When you hire someone, you hire them for a reason: You’re convinced that their skills, talents, and personality are the right match for your team. But in today’s job market, those same attributes make your all-star employee an attractive target for outside recruiters.
Losing a top performer can cost your company double their salary. But while there are situations where people quit out of the blue, most of the time there are clear warning signs that they’re getting ready to jump ship. Let’s take a look at seven red flags that employees might be job hunting, how to handle the situation, and — most importantly — how to create an environment where your team doesn’t want or need to look for new opportunities.
Attrition Warning Signs
- Dressing to Impress: If your employee has always been the jeans-and-sweater type but suddenly starts wearing full-on power suits, it could mean they’re ducking out for interviews (and are dressing accordingly).
- Increased Activity on LinkedIn: If an employee has upped their LinkedIn activity — including sprucing up their profile, making new connections, or posting more than usual — it could be a sign they’re trying to increase their visibility for new opportunities.
- Attendance Issues: If you notice an employee taking a lot of time off, including coming in late or leaving early, they could be using that time for interviews.
- Maxing Out PTO: If your employee is burning through their vacation days in a short period, they could be trying to use it all before they leave for a new opportunity.
- Decreased Engagement: If your employee stops hitting deadlines, contributing to meetings, or engaging with the team, it could be a sign they have one foot out the door.
- Missed Raise or Promotion: If your team member asked for something (like a raise or promotion) and didn’t get it, it could be a catalyst to start exploring other opportunities.
- Personal Phone Chatter: If an employee starts taking a high volume of calls on their personal phone (or starts spending a lot of time in your office’s phone booth), they might be fielding calls from recruiters or other companies.
To be clear, none of these red flags are definitive indicators that employees are job hunting. On their own, these behaviors aren’t necessarily something to be alarmed over. For example, if a team member is taking more time off than usual, “I wouldn't [immediately] jump to conclusions. Sometimes people have personal, pressing matters that can take up time,” said Fran Berrick, career and leadership coach at Spearmint Coaching.
But if you notice more than a few of these behaviors from someone on your team, there’s a good chance they’re job hunting — and you need a plan in place to manage the situation.
How to Respond
While you don’t necessarily want to ask a team member directly if they’re looking for a new job (which could put them on the defensive), you do want to start a dialogue around what might be causing them to look elsewhere.
In your next one-on-one, ask the likely job seeker about their role, team, and overall experience. Some questions you might want to ask include:
- Do you have any feedback on how I can be a better manager?
- Can you tell me more about some of the challenges you’ve faced in your current role? How can we support you in overcoming those challenges?
- Do you feel you have everything you need to be successful in your role? If not, how can we get you what you need?
- Do you feel challenged enough in this role? Are there other responsibilities or areas you’d like to explore within the company?
Starting a dialogue around their current work experience will give you insight into their state of mind — and can help you figure out why they might be ready to leave without asking directly. “If you're having a discussion with them with open-ended questions, hopefully, you'll give them enough room to fill in the blanks,” said Berrick.
Keep in mind that how you foster this dialogue is just as important as what you say. “This is a conversation and not an email,” said Berrick. If you and the employee are in the same workspace, schedule time to meet face-to-face. If one or both of you work remotely, schedule a video conference.
Once you know what’s going on, you can figure out how to move forward, address the situation, and, if it makes sense, help make changes to entice them to stay. For example, if you find out your employee feels stagnant in their role, you can look for opportunities to expand their responsibilities or assign them a new project.
The point is, the employee is job hunting for a reason — and if you can talk to them and figure out what those reasons are, you can address them. So while these conversations aren’t always the easiest, they are “an opportunity to gather feedback that could improve company and manager performance and prevent additional turnover,” said Hilliary Turnipseed, Founder of Hill Street Strategies, a talent and HR consultancy.
There’s no way to stop job hunting completely. But you can dramatically decrease the chance of being surprised when an employee leaves for another opportunity — starting with acknowledging the fact that there are other opportunities available.
“If you know you have a rising star or in-demand talent on your team, you need to assume they are being actively recruited,” said Turnipseed. And if you want your team to ignore those opportunities, you need to create an environment that makes it easy (and attractive) for them to stay put.
Want to create an environment that retains top talent? Here are just a few tips to help you get you started.
Meet on the Regular
If you’re completely blindsided when an employee leaves, chances are there was a disconnect between the experience you thought they were having and their actual experience. And that disconnect typically means you’re not communicating enough with your team members.
If you want to retain top talent, you need a constant flow of communication. You should be having regular one-on-ones, asking for feedback, and checking in to make sure they’re thriving in their role and have what they need to be successful.
Not only will this kind of regular contact help them succeed in their role, but according to Berrick, “If you're having that human connection on a regular basis...you have your finger on the pulse” of what’s going on and can address issues as they come up.
Invest in Your Team
If you’ve got a high performer on your team, you need to incentivize them to keep performing at a high level — and a lot of that has to do with investing in your team and setting them up for success.
“People that are talented are always going to have opportunities. You've got to continue to engage those people,” said HR consultant Matthew Burr.
Look for ways to invest in your team and keep them engaged in their roles and your organization. For example, is there software that can make it easier for your sales team to stay on top of their leads? Invest in the software and training your team needs to get up to speed. Is someone on your team feeling bored in their role? Switch things up and put them on a new project for a fresh, creative challenge.
When your team knows that you value them, they’ll be less likely to look for outside opportunities. “By investing in their successful outcome, you maintain an open and productive relationship with them,” said Berrick.
Ask for Feedback
Sometimes, the problem isn’t the job hunting or the employee — it’s the person (or people) in charge. “Most people don't leave jobs. They leave managers or supervisors,” said Burr.
If you want to keep job hunting to a minimum, it’s important to do everything you can to support and effectively manage your team. To provide that support, you need to ask them what they need.
“You've got to be able to ask for that direct feedback…‘Are there things I can be doing differently? Are there ways that I can improve?’” said Berrick. “Everyone's got to be able to look at themselves with a level of emotional intelligence and know that they're not perfect and recognize that ‘Hey, maybe I am the symptom of the problem’ and ask ‘What do I need to do differently in order to engage and retain these people?’” he said.
Ask your employees for feedback on your managerial style. Ask them if there is anything you can change or improve to better support them. Receive that feedback with an open mind and make the changes necessary to create an environment that works for your team.
The more feedback you get from your employees, the easier it is to adjust your management style to best support them — and the more likely it is they’ll want to stay on the team.