Signs an employee is about to quit – and how to change their mind

The global skills shortage means employers are haemorrhaging talent – HR leaders reveal how to reduce turnover in 2022

Signs an employee is about to quit – and how to change their mind

It is often the biggest drain on a company – a valued employee leaving. Not only are they taking away vital knowledge from your business, but they are upsetting the culture too. In some instances, it may be better that they are exiting for all parties concerned. But somewhere in-between is the unhappy or restless employee that not all managers are aware of – ones that aren’t performing at their best or working cohesively in an office environment.

The question is how do we, as HR leaders, identify this employee and what do we do?

“Changes in behaviour and attitude at work can be useful warning signs that an employee is unhappy and may be looking to leave, but there are normally a few indicators that happen simultaneously,” Susan Sadler, founder and CEO of Red Wagon Workplace Solutions and President and South Australian Councillor of the Australian HR Institute (AHRI), said. “For example, an employee may start taking more personal leave than they have previously, often late to work and take longer breaks. They may start being more negative when talking to their colleagues about projects, management, or other work matters, or simply be unresponsive and non-committal in comparison to their previous level of engagement.

“But nothing will replace an honest conversation between a human resources person – or leader – and that actual employee.”

The role of the HR leader becomes a delicate juggling balance in this situation. They need to both ascertain what, if anything is causing the employees issues, and informing senior management of potential disharmony within the firm. It is not an easy role, as there are legal issues at play too, but the role of a human resources manager, has never been an easy one.

“If the individual wants to open up, is motivated to be re-engaged, or wants support in exiting the business, give them the opportunity to ask,” Saddler said. “Be aware that this might not happen in the first conversation and leave the offer of support on the table if they wish to discuss anything with you later.

“Positive work cultures are not about ping-pong tables and fruit baskets. Employees want to be able to trust their leaders (and HR), be respected and be rewarded. COVID-19 and the hybrid workplace that has evolved from the pandemic has enhanced the desire of employees to have more autonomy. This does not mean permanent work from home arrangements as much as flexibility with hours, not setting strict guidelines and requirements when they aren’t needed. A more autonomous workforce has clear communications as its foundation and often requires outcome focused leaders, not micromanagers.”

David Reddin, managing partner at the Reddin Group, a well-established recruitment company, believes little steps in improving work culture can go a long way to changing an employee’s state of mind and if that fails, valuable feedback can be received from a forthright conversation.

“First, you need to understand the root cause of the problem,” Reddin said. “It is around the person’s manager? The team? The culture and or values of the company? It is a personal issue? There are so many issues at play that you need to find the real situation before you can implement a plan. You might be able to change the employee’s role or arrange a development plan. You will need regular communication and to check in regularly to see how they are progressing.”

But if the employee is determined to leave then you’re best prepared to help them move on and ensure you do it in a professional and courteous manner keeping the rest of the staff informed of what is happening.

“If you have arranged interviews with their line manager and offered to help them in various ways and they have determined that they are definitely looking at leaving, then you need to start the official process of their departure,” Reddin said. “Inform the team so there are no surprises, arrange handover, farewell and complete an exit interview. If they are a valued team member perhaps offer some career transition and/or outplacement support. That will depend on their level of seniority.”

Above all a human resources manager needs to remain impartial, professional and helpful throughout the whole process juggling the employee and firm’s needs together.

“You need to fight your bias and judgements and be impartial and professional in your interactions,” Sadler said. “Respect privacy. Confidentiality is an important skill for HR practitioners, and once breached it is almost impossible to rebuild trust. It isn’t always necessary to tell the manager and leader the details of what is happening, so ask the employee if you can share the information or make a judgement about what is appropriate to share with a leader in confidence.

“Document everything. Keep file notes of the discussion and actions you or the employee are going to take. This protects you and the business if the issue escalates and simply helps to keep facts straight.

“Finally, accept that you can’t help everyone.”

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