The office rumour mill is often a source of information steeped in fact. So when you learn that one of your employees is on the lookout for a new job, how do you manage their potential exit?

One, or several employees leaving your company in quick succession, can destabilise your business. And you don’t want to be caught off guard – let’s face it, as the boss this is the type of gossip that you will often be the last to hear. So to combat this scenario you need to be able to recognise the signs pointing to this occurrence and react quickly.

There are some obvious tell-tale signs that your employee is seeking alternate employment. An early indicator is their abrupt and unusual absenteeism.  You probably know the working patterns of your longer term employees pretty well. So when one starts taking longer lunches or requesting short term annual leave, they may be using that time to interview with competitors. This naturally comes with a change in their outward presentation. Keep an eye out for the suddenly sharper groomed employee. If they’re showing up for casual Friday in a slick power suit, and they aren’t attending a funeral, then it’s likely that they have an important ‘meeting’ later that day.

Of course changes in body language and character are a key clue to putting two and two together also. And this may manifest itself in a number of ways. The ever engaged employee who has unexpectedly lost their sense of humour is an employee who has checked out. Sure we all have our bad days, but is this particular employee having a bad day every day? Let me just switch modes here and say that whether you believe they are job hunting or not, you should immediately sit the two of you down and have a conversation about the well being of your employee. Perhaps something has gone very wrong in their personal world and a listening ear with some sound advice and support will be very welcome. Maybe even redeeming.

Further to the lack of engagement, perhaps your employee has lost interest in their work. Productivity has dropped and those projects they have been so keenly advocating for are no longer a topic of discussion. They have fallen beneath the communications radar and adopted a silent approach. Something is definitely amiss! When you attempt to converse about long term projects and deadlines, they are hesitant to engage and wavering in their enthusiasm. Perhaps even uncomfortable and displaying a guilty persona.  Yes, something is most certainly amiss.

Your workforce will definitely notice when one of their own has stopped caring. The almost undoubtedly exiting employee will approach conflict differently. The little things that they were so vigil in promoting, or perhaps preventing, are no longer of interest to them. When the topic of dissension arises, they simply respond with a nonchalant ‘meh’. And this is when the chins really start wagging. Yep, your gut feeling is confirmed.

In reality, at any one time up to half your workforce will be actively seeking alternate employment or will be open to work opportunities elsewhere. Some employees are no doubt more valuable than others, yet regardless of their worth to your organisation, replacing them is going to be burdensome and costly. If you can pick up on the signs early enough, you can try to reverse the pending scenario. But if all efforts fail, you have a jump start on finding a replacement.

When you do detect or suspect that you are about to lose one of your own, you should in the first instance approach that employee and confirm directly if they are indeed looking to jump ship. If you are right, you have an option to address the reasons behind their desire to leave. Reasons that may be shared by many within your team (hopefully not!). If you are wrong, you can put a stop to the gossip immediately. And perhaps stop others from considering a similar course of action. These things can be contagious.

For some of you confronting an employee who you believe to no longer be happy working for you can be scary. However without placing yourself outside of your comfort zone, you will never grow. But you want your company to grow. And succeed. So you need to gain an insight into what led to your employee wanting to seek out other job opportunities. When you understand this, you can conduct your business differently and improve your culture and your retention rates over the long term. That’s a positive business achievement. So don’t be afraid of the hard truths, get in there and build a loyal workforce.

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