Leaving out the DoorHighly skilled engaged employees are invaluable to an organization’s bottom line. With the costs to hire and train new workers soaring through the roof, it’s important for businesses to retain valued employees. Unfortunately, many managers fail to recognize the classic signs of an unhappy employee preparing to make an exit, before it’s too late. A young hotel worker in Providence, Rhode Island recently quit his job in grandiose style with a brass band and camera crew in tow. His YouTube video, “Joey Quits,” became an instant sensation. Why? At some point in our careers, we’ve all harbored fantasies of walking out on a less than ideal employment situation. But Joey may have tapped into something else.

More workers than ever before are unhappy and dissatisfied with their jobs. And the trend is growing. A recent Harris Interactive survey found that seventy-four percent of workers would leave their current positions in a heartbeat, if presented with another opportunity. And more than one-third of workers are unhappy with their jobs. These statistics are corroborated by numerous other studies. Mercer’s June, 2011 “What’s Working” survey found that more than half of all American workers want to quit their jobs. And Mercer’s latest survey shows the alarming trend of worker dissatisfaction and declining employee loyalty is spreading worldwide. Organizations need to take heed and be alert to signals that an employee is about to leave, if businesses hope to have a chance of retaining the employee.

1. Disengagement, Decreased Production

An enthusiastic team player and brand ambassador, who suddenly becomes disengaged, disinterested and distracted, may be devoting his or her energy to searching and interviewing for a new job. Constructing an emotional barrier in the workplace with co-workers and supervisors makes it easier to conduct a job search. The lack of focus frequently results in decreased production, as well. Missed meetings, blown deadlines and overall poor work performance are signs that a worker is disengaged. Leigh Branham, author of “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave: How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It’s Too Late,” writes that it’s vital for managers to schedule some face time with disengaged workers to mitigate potential “push factors” that may be pushing workers out the door.

2. Negative Attitude, Complaints

A normally cheerful worker, who suddenly becomes transformed into the office whiner, may have decided to cut ties with the company. A fed up employee, who previously kept his or her feelings under wraps, may now feel free to go negative and voice constant complaints. Moreover, workers who have definitely made the decision to leave for greener pastures, with another job offer in hand may view their current job through a prism of negativity and resentment.

3. Increased Use of Sick, Vacation Time

Previously dependable and reliable workers, who suddenly require unexplained time off and are frequently out sick, may be conducting a search for a new job. Employees using up a lot of sick and vacation days at the start of the year, may also signal a danger sign. However, organizational psychologist Dr. David Weiman, cautions it’s best not to jump to conclusions. He advises managers take simple preventative measures, by scheduling a meeting with a frequently absent employee and ask, “How are things going?”

4. Changes in Workplace Dress

Workers suddenly changing their workplace duds, from their standard khakis and blazer to a snazzy three-piece suit may be dressing to impress a hiring manager or agency recruiter. Arriving to work late, sporting a fancier than usual suit, may also indicate that a worker is interviewing for another position.

5. Changes in Workplace Habits, Daytime Disappearances

A worker, who suddenly spends an inordinate amount of time with his or her office door closed, or outside the office on a cell phone taking private calls, may be actively conducting a job search. Additionally, employees who have developed a new habit of disappearing from the office in the middle of the afternoon may be out interviewing. Hush-hush conferences with colleagues may also signal an employee is about to leave.

Human capital is the engine that drives businesses. The loss of a valued employee can cause workplace disruption and results in high costs to recruit and train a replacement. More importantly, the organization loses the worker’s valuable institutional knowledge. Effective organizational leaders should recognize and constructively respond to the red flags that an employee is about to leave. The rewards are great. A happier employee is more productive, which leads to the increased economic health of the company.


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