One of your top team members sends you that cryptic, “Do you have time to talk this week?” email. You, of course, get a meeting on the books as soon as you can. Then the bomb drops. They tell you that they’re leaving the company.

What?! Why?! They are such a solid performer. I thought they were happy here. I wonder if there is anything I can do to get them to stay!

Maybe. But by this point, it is probably too late. You need to identify signs that your employee may quit far in advance when there is still time for you to do something about it.

Of course, you’re not a mind reader, and we’re not expecting you to be. You’ll never know with 100% certainty how everyone is feeling all of the time. You can, however, proactively engage your team members in ongoing dialogue about their goals and ensure they are constantly learning, growing and being rewarded. These are all key components of retaining your team.

So to start, who might be a flight risk? How can you tell in advance?

They haven’t gotten a significant raise in a while.

Money is not everything. I repeat – money is not everything. It is, however, very important. It is important not just because it is our livelihood, but also because it is a quantifiable reflection of our worth.

If you have a team member who has continued to up their skills and contributions, who has recently received additional education or training, who has taken on additional responsibilities – all of these are worthy of a raise. Not just a cost of living bump, but a significant raise. If your top team members aren’t being financially rewarded for their continued contributions, they will likely start to look externally to find someplace that will reward them.

If you have a team member who is a high performer that you don’t want to lose, proactively advocate for budget to continue to increase their pay or award them a bonus. If that isn’t financially feasible, identify other ways to reward them. Maybe you can include them in a high profile meeting, provide them with additional training or even award them with additional vacation time.

Acknowledge their worth, and do what is in your power to demonstrate that to them.

They’ve made requests about their role within the company.

Coaching people through career transitions is a specialty of ours at Ama La Vida, and we are sure to capture data about their decision to leave so we get the full picture. More than half of our career transition clients have spoken with someone within their organization about their desire for things to change before seeking support from a coach to help them determine their next move.

That means that more than half of your employees aren’t leaving you guessing at all. They are actually coming to you and saying, “Here’s what I want.” “Here are changes I’d like to see.” “Here are opportunities I’d like to be involved with.” Sure, they might not pepper onto the end “or else I’ll leave,” but what if you thought about it that way? I don’t want you running around fearful that people are leaving every time they make a comment, but I do want you to take their requests seriously.

Of our career transition clients, 14% say they would want to stay with their employer if their role was improved. So sure, that’s not everyone, but a 14% improvement in retention is nothing to scoff at.

When your team members come to you expressing interest in gaining new experience or working through some challenges they are facing, listen to them. Take their feedback to heart and do what you can to create the opportunities they are looking for. Even if it means that person will leave your team, it is better for the organization to retain them than having them leave and have to train someone brand new.

They are disengaged.

If someone starts missing meetings and deadlines, passing on optional events and raising their hand less for various opportunities, they could be checking out. This is especially true if this is a new pattern of behavior. It is of course possible that they are just going through something personally or are totally slammed, but more often than not, they are beginning to disengage from the company.

If someone’s energy and enthusiasm toward their role begins to shift or if they start to have a drastic change in mood, it could be a sign that they are disengaging. Have a conversation with them to check in. Ask what is going on and what has caused this shift. Ask what they need to feel more engaged in their work. Set an action plan for yourself and for them to help reinvigorate them.

Suspicious calls and appointments.

If you’ve ever interviewed for jobs while still in one, you might be able to recognize this behavior when you see it. If one of your team members starts regularly taking private calls or leaving for appointments during the week, it could be a sign that they are interviewing elsewhere. However, it is also possible that they are dealing with some personal or family issues, so don’t jump to conclusions or become accusatory.

When you are in a private space and having a one-on-one conversation, you can ask them directly. You can say that you’ve noticed this pattern of behavior and that you are concerned about them. Ask them if they are okay, but also express that you respect their privacy, and they of course should only share anything they are comfortable with.

In most cases if it has gotten to this point, they likely won’t share with you are they are interviewing. And that’s okay. You can still try to implement changes which will entice them to stay and if nothing else, show them that you are invested in them and care about their career and their happiness.

Hesitant to commit to future projects or trips.

This is a tell tale sign that someone is thinking about quitting is a clear hesitance to make commitments to projects or work trips in the future. If they know they likely won’t be around when that trip takes place, they may get iffy or awkward in discussing it. This usually stems from a place of discomfort thinking about committing to something they know they can’t fulfill or having to lie about it. They don’t want to let you down. Again, by this point it is probably a bit too late to get that person to stay, but you can always try.

Key takeaways and things you can do.

What I most want you to take away from this post is that you should be proactive in the ongoing support and development of your team so that you’re not waiting until it’s too late to try and retain your incredible, talented team members. I’ve seen it time and time again where it takes someone getting an offer with a competitor for a leader to go above and beyond to try and get someone to stay. We should always have a mentality of, “What does this person need to be stretched and fulfilled in their role?”

Here are some things you can do to be proactive and not wait until it’s too late:
Be cognizant of your team’s behavior so you can recognize departures. Simply start paying attention! How do they act when they are engaged? Which projects do they get excited about? What are their signals when they are having an ‘off’ day? When you start to pay attention to these trends and how they show up when they are at their best, you will start to notice when they start to slip. This will be a big alert for you to step in and take action much sooner and to demonstrate that you are in tune with their feelings and interests.
Proactively find growth and development opportunities. Most people want to learn new things and continue to build upon their skill set. New growth opportunities keep people engaged and feeling like their boss and company are invested in them. My challenge for you is to go through the list of each person who reports directly to you. I want you to write down 3 things each person is great at. This week, find an opportunity for each person to utilize one of those 3 gifts. This will be a great first step for keeping you team engaged and helping them grow.
Advocate for your team. When it comes time for budget season or when you are meeting to discuss annual performance reviews, fight for your team members who truly deserve advancement! Think about those people who have been leveling up but whose salary hasn’t been adjusted to reflect it. Make the case to senior leadership that these people are valuable and they need to be compensated appropriately for the organization to remain competitive. As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease so don’t just sit back and let other teams grasp the budget. Fight for your great people.
Support them no matter what. If your team member does decide to leave the organization, don’t take it personally or become bitter toward them. Celebrate them in their career growth and let them know they can always reach back out to you for support in the future.

People leave jobs; it happens. However, we know that people want to stay with their employer long-term if they feel like they are learning and that their needs are being met. Take the time to do what is in your power to provide this environment now and not after they decide to go elsewhere. Then if they do decide to leave in the future, you’ll know that you did everything you could to support them, and you’ll have a great ally in your network wherever they end up.

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Nicole Wood

Nicole Wood

Nicole Wood is the CEO and co-founder of Ama La Vida, an innovative life, career and leadership coaching company. She is passionate about helping people to find meaningful and lucrative work and to not have to wait until 6pm to love their lives. Read more about Nicole here.