tracking social interactions within a company.

“The system tells us when an employee is disengaging from the company because the amount of interactions they’re having with the core platform are going down,” he says. “Interactions tell you that a person is connected. An absence of interactions tells you that you need to brace for impact or do something about their career to reengage them.”

What you can do

If employees are showing any of these three signs, there are a few ways leaders can react, say Hulthin and Migoya. First is to make sure you’re investing in management training. In most cases, people quit because of poor managers, not because of colleagues or company culture, says Hulthin.

“One of the most deciding factors for leaving can be around a manager or management support,” he says. “All mangers don’t intend to be bad. Companies need to give them the right tools and training to reach their full potential.”

Another option is having a conversation with an employee who isn’t engaged to try to detect in a subtle way what’s going on, Migoya suggests.

“It may be a false alarm, and it may be something real,” he says. At Globant, Migoya says an employee who is considering a career change might not necessarily want to leave the company. Perhaps they want to move into a new division, role, or location.


“Having the tools to detect their disengagement allows us to have those conversations,” he says. “We can detect within 20 weeks when someone is thinking of leaving.”

Finally, make sure you’re providing a clear path for growth. The Peakon employee survey measures how employees feel about their path for advancement. “It’s not only millennials that want to grow in their careers,” says Hulthin.

The most critical time to reengage an employee is once they’ve been with the company for two years. Looking backward in time, Hulthin says this is often the separation point.

“The first three months are the onboarding phase,” he says. “Months three to 24 are when an employee finds their feet and becomes good at their role. It’s year two and onward that the curve goes up because they’ve found their growth path or goes down because they can’t.”

When you get insights along the way, you can make changes, says Hulthin. “If you only survey employees once a year, you wouldn’t know the trend,” he says. “It takes three data points to get a trend. Changes happen fast. Leaders need to have their fingers on the pulses of their workplaces on a continuous basis.”