Businessman holding a red traffic triangle warning sign in front of his headThe war for talent is not just about finding new talent; it’s about retaining star talent and reinvigorating fallen stars so they don’t leave. In fact, holding onto a superstar or reinvigorating a superstar can be equivalent to making an external superstar signing. Actually, in many respects it can be better, as a HBS study of Star Investment Analysts revealed that when these analysts switched firms they experienced an immediate and terminal decline in performance as they could not adapt to the new context. A Wharton study showed that internal employees outperform external recruits doing the same job. There is no guarantee that an external replacement will save the day.

So, the odds are that your current internal stars/fallen stars will perform better than external replacements in the long run. And every unsettled star that your business retains and every fallen start you reinvigorate should be celebrated as a victory and a star signing.

This means that there should be a proactive strategy in place to spot ‘flight risks’ in your superstar talent community. And below you can find 10 signs that an employee may be about to leave.

Let’s start with the more obvious ones:

1. Starts to wear “smarter” clothes, such as a suit or suit trousers, and “smart” shoes. This is a sign they may be attending interviews. Clearly, the more stealthy employees will be more effective at concealing their enhanced interview wardrobe, so you can’t rely on this indicator alone.

2. More fragmented time off.  This is particularly for just a day or half day and with short notice. There might be regular late starts or extended lunches, or more sick days. This sudden fragmented time off can be a sign they are interviewing.

3. More private calls. Are they taking more private calls than usual, e.g. having to step out during meetings? Another strong sign they may be chatting to recruiters.

These are all strong signs that they may be interviewing, but the problem is, by this stage it may be too late to do anything; so, ideally you should be spotting flight risks before they start interviewing – and below we have outlined some more subtle, early stage signs an employee may be considering leaving.

4. Increased job-related activity on social networks. This could be activity such as polishing their LinkedIn profile or connecting with recruiters and competitor hiring managers. This is a sign they are testing the waters to see what the market is like before deciding to jump.

5. Decline in punctuality at the start or end of the day. If your employee has started arriving late or leaving early, this could be a sign of disengagement that could lead to an exit. It could, of course, be due to traffic or family commitments but this shouldn’t be overlooked.

6.Taking leave during critical business periods. This is a strong sign that an employee is disengaged and on the verge of leaving as they want to avoid hard work and may even be feeling resentful.

7. They stop volunteering for things. Disengaged employees who are not interested in staying/progressing will reduce discretionary effort and stop volunteering for tasks outside their remit as they have no more need to impress the boss. Employees who are interviewing or who are about to leave can also withdraw from discretionary social interactions and reduce social interactions with other staff as they may feel awkward.

8. Apathetic. A once passionate and outspoken employee who once loved to debate decisions may stop arguing their case and become oddly compliant, accepting and subservient.

9. Argumentative. On the other hand a more compliant employee may become far more argumentative than usual, often to a counterproductive level, which means that the employee may be venting anger. This may show resentment for the company and a sign of a potential exit.

10. Decline in work performance. Has an employee lost motivation? Has there been a sustained decline in performance and does the employee seem unconcerned about correcting it?

There could be personal reasons for many of these behaviors, beyond them searching for a job, but if these signs are clustering together, the employee is most likely disengaged and there is a good chance this employee may soon be looking to leave.

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